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CONFERENCE RACES WINDING DOWN
November 2, 2005

SCS.comNow that most teams have five to six conference games under their belts, realistic goals for the end of the season are being realized for the first time. There are still five undefeated teams fighting for the Rose Bowl, but another fifteen have a legitimate shot at another BCS bowl either by grabbing a rare at-large selection or a conference championship. Huge conference battles in the ACC and Big Ten will all but finish the races for the BCS bids there, or at least set the conference title game that will determine the automatic berth in a month.

One story of some note this week was the rehiring of Charlie Weis for a 10-year extension at Notre Dame. Keep in mind that Tyrone Willingham had a 7-0 record at this point in his career, and he wasn't even allowed to finish his initial three year contract when it was all said and done. This is not a move of job security for Charlie Weis, as he could coach anywhere in football and Notre Dame is his dream job. On the other hand, this is Notre Dame trying to hold onto Weis from the tempting allure of an NFL job when many of them open up this year. This is a nice show of commitment, but they can always fire him at any point, so the news is not really that exciting.

The exciting part is how much he will be paid, estimated to be around three or four million dollars a year. This is a record for college coaches, and Notre Dame is trying to buy their way into the national spotlight for years to come. I guess the past 10 years has been especially painful for ND faithful who expect greatness and received mediocrity every year. If (emphasis on the if) Charlie Weis sticks around for three to five years or more, his influence on college football will not be limited to Notre Dame fighting for national titles again. The effects will be far-reaching as current college coaching geniuses try to keep up with Weis in coaching style and expertise. This hiring was major news on Notre Dame's bye week, and it is appropriate considering Notre Dame is poised to make their first BCS bowl since the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago (assuming they can take care of the four mediocre teams left on their schedule and jump into the top twelve of the BCS standings).

The first game of the week is the battle for the outright Big Ten lead when Wisconsin travels to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. Wisconsin is trying to send Barry Alvarez out with one more Big Ten title, and they control their own destiny as they have the tiebreaker with the Buckeyes if OSU wins out. Penn State also has the Buckeyes by tiebreaker, but that is because they beat them four weeks ago in a defensive struggle. Not to focus on the Buckeyes too much, but this battle between Wisconsin's running attack against Penn State's great defense is like Ohio State's victory over Minnesota's huge rushing attack last week. Defense wins championships and home field is strong in the Big Ten, so I do not expect Penn State to have a letdown on their way to the BCS. I'll take the Nittany Lions by 7.

Virginia Tech has beaten some quality competition already this season in Boston College and West Virginia (well, they are the likely Big East champion anyway), but they are no closer to the BCS title game than they were at the beginning of the season. They still trail Texas and USC and will not be able to overcome them in the polls unless they can win their remaining big games by a large margin. The first of these comes against Miami this week in Blacksburg. Miami is hands-down the best one-loss team in the country, and they would be undefeated if not for offensive woes in their first game against Florida State. The winner of this game can basically lock themselves into an ACC title game appearance with Florida State. Miami just continues to get better and better as the season goes along, while Virginia Tech really has something to prove in this game. The Canes must contain Marcus Vick or else the fans on the road will be hard to overcome. I still think Miami will waltz away from Blacksburg, taking Virginia Tech's Rose Bowl and ACC title hopes with them, claiming a 3 point victory this week. (Sidenote: This would also alleviate most of the BCS controversy at the same time, so we know whom BCS lovers are cheering for this week.)

The final game of the week is California at Oregon. I do not cover the PAC-10 on a regular basis, but I do know that Cal has looked really good and really bad at times this season. Oregon has the lone setback at the hands of USC, but they do not look very impressive overall. This game would go a long way in establishing Oregon's credibility as a possible BCS team assuming they can win out and finish ahead of UCLA in the conference. Autzen Stadium is one of the hardest places to play, but that might just be the field or the ugly uniforms as opposed to the crowd noise. Now that I've fully incited the Duck fans, I will say that I think they are a better team than California. They should win this game, and I'll take the Ducks by 17 in a shootout.

Top 3 Games of the Week Record to Date: 15-12 (3-0 last week)

Conference Rundowns

ACC
Miami v. Virginia Tech is the gemstone of the week, but there are a couple other games to watch. NC State might be in dead-last in the division, but Florida State better not overlook the Pack this week as one more loss could put FSU in jeopardy. Boston College needs to come out of Chapel Hill with a win over North Carolina to keep pace with Florida State, as one Eagle loss gives Florida State the division title. Both of these games have teams with a lot to lose (BCS hopes all the way down to bowl eligibility), and you can never predict how exciting this conference will be from week to week.

Big XII
Texas, please don't let those OSU shenanigans happen again this week at Baylor. There's serious pride at stake here; it would be one of the greatest upsets of all time if the Bears won. I plead for Texas to take care of business in a weak conference this year! For that matter, how does Missouri lose to Kansas? Maybe looking forward to this week's North showdown with Colorado, but let's hope the Tigers don't have another letdown like last week in Boulder. Colorado will wrap up a division title with a win this week, and that means we get to see Texas paste the Buffaloes again in December. Texas A&M at Texas Tech should be a fun one to watch, as those teams jockey for position in the bowl hunt.

Big East
All three games this week have some sort of intrigue. Connecticut will look to derail West Virginia's drive to the BCS this week, but mid-week games in Morgantown are hard to win for visiting teams. Louisville and Pittsburgh battle this week, and the Cardinals could eliminate Pitt from the title chase with a win here. Hard to believe Louisville is playing spoiler in this conference now, but that is the case. South Florida finally gets another conference game (how long has it been since we saw USF and WVU on the field, like 21 days?), and it will be important as they try to keep up with West Virginia and Pittsburgh while knocking Rutgers out of the conference race.

Big Ten
With just three weeks of conference play remaining, this race is pretty much coming down to the wire. The league champion will probably be determined by Wisconsin at Penn State, but other teams are still in contention if the winner of that game slips up in their final conference game (Wisconsin v. Iowa, Penn State at Michigan State). Iowa goes to Northwestern this week in an elimination game of two-loss conference teams, and nothing seems to be able to stop the Hawkeyes except bad luck against Michigan. Michigan has the week off, and the other team in contention - Ohio State - hosts Illinois in what could be the Buckeye's most lopsided victory of the year. Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa, and Northwestern all need more help than just the Wisconsin at Penn State game this week, but it will define the conference race for the final two weeks and give us a final favorite for the BCS berth.

MAC
Anyone watching MAC games this week had to be stunned when incomprehensible results came in across the board. Bowling Green upset by Akron, Northern Illinois losing to lowly Ball State, and Ohio struggling with Buffalo were the highlights. Of course Toledo lost their division lead by losing at Central Michigan, and now the Rockets need help to get to the MAC title game. All of a sudden BGSU and Toledo do not seem so certain for the title game. Northern Illinois could give Toledo all the help they need by knocking off Central Michigan on the road this week, while Toledo cannot afford a loss at a tough Ohio University on Friday night. No other games have huge implications, but each game is important as four teams share the East lead and four teams are within a game in the West. This conference is perhaps the most exciting race in the country.

SEC
Nothing stands out as much as last week, as each of the teams competing for the league title play out-of-contention teams this week. Expect Florida, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU to score easy victories. One other game of note: how badly will Notre Dame beat Tennessee this week? What once seemed like a sure-bet for Tennessee is now almost a sure-bet in the other direction, and it should be entertaining to watch Charlie Weis pick UT apart after the Irish's week off.

Fitzy's Top 10 - Week 10
1. USC (8-0)
2. Texas (8-0)
3. Virginia Tech (8-0)
4. Alabama (8-0)
5. Miami (6-1)
6. UCLA (8-0)
7. LSU (6-1)
8. Florida State (7-1)
9. Penn State (8-1)
(t)10. Ohio State (6-2)
(t)10. Notre Dame (6-2)
Dropped Out: #4 Georgia (7-1), #9 Boston College (6-2)

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