The goal: twelve wins and zero losses. Easier said than done with the parity in modern college football. In case you were too busy watching the baseball playoffs, the college football season has reached the critical half-way point. With the first BCS standings looming after this weekend and undefeated teams disappearing rapidly, now is an appropriate time to analyze the handful of teams that can still run the gauntlet and finish the dream regular season. Every week is a playoff in college football, and clearly this is the time of year where the true contenders find conference tests weekly.
Last week there were 13 unbeaten teams, but the first week of October claimed four more undefeated lives, those of Wake Forest (Clemson), Oregon (California), Georgia (Tennessee), and Auburn (Arkansas). What is most shocking is that three of these four teams were beat on their home fields, and all four were beaten handily (although Wake Forest fell apart in the second half). This proves that no game is a safety game, and any decent team can give the big boys more than they can handle on certain Saturdays. The undefeated fraternity is down to nine members, and I cover them in alphabetical order.
BOISE STATE: 6-0, 2-0 WAC
The Broncos are the lowest rated undefeated, and this comes from being the only non-BCS conference undefeated left after the implosion of TCU. Four of their games have come on the blue turf at home, but only two of their remaining six are in Boise. As far as possible slip-ups left on the schedule, San Jose State and Nevada could give the Broncos problems in the final three weeks of the season. This team would not make the BCS title game even if they go undefeated, but this will not be a problem as I expect Boise to fall in November at least once. Final record should be 11-1.
FLORIDA: 6-0, 4-0 SEC
The good news for Tennessee is that they remain only one game behind Florida in the standings, but the bad news is the Volunteers need Florida to lose at least two of the next four games to give up the SEC East lead. Chris Leak has put up Heisman-worthy performances and Tim Tebow proved he is more than a running threat last week. Normally I do not endorse the dual QB system, but in this case, perhaps it will work since Tebow plays a specific non-QB type role most of the time. Other than the one point win at Tennessee, Florida has looked good or at least better than the competition. If UF makes it past the next two weeks at Auburn and vs. Georgia, the road should become easier since the biggest remaining tests are South Carolina at home and Florida State on the road. I still think the SEC is too tough to run away with, so I project the Gators finishing 11-1 with a very possible second loss to Arkansas or Auburn in the SEC title game. If the Gators go undefeated, nothing should keep them from Glendale, AZ.
LOUISVILLE: 5-0, 0-0 Big East
Despite playing no real competition other than Miami in the first 6 weeks of the season and no conference games, Louisville has been highly impressive thus far. The reason for this is that the Cardinals have played a good majority of the schedule without starting QB Brian Brohm and RB Michael Bush. Brohm should be back this week or next week to tune up before the most important game of the season when they host West Virginia. Look out for a trap game the week following at Rutgers, another current undefeated. Both Louisville and West Virginia play really easy schedules, not counting their head-to-head battle and playing Rutgers, so the winner of that game should go undefeated. I think WVU will get the job done again this year in November and Louisville finishes 11-1.
MICHIGAN: 6-0, 3-0 Big Ten
The only real question for Michigan thus far is where did this team come from? QB Chad Henne and RB Mike Hart had great freshman seasons two years ago, but both bumbled through a 7-5 year last year. Until Florida cemented its #2 status last week, Michigan had been the default second best team in the country, in my opinion, after blasting overrated Notre Dame on the road by 26. Grinding out two-touchdown wins against Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan State in conference play might not sound impressive, but the Wolverines have looked good. The next two weeks are the only tests before the big trip to Columbus in November, and Penn State and Iowa failed to take out the other undefeated in the Big Ten already this season. Iowa has a better team, but Penn State stands a better chance since the game is in Happy Valley and the weather looks bad, which helped PSU against OSU. Even if the Wolverines escape Happy Valley, the toss-up game with OSU will probably go sour like most of the past 5 years. Iíll predict 11-1, but 10-2 would not be surprising. The good news? Michigan will be in the Rose Bowl again with an 11-1 record.
MISSOURI: 6-0, 2-0 Big XII
Ranked similarly with Boise State, Missouri is the lone Big XII undefeated left after Texas lost in September. Coming into this season, you would have thought Missouri would suffer from losing a veteran long-time leader in QB Brad Smith, but such was not the case. This team did not seem legitimate until winning at Texas Tech last week, but the tests get tougher. Missouri gets to miss Texas at least until the conference title game, but the Tigers also miss the worst two south division teams, Baylor and OSU. I suspect the Tigers will struggle to win more than one of the early November three-game stretch run (Oklahoma, at Nebraska, at Iowa State). Missouri will clearly make a good bowl game, but I see no Big XII title game or undefeated season in their future. 9-3 is my call.
OHIO STATE: 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten
After surviving the toughest September stretch outside of South Bend, IN, the Buckeyes have more than cemented the number one ranking theyíve held since the beginning of the year. Only one team has even had the ball in the fourth quarter within 8 points (Penn State) against the Bucks, but no team has finished within 17 points. The Buckeyes have blasted Garrett Wolfe and Northern Illinois, beaten down Texas and Iowa on the road, and survived slow starts against Penn State and Cincinnati. The only knock on the Buckeyes is that they give up quite a few yards on the ground, but like Tresselís 2002 national title team, these Buckeyes know how to keep points off the scoreboard any way possible. Michigan State was supposed to be a trap game on the road this week, but MSU has had an earlier-than-anticipated meltdown and will have to pull it together in a hurry to keep up with the Buckeyes. It should be smooth sailing until Michigan, but the Buckeyes still remember the 1998 team which choked a sure national title at home against unranked MSU in November of that year. Donít expect the same mistakes from this squad. I call for 12-0 and a trip to the national title game.
RUTGERS: 5-0, 1-0 Big East
The biggest surprise even over Missouri are the Scarlet Knights, who are threatening to make the Big East more than a one-game conference. Rutgers has looked fantastic at home, but both road games have been dicey (21-16 over UNC, 22-20 over USF). Rutgers, fresh off a bye week, will be truly tested by Navy and their option power offense this week. Even though Rutgers might catch a break by upsetting Louisville at home after the UL-WVU game, the December trip to Morgantown will certainly end any title hopes. Best case scenario is splitting the Big East title three ways, but I predict the run ends at Navy this week and a 9-3 finish.
USC: 5-0, 3-0 Pac-10
All of a sudden, the season-opening beatdowns of Arkansas and Nebraska seem a lot better as both those teams are leading their conference divisions. The home of Fight On, Song Girls, and the last two Heisman winners have proven tough to stop in the regular season the past three years. Two lackluster wins against the Washington state schools has most people worried, but perhaps this team will be like OSU 2002, winning lots of games ugly but still winning them all. Oregon, California, and Notre Dame will be a tough stretch of games in November, but all three come at home. I think California will win if they play like the Golden Bears have the past few weeks, but Notre Dame will be ready for revenge as well. Hard to see the Trojans losing more than one, but 11-1 seems right.
WEST VIRGINIA: 5-0, 0-0 Big East
The Mountaineers have had it all set up for a national title run since schedules were announced last year. WVU finally lived up to expectations last season, winning the league title and a BCS bowl against tough competition Georgia. This season no Virginia Tech game is in the way of the Mountaineers, and the only question is if the team can handle the pressure. I think they run the table after beating Louisville in a true tough road test, and I guess that Steve Slaton will be the key to winning every game remaining. 12-0 is in reach and should propel WVU to the BCS title game against OSU, unless Florida goes undefeated as well.
It should be very interesting to see how it all plays out this week and every week, as the games last week proved any undefeated is always beatable. Auburn was the first huge upset of the year, but the Tigers will not be alone. One-loss teams to keep an eye on as possible title contenders should all others fall include Texas, Notre Dame, and California. I would add Auburn to this list, but nobody likes a team who cannot even have a chance to win the league title, and I doubt Arkansas gives up the division. OSU and WVU are my current pick to play in Glendale, but I will not be surprised if Louisville and Michigan or some other unranked teams derail those plans.
All three of my games of the week involve huge tests for some of the undefeated teams listed above, and the first is Rutgers visiting Navy. Navy is a one-point loss away from being undefeated, and the option offense usually gives opponents fits. Both teams would love to lock up bowl eligibility, and Navy might be looking forward to the showdown with Notre Dame next week. Navy also would not want to lose two in a row, and Rutgers has played very poorly on the road thus far. This game will set speed records for finishing time, as two of the top 10 rushing teams will meet on the field (and both are in the bottom 7 in passing offense). Navy wins by 14.
The second game of note is the primetime national TV showdown pitting Michigan at Penn State. Penn State is the only team to give Ohio State a real run this year, and PSU is tough to beat in bad weather night home games (just ask OSU last year). Without superstar WR Mario Manningham, Michigan will probably struggle to move the ball if PSU stacks up against the run. The key to this game will be not making a mistake, and I think Michiganís defense will come up with a crucial turnover late to lock up the game. Big Blue continues rolling with a 4 point victory.
The game of the week comes from the SEC again as Florida travels to Auburn. UF took over the Tigers' spot as top team in the SEC after beating LSU and AU's home loss to Arkansas. Auburn might have been looking forward to a battle of the last two conference undefeated teams this week. Florida cannot make mistakes like last week again, and Auburn will not be shocked this time around. Iíll take Auburn simply based on home field advantage and the fact that the SEC usually beats each other silly before the end of October. The curse on number two continues, and Auburn wins by 3.
GOTW 2006 Record to Date: 13-5
Fitzyís Top 10 Ė Week 7
Have another fantastic week. I am in the middle of five straight weekends of going to Ohio State games. Hopefully the Spartans make it a little more interesting than Iowa and BGSU, but we will see if John L. Smith has anything left. I hope all of you get a chance to see one of the great games on tap this weekend, and weíll see you back here next week after the BCS sullies up the college football world.