Pardon me if I happened to sleep through the last two weeks of October. When the seven undefeated teams left have a stretch of two weeks where the hardest games were against the likes of Indiana, Syracuse, Oregon State, Iowa, and Pittsburgh.... Letís just say the plethora of one-loss teams was much more entertaining, especially considering each one either lost or had scares over the two weeks.
Now the calendars turn again, and November brings the best college football has to offer: rivalry games, conference title battles, and paring of the undefeated teams down to no more than three. Before we look ahead, letís look back at the cornerstone middle month of the season.
October started with 13 undefeated teams, and this number was halved with losses by Auburn, Florida, USC, Georgia, Oregon, Missouri, and Wake Forest. This sets up a great November as five of the left undefeated teams left play each other in league play in the Big East and Big Ten, while Boise State will be happy with any BCS spot, let alone one in Glendale. Even the winless were pared down noticeably in October, as Colorado, Miami (OH), Eastern Michigan, San Diego State, Utah State, and most notably Temple (who broke a 20-game losing streak against Bowling Green this past weekend) all won their first games. This leaves Duke, Florida International, and Stanford as the only remaining winless teams. Hereís hoping each one finds a way to make the players happy with one win or two in November.
Despite losing seven of the undefeated teams, October created a BCS debate over the mess that might happen if the Big Ten and Big East do not both produce undefeated champions (who in that case should meet in Glendale for the title). October exploded the number of one-loss teams who may not look very pretty but all have a claim to the BCS, and perhaps even the title game, if more undefeated teams falter than expected. One loss teams include those who have a shot at Glendale (Texas, Notre Dame, California, USC, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Auburn) and those who are long-shots for the national title game (Boston College, Wake Forest, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Tulsa). Thatís an astounding eight teams who will have the right to speak up if fewer than two major undefeated teams escape November. Let the debate begin.
Assuming the 19 undefeated and one-loss teams are the only title contenders, here is why November is so exciting. Look at the schedule of games upcoming this month (and on December 2) that involve these teams on both sides.
11/2: West Virginia at Louisville
The most exciting part of the above schedule is that the games are spread out, two every week for the remainder of the season. Also, 16 of the 19 teams will play in one of these showdowns (Wisconsin, Tulsa, and Boise State are the only ones left out and each is practically a non-player in the national title picture). Every team will be tested at least once, and hopefully these games combined with a healthy dose of November upsets will pare the field of contenders down to a reasonable number. With the exception of the afternoon of 11/18 (yes, I have tickets to the UM-OSU game and no, Iím not selling even though I could get thousands for the pair), I hope to witness each of these games on TV as the month progresses. This list is also a nice preview of the games of the week I will be previewing every week for the rest of the season barring surprises early in the month. The only thing to be sure of is that this should be a November to remember.
Some notable notes relating to October and my recent articles: North Carolina coach John Bunting pulled an end run and won the race to the first pink slip of 2006-07. In other news, Larry Coker and John L. Smith continue to fight over second place in this race. (UPDATE: Not to be outdone, just before this article went up, MSU fired John L., so Sparty wins the pink slip race of 2006 over the Hurricanes.) USC saw a 38-game regular season winning streak snapped by Oregon State this weekend. While I agree that Pete Carroll and his staff deserve a lot of credit for coaching and recruiting better than any other West Coast team, this streak (and the 27 straight Pac-10 win streak snapped Saturday) also shows that the conference is a one-trick pony, unlike better conferences such as the SEC and the Big Ten. Keep in mind that the middle class of the Pac-10 can hold their own with all the other major conferences, but over the past five years, no other team can claim to be better than middle class. Quite a few teams around the country could have similar numbers in the Pac-10, but still a congratulations goes out to USC for such dominance and being a top program without a lot of off-the-field problems (yes Miami, thatís aimed at you).
To set the first volley in the BCS discussions, allow me to explain my thinking on this yearís title race (and I admit, until the games above play themselves out on the field, nothing is concrete). I would currently project Ohio State and West Virginia meeting in a border clash down in Glendale because OSU is simply a class better than everyone else (and gets Michigan at home), while West Virginia knows how to handle success better than Louisville and Rutgers. I also believe that if only two major conference champions are undefeated, they should obviously play for the national title if the regular season is truly supposed to be important.
The first problem is what happens if the Big East powers all go 1-1 in the November games? I think the most likely replacements are the Notre Dame/USC winner, Texas, and the SEC Champion. Just based on computer rankings and public perception (which determines human poll ranks), the SEC Champion would probably come out on top due to winning the toughest conference in college football. A second problem is what happens to the above debate if the Ohio State/Michigan game is close? Ohio State has clearly blown away all competition, so should the Buckeyes be punished if they lose one of the two #1 vs. #2 games this season by a close margin while the other contenders lost to worse competition (SEC Champion, Big East Champion, USC) or by a larger margin (Notre Dame, Texas)? How could you justify putting Notre Dame in over Michigan, or Texas over Ohio State? I know the public does not like rematches generally, but if the Ohio State and Michigan game is such a great close battle, who would rather see (for example) the Buckeyes blast some lesser team in the title game? All these questions will be at the forefront of the debate as November races along.
All of this leads to my final conclusion: if there is no way to determine with human polls and computers which one-loss team is most deserving to play for a national title, why is there not more outcry for a playoff? I know a four-game playoff would be more likely and a step in the right direction, but I think the perfect system would pit 8 teams in a single elimination format. No conference would be allowed to have more than two teams in the playoff, and six spots would be automatic bids for BCS conference champions. If you do not like a lesser team winning a conference title game, get rid of the conference title game and declare an outright winner some other way. The other two spots would be automatic for undefeated non-BCS conference champions (or undefeated Notre Dame), or at-large based on the BCS standings. Looking at last season for example, this would have set up the following playoffs:
2006 NATIONAL CHAMPION PLAYOFF (Final BCS Rank shown)
This system leaves out three notable teams: #6 Notre Dame, who just missed out on an at-large bid behind Ohio State and Oregon (and thatís the breaks of the system); #8 Miami (who did not even play in their conference title game); #9 Auburn (same as Miami); and #10 Virginia Tech (who lost to Florida State in the ACC title game). Certainly each of these teams has an argument they should be included in the top 8 teams in the nation, but the system must continue to reward conference champions, no matter how lowly they seem. Remember that Florida State gave Penn State all they could handle and West Virginia beat Georgia, while Notre Dame got beat handily by the Buckeyes. This seems to indicate a fair national champion would have been best determined on the field last season.
Just for an interesting aside, this is how the playoff would look if the season ended today:
2006 NATIONAL TITLE PLAYOFF
Yes this is unrealistic because it ignores the upcoming WVU/UL and OSU/UM games and leaves out undefeated Rutgers, but this system looks decent at the end of October and will only look better as the games work themselves out in November. I know teams like Louisville, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Tennessee are good teams, but I still think a legitimate national champion could be found with the above bracket. Food for thought, and I hope to revisit this issue at the end of the season to see if the result would be as reasonable as the 2005 bracket would have been.
Now turning to the top three games of the weekend, we start in the SEC as LSU (6-2) goes to Tennessee (7-1) to take on the Volunteers. LSU has had a killer schedule from the SEC, losing on the road to Auburn and Florida both, and now the Bayou Bengals get another top SEC team on the road. Tennessee is one point away from being undefeated, and Erik Ainge has really transformed into something Manning-like this season. Jamarcus Russell is no slouch either, and Tennesseeís defense will be tested more than last week when they won but played poorly at South Carolina. Although I think LSU fields a little better team overall and defensively, I do not think this is enough to win on old Rocky Top against a team with everything to lose. Tennessee keeps pace with Florida and wins by 7.
The second game of the week is Boston College at Wake Forest, a battle for the ACC Atlantic division lead. After Georgia Tech took out Clemson, only Maryland and these two teams remain atop the division with one loss. QB Matt Ryan has been a good leader for the Eagles this season, but the rushing attack has left a little to be desired. Boston College probably wishes it had the loss to NC State back, but the Eagles still completely control their destiny (as do Maryland and Wake Forest for now). Wake has been making the most of its offense, not gaining 300 yards per game but still getting just enough points to win. The main question will be how does Riley Skinner step up in a huge game, as Wake Forestís only loss to Clemson was just a complete offensive meltdown by the Demon Deacons. Avoid those mistakes, and Wake Forest will get the job done. I think BC is the team to beat, though, and Iíll pick the Eagles by 3.
The game of the week is without a doubt on Thursday night when undefeated West Virginia travels over to the Commonwealth to take on Louisville. This game last year was a surprise as West Virginia upset the Cardinals after trailing by 17 late and went on to win a BCS bowl. This game should again be a shootout, as both teams bring some of the best offense to the field. West Virginia has had a very easy schedule to this point, and the Mountaineers say they can beat anyone with their running game alone (QB Pat Whiteís passing numbers are sub-par to say the least). White and standout RB Steve Slaton combine to make the most prolific rushing attack in Division I-A (319 yards per game). Louisville has QB Brian Brohm back from an early season injury, and he has not missed a beat thus far. UL has nice balance on offense, and it will be interesting to see if the Cards can take advantage of WVUís one-dimensional attack enough to win. If the scoring stays in the 30ís, I think Louisville has a chance. Unfortunately for them, though, I think West Virginia is ready to put up 45 in the biggest game of their season. WVU wins by 10.
GOTW 2006 Record to Date: 20-7
FAB 15 VOTE - WEEK 10
1. Ohio State (9-0)
I did have to leave out one more intriguing game between ranked teams: Oklahoma at Texas A&M. The Aggies only have one loss and winning this game would make the game against Texas on 11/24 a huge battle for the division title. There are many games to enjoy this weekend, and hopefully an upset or two clears up the title picture this week. Have a fantastic first week of November!