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BIG EAST: IT'S THURSDAY AND HERE WE GO AGAIN
November 9, 2006

SCS.com Remember back just two months ago when the best sportswriters asked if a national title could be won on Thursdays? Of course we were referring to West Virginia, but the focus was not too far off. After Louisville rid WVU of its national title contention, the Thursday question is still legitimate, as the Big East appears destined to try to send the conference champion (who plays a lot on Thursdays) to Glendale. For the Big East, this week must have seemed like a lot of déjà vu.

The country has been in an uproar crying over just how bad the football on the field was last Thursday night in Kentucky. Sure, both offenses are good, but the defenses were so bad! Let me break it down for you like this: the last time a great quarterback led his team over a juggernaut featuring superstars at running back and quarterback, the strong defenses of both teams were rolled for 80 total points and almost 1000 yards of total offense. College football also crowned a national champion in that game, if you recall, and the stars I am referring to are Vince Young and Texas overcoming Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush at USC. That game had just as much exposure as the Thursday night WVU-UL game this past week, but all the nation talked about after the game was how great those teams were. Keep that in mind the next time you start bashing how awful the Big East and the WVU-UL game were.

The Big East has seen this disrespect all before, as the conference was the butt of all jokes after Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College all defected to supposed greener pastures (how’s that working out ACC?). Two very similar games in all respects above, and the Big East contest is somehow a whole lot different than the latest “best championship game ever.” I am not delusional enough to think any of the three Big East powerhouses could keep up with Ohio State and Michigan over the long haul, but each team has enough talent to make the game interesting if nothing else. If the Big Ten powers bring the effort from last week (Michigan scraped by Ball State and Ohio State looked very beatable in the second half at Illinois), any of the Big East teams could take them down. That’s why they play the games, and why an undefeated major conference team (read: Rutgers or Louisville) deserves to be in a championship game much more than any one-loss team.

Speaking of repeats for the Big East, the conference keeps the national spotlight again this week on Thursday night as Louisville moves from one battle of undefeated teams right into another against Rutgers. The conference may see this as a chance to regain a little respect from last week, but the fans and sportswriters of America will be looking for any fatal flaws in both teams. With all eyes on the Big Ten showdown November 18, this is really the last chance for the Big East to make a definitive statement. I fully expect more great football and a national title game frontrunner to emerge from this game (yes, even if it is Rutgers). Just remember Big East fans: if you follow West Virginia’s spanking of Georgia in the BCS last year with an undefeated team and championship this season in the BCS, nobody will be able to deny you from a seat at the table anymore.

In a little bit of a look-ahead to next week’s column, what happened to Michigan and Ohio State last weekend? The Wolverines led 31-12 before having to stop Ball State four times inside the ten yard line to preserve a 34-26 victory. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, netted a pathetic 25 yards of offense in the second half of a 17-10 win at Illinois. I really think a lot of the problems are in some regard injury-related. Mario Manningham was not really back against Ball State, and Michigan has not been able to blow away opponents since the prolific wide receiver went down with knee surgery a month ago. Ohio State has not had offensive lineman Alex Boone and veteran defensive lineman (there’s only two returning starters as you might recall) Quinn Pitcock for the past two weeks either. The Buckeye line was not able to open up running holes without Boone, and the defense has obviously missed the presence and leadership of Pitcock (although LB James Laurinitis has led admirably). These injuries might not seem significant as both teams keep winning, but I see big holes until these three gentlemen get back up to speed.

A lot of people just assumed Michigan and OSU were looking ahead two weeks and looking past their opponents. I suppose this is possible, but knowing the business-like nature of Jim Tressel and his team, it is hard to imagine this was the case. Lloyd Carr knows the dangers of looking forward as well, so I really doubt this explanation. On the bright side, both teams get much better opponents this week (UM at Indiana, OSU at Northwestern) who will not be overlooked. Indiana and Northwestern have both punished Iowa for looking ahead to big games against Michigan and Wisconsin, and both teams will do the same to #1 and #2 if it happens again this week. The games might not be as interesting assuming the top dogs keep the focus for four quarters this week, but trust me, the opponents are better than last week. One more note: nothing helps a team regain championship focus like a close call, so the Wolverines and Buckeyes should be more than ready to play this week and prepare for the big game next week.

Remember two weeks ago when everybody was trying to figure out the plethora of one-loss teams in college football? Just one week into the great month of November, and the number of one-loss teams has been trimmed to ten, as well as the undefeated list being trimmed to five. The amazing thing is all of these ten losses combined have come from great teams (Ohio State, Auburn, Arkansas, Oregon State, Tennessee, Michigan, Louisville, USC, Michigan again, and Clemson). With the exception of Oregon State, all of these teams are either undefeated or one-loss teams, or they have been very recently in the cases of Tennessee and Clemson. This is why it is so hard to determine which of these teams is the best, as really only USC has a questionable loss in the bunch. At least November has more showdowns coming up which will hopefully sort this out on the field.

On a slightly related note, wouldn’t it just be peachy if college football could determine all this on the field in a playoff system? Just to revisit last week’s playoff projections, let’s see how the playoff would look this week compared to the BCS bowl projections:

PLAYOFFS (ranked by current BCS standings)
#1 Ohio State vs. #19 Wake Forest
#4 Florida vs. #5 Texas
#3 Louisville vs. #8 California
#2 Michigan vs. #14 Boise State

BCS BOWL SYSTEM
Championship: #1 Ohio State vs. #3 Louisville
Rose: #8 California vs. #2 Michigan
Sugar: #4 Florida vs. #9 Notre Dame
Orange: #19 Wake Forest vs. #6 Auburn
Fiesta: #5 Texas vs. #14 Boise State

I look at the bowl projections and only hope that the games start to look a little better as teams shuffle around in November in conference play. The first round of playoff games look more exciting than that bowl line-up. No beating of the dead horses though, so I promise no revisiting this until the end of the season, but I will start projecting BCS bowls again next week. One more note about the BCS: there is something strange about tuning into pro football to see the unveiling of the BCS standings and hearing pro football analysts try to make sense of it. (I’m sorry, but Terry Bradshaw has no clue, despite voting in the Harris poll.) The questions they ask of “expert” Barry Alvarez are laughable every Sunday. Let’s hope the entertainment continues as the BCS continues down the path of crashing and burning (hopefully).

Another week, more big games... The first game of the week will be Oregon at USC. Fortunately for California, USC’s loss to Oregon State makes every game a must-win if the Trojans wish to go BCS bowling again. The Ducks have seemed to be on cruise control after losing at California, going 3-1 over mediocre opposition the past few weeks. USC recovered from the shocking loss at Oregon State by slicing up Stanford’s defense last weekend, and now faces a tough three-game home stretch against Oregon, California, and Notre Dame. Both teams should put up plenty of points as two prolific offenses combat two very mediocre defenses. Oregon has had nice balance between RB Jonathan Stewart and QB Dennis Dixon, and USC will have to slow perhaps the best rushing attack it has faced this season. Oregon’s defense has the unenviable task of trying to stop John David Booty from going crazy and adding to his amazing numbers (1966 passing yards, 19 TD to only 5 INT). I think USC will not be caught looking ahead to the bigger battles with California and Notre Dame, and without multiple Trojan turnovers the Ducks really cannot keep up. USC wins by 14.

The second game of the week is another SEC battle between Tennessee and Arkansas. Assuming Arkansas can defeat Mississippi State next weekend, the Razorbacks need only to defeat the Volunteers or LSU in two weeks to play Florida in the SEC title game. Both teams have had quarterback troubles lately, as injured Erik Ainge has been benched for Tennessee and unproductive true freshman Mitch Mustain has been downgraded to second-string this week by Arkansas. This should spell trouble more for Tennessee, as the Volunteer running attack is terrible. Arkansas has a nice running game led by Darren McFadden, who just seems to get better and better as the season rolls along. The Razorbacks defense could keep Tennessee in the game long enough for the Volunteers to make a play to win the game, but I think Arkansas can grab a quick lead at home and sit on it with the superior running game. Tennessee has nothing to play for except spoiling Arkansas’s season, and I really doubt the Volunteers have motivation to do even that. Arkansas moves one step closer to the SEC title game with a 4 point win.

The game of the week is again the aforementioned battle of the undefeateds, Louisville at Rutgers. Unlike WVU and Louisville, the nation is really getting their first look at Rutgers this season on Thursday night. Rutgers is just behind Ohio State in points allowed per game, and their defense is a top 5 unit which matches up nicely against Louisville’s top 5 offense. This is the first time Rutgers has ever played a game when both teams are ranked, so the national spotlight may be too much for the Scarlet Knights to handle. QB Brian Brohm will again lead his strong passing attack, but the Cardinals can run the ball very well also. Rutgers has impressive wins shutting down the offenses of Pittsburgh, Illinois, and Ohio (yes, the Bobcats are better than you think), but Louisville is a whole new level. Rutgers has no passing game and has gotten by with a good running attack led by Ray Rice. Louisville can clearly be run on, as WVU and Steve Slaton proved last week, but will the Cardinal defense stiffen up when there is no legitimate threat in the passing game? All the X-factors seem to lean toward Louisville, but I think Rutgers steps up and shocks the world with a tough win at home. The defense holds the Cardinals below 30 points, allowing the offense to do just enough to win the game. Rutgers by 3.

GOTW 2006 Record to Date: 20-10
Last Week: 0-3 (Ouch, first time all season)

Fitzy’s Top 10 - Week 11
1. Ohio State (10-0)
2. Michigan (10-0)
3. Texas (9-1)
4. Auburn (9-1)
5. Florida (8-1)
6. Louisville (8-0)
7. Rutgers (8-0)
8. California (8-1)
9. Arkansas (8-1)
10. USC (7-1)

Unlike my fellow writer from Ohio on this website, I have not-so-patiently waited to preview the game of the year, so expect a full analysis of OSU-UM next week. Until then, enjoy the second week of November. (I know all my Democrat friends are. It seems the country is unhappy with our leadership, so now if we could just get a BCS referendum on the ballot for 2007). See you next week!

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