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CONFERENCE CALL - NOW THE REAL BATTLES EMERGE
September 23, 2008

SCS.com After a fun-filled first four weeks of the college football season, autumn has officially arrived and with it comes conference play. For the most part, conferences will be judged on what they have done to this point and that could make the difference between a BCS at-large berth and a lesser bowl game. This week we'll take a quick rundown of each conference race and rank the conferences, with the best coming first.

1. SEC - Is there any doubt that the SEC is the best conference in America? Four top 10 teams and at least as many legitimate national championship contenders will make this race highly entertaining as usual. The top contenders in the East are Florida and Georgia. These teams play on a neutral site but Georgia faces Alabama and LSU on the road while Florida plays LSU at home and misses Alabama. Florida may even be able to lose to Georgia and win the division at 7-1. LSU escaped at Auburn and still must face the remaining three contenders, likely too much to go undefeated. Alabama is the surprise of the conference and could certainly become a frontrunner with a win at home against Georgia. Other contenders include Auburn out west, who could still overcome the loss to LSU; and Vanderbilt in the East, if they continue to play above their heads and chaos reigns in the East. Almost every week will have one of the top three games nationally, and the nation will continue to watch the epic battles.

2. Big XII - After a few down years where Oklahoma and Texas walked over everyone and the North division was an absolute joke, the best conference in the Midwest is now the Big XII. Unlike the SEC, the Big XII does have a few weak programs including Baylor and Iowa state. The North championship will again run through Missouri, as Chase Daniel and the Tigers have blown away four pretty solid teams thus far. Nebraska looks solid and Colorado is undefeated, but both need to prove it on the road. Kansas will be Missouri's prime competition, but games against Texas and Oklahoma will likely doom the Jayhawks. Down South the Longhorns will have too tough an October to survive, while Texas Tech and Oklahoma should play for the title in Norman on November 22 after a bye week for each. Oklahoma State could compete as well. Look for Oklahoma and Missouri: the rematch.

3. Big Ten - The drop-off from the top two conference to this spot is massive. The Big Ten holds down this spot thanks to what appears to be five or six very solid teams, and even the struggling programs are decent. The most intriguing game of the opening conference week may be 4-0 Northwestern at 3-1 Iowa, as both are better than expected and a real contender may emerge. Minnesota already has four times as many wins as last year and should be in the bowl mix, while Penn State and Wisconsin are the frontrunners after Ohio State's fall from grace. Michigan State should make Wisconsin and Ohio State sweat on the road as well. Wisconsin has the best setup with both Ohio State and Penn State coming to Madison, but they are consecutive weeks. Of course, Terrelle Pryor gives the Big Ten a major problem if Chris Wells indeed returns healthy. This race will definitely be more competitve than the past two years, and that is a good thing.

4. Big East - The "little guys" of the BCS clock in here because two superstar programs have fallen on hard times in West Virginia and Rutgers. Still, newcomers Connecticut, South Florida, and Cincinnati could compete on the big stage. Louisville and Pittsburgh have recovered from bad losses to become outside contenders as well. South Florida is the most battle-tested of the bunch and has the defense to compete in road games at Cincinnati and West Virginia. Connecticut faces a tough three game roadtrip starting this week but could surprise a lot of conference foes. Except for Syracuse, anybody (including 0-3 Rutgers) could end up winning the conference. Look for the winner of Cincinnati and South Florida to be the favorite.

5. Pac-10 - The past two weeks have managed to drop a clear third-best conference down this far where they will likely linger until bowl season. It will be a shocker if USC is even challenged, and this may hurt any chances of being competitive in BCS play. In fact, USC may be the odd team out again if the SEC and Big XII surprise and deliver undefeated champions. Every team outside of USC has already started conference play, but every team has dropped a shocker in non-conference play. Oregon and California are still the top contenders despite lackluster non-conference performances. Both go to the LA Coliseum, and the only real race will be if any other team can contend for the BCS with two losses. At this point, it does not look like it.

6. MWC - When the worst team in the conference almost beat Notre Dame on the road, it almost puts the Mountain West into the top 5 conference, a massive feat for a non-BCS crew. Not only are Utah and BYU better than the critics expected, TCU gives the league incredible depth and BCS possibilities. Although winning in the Big House may not be as impressive as usual, Utah played a terrible game and won there. Assuming no slip-ups, Utah will benefit from getting both TCU and BYU at home. One cannot discount upset hopes for Air Force, UNLV, and Wyoming every week.

7. ACC - To be honest, this conference almost ranks lower than #7. Forget the Big East, take the ACC BCS berth away after a 1-9 start in the first decade! Virginia Tech has survived one of the worst opening four weeks to emerge 2-0 in conference play having already defeated both of their main competitors in the Coastal division in UNC and Georgia Tech. The real interesting race will be in the Atlantic, where Wake Forest and Clemson will be tested by Maryland and Boston College. Wake Forest may have a little less talent than Clemson, but the Tigers must go to Winston-Salem. Virginia Tech has to be the favorite, but it's a long road before January.

8. WAC - Despite Fresno State's loss to Wisconsin, this league could still send Boise State to the BCS again. The race should not go any deeper than that, but this is still enough to make the conference better than those with no legitimate BCS contenders.

9. C-USA - The run for BCS stardom may not yet be over after East Carolina's loss. ECU surprised a lot of people with big wins and may be able to recover thanks to such a tough schedule. Still, Tulsa is the favorite now that they remain as the only undefeated team left, including a favorable schedule missing ECU and getting Rice at home. Look for a much-anticipated East Carolina vs. Tulsa battle, unless UCF or Rice pulls a surprise.

10. MAC - Although no teams are in serious BCS contention here, the conference should have a good race. Buffalo and Ball State are resurgent and could meet in the championship. Look for the best (and only) 0-4 team in the country Ohio to compete with Buffalo and Miami (OH) in the East, while Ball State will have to survive Central Michigan on the road. Look for the Chippewas to defend their title against Buffalo.

11. Sun Belt - There's only one team to even discuss here, and it is the Troy Trojans of Alabama. Despite playing Ohio State and LSU on the road, this team has built up a dominant set of talent that should breeze through the likes of Arkansas State and Louisiana.

Moving on to the top games of the week, the first is Virginia Tech at Nebraska. The Hokies have recovered from a shocking loss to ECU to all but lock up a spot in the ACc Championship. Nebraska has a potent offense led by seniors QB Joe Ganz and RB Marlon Lucky. Still, Nebraska has faced no defense as good as the Hokies. The Husker fans are really lurking after a few years out of the spotlight, and Nebraska has had two weeks to prepare. Virginia Tech wins by 7 thanks to being in midseason form already.

The second game of the week is TCU at Oklahoma. The Sooners have absolutely mauled decent Washington and good Cincinnati teams already, while TCU is a surprising 4-0 thanks to a return to the defense that helped the Horned Frogs compete a couple years ago on a national stage. Dual-threat QB Andy Dalton has five touchdowns on the ground and good air stats outside of a 0/1 touchdown to interception ratio in four games. RB Ryan Christian helps the Horned frogs give Oklahoma something to think about. The Sooners defense will be tested again after giving up too many points to cincinnati, but Sam Bradford has been magnificent behind center this season. Oklahoma wins a very close one by 3.

The overall top game of the week again comes from SEC land, Alabama at Georgia. The Crimson Tide are a lot better than expected, and "wait till next year" will go away with a win here. Georgia has the deadly trio of a top-threat passer Matthew Stafford, a slicing running back Knowshon Moreno, and a true deep threat WR A.J. Green. In a battle between mastermind coaches, never underestimate the underdog mentality. Georgia simply has too much for Alabama to keep up with, but Alabama is well-tested and will perhaps make this one go down to the last possession. Bulldogs by 7.

2008 GOTW Record: 7-5
Last Week: 1-2

Fitz Top 10 - Week 4
1. USC (2-0)
2. Missouri (4-0)
3. Florida (3-0)
4. Georgia (4-0)
5. Oklahoma (3-0)
6. wisconsin (3-0)
7. LSU (3-0)
8. Texas Tech (4-0)
9. BYU (4-0)
10. Penn State (4-0)

Just Missed: Texas, South Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State

With most teams jumping into battles with teams they meet every year, there will inevitably be some shockers and potholes for top teams along the way. Experience breeds upsets and contempt, which is a good thing for this sport. Have a great week!

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