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TRICK OR TREAT: TOP CONTENDERS WANT TO KNOW
October 28, 2008

SCS.com Ghosts and Ghouls unite! There's free candy at every door this week, but BCS contenders cannot spend time thinking about sweet times. There's still a little over a month of work to do before the BCS lineup is set, and there will certainly be pitfalls and traps along the way. This week we begin the BCS projections, sure-fire to go wrong until December! Plus, this week we take an in-depth look at the Big East championship chase as I will be taking in an elimination game on Thursday night as South Florida travels to Cincinnati.

All of a sudden, things are stable at the top of the BCS chase. While it's not bound to last forever, Texas, Alabama, and Penn State certainly proved they are capable of passing their biggest tests by surviving a trio of tough games last Saturday. Nobody thought Texas could run the Oklahoma-Missouri-OK State-Texas Tech gauntlet, but here they stand 3-0 in the first three weeks of that run. Tough road battles remain at Tech and Kansas, but the Longhorns look more dominant than even the 2005 team that won the National Championship.

Alabama keeps getting questioned for slow second half play, but the fact is that Nick Saban has a tough bunch of kids who know how to hold onto a lead. They overcame their fierce rival Tennessee and have what it takes to down LSU and Auburn in their down years. The Joe-Pa express could not be derailed either, as PSU has overcome the two houses of horror they've faced in Big Ten play (7 straight losses to Michigan and an 0-7 record in Columbus snapped). In fact, the HD offense used Tresselball against the king of the Big Ten and will almost certainly be taking the crown from the three-time champs. The remainder of the standings were also pretty solid as teams like Oklahoma, USC, and Florida kept up their blistering paces.

No surprise, the fire now mentality in college football continues to take its deadly grasp. Following Tommy Bowden out the door is Washington's Tyrone Willingham, who has won 11 games in three and a half seasons. It's really hard to understand what has happened in Seattle. Willingham had just as much success at Notre Dame as the coaches he followed, yet could not bring the same level of play to Washington. This could be the end of the road for his coaching career, at least at the head coaching level. Look on the bright side though Tyrone, there's always a chance Lou Holtz will need a new co-host and it would be amazing to hear the two former Notre Dame coaches ham it up. U-Dub should have waited five weeks, but the firing was inevitable.

Speaking of bad things in college football, entitled fan bases need to grow up and realize what blessings they have. I'm taking aim at a fan base I am particularly well-read in, that of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Let's face it, the Buckeyes did not deserve to play for a national title last season. However, people do not give them credit for just how close the game against the far-superior talent of LSU was, in LSU's home stadium (practically). This season the Buckeyes have not lived up to lofty expectations due to offensive player struggles and especially the line play. But even after a loss to Penn State, OSU stands at 7-2, #12 in the BCS and has a very winnable finishing stretch to likely end up in another BCS bowl. If Penn State wins out, a likely berth in Pasadena for only the second time in 25 years will await the Buckeyes. Yet a local Columbus poll showed 76% of fans consider this season "a lost season." What? I know over 100 teams that would trade places with the Buckeyes right now, maybe even more. When a Rose Bowl berth and a fifth straight win against Michigan are not enough? Wake up Buckeye fans...no dynasty wins them all every year. This is a bigger problem than just this fanbase, but college football fans need to temper their expectations and enjoy what they have.

This week will be the first game I go to on behalf of SCS this season, so let's take a brief look at the Big East chase. Syracuse and Rutgers aside, any of the next six teams could end up in the BCS. South Florida has left themselves no margin for error after losses to Pittsburgh and Louisville. After a crazy week in conference play, West Virginia stands at the top at 2-0 while UCONN, Pitt, Louisville, and Cincinnati each have one conference loss. This week will separate the contenders more as WVU travels to Connecticut and USF goes to Cincinnati. It will be interesting to see how the Bearcats and Bulls come off very disappointing losses, as only one will remain in the BCS chase after this Thursday. I'll have more on the experience this time next week.

Before turning to this week's slate of games, a quick run through on how the BCS will work this season. All teams ranked in the Top 14 with at least nine wins are eligible. Conference champion affiliations include Pac-10 and Big Ten to the Rose, SEC to the Sugar, ACC to the Orange, and Big XII to the Fiesta. After the #1 and #2 teams are placed in the Championship and the conference champions are placed, the picking order in 2008 for at-large teams is as follows: the bowl who lost their conference champ and #1 team to the BCS Championship, then the bowl who lost #2, then the Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange in that order. Got all that? Let's put it to work!

At this point I project Texas and Penn State will end up undefeated, meeting in the BCS Championship. The remaining BCS conference champions will be West Virginia (Big East), USC (Pac-10, Rose Bowl), Florida (SEC, Sugar Bowl), and Florida State (ACC, Orange Bowl). The at-large pool will then include Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Utah, Boise State, Ohio State, and TCU among others. The Fiesta will want Ohio State, but will be blocked by the Rose Bowl in all likelihood. Thus, the Fiesta takes Oklahoma again. Then the Rose replaces PSU with Ohio State. This leaves the Fiesta probably grabbing Alabama for a crimson showdown. The Sugar will grab West Virginia, leaving Boise State to the Orange Bowl (assuming Utah loses). This leaves us with...

BCS Projections October 27, 2008
BCS Championship in Miami - Texas vs. Penn State
Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma vs. Alabama
Sugar Bowl - Florida vs. West Virginia
Orange Bowl - Florida State vs. Boise State
Rose Bowl - USC vs. Ohio State

You have to admit, it looks good at the beginning of November. Now if half of it is right in December, we'll call it a success!

The third best game of the week was a tough call, but the ACC will get into the spotlight for the first time with Florida State visiting Georgia Tech. Florida State is a lot like Penn State, stepping back to glory quietly in 2008. Outside of a disappearance against Wake Forest in September, the Seminoles have an offense that is rolling behind new QB Christian Ponder and RB Antone Smith. The real story in 2008 is the vastly improved line play on both sides of the ball. This strength will be tested by a Georgia Tech team that has played very well defensively and has more than enough offensive punch as well. Georgia Tech is a game behind Virginia in the Coastal after the loss to the Cavaliers and so cannot afford another loss. Look for the new-style Yellowjacket offense to confuse the Seminole defense a little. Still, Florida State comes up with a crucial turnover late and wins by 3.

The second game of the week is Texas at Texas Tech, which sets a new record as the Longhorns have a top 3 game of the week for four weeks running now. These teams match 4-0 conference records and 8-0 overall records, but the Longhorns have survived the much tougher schedule thus far. Everybody knows what Texas and Colt McCoy bring to the table, so the key will be if Texas Tech has enough defense this season to win the big game. Crazy things have happened to the Longhorns in Lubbick before, and WR Michael Crabtree should open up some opportunities for oft-forgotten running backs Baron Batch and Shannon Woods. Although there's a lot to love about this Texas Tech team, the Longhorns do not even look worn down by the killer October gauntlet. Texas avoids the upset and all but finishes off a South division title with a 10 point win.

Florida at Georgia. Outside of the USC-OSU game, this was the one everyone looked forward to in August. While both teams have lost a conference game, each remains in the thick of the national title race. A win in the Cocktail Party (long live the name) will decide the SEC East as expected as well as eliminate another BCS Championship contender. The loser could still jump Alabama for the second SEC berth in the BCS, but Urban Meyer and Mark Richt were not hired to lose this game. Don't expect any antics of rushing the field this time, but there will be a lot of trick plays featuring talents such as WR Percy Harvin, QB Tim Tebow, RB Knowshon Moreno, and QB Matthew Stafford. Despite all the offensive firepower, the defense will be the difference. Florida has only given up 83 points all season, with 31 of those coming in the shocker loss to Ole Miss. Georgia has given up 162 points and has a lot more trouble stiffening up in the end zone. That's bad news against a team this talented. Gator chomp by 13.

2008 GOTW Record: 15-12
Last Week: 3-0

Fitz Top 10 - Week 9
1. Penn State (9-0)
2. Texas (8-0)
3. Alabama (8-0)
4. Texas Tech (8-0)
5. Oklahoma (7-1)
6. Georgia (7-1)
7. USC (6-1)
8. Florida (6-1)
9. Utah (8-0)
10. Boise State (7-0)

Just Missed: Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Tulsa, TCU, Ball State

This will be a momentous week for me yet again (seems like it's every week this football season), as I will find out some bar exam results just a few hours after I cover the UC-USF game. Wish me luck, and have a great week!

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