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PARTY LIKE IT'S 2007: FELLOWSHIP OF THE UNBEATEN
October 1, 2009

SCS.com Turn back the clocks a little bit to a time when national title contenders changed on a weekly basis. A time when nobody was safe, and unknown programs leapt to the top of the rankings. A time when it was not a one-loss SEC team playing for a national championship, but a TWO-loss team. You shouldn't have to think too far back because this happened only two years ago. As the calendar turns to October in the 2009 season, it appears that the unthinkable could happen again. The top 10 was not the place to be on last Saturday, as four of the top ten went down in flames. All of a sudden the small guys like Cincinnati, Houston, and Iowa are legitimate contenders, much like South Florida, Boston College, Missouri, and West Virginia in 2007. Does the next month have as much craziness in store?

Let's start with the crew of undefeated teams after one month in the season. Seventeen out of 120 FCS teams remain in the X-0 sweepstakes, in order of national rankings: Florida, Texas, Alabama, LSU, Boise State, Cincinnati, TCU, Houston, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Auburn, South Florida, UCLA, Wisconsin, and Texas A&M. Some of these teams we expected to be here such as Florida and Texas, others are complete surpises such as the Aggies and the Bruins. If 2007 is any indication, whomever survives the October gauntlet will probably be among a short list of 3-5 teams at the front of the line. Let's play a little game of eliminate the frauds for the next five weeks on the schedule. This weekend we will lose

The first weekend of October will bring four casualties. LSU is a better team than Georgia, but the Tigers will be looking ahead to Florida. Texas A&M gets no respect, but Arkansas will prove why. Minnesota will defend their new stadium and take back the axe from Wisconsin, and Auburn will struggle as Tennessee gets back on track. This leaves 13 for the second weekend of October. This weekend also cuts another four contenders from the fellowship, starting early on Thursday with Nebraska knocking off Missouri. UCLA will be yet another team dominated by the Oregon Ducks, while Michigan will lose a battle of undefeated teams against Iowa. The big fish gone this weekend will be Florida, which will not drop them out of the championship race by any means. However, LSU will be right back in the mix after this colossal battle of the last 3 national championship winners.

Two weeks into October and the herd is thinned to nine. The third weekend of October will bring another battle of undefeateds as Cincinnati travels to Tampa and proves that the loss of Matt Grothe will catch up to South Florida. Iowa will come off their huge win and come up short in Madison. The fourth weekend in October will see TCU and Kansas drop tough road games that will cripple their conference title hopes against BYU and Oklahoma. Going into Halloween weekend, there will be five teams left chasing the dream, but sadly there will be a Trick waiting for the Longhorns instead of a treat at Stillwater. Which means going into November, the only four teams still standing at X-0 in the fellowship will be Alabama, Boise State, Houston, and Cincinnati. Make no mistake about it, this is the season an undefeated non-BCS conference school could play for the national championship. However, there will still be huge hurdles to climb in November for all these contenders, and teams like Ohio State and Oklahoma have strong back ends to their schedules and could get back in the mix. If 2009 is anything like 2007, even the two-loss teams (in the SEC) will not be eliminated until it's all said and done in early December.

Thankfully for the teams who lost last weekend, seasons are not won and lost in September usually. Except for California perhaps, which will be very hard pressed to impress anyone after losing by 39 to an Oregon squad with plenty problems of their own. However, Miami, Penn State, and Mississippi still have enough big teams left on the schedule to make a run back at the top, alongside top one-loss teams Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and USC. October might not seem like the sexiest time of the season, but it becomes very hard to survive the November mess if you are outside the top 10-12 after Halloween, so now is the time to make some noise and impress some voters. You have to be careful how far you go to impress voters though, as proven by Florida with the injury to Tim Tebow. Urban Meyer will get one free pass thanks to the bye week this week, but so many high profile players have already gone down and it will be a delicate balancing act trying to rack up huge statistics and scores while protecting your most talented players.

While it is completely understandable that the MAC and the Sun Belt cannot make it through September with any teams unscathed against strong competition, the only other conference lacking and undefeated team is the ACC. This conference is so hard to figure out on a week-to-week basis, I'd wager the bloggers covering that conference are some of the most content people in the world trying to unravel the riddle. The ACC was filled with a bunch of mediocrity last season, but that did not stop Virginia Tech from winning a BCS bowl for the conference for the first time in 7 years. Virginia Tech looked like a fraud against Alabama, but that's not all that surprising considering just how good the Crimson Tide is. Miami, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State, and NC State will all have something to say before it is all over. However, each of these teams has had shockingly bad performances and big losses, so the parity and mediocrity seems to remain. One can only hope that the ACC is a little better on a whole this season, but that will not help the conference reputation as they beat up on each other.

One final note before we turn our attention away from the opening month: this is the time of year trigger-happy athletic departments begin considering the ejection seat for struggling coaches. While there may be no hotter seat overall than Charlie Weis, there's no way Notre Dame would pull the rug out in the middle of a season, especially at 3-1. Who will win the Tommy Tuberville sweepstakes of 2009? Leading contenders are Al Groh at Virginia, Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, and Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville. Virginia and Maryland are consistently bad now in a mediocre conference, and Kragthorpe is not turning a proud Big East program around quickly enough. Smart money is on Al Groh, as it was questionable if Virginia would even bring him back at the beginning of the season. There's opportunity to set some relationships with a new coaching staff and the recruits in motion if virginia acts quickly, and in the ACC, they might be a contender in only a year or two. But perhaps it will be a complete blindside. We'll wait and see.

The first game of the week is an elimination game in the Pac-10, as USC and California lock up with one conference loss apiece already. This was dubbed as the game of the season in the conference, and only Oregon looks like they may interfere with that conclusion after blasting California by 39. Cal has played very well at home so far and will be looking to get Heisman-contender RB Javhid Best back on track. The sledding will likely be tough against the strong front seven of the Trojans. However, the Trojans will also not find the going easy against California, with Matt Barkley nursing his injury still and senior RB Stafon Johnson out for the season after a weight room accident. USC has found a way to get up for the big games, and this is still a big game. However, Barkley struggled in his one appearance on the road in Columbus, and California knows the USC offense much better than the Buckeyes. The team who establishes a running attack first should win this game, and you just have to favor the stable of running backs left for USC including Joe McKnight over the one-man Best show. USC wins a tight one by 6.

The second game of the week is Oklahoma's visit to Miami, which is another battle between teams surprised to have one loss. In Miami's case, they are probably happy with a 2-1 start and a 3-1 start would be a steal given the four ranked teams they will have played. QB Jacory Harris faced a tough Virginia Tech defense and wilted, and Oklahoma is probably a whole other level ahead of the Hokies on that side of the ball. Oklahoma has not given up points since the go-ahead touchdown to BYU, and only 14 points overall. Look for Oklahoma to pressure Harris much like the Hokies did, and they will force Harris to beat them individually. That's too tall a task in all likelihood. On the other side of the ball, Miami should play tough, but the return of Sam Bradford could spark an already rolling offense for the Sooners. Oklahoma wins in another rout against Miami by 21.

The game of the week honors this weekend go back down south to the SEC as LSU visit Georgia. Each of these teams has played very interesting games so far, and this may be the game where we finally figure out what each team is made of before they face Florida this month. Georgia survived a tough roadtrip to Arizona State and has been far more potent on offense than expected without Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. LSU has been strong on defense and held up in a couple of pressure situations the past two weeks at Washington and versus Mississippi State. Look for this to be the matchup that decides the game. On the other side of the ball, LSU has struggled mightily having the worst offense in the conference and one of the bottom 15 in the country. Georgia has been relying on the prolific offense though because the defense has allowed teams like South Carolina to get into shootouts with the Bulldogs. Mark Richt has had Les Miles's number thus far, and one has to imagine that LSU will be caught looking past this tough battle just a bit to the Florida game. Georgia sends the Bayou Bengals packing with a 10 point win.

2009 GOTW Record: 5-7
Last Week: 1-2

Fitz Top 10 - Week 4
1. Alabama
2. Texas
3. Florida
4. Boise State
5. TCU
6. Cincinnati
7. Houston
8. Virginia Tech
9. LSU
10. Oklahoma

Just Missed: USC, Ohio State, South Florida, Iowa, Missouri

Well this weekend I will blissfully not be moving after doing two very long weekends of labor, so I look forward to going through some boxes and actually getting to enjoy my new house a bit. This will certainly include some TV time to take in the opening games for the month of October. While 2009 looks a lot like 2007 so far, teams still have to set the foundation now for BCS and national championship runs. Look for more surprises in the top 15 as unheralded teams deal with high praise and success while conference showdowns continue. We'll see you next week when the Fellowship of the Undefeated will definitely not be 17 anymore.

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