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WHAT HAPPENED? MID-SEASON SURPRISES NOT ALWAYS GOOD
October 15, 2009

SCS.com Not everyone has played six games yet, but this week marks the midway point of the season for most schools. Usually we really have no idea what to expect from the season until the middle weekend of October, and there are always surprises and disappointments. This season, the positive surprises include Cincinnati, Iowa, Duke, and Army, among other things. However nice these stories are, the sheer fact of the matter is halfway through the season, the top 5 teams in America were within the Top 8 at the beginning of the year. For now, the bad surprises are standing out more. So what went wrong? Let's see if we can find out.

We begin in the ACC, and there's no doubt the most shocking disappointment of the season hails from Tallahassee. Florida State played well against a game Miami squad and started 2-1 after trouncing mighty BYU in Provo, but since that roadtrip...three weeks and three losses. The road does not get much easier in the conference and with four losses and Florida on the schedule, this will very likely be the first losing season since coach Bobby Bowden's first year in 1976. The offense is doing just fine, although it can be a bit inconsistent as shown in a couple of games. However, the defense has been atrocious, and you wonder if Bowden has the right staff around him on the defensive side. The athletes are there, so there's really no excuse other than the coaching is not good enough to get these guys to execute. That will likely lead to Bowden's exit after this year or next, which is a sad passing of the torch.

If the Seminoles are disappointing, the Colorado Buffaloes are a tragedy. It seemed like Dan Hawkins was set for success when he took the reins at Colorado in a downtrodden Big XII North, but he's done nothing to even come close to the expectations. You know things are getting bad when the coach's son, a three-year starter at quarterback, gets benched for this week's game. The defense looked good for a half against Texas, but make no mistake about it...the defense is the number one problem here too. Colorado does not have an offense that can score 30 points per game, but that's what the defense is giving up. The offense is struggling to find balance, which means teams can cheat up and load the box to slow the Buffaloes. At this point, Hawkins has to be on the thinnest of wires for the rest of the season and perhaps nothing can stop a pink slip in this situation. Colorado always seems to get picked to be competitive in the North, but always they disappear.

Although Illinois is certainly the most disappointing team in the Big Ten, the story here is more about an individual. Quarterback Juice Williams appeared to figure it all out in a dream sophomore season in 2007. The highlight was going into Columbus Ohio and giving Ohio State their first regular season loss in over 2 years. Williams had tons of talent around him thanks to the recruiting master Ron Zook, and it appeared Illinois would parlay the 2008 Rose Bowl into a couple years of being OSU's primary rival. But then, Williams had a mediocre junior year. In his senior season, he's gotten even worse, being benched last weekend before another loss. Illinois has scored one first half touchdown against four FBS teams, and while the competition has been solid, this level of offensive ineptitude is unacceptable. Ron Zook definitely gets part of the blame, but you rarely see a player regress so dramatically like Williams has. So this remains a mystery, but maybe Williams is not as good as he looked in 2007.

Although there's always someone who must end up the loser in the Mid-American conference, this season we have a tale of two cities. In Oxford Ohio, the cupboards were left pretty empty for rookie head coach Michael Heywood. Nevertheless, getting outscored 90-0 in the first two games could not have been pictured. Although the Redhawks have played decent defense at times, the offense is nonexistant. In this case, Heywood just needs a few years to recruit to be competitive in even the MAC. In Muncie Indiana the story of the year last year was undefeated Ball State, who has turned that around to an 0-6 start this year. Ball State has also given up 30 points per game, which is unacceptable but the offense which carried them last season also disappeared. The Cardinals have sturggled to move the ball on the ground, and it does not seem like the boys from Muncie are the same team from a season ago. So Oxford and Ball State don't play each other, which is a shame because that could be the powderpuff bowl of the season.

Another duo closes out the disappointing surprises in the Pac-10. The slightly less disappointing team is UCLA, who started 3-0 but now looks hapless in conference play. One would expect that the fertile recruiting grounds that Pete Carroll draws from could easily support UCLA, especially on offense with masterminds Norm Chow as coordinator and Rick Neuheisel at the head coach position. Yet the Bruins are struggling to stay afloat at all on offense and they put a lot of pressur eon their defense. Meanwhile, California is probably competing with Mississippi for most overrated team of September. The difference that puts Cal on this list is just how awful they played against the best two teams in the conference and how the Heisman hopes of RB Javhid Best have been thoroughly deflated. Cal has a nice win at Minnesota, but the Golden Bears have been outscored 72-6 since then. Something's gotta give this weekend as these two titans meet at the Rose Bowl, which will be as close to the BCS either gets this season. I suspect UCLA can turn it around, but California may be headed to a new coaching regime.

The first game of the week pits two teams coming off a bye, as USC travels to Notre Dame for their annual rivalry. USC has dominated the series since Pete Carroll took over, but Notre Dame has true aspirations and hopes for the first time since 2005. Coach Charlie Weis could end all talks of his job security with a win here, so expect him to pull out all the stops to try and catch USC in what appears to be a down year. This battle is the rumbling rushing attack of USC with RB Joe McKnight and company versus the prolific passing attack of Jimmy Clausen and the fighting Irish. USC has more than enough defensive talent to hold Notre Dame in check, but this has the markigns of a very close game. Nobody should be surprised if Notre Dame wins with a couple big plays as long as they pressure Matt Barkley into mistakes. If Barkley has enough time to operate, and I think he will, USC will win this in a dramatic finish like 2005. USC by 4.

The second game of the week is likely the final big game separating Virginia Tech from a BCS bowl. The Hokies face a dangerous roadtrip to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech, who are coming off an offensive slugfest with Florida State. On one side, you have the quickly improving and possibly national-title caliber Hokie defense taking on the triple option rushing attack of the Yellowjackets. The triple option is hard to prepare for, so expect Georgia Tech to have more success than Miami and Boston Collee have had in the last two weeks. Unfortunately the game will likely be decided on the other side of the ball, where QB Tyrod Taylor has come into his own and is facing one of the weakest defenses in the conference. One only has to look at the 49-44 shootout with Florida State to understand that Georgia Tech is troubled on defense. There is a chance for Tech to put pressure on Taylor, and if they can contain him from rushing outside the pocket, they may stick around long enough to have a chance. I think Virginia Tech moves closer to a BCS Championship game berth with a 17 point win.

The top game of the week, well we're going to the Big East instead of the Big D. On Thursday night a matchup of undefeated teams will pit Cincinnati against South Florida in what could very well be a BCS play-in game. Last year I had the privilege of covering this game in Cincinnati, and it propelled the Bearcats to winning out and their first BCS bowl. This year Cincinnati may have a BCS Championship berth on the line if they can survive this roadtrip to Tampa. Cincinnati has reloaded on defense, but the story of this game and season are the most talented players in the conference in QB Tony Pike and WR Mardy Gilyard. If these guys have another big game on the national stage, one or both will be in New York for the Heisman ceremony. They are that good. South Florida has recovered nicely from losing star senior QB Matt Grothe for the season, but this will be the first truly tough test against a solid defense. Don't expect this game to be played in the 30's, as both defenses should step up and make a statement. The defenses are equal, but the offenses are not and the Bearcats take a big step with a 10 point road victory.

2009 GOTW Record: 9-9
Last Week: 3-0 (woo!)

Fitz Top 10 - Week 6
1. Alabama (6-0)
2. Florida (5-0)
3. Texas (5-0)
4. TCU (5-0)
5. Cincinnati (5-0)
6. Boise State (5-0)
7. Virginia Tech (5-1)
8. Ohio State (5-1)
9. USC (4-1)
10. South Florida (5-0)

Just Missed: Iowa, Oregon, Miami, Penn State, LSU

For the second straight week, the next three best games on the schedule are almost as good as the three I previewed. Obviously Texas versus Oklahoma is a big game but this is really only Texas with something to lose. It will be interesting to see if Sam Bradford is his usual self, as if he is, Colt McCoy will need a Heisman-worthy performance to lead the Longhorns to victory. While I adore going to spend Saturdays with my fellow writers in the pressbox somewhere, I will enjoy a weekend in front of the television this weekend. Wherever you may end up this weekend, don't forget the great football that will be going on. See you next week!

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