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TRICK OR TREAT? HALLOWEEN TESTS AWAIT CONTENDERS
October 29, 2009

SCS.com When the calendar switched to this month of October, a slight chill was in the air. Now we arrive at the last weekend of October, a Halloween Saturday full of college football as we enter the stretch run. The seven remaining undefeated teams can see the finish line, and most have what appear to be easy schedules to close the season. However, almost every contender has one or two major tests left, and nobody knows what will happen on a week to week basis. Penn State looked like a lock for the BCS Championship last season with three games left on the schedule, but the Nittany Lions were derailed by a trick in Iowa City. If there's anything October has proven, it's that all the title contenders are vulnerable every week, no matter where they go. What can be expected this Halloween? Lots of drama if nothing else.

This week some old pro football veterans are testifying in front of Congress about the perils of playing football, as many old veterans are fighting brain problems such as dementia. Player safety has increased by leaps and bounds in the past 30 years, but there's no denying concussions happen and are dangerous. What compounds the problem is subjecting players to recurring injuries. Although the concussion Tim Tebow suffered has luckily not happened again, but he also has not been himself since coming back a mere 14 days after the injury. Sam Bradford was not so lucky, reinjuring his shoulder in the game against Texas and quickly ending the other Heisman winner's season. While Heisman Trophies and national championships are nice, coaches have to be more concerned about the futures of these young men. This season, I don't think that has been the primary concern. Let's hope tebow and other athletes who got rushed back from injuries don't lose much more than a chance at awards.

Although four of the five teams everyone expected to be in the national title mix still remain there, the real surprise has been the list of other contenders. Who would've guessed Oregon would bounce back so nicely from the debacle in Boise to being favored to knock USC out of the Pac-10 race for the first time since 2000? Furthermore, who had Iowa and Cincinnati on their national championship radar a month ago? While TCU and Boise State are not too surprising so far, the fact that they both could end up in BCS bowls is a scenario every college football fan should love. With a little over a month left to go in the season, it's unclear whether the pack of paupers or the pack of royalty will end up in Pasadena in January. While dominant dynasties have provided some good BCS Championship games, it would be nice to see the little guys finally have their day. Either way, there will certainly be a treat in January this year as the Granddaddy of them all hosts not one but two major bowl games.

Here's a Halloween conundrum: why is parity in the SEC seen as a sign of strength while parity everywhere else means the conferences are mediocre? Ohio State and USC have been perfect case studies of what happens when one team dominates a league for a decade, and you'd expect better results than one national championship apiece. Both do have positive bowl records, but there's certainly something to be said for being truly tested for many weeks in the year. However, the SEC has been getting the benefit of the doubt without deserving it this season, as the conference has as much parity as the Big XII, the Big Ten, and the Pac-10. Florida and Alabama stand undefeated, but more because of poor officiating and chokes by the middle-tier teams rather than them overcoming adversity. After watching week after week of bad offenses and mediocre defenses, I think it is time to question if this is the year the SEC will go down in flames for a bowl season. There's still more talent down in those programs than anywhere else, but the more they play, the more I believe a one-loss SEC team should not get the benefit of the doubt created by Florida and LSU.

Speaking of the SEC, thanks for finally recognizing that the officiating crew who botched the Georgia-LSU game is not up to par for the best conference in college football. Although Arkansas should overcome adversity, they can get in line behind Georgia in the "we got robbed" line. A one week suspension is a drastic move for a conference who denies wrongdoing like it's going out of style. Still, the conference should fire some of that crew if not all of them. I'm not one to call for people's heads usually, especially in this economy, but honestly there has to be some accountability for your job performance and the atrocious SEC officiating has to get better somehow. So while I appreciate the gesture, it is an irrelevant one if bigger changes are not made this offseason.

Speaking of one game suspensions, anyone who stuck around the Ohio State versus Minnesota game was treated to one of those rare moments when a broadcaster sticks his foot so far into his mouth he chokes on it. Once OSU had taken over, the crew started talking about how Jimmy Johnson was poised to continue his dominance in the NASCAR championship races, and the top 5 driver standings was listed. Chris Spielman asked where did Juan Pablo Montoya go, and Bob Greise responded with "out having a taco." Now Greise apologized multiple times for the mistake, but the one week suspension came down from ABC and ESPN. Greise is not one of the more flamboyant broadcasters, so to hear him make a joke like that is unexpected. However, I think we're going overboard on this one. When the game is out of hand, broadcasters are expected to fill space while keeping an audience's attention. I don't think Greise meant any disrespect to any races or nationalities, and the comment was not all that bad. Montoya has fallen off the face of the earth seemingly as the Hendrick drivers take over that championship hunt, and there's got to be some way to overcome the overly PC culture in a broadcast booth. If we cannot let the small stuff off our shoulders, then we might as well have robots calling the games.

One thing that is becoming conspicuously absent this season is an early coach firing. Normally someone throws a coach on the curb and we can debate if it's proper to do so in October. However, nobody has pulled the trigger yet. Kudos to the athletic departments in FBS for sticking to their guns and seeing how things end up before firing someone prematurely. You never know when a coach and a team with their backs against the wall will recover to score a big upset or turn a season around. The seat is still plenty hot in places like Champaign and Louisville, but it's nice to not have that sort of controversy to discuss this October. Enough tricks and treats, let's get into the a great slate of Top 3 games.

The first game of the week may have lost a little luster, but it's still a party. A cocktail party, that is, as Georgia visits Jacksonville for the annual battle with Florida. The Gators have not looked like the same team since Tebow was injured at Kentucky the last week of September, and the offense cannot afford to keep sputtering down the stretch in the SEC. Florida has churned up a lot of yards on the ground, led by Tebow and RB Jeffery Demps. Georgia has struggled on defense this season, giving up more points than the Bulldogs have scored. However, the Bulldogs should be up for the rivalry and may be able to give their offense a real shot against the best unit on the field, the Gator defense. QB Joe Cox has had to carry too much of the offense so far this season, so he will need serious help from RB Richard Samuel. The way Florida has been playing, a rivalry game is just the kind of trap game that could derail the national championship path. However, expect the Gators to dominate with defense and the running game, winning comfortably for the first time all month by 17.

The buildup to the last time Texas played against a team from Oklahoma, the anticipation was overblown as the Longhorns struggled but still passed a mediocre Oklahoma squad. This week finds the Horns on the road in a primetime matchup with Oklahoma State, who appears to be the last hurdle to the Big XII South division title. QB colt McCoy leads a dangerous passing attack, but look for the OSU secondary to really step up and force McCoy to make some mistakes. Oklahoma State also has a good passing game behind QB Zac Robinson, but the loss of WR Dez Bryant for the season will certainly slow the Cowboys a bit. Each of these teams ranks among the nation's elite at converting in the red zone, so the key will be which defense can step up and make a crucial stop or two. Last year those stops in the fourth quarter were made by the Longhorns. This year, it will be the Cowboys making those stops. OSU knocks Texas out of the national title picture for now with a 3 point upset.

The top game of the week is a battle between arguably the best two one-loss teams in America, as USC visits Oregon. The Trojans have played a game of survive and advance with the exception of the slip up in Seattle, as freshman QB Matt Barkley has been prone to making some mistakes. Although Autzen stadium is certainly one of the hardest places to play, don't expect Barkley to be rattled after surviving a record crowd in Columbus in his second collegiate start. The task will be tough though as Oregon has been sharp on defense all year and will thrive off the crowd to step up and stop the Trojan playmaker running backs Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford. On the other side of the ball, USC is looking suspect on defense for the first time since Pete Carroll's first season. This could be the game this unit gets fully exposed, as Oregon is very familiar with USC and knows how to use dual threat QB Jeremiah Masoli and freshman RB LaMichael James to their best potential. Look for Oregon to dominate the clock with long drives that will fire up the crowd and the defense, sparking an unexpected blowout to end USC's reign in the Pac-10. Ducks by 17.

2009 GOTW Record: 14-10
Last Week: 3-0

Fitz Top 10 - Week 8
1. Texas
2. Alabama
3. Florida
4. Iowa
5. Cincinnati
6. TCU
7. Boise State
8. USC
9. Oregon
10. Penn State

Just Missed: Georgia Tech, LSU, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech

Well the national title chase is something to continue following and discussing, but we are down to the point in the year where it's really a 10 team sort of derby. What involves many more teams is the conference championship races. Next week we'll take a look at who remains standing in all the battles that matter every single season. Will USC and Ohio State be able to continue their dominating runs, or will new teams finally lead their way to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl festivities? We'll see you next week.

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