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ESCAPING FOR A WHILE - NOVEMBER IS FOR CONTENDERS
November 5, 2009

SCS.com I have the unfortunate task of heading to a family member's funeral this Friday. It is at times like these when any escape from the disappointments of life is welcome, and this Saturday, that will be a great slate of games in college football for me. While this certainly always puts things in perspective, my only lesson in this is to cherish every moment you have, whether that's watching you beloved team on the TV or spending time with relatives. But we've now hit the home stretch as the calendars turn from the middle month of the season to the final month of the season. November is a month for contenders, and we will find out quickly whether the "undefeated 7" who have escaped unscathed now for 3 weeks running will continue to stay a group of 7.

After Texas dispatched Oklahoma State like seemingly every other season in recent memory, it now seems virtually impossible for the national championship to be anything other than the SEC Champion versus the Longhorns, barring a major November upset. Thankfully such an upset has happened every year this decade in November except for 2005, when coincidentally, Texas won their national championship over USC. There will never be a single season to "break" the BCS, but if 5 or 6 of the 7 undefeated teams make it through November unscathed, the proponents of a playoff will have their perfect storm to point to for all time. One undefeated team getting left out is not such a huge deal and it's only happened once to a BCS conference champion (Auburn). Nobody is arguing Cincinnati or Iowa deserves to play in Pasadena any more than Texas and the SEC Champion. But these will be more BCS Conference champions who did everything set on their plate, and in the case of the Hawkeyes, sweeping the most difficult road schedule in the country. While a huge upset seems like something that will come for sure, the debate that could ensue if it doesn't happen would be worth the wait.

Just to be perfectly clear, the SEC Champion referred to in this scenario is not limited to Florida and Alabama. Yes LSU can still leapfrog Oregon, Cincinnati, Iowa, TCU, and Boise State with wins this weekend over Alabama and a revenge win over Florida. This may not seem fair to outsiders, but until the SEC Champion is knocked off in a national championship game, that conference essentially has the benefit of the doubt. So if the Bayou Bengals come up with the upset this weekend, they cannot be counted out in the national title picture unlike pretty much everyone beneath them in the BCS Standings. Now if we could only get the SEC officials to play nice and not become major factors in these games, we might have less of a beef with an LSU jumping so many undefeated teams.

Although each of the undefeated seven has a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, each team has one game that stands out as the most difficult game or biggest trap game remaining. On November 6 we begin with Boise State's greatest test left, a road game at Louisiana Tech. Yes I'm serious, this is trap game material if nothing else. This Saturday brings us Alabama's biggest test in the Saban Bowl as LSU comes calling. Then we move to November 14, where Iowa faces a huge road test again in Columbus. The much anticipated Utah-TCU game will also be played that day, which is likely all that stands between the Horned Frogs and perfection. On Thanksgiving the Longhorns take on their heated rival Texas A&M. Then the final week of the season on December 5 will bring Florida's bigges test in the SEC Championship (yes they have already won the East) and Cincinnati will travel to Pittsburgh for what could be the Big East title game. West Virginia lost their undefeated season and national championship hopes in 2007 on a December weekend in Pittsburgh, so do not sleep on this game. Other than Texas and Boise State, each of these teams could lose the games listed and it would not surprise many people.

If you flipped through your TV dial in October and said "what in the world are they wearing?" about a college or pro football team, you would not be alone. Apparently retro or alternative jerseys are the in vogue thing in 2009, as some of the most tradition-laden programs have pulled stunts on par with Notre Dame green jerseys or Oregon's weekly crimes against fashion. Of course when Oregon is stomping through USC and on their way to the first non-USC Pac-10 championship since 2001, why not emulate the Ducks? It was cute when Tennessee wore the black jerseys. It was questionable when Georgia threw away their red helmet tradition for black helmets and pants. Now the announcement has come out that Ohio State will wear retro alternative uniforms for the Michigan game. Ohio State? Really? I promise if we see Penn State putting words or a logo on their uniforms, we are at the end of days. One can only hope these uniforms are more motivated out of respect for history (as Ohio State says they are celebrating the 1954 national champion Buckeyes and Notre Dame with the green jersey history), but it seems more like a silly marketing ploy.

With November comes the perennial BCS bowl projections. With the exception of craziness in 2007, we've been able to accuratley project the BCS Bowls the past 5 seasons. This week I'll explain the process for you so that you may be able to follow along with less explanation in later weeks. This year is the fourth year the BCS Championship game gets the top two ranked teams in the final BCS Standings. As of right now, that looks like #1 Florida, the SEC Champion, and #2 Texas, the Big XII Champion. This leaves the champions of the remaining BCS Conferences as 4 more automatic qualifiers: Cincinnati (Big East), Iowa (Big Ten), Oregon (Pac-10), and Georgia Tech (AcC). Then the top rated non-BCS School in the Top 12 is also awarded an automatic berth, which will be TCU this season. Three at-large berths remain assuming no BCS conference non-champion ends up in the number 3 of number 4 slot, which would entitle that team to an automatic berth. I don't see that happening with all the undefeated teams. So the pool of at large teams could include teams like Notre Dame, but it certainly will include Boise State, Alabama, and other top 12 teams.

The Pac-10 and Big Ten champs get slotted into the Rose Bowl automatically, so Oregon and Iowa go there. The ACC Champion heads to the Orange Bowl, so Georgia Tech is headed to Miami. The Sugar Bowl lost their SEC Champion, so they get first selection of the remaining teams, followed by the Fiesta Bowl who lost Texas. Then the bowls pick in reverse order of chronological order of the games to fill the remaining slots, which is Orange, Fiesta, Sugar in 2010. In other words, the selection order in this mock up will be Sugar - Fiesta - Orange - Fiesta - Sugar. The Sugar Bowl will definitely want the SEC Runner-Up and will take Alabama off the board. The Fiesta Bowl will want to grab two of the undefeated teams left if all three are on the board, so I suspect they will grab Cincinnati. The Orange Bowl will take the best team available, that being TCU. Then the Fiesta will set up a battle of undefeated teams by taking Boise State. This leaves an interesting conundrum for the Sugar Bowl. Will they take USC, Notre Dame, or some lesser known program. It's already stretching it putting two non-BCS Schools in, so I suspect the USC head to head win will lock Notre Dame out of the BCS even if they are eligible. USC to the Sugar.

2010 BCS Bowl Projections, 5 Weeks To Go
BCS Championship - Florida vs. Texas
Orange - Georgia Tech vs. TCU
Fiesta - Cincinnati vs. Boise State
Sugar - Alabama vs. USC
Rose - Iowa vs. Oregon

With that tasty set of bowl games set up, let's turn to the games of the week. The top two games of the week are easy but there are a lot of contenders for this opening slot. I'm giving the nod to Navy at Notre Dame. While there is no streak of Notre Dame wins on the line anymore, this series is a lot more fun now that it is competitive. Each of these teams has something to play for, as Navy seeks bowl eligibility and Notre Dame hopes to keep BCS Bowl hopes alive. Navy is again a triple option attack which is very hard to prepare for, so look for Ricky Dobbs to have a much bigger game than he had last year against the Irish. When Notre Dame has the ball, look for the emerging passing attack to be even better with the return of WR Michael Floyd. With Jimmy Clausen already putting up big numbers with one star receiver in Golden Tate, look for Navy to be very hard-pressed to keep Notre Dame from passing all over the field. If there's one thing that may shift this game, it is the ball control nature of the triple option. Notre Dame stopped it last year, but this is a much better Navy team than ever before, evidenced by tough play all season long. While Navy is tricky, this Notre Dame team is just too talented to not outscore this Navy offense. Irish win by 14.

The second game of the week is Terrelle Pryor's homecoming to Pennsylvania as Ohio State goes to Penn State. This game will hopefully finally tell us who is the second-best team in the Big Ten and just who of these teams is legitimate. Penn State has lost their only relevant game to Iowa, while Ohio State's most impressive win is a defensive fueled blowout of Wisconsin. This matchup may be the best of the weekend if you like strong defenses and playmaking quarterbacks. Daryll Clark may have been injured in the critical fourth quarter of last year's win in Columbus, but Clark is the driving force that will really challenge the secondary and linebackers of the Buckeye defense. Meanwhile, Penn State will try to follow the Purdue formula of containing and pressuring Pryor into bad decisions. Last year Pryor made the only turnover that pretty much sealed the game for PSU, so expect him to be extra careful to avoid that fate twice in a row. Expect this game to be dominated by defenses but maybe not quite like last year's 13-6 struggle. In a game of field position and defense, you have to look at special teams play. Considering OSU lost their starting kicker Aaron Pettrey for the season last week and the shakiness of the backup kickers, Penn State will win by being more successful kicking field goals. PSU by 6.

The top game of the week is the final super showdown of the regular season in the SEC, Alabama hosting LSU. LSU looked absolutely lifeless against Florida a few weeks ago, and the offense continues to sputter behind QB Jordan Jefferson. Alabama has found a solid offensive gameplan with a few accurate passes from Greg McElroy and a heavy dose of rushing with Mark Ingram. Ingram already is on some Heisman radars, but this game should be his breakout game as LSU has shown some weakness against the run. As much as you'd like to believe this game will hold all the drama of last year's epic showdown which ended with a blocked field goal, one has to imagine Alabama has been waiting to finally knock their main competition out of the race and all but lock up the match up with the Gators for the second straight season. Alabama rolls over the overrated LSU defense to a 18 point win.

2009 GOTW Record: 16-11
Last Week: 2-1

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

Just Missed: LSU, Pittsburgh, USC, Ohio State, Utah

So returning to the escapism, I cannot wait to get to 3:30 Saturday afternoon so that I may enjoy swapping between the two top games of the week at will on the television. Whether the Big Ten showdown is the best or the SEC West Championship, I will be able to escape what has been a bad week and turn the page to a new week where things will hopefully be better. Whether you are just watching for fun or as an escape, enjoy the weekend slate of games. We'll see you back here next week!

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