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OVERCOMING ADVERSITY, ONE WEEK AT A TIME
November 11, 2009

SCS.com For the fellowship of the undefeated, the last three weeks of October were all about survive and advance. Every single week, each of the seven dealt with some adversity. Some weeks it was keeping motivation levels high for a lesser opponent, other weeks the adversity was all about bad starts or close games on the field. In the most unlikely of circumstances, every team survived the scares and the adversity, week after week. As the calendar turned to November, the kings of the drama every week finally left the undefeated seven, as Iowa lost to Northwestern. While we must bid farewell to the Hawkeyes in the BCS race, this dramatically simplifies the picture for the national title.

Before we get into the contenders, let's discuss why the Hawkeyes were the first to fall out. Iowa started the season by losing their superstar running back to the NFL draft a year early, then the problems compounded when starter Jewel Hampton suffered a season-ending injury in the fall practices. Already down to option number 3, the Hawkeyes suffered another loss as Adam Robinson went down two weeks ago and this left basically one true freshman Brandon Wegher and no other good options. To further exacerbate the problems, TE Tony Moeaki, OL Dace Richardson, SS Brett Greenwood, and WR Brett Greenwood all sustained injuries that knocked them out of games in October and some in November. So when the unquestioned leader QB Ricky Stanzi fell to injury in the second quarter on Saturday, the Iowa offense came to a screeching halt. Iowa barely sniffed Northwestern's end of the field and the day was lost. What this proves is that with limited talent (which is what Kirk Ferentz has to work with), there's only so much injury adversity you can overcome. The Hawkeyes are to be commended for walking a tightrope all season and playing shorthanded, but that will not comfort their fans as a dream season could very well come crashing to a halt in Columbus this Saturday. But more on that later.

In the national title race, non-BCS schools are non-factors, and even mighty TCU will be dragged down enough by the bad teams in the MWC too much in the computer ratings. With Iowa, Oregon, and LSU leaving the picture last weekend, there's only four teams with a shot to play for the national championship now. Alabama and Florida will duke it out in the SEC Championship in three weeks, while Texas plays out the string in the Big XII and Cincinnati has a monster final three games. The difference between teams like Cincinnati and teams like Iowa showed last weekend as Cincinnati continued to reap the benefits of having a great backup quarterback while Iowa could not overcome the same scenario. Cincinnati has the hardest schedule remaining of the contenders, but things are going just fine as Brian Kelly is able to bench a quarterback who was a legitimate Heisman candidate before his injury. There's no doubt an undefeated SEC Champion and an undefeated Texas will meet in Pasadena if each stays undefeated, but things get interesting if losses happen to the top 3 teams in the current BCS Standings. If Texas loses to one of the mediocre teams left on their schedule, there's no question an undefeated Cincinnati team coming off wins against West Virginia and Pittsburgh will leap over the Longhorns. But what about the Bearcats versus a one loss SEC Champion? While it sort of depends on when the SEC Champion loses (earlier being better of course), but I think Cincinnati would play Texas if they are the only two BCS conference champions who remain undefeated.

I hold this belief in Cincinnati for multiple reasons. The voters are coming around to Cincinnati and will only do that more and more if they keep winning in the tough November schedule. The fact that Tony Pike is being benched in favor of Zach Collaros proves that Cincinnati has enough offense to get in a shootout with any of the three teams above them. While the 45 points surrendered to UCONN last weekend is troubling when comparing defenses, the Bearcats have been solid the rest of the season. Although Alabama or Florida would be coming off a massive win, Cincinnati would presumably be coming off a win against a possible Top 5 opponent on the road in Pittsburgh. While the SEC has won the past three BCS titles, it would be very upsetting to see a BCS Conference team go undefeated and not make the championship, hence I suspect voters would overcompensate on behalf of the Bearcats against a one-loss SEC Champion. So Cincinnati only has to cheer for one more loss to be in the driver's seat for the BCS Championship. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, this does not seem likely to happen. That's why we play the games though!

So with the pecking order in the BCS established, now is a fantastic time to review all the conference races coming to a close in two or three weeks. In the ACC, it looks like Clemson will be able to finish off the two lower-tier ACC teams left on their schedule to meet Georgia Tech in December. One has to figure Georgia Tech wins that matchup. The Big XII South is all Texas now barring two incredible losses, but the North is completely up for grabs. Expect the winner of Kansas State and Nebraska to meet Texas, but the Longhorns should finish undefeated to atone for last year's diappointment. The Big East has somehow backloaded their schedule yet again, as undefeated Cincinnati and Pittsburgh each have to deal with the only one-loss team in the conference West Virginia before clashing on December 5. WVU will not sweep both of them, so the conference title will be decided in Pittsburgh, and I believe Cincinnati loses their undefeated season there.

The Big Ten pseudo-championship game happens this week as Iowa visits Ohio State with the Rose Bowl on the line. My pick on this game is below. The Mountain West will also be decided this week as TCU battles Utah. The craziest race left is in the Pac-10, where Oregon and Arizona hold a one loss advantage on Stanford, USC, and Oregon State. Arizona and Oregon play most of the contenders in their last three games, so expect on of them to take care of business and wrap up the Rose Bowl berth. The SEC already has Florida and Alabama in the championship game, and as of today I would say Alabama has the inside track, but you can never ever count out Mr. Tebow. With a few weeks left, there are a lot of teams still in the mix for these BCS berths, but the first will be officially set this weekend and things will clarify from there.

One final note before we return to BCS bowl projections and that is the reinstatement of LaGarrette Blount. As you probably recall, Blount was suspended for the remainder of his senior season after taking a swing at a Boise State player after the Ducks lost their first game of the season. How fitting is it that coming out of Oregon's second loss of the season two months later, Blount has completed all the necessary requirements to rejoin the team according to Oregon and the Pac-10 Conference. While it seemed unlikely in September when the season started with an unpleasant bang, Blount has become the ultimate story of redemption and forgiveness in college football this season. While this very weekly article called for him to stay completely out of college football many weeks ago, I will retract those sentiments and admit that this is a much better result for all parties. Congratulations to Oregon for working this out and hopefully the Ducks can find a way to let Blount lead them to the Rose Bowl.

So back to the BCS Projections. It only took one week for each of my Rose Bowl teams to lose and muddy the waters, but both the Ducks and Hawkeyes have their destiny completely in their hands. Nevertheless, I see more losses in their futures and this will lead to a rematch which should actually be better than the September version. I still like Florida and Texas to run the table, and the upsets last week have made it more likely that Boise State will get a berth. There's no denying the monetary payoff of picking a Penn State or USC as an at-large this year, but the negative PR which will ensue if a two or three loss team gets selected over undefeated Boise State for the second straight year will be disasterous. Therefore I'm still sticking with the minority position and Boise State gets the placed by the bowl that sent them packing last year.

2010 BCS Bowl Projections, 4 Weeks To Go
BCS Championship - Florida vs. Texas
Orange - Georgia Tech vs. TCU
Fiesta - Miami vs. Boise State
Sugar - Alabama vs. Pittsburgh
Rose - Ohio State vs. USC

While the battle for the Potato State should be a wild one, the first game of the week has to be Friday night's West Virginia-Cincinnati showdown. We discussed Zach Collaros earlier and the backup quarterback will get the start and most of the snaps again as Tony Pike finishes his recovery. Collaros has been nothign short of fantastic running and passing, but he is helped tremendously by receivers Mardy Gilyard and Armon Binns. West Virginia has been questionable against strong passing games, which is troubling in this game. Cincinnati's defense will be looking to recover from last week's setback by feasting on banged up stars QB Jarrett Brown and RB Noel Devine. If Devine cannot go, the Mountaineers will not be able to keep the Bearcat offense off the field enough to win. As the injury report does not look promising at this point in the week and considering WVU's struggles on the road, Cincinnati rolls to a 20 point win.

The second game of the week is as close as the Mountain West will get to a championship game as 5-0 Utah heads to 5-0 TCU. Now BYU is not quite out of the mix if Utah wins, but these two teams have been the most dominant conference teams. Utah has run the table twice and is the only representative of the MWC to go to the BCS, but the Utes are not looking to share that honor with TCU. Utah comes in on a six game winning streak and a relatively new freshman starting QB Jordan Wynn. Wynn needs his pair of running backs Eddie Wide and Sausan Shakerin. TCU has a solid offense, but the real story is the defense, which will be tougher than anything Wynn has ever seen, especially in a hostile Texas environment. On the other side of the ball, the Utah defense will need to stack up on the front and hope that their line does what no other team has been able to do: stop the Horned Frog rushing attack. QB Andy Dalton as well as a trio of running backs will try to wear down the Utes defense. Look for Joseph Turner to lead the way as the Horned Frogs win a very competitive 7 point game.

The top game of the week is the Big Ten Championship as Iowa visits Ohio State. Iowa has been the road warriors, sweeping arguably the toughest conference road schedule in the country so far at Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. However, for all the impressive comebacks against Wisconsin and Penn State, the Buckeyes have done them one better by completely suffocating each of those teams in blowouts. Each of these defenses has a great front four which will put pressure on the young quarterbacks each side has. The problem for Iowa is that the skill talent is just not there to deal with the pressure in Columbus now that QB Ricky Stanzi will need to watch freshman James Vandenberg take the reins. While Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor will likely be pressured by the Iowa defensive front, Pryor has shown much more maturity since the Purdue loss and is so hard for defensive linemen to bring down in the backfield. This would be one of the best matchups in Big Ten history if Iowa were fully loaded, but sadly that's just not the case. Iowa will be very lucky to score at all against this OSU defense, while the Buckeyes will likely come up with a touchdown or two on defense if nothing else. Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl with a 24 point win.

2009 GOTW Record: 17-13
Last Week: 1-2

Fitz Top 10 - Week 10

1. Texas
2. Alabama
3. Florida
4. TCU
5. Cincinnati
6. Boise State
7. Georgia Tech
8. Pittsburgh
9. USC
10. Ohio State

Just Missed: Utah, Iowa, Oregon, Houston, Arizona

As it turns out, I think I will be attending both the WVU-Cincy and OSU-Iowa games this weekend thanks to both being within 2 hours of each other and on consecutive days. Wherever you may take in the action this weekend, enjoy the slight Indian summer we're enjoying before the chill of the holidays comes calling. We'll see you next week when at least one of the BCS Rose Bowl slots will be filled.

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