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SEPTEMBER SURPRISES BECOME OCTOBER REALITIES
September 30, 2010

SCS.com In the midwest, a chill has overtaken the evenings as the calendar prepares to turn to October, the middle month of the college football season. The days of 90 degree temperatures and hot summer nights are gone and replaced with a month or more of absolutely perfect weather before the chill of winter begins to roll in. Not only does the calendar change signify a change in the season at this time of year, it also signifies the yearly ritual of the end of non-conference play (for the most part) and a return to familiar foes on a weekly basis. Although upsets happen in September, the real season begins now because even the bad teams know the best teams in their conference inside and out, including what makes them tick and what makes them stumble. There's no free ones in conference play, which is why conference championships are so revered and so hard to attain on a consistent basis. As is our custom here at SCS, we'll take you through the six BCS conferences and the major non-automatic qualifiers to see how the preseason predictions "sure to go wrong" are faring and what surprises may become realities in the next month.

NON-AQ's

Biggest disappointment of the season thus far has certainly been Notre Dame, after the Irish have stumbled through the first month of the season to a 1-3 start. For a team that I projected to be BCS bound, it is clear that Brian Kelly has a whole lot of growing to do. Thankfully, the back half of the schedule is manageable and even the next two hard games against Pitt and Boston College are clearly winnable, so expect a resurgence to end the season. Best performance thus far has been Boise State, who has not lost the opportunity to impress the nation with wins against Virginia Tech on the east coast and Oregon State last weekend. While the Broncos will need Nevada to keep impressing so that there's a signature win at the end of the year to join the September triumphs and perhaps push them to the promised land of the BCS Championship. If not, the Rose Bowl is a nice consolation prize and the most likely landing spot. The top three teams most likely to position themselves for potential BCS runs are Boise State, TCU, and Utah. The Utes host TCU at the beginning of November in what should be a battle for the Mountain West title, unless Air Force continues to play as well as they did in September. At the end of the day, I believe Boise State will still make the BCS but be shut out of the championship despite a season and a team more than worthy.

BIG EAST

Honestly, the Mountain West has had a better September than the Big East, and that's even with BYU throwing up an awful 1-3 mark. The Big East has one "big" win against Buffalo in September, and that is it. Every time Cincinnati, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh played a ranked team or another good team from an automatic qualifier conference, they lost. Therefore, the biggest disappointment was quite a battle but Cincinnati takes the cake coming off two conference championships with a 1-3 start. Bearcat fans can take heart in Notre Dame's struggles I suppose, but it is time to move on as a program and overcome the problems and tough battle of September. Remove the mistakes against Oklahoma, and the Bearcats would be the favorite in the conference after last week, so the margin for victory is slim. The best performance thus far has actually been turned in by West Virginia, although there are major trouble signs after two road games where WVU needed a miracle comeback against Marshall and never really threatened LSU last week. The big battles between the big three teams will still be big deals in November, but it will be surprising if the conference champion comes out with fewer than three losses, which will bring the catcalls from the Mountain West once again about the Big East not deserving a BCS bowl berth. Even with all their flaws, West Virginia should roll to an easy conference title after seeing how poor Pittsburgh and Cincinnati look.

ACC

The ACC probably thanks the Big East every single day for their mere existence, as the Big East has propelled the likes of NC State and Miami back into national relevance when every other team has had a bad or blowout loss. Most disappointing team thus far is certainly Virginia Tech, although North Carolina is in worse shape as a program. Virginia Tech managed to give Boise State a huge boost and a huge hit in the course of one week with a subsequent loss to James Madison. While the Hokies recovered to blast Boston College last week, the only thing that may save the Hokies down the road is how awful Miami, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech have looked in certain games. The best performance thus far is not in question, as NC State has put up the only perfect record at 4-0 including impressive wins over Cincinnati and Georgia Tech leading up to a showdown this week with the aforementioned Hokies. If NC State comes out of this three-week guantlet undefeated, then the schedule shapes up nicely for them the rest of the way. As for the conference race the rest of the way, look for Miami and NC State to continue rolling along, although Clemson and Virginia Tech are right there ready to make the conference championship game again if given the opportunity.

BIG XII

Not counting league games, this conference has a grand total of 6 losses in September, which looks good on paper. However, the conference contenders all have serious questions coming into conference play which were magnified last weekend. The biggest disappointment has been Texas, which struggled through the first three games before getting blown away by UCLA at home last week. Mack Brown has no time to turn his season around as Oklahoma comes this weekend. While Texas never really should have been ranked in the top 10, it looks like the top 25 may be questionable for this team in 2010. Speaking of the Sooners, Oklahoma is the most impressive team thus far. Althoug Nebraska and Missouri put up better looking wins overall, nobody faced the killer gauntlet of vastly different offenses and good teams as the Sooners. Yet here OU sits at 4-0 with good wins against Utah State, Florida State, Air Force, and Cincinnati, all of which may compete well in their own respective conferences. Nebraska still looks like the class of the North division, although this week's game at Manhattan may be a trap game before Texas comes to Lincoln one last time. Nebraska and Oklahoma should meet in the conference championship game, and the conference races could be relatively lopsided.

BIG TEN

Four weeks into the season, and the only thing we know really about the Big Ten is that Minnesota is one of the worst teams in Division I football. Although this appears to be a completely lost season for the Golden Gophers, the most disappointing team has been Purdue. The Robert Marve experiment has not worked out well for the Boilermakers, and the defense has struggled in baffling losses to Notre Dame and Toldeo. Purdue looked like a bowl contender coming into the season but will now need to pull one too many upsets to get the job done again. The best team so far has been Ohio State, although honorable mentions go out to fellow 4-0 teams Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State, all of whom look to give the conference serious depth again this year. Ohio State has not played great competition, but they come to play every week and have crushed the competition like the Buckeyes never have under Jim Tressel (2006 is the closest comparison). This week the only real telling battle will be between Penn State and Iowa, but October will bring separation between the seemingly 5-6 valid contenders to Ohio State's dominance in the league. It is looking less likely that OSU will be tripped up, but Madison and Iowa City are still not won until you go earn those wins.

PAC-10

One week into league play already in the Pac-10 and the league has separated itself into the haves (four teams at 1-0 and 4-0) and the have nots (six teams with 2 losses or more overall). Despite the weak starts of Oregon State and UCLA, both of these teams will contend with the top foursome before the season is over. The biggest disappointment to date is Washington, which appears to be well on the way to completely squandering one of the best four-year starting quarterbacks in the last decade in Jake Locker. Washington opens with USC in conference play this week but a three week stretch at the end of this month against Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon will likely shatter the Huskies. As shocking as the numbers have been for Oregon in September, the best team of the first month is Stanford after destroyign UCLA, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame leading up to a big showdown with Oregon this week. No Toby Gerhart has not been an issue as Andrew Luck has run defenses ragged with both his legs at opportune moments and his arm. A conference championship leader in the clubhouse will be the winner of Stanford-Oregon this week, and everything will be downhill from there although Arizona and Oregon State should still be in the mix.

SEC

The final conference is the best conference in America, once again. If you have any questions about how good this conference is top to bottom, just look at the conference record of the most disappointing team, Georgia (0-3 already). The coaching hot seat might visit Mark Richt at this rate after the loss to Mississippi State, which removes the Bulldogs from any relevance in the East division. Even with A.J. Green coming back finally, the season is mostly a loss with only more tough games to come against the likes of Florida and Georgia Tech. On the other side of the coin, the best team in September is the number one team in America, Alabama. The Crimson Tide has made Penn State look silly and Duke look like a creampuff, and neither of those teams is all that bad. However, this week showed both the heart of a champion in the comeback against Arkansas and a sign of mortality that may end up causing a loss in the next two weeks as the best two teams in the East come calling in South Carolina and Florida. However, nobody will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated going into the conference championship game. The next two weeks will determine who the real challenger to Alabama will be.

The first game of the week is Wisconsin at Michigan State, a battle of undefeated teams in the Big Ten. Wisconsin comes into this game having survived a close call against Arizona State but blowing out the rest of their opponents with a strong running game as usual, while Michigan State has followed a similar track with only one close win against Notre Dame two weeks ago. The biggest news of the week leading into this game is that Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio will be back coaching his team from the pressbox just two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack. Hopefully the doctors keep a close eye on him, as this will be a good one. Wisconsin is led by junior RB John Clay, who already has six touchdowns this season. Clay opens up a lot of throwing lanes for QB Scott Tolzien, who is over 76% in accuracy this season. Look for superstar linebacker Greg Jones to make some big stops against Clay in the top match up of the game. Michigan State is led on offense by QB Kirk Cousins, although Edwin Baker and Leveon Bell have each run for over 400 yards. Look for both teams to establish the run and keep the pace of this game moving quickly. Wisconsin has more experience in close games on their roster, but Michigan State has a ncie homefield advantage that will make the difference in this one. Michigan State upsets Wisconsin by 1.

The second game of the week is Florda at Alabama, also known as the third battle of the SEC titans after both teams have met for the last two conference championships. Although these two teams are not as evenly matched across the board as the Spartans and the Badgers, the most interesting comparison is between the quarterbacks as John Brantley is still learning the ropes but putting up comparable numbers to longtime Alabama starter Greg Mcelroy. Neither has lost a game in college football as a starter, so something will have to give this week. Alabama showed resiliency in sticking with the gameplan of running all over the field with RB Mark Ingram when they fell behind last week at halftime against Arkansas. However, the biggest plays might come from the young Crimson Tide defense, which came up with three interceptions of Ryan Mallett in the second half to turn the game around and clinch the win. Brantley has had some issues with the quarterback-center exchange, but the real problems are the unforced mistakes in turnovers and penalties. The Gators will need to avoid the turnovers that have limited them offensively in the first four games. Although Alabama has the better field general and the better overall talent, it takes a complete fool to count out an Urban Meyer coached team. Florida keeps it closer than last year's title game but still falls short as the Crimson Tide rolls to a 10 point win.

The third and final game of the week is Stanford at Oregon in a game for a huge leg up in the long conference grind of the Pac-10. These have been two of the hottest teams in football in 2010, with each team rolling through the competition and only having minor struggles last weekend in their first road games at Arizona State (for Oregon) and at Notre Dame. The Oregon defense has completely shut down opposing pass offenses until last week, when Arizona State rolled up nearly 600 yards of offense on the Ducks and were undone by 7 turnovers. Those signs do not bode well with Andrew Luck and the high-powered Cardinal passing attack coming to Autzen Stadium, but expect the Ducks to bounce back defensively. The real problem for the Ducks may be stopping the running game, which Stanford has not relied on much this season. When Oregon has the ball, QB Darren Thomas has filled in nicely for the transferred Jeremiah Masoli, but he will likely have some struggles finding openings against a great defensive backfield this week. Thomas does have some help though in RB Lamichael James, who is averaging nearly 8 yards per carry in September. Look for James to continue running well and break a couple of big touchdowns that will make the difference in a close shootout. Oregon defends the home turf with a 7 point win.

Other Games of the Top 25 - Week 5

(2) Ohio State at Illinois - deferred until full preview
(3) Boise State defeats New Mexico State
(5) TCU defeats Colorado State
(8) Oklahoma defeats (21) Texas
(10) Auburn defeats Louisiana Monroe
(12) LSU defeats Tennessee
Clemson defeats (16) Miami
(17) Iowa defeats (22) Penn State
(18) USC defeats Washington
(19) Michigan defeats Indiana
(23) NC State defeats Virginia Tech
(25) Nevada defeats UNLV

2010 GOTW Record: 10-2
Last Week: 3-0
2010 Overall Top 25 Record: 77-10
Last Week: 18-3

Fitz Top 10 - Week 4

1. Alabama (4-0)
2. Ohio State (4-0)
3. Boise State (3-0)
4. TCU (4-0)
5. Nebraska (4-0)
6. Oregon (4-0)
7. Oklahoma (4-0)
8. Utah (4-0)
9. Auburn (4-0)
10. Stanford (4-0)

Just Missed: Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, USC, LSU

This week you will find me in Champaign Illinois for the first time, as the Buckeyes take their act on the road for the first time this season to play the pesky Fighting Illini. There are a ton of great games this weekend, as we did not even cover the Red River Rivalry or the other game between ranked contenders in the Big Ten with Penn State visiting Iowa. The Pac-10 and SEC will have solid favorites coming out of this week, while the separation will finally be seen to some extent in leagues like the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. September is always a joyous time because college football seasons are renewed and everybody has hope, but October is where the real contenders for both conference championships and national championships step out of rank and look the most impressive. There are 25 teams who escaped September unscathed, but there may not be 5 coming out of the next five weekends of play. No matter where you may be on Saturday, enjoy this great week of games and the return of autumn. See you next week!

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