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September 9, 2008

SCS.comFor those expecting a masterpiece last week, you were sorely left holding out hope. When the "best" game of the week according to the national media is a rebuilding Miami team going to The Swamp to take on a top 5 Gator team, there must not be much to hope for. Nevertheless, for every Oklahoma-Cincinnati blowout there was a surprisingly exciting SDSU-Notre Dame or Ohio-Ohio State game. On the bright side for me, I had my mind on other things all week as I welcomed my daughter into the world Wednesday evening. We came back from the hospital on Saturday morning, so her first home experience was College Gameday guys followed by a day of the greatest sport of them all. So for me, it was a week to remember forever. For you sports fans, probably not so much. But look on the bright side: this week has some monster matchups, including the best non-conference tilt of the year.

Before hopping into those games coming up, there were a few notable things in the mostly boring slate of games. First and foremost was the debacle in Seattle as BYU escaped Washington with a 28-27 win after Washington QB Jake Locker was flagged for excessive celebration on the last drive of the game, leading to a missed PAT and a one point loss. The controversy is whether the flag should have been dropped at all. While it is true Jake Locker tossed the ball into the air after the late touchdown, there's something to be said for the emotion of the moment. While spiking the ball after going ahead 28-0 in the second quarter should be penalized as well as the Florida-Georgia endzone celebratory antics, the letter of the law should bend to the spirit of the situation. It's no secret that basketball officials will swallow the whistle in the last minute of a game and let the players make plays. While fans scream for consistency in rule enforcement, these sports situations are not life and death.

To be fair, officials could call holding, pass interference, and blocks in the back on pretty much every play if we follow the letter of the law. The key is to not break the rules of be so unsportsmanlike to disrupt the fair play. Having watched replays of Locker's toss, this was a perfect situation for the referees to swallow the whistle and let the players have a little fun. There was no disruption of the special teams coming on the field or undue delay, and the emotion for Washington finally competing for a big win after having so much promise the past two years had to be the cause of the small celebration. As a lawyer in real life, I can tell you the world is a lot better off enforcing rules and regulations by their spirit and not always by the letter because rulemakers or legislators have a tougher job than most think. Writing rules of conduct is very difficult, and most try to clear up gray areas in too few words. Hence, what the NCAA rules say does not matter. What should have been called is what matters.

Before we drag this column down any farther, step back and realize what happened. Washington was faced with a bad call and some adversity, but they were still in control of a very make-able PAT to tie. Washington simply did not recover from the poor call, and like Oklahoma against Oregon in 2006, needs to realize they lost because they missed the extra point and did not handle their business. It was probably better for the college football universe that BYU remains undefeated yet tested. Perhaps this will spark the Cougars to go undefeated into a battle with Utah at season's end. Alongside East Carolina, these two teams could make a run to maybe steal two of the BCS at large berths, a scenario most deem impossible.

Speaking of the Pirates, who knew that ECU could actually turn years of tough experience and rough non-conference scheduling into these results? Even in East Carolina's heyday back in the late 1990's, ECU never knocked off two straight opponents of the caliber of these 2008 opponents. Virginia Tech was overrated, but beating any Beamer team that gets a punt block is pretty much unheard of. To follow that up by shutting down one of the most prolific offenses in I-A football was BCS-busting at its best. Now the purple Pirates really have no ranked teams standing in their way, and it will be interesting to see how this team keeps enthusiasm up during C-USA play. Still, it is hard to imagine this team's defense giving up more than 21 in any game this year. A pretty easy task it seems for the ECU offense to carry the team to BCS glory.

Kudos to the national polls and my fellow writers on giving credit where credit is due. Sometimes it is hard to move teams around in the rankings, but preseason rankings are really meaningless. Do I still think Georgia and Ohio State have more talent than USC? Yes. Based on performances thus far, USC is a clear number 1 above all others. Despite dropping the Buckeyes this week, a win on the road at USC would almost guarantee the top spot in the polls next week. It appears people are finally catching on the farce of maintaining pre-season rankings. Furthermore, seeing East Carolina near the Top 10 is very appropriate considering there's not another team in America with two wins over ranked opponents so far this season. Until shown otherwise, ECU is in the Top 15 for my ballot.

Usually when the big game of the season comes along, the habit has been for this column to cover the game down to the minutae and minor storylines. This week the focus will not just be on the USC-OSU matchup, but one sub-plot we should follow based on scheduling strategy. Wisconsin and Ohio State both have high expectations and both have scheduled a tough roadtrip out west in week 3 (Fresno State and USC, respectively). What's interesting is how the four teams involved scheduled around the big games.

Ohio State and Wisconsin each took on two low-level games the first two weeks of the season. USC and Fresno State traveled to the east side of the country in the opening weekend and tried BCS conference competition before having a bye week leading into the big game. There are proponents of both scheduling strategies, and it will be interesting to see how these evenly-matched teams on paper deal with these similar circumstances. While OSU and UW struggled mightily in Week 2 games against MAC teams, perhaps that was a part of the look-forward factor. Football coaches say the most growth and learning happens between games 1 and 2, mostly because the team finally has game tape/experience from an under-fire situation. So is it better to have a two week stretch before a big game or two easy games to get the offense and defense rolling? We'll see this week. This could affect how your favorite team schedules in the future.

That being said, it is time to turn to the best games from a solid week of college football. To be honest, this week's fourth best game (resurgent UCLA going to BCS-buster BYU) would've been the game of the week last week. Having only time for three, the third game of the week is Friday night's clash between Kansas and South Florida. This is a game that would have been appreciated last season when both were surprise BCS contenders, but the 2008 version will be between two ranked teams looking to make a statement. Kansas QB Todd Reesing came of age last season and will be the star to watch on the road in Tampa. The Bulls will hope to contain the KU offense with a strong defense and an ace QB of their own in Matt Grothe. While the Jayhawks have feasted on lesser competition in the first two weeks, the Bulls escaped an underrated UCF team on the road in overtime last Saturday. In a game where the teams are pretty evenly matched, I'll take the battle tested unit. USF wins by 10.

While the appetizer is Friday night and the entree is the 8 PM feature detailed below, a lovely dessert at 10:30 PM Saturday is worth skipping ahead to, that being Wisconsin at Fresno State. Fresno State continues to schedule the best teams possible, and perhaps this year Pat Hill's team will take back the conference from the recent Boise domination. Fresno State crushed a solid Rutgers team two weeks ago with a stifling defense and experienced leaders on the offense in QB Tom Brandstater and RB Ryan Matthews. On the other side, the Badgers have a formidable weapon in RB P.J. Hill. With a senior quarterback Allan Evridge holding the reins, teams have not been able to load up and stop Wisconsin by stuffing the Hill attack. Outside of a slow start against Marshall, Wisconsin has shown no weaknesses. Still, roadtrips to the west coast are never easy for Big Ten teams and Fresno State is yet another potential BCS buster. This game is the season for Fresno State until Boise State comes to town, while the Badgers could drop this one and still be successful. I'm calling for a minor upset, Fresno State by 3.

Now for the entree, and wow is it beefy. The two most dominant teams in the decade finally begin a two-year series of games to determine who is the frontrunner in the 2008 BCS chase and who is the better team in this decade. The storylines are really too numerous to cover in one paragraph, but let's try. Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel have recruited better than everyone else in the country, but each has a distinct play-calling style. Tressel will bring a conservative package to USC while Carroll will call some crazy plays. Ohio State has all the weapons assuming RB Chris Wells is back and healthy, as USC will struggle to switch between defending Wells power runs, Todd Boeckman long-ball pocket passing, and Terrelle Pryor dual-threat capabilities. Remember that Ohio State has been a national power only when it has these kinds of dual threats (Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, etc.). Trojan QB Mark Sanchez appears to have recovered from a leg injury in the pre-season, but he is prone to occassional lapses and mistakes. Look for running backs C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight to really test the OSU line and linebackers, opening holes for Sanchez throws. Look for a low-scoring affair, as these are the best two defenses in college football hands down. Ohio State thrives in defensive slugfests while USC does not, yet the Buckeyes always seem to struggle in September road games out west. Despite bringing an A effort (as opposed to a D- against Ohio University), OSU falls to the Trojans in this one by 7, in overtime.

2008 GOTW Record: 4-2
Last Week: 3-0

Fitz Top 10 - Week 2
1. USC (1-0)
2. Georgia (2-0)
3. Florida (2-0)
4. Missouri (2-0)
5. Ohio State (2-0)
6. Oklahoma (2-0)
7. Wisconsin (2-0)
8. Auburn (2-0)
9. LSU (1-0)
10. Texas Tech (2-0)

Just Missed: East Carolina, Texas, Arizona State, BYU, Penn State

Matt really hit it on the head yesterday, college football fans deserve this kind of week after the lackluster Week 2. While the Fab 15 features four Big XII and four SEC teams in the Top 10, the real frontrunner for a championship will be determined by the lone Pac-10 and lone Big Ten team on Saturday night. Let's hope the game lives up to the endless hype certain sports websites will give us this week. Have a great week and my new daughter Paige says hello to the world! See you next week.

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