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September 30, 2008

SCS.comFollowing a crazy weekend, the elite in the college football world are picking up the pieces. None of the four well-accepted national title contenders at the beginning of the season could make it through September unscathed, as USC, Georgia, and Florida joined Ohio State this week in the one-loss bracket of the BCS Sweepstakes. Conference play indeed has proven that it will be tough going in 2008, just as in 2007 and 2006. The question going into October is whether this month will calm down and go out like a lamb or stay as crazy as last weekend.

Three of the top four teams and four of the top ten lost games this past weekend, the largest stumble for top teams in over two years. USC said all the right things about being focused and did all the wrong things at Oregon State, making the Beavers the most successful team against Pete Carroll. Florida just simply dropped the ball at home, losing inexplicably to Ole Miss. Georgia also lost at home, albeit to a tough Alabama team, but the Bulldogs were embarrassed by falling behind 31-0. Wisconsin apparently though 19-0 was enough against Michigan, but lost the big lead.

Now the list of one-loss teams is a real all-star show. Ranking USC, Ohio State, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, and Wisconsin is tough enough without having to compare them to "lower-tier" undefeated teams in the rankings. Although it may not last, Vanderbilt and Northwestern are closer to a BCS Championship than any of those big names right now. Is the college football world ready for BYU versus South Florida? The long weeks of October will clarify the BCS picture.

The SEC is clearly the battleground after the first week of conference play, but the spotlight may move to the Big XII as four top-ten teams remain undefeated and four of the South division teams are undefeated still after one week of conference play. Missouri is currently the top dog alongside Oklahoma, but whoever survives the South division gauntlet will have more than enough experience to challenge Chase Daniel and his Tigers for the conference title. One can only hope the Big XII has as much craziness as the SEC showed in Week 1.

The surprise of September has to be Alabama. What appeared to be a team a year away from serious SEC contention is now in the forefront of the BCS chase after a month where the Crimson Tide rocked Clemson on a neutral field and humbled the mighty Georgia Bulldogs between the hedges. The chances of running the table are still slim, but it would really be something if traditional powers Penn State and Alabama met for a national title. Nick Saban has squeezed every ounce of talent out of his defense, and all of a sudden the biggest SEC game might not be the Cocktail Party.

The only thing certain about October is that the top 10 will look a lot different in four weeks than it does now. Which Big XII and SEC teams will survive? Will USC, Penn State, Ohio State, and South Florida dominate as expected? Will anybody outside the MWC be undefeated November 1? The nation awaits the results with more bated breath over these questions than the presidential election!

Moving to this week's top games, the third best game of the week is Oregon at USC. Labeled as the biggest challenge to USC going into conference play, it turns out the Ducks will have to be quite impressive to top the OSU performance from last Thursday. The Ducks will need to improve on defense dramatically to stay in the game with an angry Trojan squad featuring QB Mark Sanchez and a stable full of top-notch running backs. Joe McKnight will definitely be looking to get back on track after a bad outing against Oregon State. The Ducks will give the USC defense a few different looks with two possible quarterbacks and two talented running backs LaGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson. The key difference in this game is the USC defense, which will rebound from a tough third game. USC by 17.

The second top game of the week is Ohio State at Wisconsin. The Buckeyes have come into their own now that QB Terrelle Pryor has taken over the starting job and RB Chris Wells is healthy and bashing defenses again. The Buckeyes must prove themselves on the road now in a tough spot, Madison following a loss that will make the Badgers ready for vengeance. The Badgers defense will try to force as many turovers as they pulled from the Wolverines, but the real battle will be the traditional Wisconsin running offense against run-stuffing linebackers Ross Homan, James Laurinaitis, and Marcus Freeman. These two teams have played very close games in the past decade, with the Buckeyes winning three of the last five meetings and only one decision by more than two scores. The Buckeyes appear to have the perfect defense for this one, but Wisconsin ends any notion of a BCS three-peat with a 4 point win.

Another week, another SEC showdown to top the best games list. This time, the SEC offers Auburn's visit to Vanderbilt as the top game of the week. Outside of a surprising shootout loss to LSU, Auburn's defense has put serious clamps down on all opponents, holding each to less than 14. The Tigers have no room for error, as LSU looks ready to be at least 10-2 this season. Vanderbilt jumps into the national spotlight after starting 4-0 under the competent leadership of QB Chris Nickson. The Commodores run the ball first and ask questions later, so look for Auburn to force Nickson to make some plays with his arm throughout the night. Auburn QB Chris Todd will need to avoid mistakes on the road, as Vanderbilt is better than most fans around the country assume. Still, these are games Auburn wins thanks to a stiff defense. No shootout here, Auburn wins by 10.

2008 GOTW Record: 9-6
Last Week: 2-1

Fitz Top 10 - Week 5
1. Missouri (4-0)
2. Alabama (5-0)
3. Oklahoma (4-0)
4. LSU (4-0)
5. Penn State (5-0)
6. BYU (4-0)
7. Texas Tech (4-0)
8. Texas (4-0)
9. South Florida (5-0)
10. Auburn (4-1)

Just Missed: USC, Ohio State, Georgia, Florida, Utah

Not to bring a dash of sadness to the column, but I have to wish my high school friend Pamela best wishes as she moves into the afterlife. Your tragic suicide at such a young age reminds us all to cherish the happy and sad moments we have and especially the friends we have, as you never know when they will be gone forever. Enjoy this week of college football and we'll see you here next week!

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