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October 7, 2008

SCS.comIf you live in a battleground election state, every commercial break during a football Saturday is filled with Obama this, McCain that. These advertisements do nothing but make us long for November and the end of the ads, which coincidentally brings crunch time for college football as well. In the middle of October, however, there are a lot of teams in the college football universe succeeding for the first time in a long time, much like our presidential candidates in 2008. Appealing to the Harvard-law trained fans such as Obama, academic schools have found quick success thus far. Appealing to traditionalist fans like McCain, old school powerhouses are back on the BCS Championship scene. In this election hype, let's look at the new BCS contenders.

Academics: Vanderbilt - It has been over fifty years since Vanderbilt held a national ranking and won a game while ranked. Exorcising 50 years of frustration with a backup quarterback against Auburn on Saturday proved the Commodores are for real this season. While the SEC road will get tougher, Vanderbilt will end the longest bowl drought in college football dating to 1982. QB Mackenzi Adams will probably take over the starting reins, and he has proven against Mississippi and Auburn that he can run the offense competently. The Commodores have also been trailing by a touchdown or more in every game this season, so the coaching staff has taught their kids how to get out of trouble. Keep an eye on this "geek squad" as the season continues.

Traditionalists: Alabama - Also in the SEC, we have an old school power coming back to life under Nick Saban. RB Glen Coffee is the leader of the offense, grinding out long drives and tiring out opposing defenses. Alabama has pounded top ten opposition away from home twice in Clemson and Georgia, and the Crimson Tide likes to roll to a big first half lead and then sit on it the rest of the game. What will be interesting now that Alabama is the top ranked dog in the SEC is how they handle the bullseye every week, and how they react if the Tide falls behind. With only one really tough road game left at LSU, Alabama could be the third different SEC team in the BCS Championship in three years.

Academics: Northwestern - Unlike the Commodores in Nashville, the Chicago-based Wildcats are only a decade away from great years in 1995-96 with Big Ten titles and two straight Rose Bowl appearances. Coach Pat Fitzgerald was the anchor of the defense as a linebacker ten years ago, and he has brought back the Wildcat swagger despite being out-recruited by the likes of Jim Tressel, Rich Rodriguez, Joe Paterno, and Bret Bielema. Northwestern holds a 5-0 start and the easiest schedule in the Big Ten, missing Wisconsin and Penn State. If the Wildcats defeat Michigan State at home this week, the next three weeks are the bottom-feeders of the Big Ten, perhaps leading to 9-0 when Ohio State comes to town. A win there and nobody could deny these academics their BCS due.

Traditionalists: Penn State - Outside of a 1994 dominating first year in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions have lost the national title spark that was around 20 years ago. Thankfully they still have the coach that led them to all the success decades ago in Joe Paterno. Until this past weekend, the Nittany Lions were pouring it off offensively scoring over 40 points per game. Penn State has embarrassed quality Illinois and Oregon State squads, but the real key games are upcoming in the next three weeks with night games at Wisconsin and Ohio State surrounding a home visit from Michigan. If the Lions sweep all three games, the road is downhill to the BCS Championship.

Academics: Duke - A team that struggled to win one game the past four seasons is now 3-2 and playing well in a weak ACC. Georgia Tech set the Blue Devils out of any likely BCS contention this past weekend, but that should not take away from the dramatic turnaround. QB Thaddeus Lewis has one year of eligibility left and shows his two and a half seasons of experience as the Blue Devil offense is not a joke anymore. David Cutliffe is coaching Duke back to respectability, and in the ACC, that might mean a shocking BCS berth down the road. For those who do not believe this can happen, look at Wake Forest. The doors are open, and these academics could run right through it.

Traditionalists: Pittsburgh - The Panthers have more national championships than every school outside of Alabama, Notre Dame, USC, and Michigan. Despite a couple of BCS bowl berths in the past decade, Pittsbrugh has been an afterthought on the national scene for many years. Coach Dave Wannstedt came back to rebuild this program, and he appears to be succeeding a little slower than most expected. A win over #1 West Virginia last season redeemed a 5-7 season, and Pitt has started 4-1 this season despite a tough home opener loss to Bowling Green. A win at top-10 South Florida put Pittsburgh on the top of the Big East standings and may catapult them into BCS bowl contention. Although no conference games remain until November, watch for the Panthers to continue their resurgence.

Although both USC and Ohio State took lumps in September, each found redemption on Saturday night. USC recovered from the Oregon State shocker to rock a much better Oregon team, while Ohio State won a night game at Camp Randall Stadium, a pretty much impossible task. Both these title contenders are actaully still in the mix and will linger in the Top 10 until they lose again. If nothing else, would love to see a rematch in the Rose Bowl with Ohio State having all their cylinders running this time with QB phenom Terrelle Pryor and RB Chris Wells. Here's guessing the all-out blitz package doesn't work for the Trojans this time.

That brings us to the top three games of the week, and you know it will be good when huge games ASU-USC and Penn State-Wisconsin do not make the cut. The third best game of the week is a cross-divisional battle of Big XII undefeated teams, Oklahoma State at Missouri. Each team has an explosive offense, but the key will be which defense steps up and performs. The Cowboy defense must slow Heisman candidate QB Chase Daniel who has led Missouri to over 375 yards per game passing and a 12-2 season in 2007. The Tigers defense will need to load up in the front to slow Oklahoma State's 300 yard per game rushing attack led by RB Kendall Hunter. Normally the rushing team could win an even battle because dominating the clock and wearing out the defense makes all the difference, but Missouri has the better coaching staff and more experience in the spotlight, as well as home field advantage. Chase Daniel solidifies his Heisman lead with at least five touchdown passes, leading Missouri to a 17 point win.

The second game of the week is the weekly colossal showdown in the SEC, LSU at Florida. Last season Tim Tebow led his Gators to a dominating performance for three quarters before the Bayou Bengals scored fourteen straight points to steal a 28-24 win. The last two national champs will certainly have a lot on the line this year. LSU RB Charles Scott needs to break out in this game and dominate the tempo of the game. Look for the LSU defense to put a lot of pressure on Tebow and perhaps force a game-changing turnover. LSU wins on a crazy Les Miles play, this time by 3.

The top game of the week almost always holds this spot on the second weekend of October, that being the Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas. A frontrunner for the Big XII title and the national championship will emerge in Dallas this weekend no matter who wins. Quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford have shed their sophomore and freshman struggles, respectively, and each is now a confident leader of the offense. Each quarterback should have another big day in Dallas. Texas offers the Sooner defense a challenge as McCoy is the leading rusher as well. In a hard-hitting contest, Oklahoma may have the advantage just by being deeper at the skill positions. Oklahoma also has the better defense by all indications, so Oklahoma wins this battle again by 10.

2008 GOTW Record: 10-8
Last Week: 1-2

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

Just Missed: Georgia, Florida, Utah, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt

This has been a crazy year for me as a writer as everything from birth of a daughter to city-wide power outage has messed with deadlines, but this week finally did me in with a bout of stomach flu. My apologies on the late article, but all is well and I'm happy to be back discussing such a great weekend of college football with my audience. Have a great week and avoid this flu bug!

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