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October 14, 2008

SCS.comAnother mind-boggling week of college football has passed us by, and the reshuffling of the national rankings has almost become a regular occurrence in 2008. Three of the top four teams in the nation went down in flames as the Big XII finally learned what the SEC has known for two weeks, cannibalism. While the academics of last week fell by the wayside, the traditional powers have taken over the consensus top three spots in the BCS hunt. Still, it is very hard to imagine that the BCS is going to look clean at any point this season, including the first rankings next weekend. Sure, Texas and Alabama could win out and end up with a nice twin 13-0 BCS championship, but we all know that's not really going to happen. This week, we cover the surprises of the halfway mark in the season and look ahead to the frantic finish.


It's official now: Clemson is yet again the biggest disappointment of the year. Tommy Bowden ends a rocky decade at the helm, despite consistently leading Clemson to good seasons and bowl appearances. The problem was, Bowden had too much talent to be good and just go to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl or the like. It's stunning to see that Clemson has been title-less in the ACC for 17 years, but the football power in South Carolina has fallen on hard times. It gets no easier with Georgia Tech this week awaiting interim coach Dabo Swinney. The only real surprise is that yet again, a college football program did not have enough class to let a guy finish the season. Clemson and Bowden will still be successful, just in a separate state of mind from now on.

Speaking of the ACC, the conference has done a nice job rehabilitating their image since I ranked them the seventh best conference in college football behind the Pac-10, the Big East, and even the MWC. The emergence of Florida State alongside Wake Forest and the suddenly dynamic trio of Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina in the Coastal makes for a stretch run to watch carefully. As surprising as Clemson's fall from grace is the resurgence of the ACC, and that is a good thing for college football. We'll discuss the conference battles later in the looking forward portion of the article.

Another surprise in the first half is just how good the Big XII really is. Last year Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas gave quite a show in November but all missed the championship. Missouri pounding Illinois and Oklahoma rolling good teams like Cincinnati seemed to indicate the Big XII was solid again this season. Then undefeated Texas and Oklahoma State went away from home and stayed unblemished by beating these frontrunners. Even Texas Tech showed they have learned how to handle a little adversity by surviving overtime in Nebraska. While the bottom-feeders such as Iowa State may not have a match in the SEC, the upper echelon of the conference has a lot better overall depth than the SEC could hope for this season. It's not quite time to dethrone the SEC, but the Big XII established itself fully with the Cowboy and Longhorn wins.

Another surprise is the sudden power-struggle in the Big Ten, and totally from unexpected sources. Ohio State has dominated the past two seasons, winning their second and third straight conference titles in easy and outright order. The top contenders from last season were supposed to make things interesting for the Buckeyes this season, those conteders being Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan with its new spread attack. So much for that! Penn State is the clear favorite after blowing away seven weeks' worth of opponents, and Michigan State has lived up to the MArk Dantonio potential at 3-0 alongside the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes. Bottom-feeders Northwestern and Minnesota are next in line and both look more legitimate than the train wrecks at usual contenders Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The Big Ten has depth again, and from sources unexpected!

There are a few major disappointments to speak of briefly as well. Notwithstanding the aforementioned Clemson, Michigan, and Wisconsin, one of the biggest shockers is the absolute vanishing act that is West Virginia's offense and Auburn's offense. Two teams destined for BCS glory in 2008 are now going to be lucky just to make any top-tier bowls. Even these teams cannot match two other disappointments though. The first is Tennessee, which may finally be losing its golden touch under Phil Fulmer after a season with a surprising East division championship. The worst disappointment of the season? The lack of anything in the Pac-10, as even USC is not all that impressive after losing to mediocre Oregon State. USC could drop another game and still waltz into the BCS, so there's really nothing to look forward to in this conference chase, unless you care to wait and see which Washington team is worse.


There are some great things in 2008 to look for in the back half of the season. Perennial doormats Minnesota, Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford, North Carolina, and Northwestern are all entering the back half of the season with winning records and bowl aspirations. Anybody who watched the Indiana bowl chase last season knows exactly what kind of drama and good feelings these teams will produce for their fan bases and the nation in October and November. There really are way too many bowl games in this day and age, but one positive side-effect is an almost guaranteed post-season experience for these usual losers who keep on winning.

Another thing to watch for is six potentially great conference races. BYU and TCU start the three-way battle to bust the BCS from the MWC in 2008 on Thursday night this week, but all three are headed to good bowl games. The SEC should come down to major battles between Georgia and Florida on one side and LSU and Alabama on the other. The Big Ten is dominated by the "states," with Michigan State and Ohio State kicking off the round-robin with Penn State for the conference title this weekend. The Big East could come down to a monster Backyard Brawl between Pitt and WVU, but South Florida and Cincinnati cannot be counted out yet. The ACC is completely up for grabs between Demon Deacons, Seminoles, Hokies, Yellowjackets, and Tar Heels. This of course leaves the most compelling storyline of all, the Big XII. Kansas and Missouri should make for a good game up North, but the bloodbath in the South is what to watch as Texas, Oklahoma, OSU, and Texas Tech sort themselves out in the next month. One thing's for sure, there will be a lot to watch in the major conferences thanks to all this parity!

The final thing to watch for is another BCS explosion. Texas and USC being the only undefeateds in 2005 seems like ages ago as the Bowl Championship Series is still struggling to get the formula right. While the media and coaches begged for more human control over the formula, the unjustness of those polls lies at the heart of why no system will ever work in college football. Computers have a flawed perspective, but humans are even more flawed. It's very hard to rank these teams, and the only way everybody will be happy is a playoff. Still, no complaints here as the BCS gives us plenty of fodder as sportswriters to talk about. With as bad as the Pac-10 is this year, any undefeated MWC team or any one-loss team in another BCS conference (except for Ohio State thanks to the 35-3 debacle) deserves to play for a national title more than USC. Yet I guarantee if the Trojans win out we'll be watching Song Girls in Miami. Despite all their talent, USC will go down in flames in a national title game just like the Buckeyes of the past two years, all because no parity exists this year in the Pac-10. Mark it down now, USC loses in the BCS Championship in 2009.

With all due respect to major Big XII (Kansas at Oklahoma) and SEC (Vandy at Georgia) battles, the top three games of the week come from other parts of the country this week. The third best game of the week comes on Thursday night when BYU visits TCU. Outside a blasting from national power Oklahoma in Norman, the Horned Frogs have held their opponents to a smothering 7 points per game. TCU QB Andy Dalton is a solid anchor of the offense, but the real talents are the three-headed RB platoon of Joseph Turner, Ryan Christian, and backup QB Marcus Jackson. The real key to the game though will be whether the vaunted Horned Frog defense can hope to contain BYU and prolific passer Max Hall. BYU is exceeding all expectations and rankings for a typical BCS buster, and some are saying the MWC is good enough to justify and championship game run if BYU wins out. They have to impress against quality teams on the road though, and this is another opportunity for that. Look for BYU to win by 17.

The second game of the week is a battle to settle the primary competition to Penn State in the Big Ten, as Ohio state visits Michigan State. One compelling storyline among many is that Mark Dantonio finally gets a chance to host his old mentor Jim Tressel, but expect no hospitality on the field. Dantonio led the Buckeye defense to a national title in 2002 before bailing for Cincinnati and later MSU, and his second season in Lansing shows all the potential of the 2002 Buckeyes. Will Ohio State's rebuilt offense with QB Terrelle Pryor and RB Chris Wells be able to get the ball rolling now that they've reached the most important two games of the season? Expect this game to be quick, as the best two running backs in the conference Javon Ringer and Chris Wells take over. Michigan State has more than enough to win this game, but Ohio state is due for a big performance. Buckeyes win by 10 to set up the game of the season next week against the Nittany Lions.

The top game of the week has a familiar flair from last week, as Texas stays in the national spotlight after beating top-ranked Oklahoma. This week Missouri comes into town angry after dropping a tough home battle to Oklahoma State. The Heisman Trophy could be decided on this field between Chase Daniel of Missouri and Colt McCoy of Texas. Each gunslinger has really made an impact this season and will keep the defensive secondaries very busy. The Big XII is not all about defense this season, and you have to like Texas in a shootout with the home crowd behind them on a cool autumn night in Austin. Texas gets to hold the top billing for one more week, winning by 14.

2008 GOTW Record: 10-11
Last Week: 0-3 (ouch to upsets)

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

Just Missed: Ohio State, Utah, LSU, Georgia, Boise State

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