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October 21, 2008

SCS.comAs a nice chill sweeps the nation and the leaves start covering yards, a similar chill has come over 90% of the Division I-A universe, at least as far as the national championship goes. It has been fairly impossible to jump into the BCS Championship from outside the top 10-12 of the initial BCS Standings. By this point in the season, contenders have been separated from pretenders to a large degree, and computer rankings finally show which teams have a lot of impressing work to do on poll voters in October and November. Before we look to the week ahead, a quick look at the BCS contenders is warranted now that rankings are official.

There's a definite top-tier in the BCS, and it should come as no surprise that the undefeated teams leading the Big XII, SEC, and Big Ten are in this group. Texas looks like they might be good enough to run the amazing gauntlet of Oklahoma-Missouri-OK State-Texas Tech, and the Horns will definitely be in the championship if they win out. As for Alabama, the key will be avoiding the almost-certain trap game in the SEC. Considering Alabama has struggled to put away Mississippi and Kentucky, there's no guarantees against future opponents such as Tennessee or Mississippi State. Rounding out the trio is the dominant Penn State squad last seen blowing through Wisconsin and Michigan easily. Penn State faces their toughest test of the season this weekend in Columbus, a place they have not won as a Big Ten member. Out of this trio, it appears Penn State is the most likely to go undefeated. Still, Texas will still be in the mix even with a loss as long as they win the Big XII Championship. Alabama probably has no room for error in the public eye.

A second tier has come into focus now as the successors to the Championship if the top teams falter. Leading this pack is Oklahoma, who was not really hurt by the loss to Texas. Nevertheless, Oklahoma can only make the Championship if Texas stumbles twice and allows OU into the Big XII Championship. This will hurt Oklahoma's fourth-ranked computer ranking, but perhaps games againse Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will buoy the ship. Oklahoma will be a very interesting case study if Texas loses once before the end of the season. The other two second-tier teams are one-loss USC and undefeated Oklahoma State. According to the computers, USC is very overrated which makes sense given the weakness in the Pac-10. Oklahoma State is underrated and will only make the Championship if they run the table. Same for USC, but the route is very easy for the Trojans.

Finally the BCS has a third-tier, which is stacked with big names and another Big XII upstart. Texas Tech still has the meat of their schedule ahead of them in the Big XII and needs to run the table like everyone else in this group to have a chance. Florida and Georgia are still relevant in the SEC despite early losses, and their computer ratings will go up as the schedule stays tough. Finally we have the "scourge" of the BCS Championship, two-time defending runner up Ohio State. After crushing a good Michigan State team, perhaps the sleepwalking giants of the BCS will have what it takes to stop the Nittany Lion express. If that happens, OSU is at least going into the discussion again. This group of teams will be hoping for havoc at the top, as that's what needs to happen for each of them to get back in the chase.

After BYU's loss, no non-BCS conference team will get much publicity for the national championship. Utah has been solid, but even wins against TCU, BYU, and Michigan may not be enough to rise ten spots. Boise State is praying for TCU and Utah to stumble so they can hold onto the automatic at-large berth. Each of these teams fills the 11-14 spots, and they will battl eit out for wha tis likely one at-large.

This leaves the rest of the 107 teams in America. None of them have a real legitimate chance at the BCS Championship this season. The only arguable case is LSU, but it's hard to imagine them going undefeated the rest of the way out and getting enough breaks in the Pac-10 and Big Ten to jump all the necessary teams. Missouri, South Florida, Pittsburgh, etc. will all need to play their way into a BCS Bowl by winning a conference title, but there's no hope left for a national title. This leaves us with 10 contenders spread out in a relatively fair fashion given the strength of conferences this season (4 Big XII, 3 SEC, 2 Big Ten, and 1 Pac-10). The road to the Championship will have a lot of bumps and unexpected turns, but expect two of these ten in Miami in January playing for the crystal football.

Another race is beginning to take form in late October, that being the Heisman race. The quarterbacks will probably again dominate the list of finalists, with all the Big XII dominanace at the position to go with defending winner Tim Tebow. Expect two of Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, and Graham Harrell to go to New York after Chase Daniel played himself out of contention the past two weeks. The running back position does not have clear frontrunners, but the explosive Knowshon Moreno is probably tops at this point. Everyone else to watch resides in the Big Ten, with the surprise being Iowa's Shonn Greene, who is the most consistent runner in the country thus far. Penn State's Evan Royster will be in the mix if the Nittany Lions win out, while Javon Ringer and Chris Wells are not quite off the radar screen yet. It will be surprising if any other position sends someone to New York, but perhaps one to watch is Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant. If the Cowboys stay successful, he could jump into a lot of Top 5 lists. This race changes week to week and goes with the BCS chase, so there's a long way to go yet. Still, this group of players will almost certainly produce the winner as it's been a long time since someone off the radar in October won the Heisman.

Turning to this week's games, there are again some solid battles near the top of the charts. The weekly SEC showdown again comes in at the #3 spot, as Georgia visits LSU. LSU still controls their SEC destiny, but a win here is crucial after the Florida blowout. The LSU offense has not been all that good in 2008, yet QB Jarrett Lee and WR Brandon LaFell have kept defensive secondaries busy. The real threat when playing LSU is not stopping the crazy play Les Miles always has cooked up. Georgia is battle-tested and only has one bad half against Alabama keeping them from the top of the BCS chase. The next two weeks are make or break though as the Bulldogs face LSU and Florida back-to-back. The Georgia defense is very solid and will give LSU problems. Although Georgia has some of the best talent in the country with QB Matt Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno, and WR A.J. Green, the offensive line is dinged up and could be a problem. Still, Georgia just has too much talent to lose to this LSU team. Georgia wins a tough road battle by 7.

The second-best game of the week may take the cake for many analysts, but a battle of undefeateds in the Big XII is my #2. Oklahoma State will be a heavy underdog going to Austin after Texas dismantled Oklahoma and Missouri, but nobody can count out the Cowboys until Texas proves it on the field again. The Cowboys are an offensive juggernaut, led by underrated QB Zac Robinson. Obviously the Texas defense will try to double-team WR Dez Bryant, which should leave a lot of opportunities for other receivers on OSU, none of which have gained more than 200 yards total this season. Texas has even more stars on the offensive side, but the key to this game will be which defense shows up. Texas has proven themselves against better teams than Oklahoma State thus far, so you have to take the Longhorns at home. Texas by 17.

The best game of the week is the de facto Big Ten championship, Penn State at Ohio State. This game may determine one of the two teams we see in Miami for the BCS Championship, as either team will benefit greatly from a win in this game. Penn State has never won in Columbus as a Big Ten member in 8 tries, but these two teams always play close. Regardless, Penn State broke a streak last week of 9 straight losses to Michigan, led by QB Daryll Clark and RB Evan Royster. The Buckeyes fell off the radar after the USC loss, but this team looks a lot different now after four Terrelle Pryor starts at QB and four games with a healthy Chris Wells back in the mix. Penn State has really not played a close game, but Illinois and Purdue gave them a little trouble. Ohio State has been more dominant defensively than the Lions outside of the USC loss, and it seems like James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins really have the unit back to Silver Bullet glory in recent weeks. This Penn State offense is the best OSU has seen though. The real key will be if Ohio State's offense continues the good play finally established a week ago at East Lansing. Ohio State does more than enough defensively to win, but the Nittany Lions will stuff Chris Wells and show Terrelle Pryor his inexperience. Penn State breaks another streak with a 10 point win.

2008 GOTW Record: 12-12
Last Week: 2-1

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

Just Missed: Georgia, Boise State, LSU, South Florida, Georgia Tech

It's never a bad thing when six of the eleven national title contenders (counting LSU for this) play in three big games in one Saturday. Enjoy these matchups while they last.

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