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October 28, 2010 This week brings the last weekend of October and lots of Halloween parties with college football on in the background. However, this is no week to ignore college football, as the undefeated team club is trimmed to a thin 7, which is a little smaller than average for seven weeks into a season. However, the potential is there for many different outcomes. One only has to review the past three seasons to see when the BCS has received a mulligan (meaning the choices for the championship game were obvious) and when the BCS has needed to solve the tough dilemmas it was created to address. In 2007, a wild debate ensued as Ohio State and Kansas were the only 1 loss teams in the nation, each having lost one of their final two games, while everybody else has two or more losses. In 2008 there were five one loss teams atop the rankings but it was clear Texas and Alabama should be left out after losing to Oklahoma and Florida, the two teams who played for it all. 2009 brought even more chaos as five teams went undefeated and that included three from BCS conferences. So the BCS has not had many easy calls lately but sometimes 2008 works out (or 2005 when only Texas and USC were undefeated). So which will this season become in the final six weeks?

So the easiest scenario to see is if the maximum number of teams or close to it go undefeated the rest of the way, just like last season when being undefeated lived a charmed life. Only the loser of TCU-Utah needs to be eliminated in this scenario, but Auburn also likely has too many tough games left to win out, leaving Oregon, Boise State, TCU, Michigan State, and Missouri undefeated (and Alabama presumably with one loss). If this happens, once again the non automatic qualifiers will likely get left out based on the computer resumes of the other three competitors. Whether right or wrong, the Big Ten will also be penalized for not having Ohio State play Michigan State, which will allow Missouri and Oregon to battle in Glendale. However, the sympathy vote for Boise State could just be strong enough to overcome Missouri, which makes this one of the more compelling possible outcomes. However, before 2009 we had gone decades since seeing a year like that and we will likely go decades before seeing it again. So rest easy BCS lovers, this doomsday scenario is likely not coming to pass. The likelihood of this coming to pass is probably only about 10%.

The best case scenario for the BCS? Although it may look like any two undefeated teams would do the trick, the honest truth is that the BCS needs to have Boise State, TCU, and Utah all get upset in November to really make this scenario as clear as can be. Otherwise, a one-loss Alabama team coming off a SEC Championship win and a win over Auburn will have a lot more compelling evidence and schedule strength than the undefeated non-AQ. Especially if Oregon is the other undefeated team, a team like Boise State would likely have a small margin of error as Alabama would be right behind them in the human polls. The computers will just not get it done, so the best case scenario is Oregon and one of Auburn, Missouri, and Michigan State going undefeated and nobody else. Then the dream of 2005 will be relived and the sharks at the door calling for the end of the BCS will need to seethe quietly for another season. The likelihood of this outcome? I have it at 40% for one or more of the two undefeated teams to be a non-AQ team and 5% for two automatic qualifiers being the only undefeated teams.

This leaves the 2007 doomsday scenario for the BCS, when everybody took on a loss and nearly every team took on two losses. Similar to this circumstance is the one undefeated team scenario, especially if that team is Boise State. No matter who the undefeated team is, that team will certainly be in the championship as respect for the three non-traditional programs in the mix is higher than ever before this season. Of the one-loss teams left in the mix, only teams with a loss before November would likely be considered barring the real crazy last three weeks of the season in November 2007. Thus, the team probably ending on a roll has a loss already, and the top teams in that mix are Alabama, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. Wisconsin will be penalized by not having any big games late after playing Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa early...while Oklahoma would presumably be coming off a win over Missouri or Nebraska while Alabama would be coming off wins over Auburn and South Carolina. Based on the conference perception and the relative strengths of the teams, Alabama would be the choice and would set up a highly intriguing scenario just like 2007 (minus the two loss national champion). The likelihood of this scenario is currently about 45%, and considering the teams at the top of the polls do not have much track record there, this could end up being a wild finish that may see teams farther back like Ohio State, LSU, Stanford, and Nebraska back in the mix.

Although you may have many reasons to find fault with the process and the setup of the Bowl Championship Series, the sheer fact of the matter is that after a decade of play, the BCS has largely done what could not have been done in the past: crown a true national champion and test that champion with the toughest bowl game challenger possible. Last year broke expectations by allowing TCU and Boise State in the BCS money jackpot, but the real prize may come this season for one of these two proven contenders (or Utah, who we would be wise to not forget about after being a two time BCS bowl winner quietly in the past five years). Although it would have been a great story to see Boise State relive their glory against Oklahoma in Glendale again, the only way the majority of the country will accept Boise State as a national champion is if they beat the SEC champion, and preferably Alabama as the defending national champion. The only two teams to escape the bowl season undefeated a year ago would get to settle it all one the field in a battle for the ages. A Boise State win would change the college football landscape and perceptions forever, while an Alabama win would be a historic achievement for the SEC conference and a statement for the traditional BCS conference and powers. That's the story everyone has been waiting to see, and one can only hope that this season delivers the sweetest of endings.

Three weeks in a row, the number one team in the rankings has gone on the road against a team ranked in the 11-20 range. And every single time, the national title frontrunner was summarily removed from contention for the time being by an upstart. Will the lessons of Columbia (SC), Madison, and Columbia (MO) ring true once again this week as Auburn travels to Mississippi? This may not be quite the trap game of the previous few weeks for the newly crowned number 1, but the remainder of the undefeated club may not find themselves so lucky as the making is there for a catastophic shift atop the standings. Michigan State has gutted their way out of tough situations against Notre Dame and Northwestern, but will they be so lucky going to Iowa City with the Hawkeyes coming off a loss and highly motivated? Missouri will have to avoid the big game hangover as the Big XII North division title will likely be decided when they travel to Nebraska. Meanwhile, Oregon goes to a house of horrors for them in USC and Utah finds a tough trip to Air Force on the docket. All of these games has trap written all over it, and this season, those trap games have become real issues for the top teams in the country. About the only teams that can relax a bit are Boise State and TCU, although tough tests loom for both of these BCS busters as well.

Surprisingly, the talking heads of the college football world have seemingly moved on very quickly from the concussion and player protection debate, at least on the college football side. However, we cannot forget Eric LeGrand sitting in a New Jersey hospital and beginning what will certainly be a struggle to walk again and regain life as he knew it before. Rutgers University set up a "Believe Fund" which you can donate to if interested (just look up Believe Fund on google and you will find it). The New Jersey Nets basketball orgnaization donated 75 thousand dollars to the fund already, and I would expect many corporate donors to join a multitude of small donations from college football fans and casual observers of the cable news cycle. Even if you cannot contribute, you can send your well wishes and prayers to LeGrand over the next long weeks and months of his hopeful recovery. Although we cannot stop a great college football season for one unfortunate incident, we must be careful to not forget LeGrand and then not address the issue in the offseason. One hopes the next great innovation is on the way from helmet manufacturers.

The first game of the week is Baylor at Texas. For the first time since 1986, Baylor is the only ranked team coming into this game and Baylor will be headed to their first bowl game in 16 years after hitting six wins a week ago. Last weekend Baylor put on an offensive show against Kansas State that may have never been matched before, as QB Robert Griffin threw for over 400 yards while RB Jay Finley set the school record with a 250 yard day on the ground. This prolific offense must be salivating at the prospect of playing against the Longhorn defense, which was had serious breakdowns against UCLA and Iowa State in recent weeks. To put Finley's game in perspective, the Longhorn leading rusher after SEVEN games is Foswhitt Whittaker with 264 yards on the season. Baylor will be more than happy to enter another shootout after winning two in a row in Big XII play. Look for Finley and Griffin to look to slash through the defensive line of the Longhorns, who have not plugged running holes very well in October. However, if the Longhorns stack up linebackers against the run, Griffin is more than talented enough to pass all over the field in one-on-one coverage. Garrett Gilbert has not received much help from his running game, and he cannot afford to continue making mistakes like the four turnovers from a week ago. The Bears defense is one of the weaker defenses Texas has faced though, so there's no doubt at home that Texas can stay in this game. Look for Baylor to have a huge day offensively and do just enough to hold on as Texas rallies late but falls short by 3.

The second game of the week is Michigan State at Iowa. One year ago Iowa was the unexpected undefeated team in the Big Ten and came into East Lansing needing a big performance, and that's just what they got in a wild 15-13 win that ended with a Ricky Stanzi touchdown pass on the last play of the game. This year Michigan State hopes to do the same in Iowa City as the only undefeated conference team remaining. Iowa carries the hopes of not only themselves but other contenders Wisconsin and Ohio State with them, as the final three games for the Spartans look very winnable. Iowa has been much more effective on offense than they were a season ago, as Stanzi has cut out the mistakes largely and has thrown for 16 touchdowns on the year. Stanzi's favorite target will be Darrell Johnson-Koulianos, but look for him to test great Michigan State LB Greg Jones in pass coverage by finding tight ends over the middle for some important short gains. Adam Robinson will also test Greg Jones, who got the better of the Hawkeye running backs a year ago. Michigan State has escaped some close games largely on the power of QB Kirk Cousins, who is never out of a game until the final second expires. Cousins has received a lot of help from running backs Edwin Baker and LeVeon Bell. Look for Michigan State to challenge the great Iowa defensive front led by Adrian Clayborn and try to wear out the Hawkeyes as the game goes along, much like Wisconsin did in Iowa City a week ago. The only surprising result in this game is if it does not come down to the final drive, as that's how both of these teams have operated since their memorable 2009 meeting. Iowa defends the home turf to open up the Big Ten race with a 3 point win.

The third and final game of the week is Missouri traveling to Nebraska for all the marbles in the Big XII North division. Perhaps unexpected two weeks ago, it is Missouri who overcame their longtime demon in the south division by beating Oklahoma while Nebraska fell flat in their last home game against their south division "bugaboo" Texas. For those who were not introduced to Missouri last weekend, the entire story on the Tiger offense is quartback Blaine Gabbert, who has pushed for nearly 300 yards passing per game. Meanwhile, Missouri struggles to establish the run game, a weakness that Nebraska will look to capitalize on as their defense was dominated up front the last two weeks by Texas and Oklahoma State. Tiger receiver T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew should find some openings in the Nebraska defense if Missouri can at least threaten to run the ball effectively. Nebraska has experienced an offensive resurgence with freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is only overshadowed by the likes of Denard Robinson and Cam Newton in the dual threat quarterback category. Missouri has been suspect against the pass this season, so look for Martinez to try and pick the Tiger secondary apart early in this game. Outside the poor performance against Texas, Martinez has not made many mistakes and actually is more of a threat to run the ball, which Nebraska ranks 5th nationally in rushing yards per game. Missouri is a lot better than the nation is giving them credit for, but this is supposed to be Nebraska's swan song in the Big XII and they will not let it slip away in two straight home losses. Nebraska wins by 10.

Other Games of the Top 25 - Week 9

(3) Boise State defeated Louisiana Tech (Tuesday)
(16) Florida State defeats NC State
(1) Auburn defeats Mississippi
(2) Oregon defeats USC
(4) TCU defeats UNLV
Air Force defeats (8) Utah
(9) Oklahoma defeats Colorado
(11) Ohio State defeats Minnesota
(13) Stanford defeats Washington
(15) Arizona defeats UCLA
(17) Oklahoma State defeats Kansas State
(19) Arkansas defeats Vanderbilt
(20) South Carolina defeats Tennessee
(21) Mississippi State defeats Kentucky
(22) Miami defeats Virginia
(24) Nevada defeats Utah State

2010 GOTW Record: 16-8
Last Week: 1-2
2010 Overall Top 25 Record: 129-31
Last Week: 15-4

Fitz Top 10 - Week 9

1. Oregon (7-0)
2. Boise State (7-0)
3. TCU (8-0)
4. Auburn (8-0)
5. Michigan State (8-0)
6. Missouri (7-0)
7. Utah (7-0)
8. Alabama (7-1)
9. Wisconsin (7-1)
10. Ohio State (7-1)

Just Missed: Oklahoma, Stanford, Nebraska, Florida State, Arizona

Although it's never good to end on a bad note, word just came across as I finish this article of a tragedy at Notre Dame today. A 21 year old student who tapes the Fighting Irish football practices died after the scissor lift he was on fell over in high winds. While his name has not yet been released, he is an important behind-the-scenes member of the Irish football program and this loss will likely shake that program. Young people sometimes suffer terrible accidents, but this does not make it any easier to swallow. Just like New Jersey, we should all hug our loved ones close and send our thoughts and prayers to a family that will never see their son/nephew/cousin/etc. again. There are some things that make football seem so unimportant, and it puts a dash of perspective and somberness on a great time. Until next week, don't take anything for granted.

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