Wednesday, October 11, 2006

MIDSEASON REPORT: BEST TEAM STORIES

Perhaps more than any other sport, college football is about the team. Fan allegiances don't change because of high-paid players leaping from team to team. Players, for the most part, stay put for their entire college career. And every year, there are a few teams that surprises in a pleasant way, that make things interesting. A look at them with almost half the CFB season done.


RUTGERS
Choosing the best team story was easy this year: The distinction belongs to Rutgers University. The New Jersey school most famous for -- nothing, really -- has suddenly become the talk of college football. The Scarlet Knights are ranked and unbeaten. That's right, 5-0. And with games coming up against Navy, Pittsburgh and Connecticut, Rutgers could conceivably be (gulp) 8-0 before they face Louisville on Nov. 9. The Cardinals will be coming off their game against West Virginia, which means there's not telling what could happen at that point. At any point, chalk up their success mostly to Coach Greg Schiano, who had apparently had too much to drink when the Scarlet Knights called him. I say that because he accepted the job. No other evidence of intoxication is required. Kudos to Rutgers. Now go implode against Navy and make me look like an idiot.


WASHINGTON
So, figure this one out. A coach wins at Stanford, can't win at Notre Dame, then goes to the University of Washington -- where football coaches are better known for their Final Four picks than for their sideline prowess -- and starts to win again. The Huskies and Tyrone Willingham are off to a 4-2 start and were jobbed out of three seconds that could have meant the difference between victory and defeat against Southern California, which delusionalists think is the second-ranked team in the country.

MISSOURI
Gary Pinkel and crew are also off to an undefeated start, and could actually end up as the biggest challenge to Texas for Big 12 supremacy. Cake that statement several times over with equivocation, because there's no way to tell whether this Mizzou is the real deal. But keep an eye on them.

WAKE FOREST
They couldn't pick off Clemson, but there's nothing to keep the Deacons from having a bowl-worthy season, and perhaps sneaking into a pretty good postseason bid given the weakness of the ACC. The question, of course, is whether Wake will do its usual midseason meltdown and disappoint again.

NORTHWESTERN
No, they're not off to a great start. No, they're not going to go to a bowl game. But a few short months after their head coach died suddenly and unexpectedly, Northwestern continues to push on and play on. That alone is reason enough to salute them every time they take the field.

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