Friday, November 03, 2006

APOLOGIES

Sorry for the light posting over the past couple of days. I'll try to do better next week.

There might be some posting this weekend during business travel to Detroit, but we'll see. Hopefully, a wrap up on the "Road to ..." series and the sheer genius of ESPN devoting a college football Saturday to ... horse racing.

In the meantime, let's give some respect to Air Force for going elementary school on Army.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

CALLING THE "BIG" THURSDAY GAME

Since it's the biggest Thursday night game in at least a couple of weeks, I guess it would be inappropriate not to call the West Virginia-Louisville matchup.

It would be easier to call this game if either of these schools had played someone with, you know, talent. Or ability. Or at least an intimidating mascot.


Beating him/her/it is not impressive.

But it is what it is. Louisville started off the year by torching a Kentucky team that ain't great, but isn't horrible. In the process, they lost Michael Bush.

West Virginia blasted a Maryland team that now looks like it's getting it together.

I'll give West Virginia a slight, slight edge, 34-33.

SHOCKING! SHOCKING! SHOCKING!

In what has to count as one of the least shocking events in CFB this year, John L. Smith has been fired/forcibly resigned/euthanized as head coach at Michigan State University.

Since there's nothing really to say about an event that everyone with an IQ and even a passing interest in "that game where they throw the weird-looking piece of leather around" saw coming, we leave you with a YouTube video obviously composed by fan devastated by the Illinois loss. It's really quite amusing.


Michigan State stepped back from the ledge, my friend.

THE ROAD TO ... Glendale (probably)

While there might be some doubt about the significance of tomorrow's MOST IMPORTANT GAME IN THE HISTORY OF THE BIG EAST, there is no disputing that the Nov. 18 game between Michigan and Ohio State is probably the biggest game left on the college slate.


Verify this.

The winner will almost certainly win the conference and go to the national title game. Unless...

Because of the byzantine tiebreaker rules used by the Big Ten -- and, really, what conference doesn't use byzantine tiebreaking rules? -- if Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin all end up with one loss, Wisconsin would (believe it or not) get a BCS berth, but probably to the Rose Bowl instead of to the NC game.

Could it happen? Well, Michigan's only other Big Ten game is Nov. 11 at Indiana. OSU travles to Illinois on Saturday and to Northwestern on Nov. 11.

If there is an upset somewhere -- and the one-loss team wins the game in Columbus -- then Wisconsin's fate would likely hinge on it's home game against Penn State on Saturday and a trip to Iowa on Nov. 11.

But we all know what's going to happen. Michigan plays Ohio State for all the marbles in Columbus.

We think.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

THE ROAD TO ... ???

Remember back when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College leaving the Big East was going to kill it? When there were lawsuits and such nonsense flying around?

Yeah, not so much.

But whether the Big East is for real this year will, like Kim Jong Il's recent test, come down to whether Thursday's game is a nuclear event or something a bit less.


U.S. intelligence will work to confirm that this is BCS material.

That could be the difference between a trip to Glendale for the champ and a journey to, say, Miami. (Glendale actually, for once, being the better option. As long as it's for the championship game.)

First, as always, we take a look at where the conference stands thus far. On top are West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers, all undefeated, though this would be on the level of the United States declaring war on several Eastern European nations and saying, "Look! We're undefeated!" Pittsburg is 2-1, the one loss coming to Rutgers. Everyone else is just hoping for a chance to go to Toronto for the International Bowl -- which, sadly, I am not making up.

Obviously, Thursday's showdown between Louisville and West Virginia is huge. But that is just the beginning of a series of games that could make the end of the Big East season a barn-burner -- or a couch-burner, for Mountaineers fans.

On Nov. 9, Louisville heads to Rutgers for a game that could leave just one undefeated Big East team standing -- or not. If West Virginia beats Louisville and the Cardinals can best the Scarlet Knights, then the 'Eers can punch their tickets to ... somewhere. One week later, on Nov. 16, West Virginia heads to Heinz Field for a showdown with Pittsburgh. On Nov. 25, it's Lousville making the trek to Pittsburgh.

However, the "sleeper" Big East championship game could be -- could be -- the battle between West Virginia and Rutgers on Dec. 2. The road to ... somewhere ... could very well go through Morgantown.

Or not.

Welcome to the new Big East.

Monday, October 30, 2006

THE ROAD TO ... Kansas City

You know, just when you think "The Road to Jacksonville" is the lamest championship moniker ever, you realize that the Big XII, what with its Western/Midwestern expanses, managed to find the only city with a stadium more boring than Jacksonville.


Yay! We're going to KC!

But to win the, ahem, honor of going to Arrowhead Stadium, the teams must navigate the Big XII. And, in the same spirit the education establishments in Alabama and Georgia are grateful for Mississippi for drastically lowering national standards, the Big XII must be grateful this year for the ACC. You don't have to be the best-looking guy at the party if the only other guy left has three teeth.

As for the divisions now, here's where they stand: If Texas runs the table, they win the North. Game, set, match. The Horns host Oklahoma State (11/4) and then go to Manhattan (11/11) for their next two conference games. In the meantime, the marquee match-up will be Oklahoma v. Texas A&M on Saturday. If Oklahoma wins and Texas hits no speed bump, the Horns are in the championship game. But if A&M pulls out the victory and beats Nebraska in College Station on Nov. 11, then the Aggies play Texas on Nov. 24 for all the marbles.

In the South Division -- currently known as the "Sacrificial Lamb" Division -- Missouri and Nebraska are locked in a tie. That means Tigers v. Huskers this Saturday could decide the division. But with the A&M game Nov. 11 for Nebraska, Big Red needs a win more than the Tigers. Mizzou's remaining Big XII games? At Iowa State (11/18) and hosting Kansas (11/25). With one more possible loss on it's slate, Nebraska would love to have the tiebreaker in its pocket.

THE RANKS: USC fallout and a dirty bombed poll

A few points before we get to the ranks.

First of all, I do still think that going undefeated for the first seven or so games in one of the Big 5 (ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac 10, SEC) is worth something. That's why USC dropped so precipitously and, intentionally, out of the top 10 after losing. They were no longer undefeated, so I also docked them for close calls that were covered by the "undefeated" card earlier.

Second, I took a quasi-nuclear approach to this round. I looked Sunday night at the last edition of the ranks. Then I looked tonight at the scoreboards and what some of the other polls did. Then I created a top 25 out of whole cloth. I then took the last edition of the ranks, moved the teams the way I would have, then used a points system like the other polls do, adding the two ranks together. Finally, I adjusted for common sense -- thus, Oregon fell from No. 24 to off the list.

That said, to the ranks:

1 (Last week: 1) Ohio State: def. Minnesota, 44-0. This is just boring. Can we please just skip to the Michigan game? Will everybody else just concede so we can pay attention to teams 3-117 until THE GAME OF THE MILLENIUM?
2 (2) Michigan: def. Northwestern, 17-3. Again, the undefeated aura comes into play here. Thus, even an uninspiring win against Northwestern (and I don't care about the weather) is papered over by that "zero" at the end of the win-loss line.
3 (6) Tennessee: def. South Carolina, 31-24. Consider this: Tennessee's sole loss is to Florida by one point. Granted, some still think the officiating was fishy. But the Vols have put together an impressive resume. Too bad they probably aren't going to Atlanta for the SEC championship.
4 (4) West Virginia: IDLE. I just can't bring myself to say that a team beating the Island of Misfit Football Teams ought to be in the top 3. Beat Louisville and we'll talk.
5 (7) Texas: def. Texas Tech, 35-31. This is kind of surprising to me. I would think Florida would have placed ahead of Texas, and maybe Louisville. But I also don't think this should be adjusted. It seems about right.
6 (10) Florida: def. Georgia, 21-14. It surprised me that a modest ranking for Florida would be this big a jump. But, again, it seems about right, even if they did almost blow a lead to the Dawgs.
7 (8) Louisville: IDLE. They do move up a spot, mostly because Auburn settles in below them. But the Cards need to beat West Virginia -- and maybe Rutgers -- to break the top 3.
8 (4) Auburn: def. Mississippi, 23-17. Except for beating Florida, Auburn has really done nothing. They've beaten some bad teams by unimpressive or marginally impressive margins and they've lost to Arkansas. So they tumble a bit after an underwhelming effort against Ole Miss.
9 (11) California: IDLE. Forget for a moment the whuppin on Rocky Top. Look at what Cal has done since then. Tell me that wouldn't put them even higher than this. So dock them for the loss to the Vols and they end up here.
10 (12) Notre Dame: def. Navy, 38-14. I think they could beat Southern Cal, based on how both teams have played so far. I think they will beat Southern Cal -- write it down.
11 (3) Southern California: lost to Oregon State, 33-31. Again, they tumble eight spots. Whack! Take that for almost losing to Washington. Whack! Take that for almost losing to Arizona State. Whack! Take that for losing to Oregon State. And like it!
12 (14) Arkansas: def. La-Monroe, 44-10. I apologize to Houston Nutt and crew. This is a good team. Yes, they deserve to be here. They could run the table in the SEC, end up in Atlanta, and be slim underdogs or even favorites. Oh, and the QB's a freshman, by the way.
13 (9) Clemson: lost to Virginia Tech, 24-7. They got up for the Georgia Tech game, then fell flat on their face on the trip to Blacksburg. That could cost them a trip to Jacksonville.
14 (16) Wisconsin: def. Illinois, 30-24. If it weren't for Ohio State/Michigan, this team would be the talk of the Big Ten. They still deserve their respect.
15 (13) LSU: IDLE. LSU is coasting right now on THEIR AWESOME ASSEMBLY OF FRIGHTENING TALENT. They've been good, but not great. We'll see what happens when they face the Hogs.
16 (19) Boise State: IDLE. Even a mid-major team has to get props for being perfect year-in, year-out. I'll have more to say on them after I hopefully get a chance to watch them this week.
17 (17) Georgia Tech: def. Miami, 30-23. I'm still suspicious of the Gailey/Ball x factor. But the Jackets rebound nicely from the Clemson debacle to get past Miami at home.
18 (15) Oklahoma: def. Missouri, 26-10. I really wish they hadn't dropped, but, again, I couldn't bring myself to move them up. They dominated Missouri, but the Big XII is on a down year. I think that conspired against them to drop them a few spots when I took a fresh look.
19 (18) Rutgers: def. Connecticut, 24-13. They were not impressive against Connecticut. But prepare for takeoff if they beat Louisville and/or West Virginia.
20 (23) Texas A&M: def. Baylor, 31-21. Give Fran this much: He has done a bang-up job this year, and TAMU v. Texas could be a key game in the conference this year.
21 (NR) Virginia Tech: def. Clemson, 24-7. This was an impressive win. But the ACC has gone sour this year, so more proof is needed for the Hokies to crack the top 20.
22 (24) Boston College: def. Buffalo, 41-0. I think the ranks are going to get completely upended, at least in the bottom 15 or so, as the ACC season finishes up. It might not be great football, but it should be entertaining nonetheless.
23 (20) Missouri: lost to Oklahoma, 26-10. This is still a good football team. Oklahoma is just a good deal better.
24 (25) Wake Forest: def. North Carolina, 24-17. If it weren't for Rutgers, this would be the story of the year. Hats off to Wake for a great ACC run. Now, win a division title and I'll truly be impressed.
25 (NR) Washington State: def. UCLA, 37-15. Wow, was the CFB establishment and everybody else wrong about this team or not?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

THE ROAD TO ... Jacksonville

It's time for the final month of the college football season, which means we're in the stretch run that will decide who will go to the BCS, who will go to meaningful second-rate bowls, who will go to the "Whack-a-Mole Connecticut Bowl" and who will stay home in December. (Yes, we're talking about you, Duke.)

So, beginning today, C&F takes a look at the games that will shape the conference championship or championship games for each of the BCS leagues.

We begin with the Atlantic Coast Conference, perhaps the most disappointing league of the year. The Stars! The Storylines! The Directors! But little in the way of results.


The 'Studio 60' of conferences.

So let's take a look at the Road to Jacksonville and a barely-deserved Orange Bowl berth. First, a peek on where the divisions stand.

The Atlantic Division lead, believe it or not, is split among Boston College, Maryland and Wake Forest. While I contact theologians to find out whether this a sign of the imminent apocalypse, it is worth noting that 4-2 (in conference) Clemson has actually played two more league games than the divison's 3-1 "behemoths."


Don't worry about Atlantic Division too much.

In the Coastal Division, Georgia Tech (4-1) is in the driver's seat, having defeated everyone who poses a real challenge in the division.

So the critical games in the Coastal are, believe it or not, Georgia Tech at N.C. State (11/4), Georgia Tech at North Carolina (11/11) and Duke at Georgia Tech (11/18). Barring an implosion that would seem impossible even considering that Chan Gailey and Reggie Ball are involved, Georgia Tech should win the division.

If the Jackets somehow manage to lose two or three of those final games, chaos could ensue. But the biggest threat based on performance is Virginia Tech, which goes to Miami (11/4) and still has a showdown with divison rival Virginia (11/25). Don't forget the trip to Wake (11/18).

The Atlantic is a bit murkier now that Clemson has two losses. It makes their Nov. 4 game against Maryland -- which must travel to Death Valley -- unexpectedly important. That same Saturday, Boston College travels to Winston-Salem to battle Wake Forest. Tell me that game was circled on your calender, and I'll call you a liar right now.

Clemson's only other conference contest is a Nov. 11 home game against N.C. State.

Later, Maryland travels to Chestnut Hill Nov. 18 to face B.C. and hosts Wake on Nov. 25. Whether that game matters or not could depend on what happens two days earlier, when B.C. goes to Miami for a brawl ... er, fight ... er, game against the Hurricanes.

ORANGE CRUSH, ACT I -- Tennessee Wrap-Up


THE GOOD:
--Syvelle Newton still seems to be on track. At least one (and really two) of his interceptions came on a flukish play, and another came on a desparation pass in the fourth quarter. So the picks aren't a big deal.
--Fighting spirit. One of the complaints of the Lou Holtz era was that USC rarely rallied from behind and could never hold a lead against one of the big teams in the SEC East. USC had an ever-so brief lead once after being behind, and didn't give up despite being all but out of it with 90 seconds to go.
--Two defensive stands. The defense wasn't fail-safe last night (see below), but it came to life for two key holds late in the game -- one to hold Tennessee to a field goal, salvaging a two-possession game, and another to get the ball back for the Gamecocks after an unsuccessful on-sides kick, though a 90-yard drive didn't have enough time after the stop.


THE BAD:
--Giving back the lead. USC held a brief 17-14 lead after the third quarter, but the defense couldn't hold on. And the offense didn't score again until near the end of the game, when the Vols were mostly trying to keep them from scoring quickly.
--The return game. It looked bad last night, and the stats back it up: 40 yards on six punt and kick returns. Trite but true -- it's hard to get anything going on offense when you're constantly stuck with bad field position. (Game stats here.)
--The fourth quarter. This is where Tennesse has been strong all year, and where the Gamecocks needed a stop the most. But we gave up 17 points while scoring just seven. Eliminate one of the fourth-quarter TDs, and we're headed to overtime at home.


THE UGLY:
--Pass interference calls. Most of the time, USC was the beneficiary of bad calls or bad non-calls. But there was also a play where replays clearing showed the jersey nearly being ripped off Sidney Rice and no flag was thrown. In this aspect, it was a terrible game by the officiating crew.
--The tips and bounces. When a ball could bounce Tennessee's way, it did. When a Gamecock receiver could unintentionally give a Vols defender a hand by tipping a pass, he did. To upset a more talented and experienced opponent, you need luck. South Carolina had none.
--Losing control. Had we won this game, an admittedly long-shot bid for the SEC title (with wins against Arkansas and Florida) would have remained alive. Instead, a loss all but mathematically eliminates the Gamecocks. Granted, USC can still have a good season. But contention, as the Head Ball Coach has been warning us, is still a year or two off.