Bowl season begins with the unheralded and unranked, but features several tight pre-Christmas matchups.
11 Oct 2007
by Russell Levine
Are you ready for some controversy?
With all the chaos thus far this college season -- especially the last two weeks -- this year is shaping up as one of the more difficult in the history of the BCS. At the moment, LSU is a clear-cut No. 1, but who comes next? A host of teams, led by Ohio State and California, are vying for that second spot in the BCS championship game, followed by a lengthy list of one-loss squads hoping to play their way back into contention.
Who better to help sort through this mess than BCS expert Jerry Palm? Jerry has tracked the BCS rankings on his site, collegebcs.com, since their debut in 1998.
Jerry is a Purdue grad and a self-described stat geek who first made a name for himself by tracking the ratings percentage index, which is a key component used by the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee to determine its field.
Jerry joins me on this week's podcast to help answer the question, "Who's No. 2?" and to break down the weekend's biggest games, including a matchup of our respective alma maters as Purdue visits Michigan.
Elsewhere, this is a week when we will learn a lot about some of the surprise teams currently occupying lofty spots in the AP poll, including the likes of South Florida, Boston College, and Missouri.
Here's a look at the games I'll be discussing with Jerry:
I don't need to see this game, I know exactly what will happen.
In Purdue, Michigan will face the second-best spread offense it has seen this season. The best, Oregon, torched the Wolverines for 39 points and about six miles of total offense in early September. Considering that Michigan has looked largely clueless against the spread attacks of Appalachian State, Northwestern, and even Eastern Michigan, I'm not holding out much hope here.
Granted, Michigan should be able to score plenty as well. Purdue's defense is no great shakes, and really struggles against the pass. But will Michigan attack? I'm envisioning the zone-left run play on 10 of 11 first downs.
If Michigan puts this game on Chad Henne's shoulders, it can outscore the Boilermakers. If Lloyd Carr insists on just trying to out-execute his opponent, he'll be playing from behind all afternoon and the results won't be pretty.
South Florida skated by Florida Atlantic last week and moved into the top five thanks to poll attrition. A similar performance against Central Florida probably won't be forgiven by voters this week. Then again, these are the people that put Wisconsin ahead of Illinois the week after Illinois beats Wisconsin (in the coaches poll, at least) so anything is possible.
Central Florida is not exactly a pushover. It's another Florida school with designs on the type of success USF is enjoying this season. UCF gave Texas all it could handle a few weeks ago and features the nation's leading rusher in junior Kevin Smith (172 yards per game).
Smith will be taking on one of the nation's most athletic defenses. When you watch South Florida play, their team speed on defense jumps off the TV screen. Keep an eye out for sophomore defensive end George Selvie, who has spent much of the season in opponents' backfields -- he leads the nation with both 18 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
South Florida probably needs only one or two upsets and to run the table and it could very well end up in the BCS championship game, but the Bulls would be advised to avoid any more close calls against lesser opponents.
Could Ron Zook get Illinois to the Rose Bowl this season? The Illini have already beaten Wisconsin and Penn State, and get Michigan at home. The way it looks now, their November 10 visit to Ohio State could end up being the Big Ten game of the year.
Everyone knew Ron Zook was stockpiling talent in Champaign, but few suspected he would meld it into a winning team this soon. Even more surprising, Illinois is winning without any passing offense at all. Juice Williams is a great athlete at quarterback, but he's far too inaccurate a passer and Zook has begun to spell him with backup Eddie McGee at times.
Rashard Mendenhall has been unstoppable in the Illinois backfield, and combined with a stout defense, he has the Illini threatening to win the Big Ten. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Iowa, which has lost eight straight conference games.
Kirk Ferentz has managed to maintain his coaching reputation thus far, but that won't continue if Iowa continues to sink to the bottom of the conference standings.
Boston College is up to fourth in the polls, but are they really that good or are they just the beneficiaries of poll attrition?
And what about Notre Dame? Were those actual signs of life we saw in the Rose Bowl last week in a game absolutely nobody watched because it happened at the same time as Florida-LSU and the ending of Stanford-USC?
Matt Ryan might be a couple more big games away from being the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy. Even though Notre Dame is terrible, he'd still get a big lift from lighting up the Irish secondary on national TV.
Notre Dame actually is playing a little better on defense, but the offense is still non-existent. Boston College circles this game on the calendar every year, so don't be surprised if the Eagles take a shot to kick the Irish while they're down.
These teams come in with a combined 10-1 record, but the one loss was to Wyoming (by Virginia in the season opener) and the wins don't include too many opponents of note.
That's particularly true for Connecticut, which is going the Bill Snyder route in attempting to schedule its way to a bowl game every year. The Huskies have beaten the murderer's row of Duke, Maine, Temple, Pitt, and Akron, so this is by far their toughest test.
Virginia may be tied for the ACC Coastal Division lead right now, but the Cavs' toughest tests remain. Still, as Jerry points out in the podcast, Virginia could well end up with nine wins this season without beating anyone with a pulse.
Anyone who saw both these teams play last week probably isn't too worried about LSU slipping up in Lexington and throwing the BCS standings into complete chaos.
Then again, Kentucky will challenge LSU with the pass more than anyone thus far. Tim Tebow is a great player, but the Florida offense is rather limited in its play-calling and didn't really challenge the LSU corners.
Kentucky, on the other hand, is all about the pass. Perhaps even more so this week with starting tailback Rafael Little banged up. Andre' Woodson needs a bounce-back performance after looking flat in Kentucky's loss to South Carolina last week, but he won't get it unless his offensive line can give him time in the pocket.
LSU's biggest fear is letdown. The win over Florida was both emotionally and physically taxing, and the Tigers can't sleepwalk through this game the way they did against the likes of Tulane. A win here, and LSU is in relatively good shape to sail to the SEC title game, but the way this season has gone, who knows?
This might well be the most interesting game on the weekend slate. Missouri is fresh off an absolute thrashing of Nebraska and will be riding high into Norman to take on the Sooners, who recovered from their Colorado debacle in time to beat Texas last week.
For years, the Big 12 North has been the far weaker division of the conference, but already this year Texas and Oklahoma have lost to teams from the North. If Missouri can win this game, it would be the favorite to win the Big 12 title, and quarterback Chase Daniel might just be the favorite to win the Heisman.
Oklahoma's prospects to play for anything more than the Big 12 looked bleak after the Colorado loss, but another series of upsets has put the Sooners atop the list of one-loss teams with a chance to get to the championship game.
Lost in all the upsets this season has been the demise of Louisville, a team with national-championship aspirations that now finds itself at the bottom of the Big East standings.
The Cardinals still have the high-powered offense, but they can't stop anybody. Their defense has sunk to 99th in the nation and appears to be getting worse: Last week Utah came to Louisville and rolled up 44 points and 582 yards of total offense. That's the same Utah that has been held to 12 or fewer points three times this season.
In the upside-down Big East, Cincinnati is now the co-favorite along with South Florida to win the conference crown and get to the BCS. The Bearcats run a very unconventional form of the spread offense under first-year coach Brian Kelly and should have no trouble lighting up Louisville.
Or, alternately, download the MP3 by clicking on the icon below:
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||Jerry Says||Russell Says|
|Central Florida||+11.5||South Florida||South Florida||South Florida|
|Boston College||-14||Notre Dame||Boston College*||Boston College|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
197 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2007, 4:54pm by Pat