Race to the Roses September 21

This feels more like 2007 than 2005. In 2005, Texas and USC started atop the college football landscape, thoroughly dominated in every game but one each, and seemed to be on a predetermined collision course in Pasadena for the national title. In 2007, there were no dominant teams, and it was more the last two teams standing (Ohio St and LSU) after countless others (Missouri, West Virginia, USC, Oklahoma, Georgia, Virginia Tech) blew their chances. Although neither Texas nor Florida have relinquished their  top spots in the first three weeks, neither has looked like USC or Texas of just a few years ago either.

This will be a weekly column moving forward, and thankfully I haven't had time to write it after the first two weeks of games. I'm sure it would have included some silly prognostications about USC being in better shape than Texas or BYU as a national championship sleeper or how Oklahoma State had a desirable schedule for an unlikely trip to respectability. Oh well, I'll start now and state the obvious: if Texas and Florida win out, they will play for the national title on January 8th.

As BZ touched on last week in the Pundit Roundup, college football is sadly controlled by a narrative as much as it is results on the field. California and Penn State could both go undefeated and would almost certainly be left out, given other undefeated teams remain. Even if the Gators stumble, given the perceptions of the Pac 10 and Big 10, another undefeated SEC team would be the more likely replacements in the national title game than perfect Golden Bears or Nittany Lions.

Realistically, we are already down to just seven teams which could go undefeated and play for the national title: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, LSU, Texas, Penn State, and Cal. There are others who have already suffered a loss but who could have very impressive resumes should they run the table (OU, Oklahoma State, USC, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech), but none of them have a shot to leap back ahead of an undefeated team in the first group.

So, will two teams run the table and make the BCS system look like it "worked"? I have no idea but after the first three weeks and considering that four of the seven perfect teams are from the same conference, I wouldn't bet on two undefeated teams playing in Pasadena. Join me after the jump to take a closer look at each team's chances. 

The Favorites:

1. Florida (3-0): Like the Longhorns, it is hard to say anything with certainty about this team. Wins over Charleston Southern and Troy are glorified scrimmages and a ten point home win over Tennessee is nice but hardly impressive. Again like Texas, it is survive and move on. The Gators avoid Mississippi and Alabama from the SEC West this season but must travel to LSU in three weeks, tangle with Georgia in Jacksonville on Halloween, and close the season with enigmatic Florida State at home.
Next Games: 9/26 at Kentucky, 10/3 Bye, 10/10 at LSU

2. Texas (3-0): I want to believe in this team but can't. Not yet. Texas' first three games mirror those of the Gators: two wins over grossly inferior competition and a solid, yet flawed 10 point home victory over a conference opponent. Fans have to be pleased with Jordan Shipley, with the Texas pass rush, and with the Horns' ability to kick-start their offense in the second half but the slow starts, the play of the offensive line, and the depth issues caused by grades and injuries are still troubling. Texas should coast to 5-0 before heading into a tough three-game stretch in October.
Next Games: 9/26 UTEP, 10/3 Bye, 10/10 Colorado

The Contenders:

1. Alabama (3-0): An opening season win over ACC-contending Virginia Tech will be the best nonconference win of any of the teams listed here. Also, Bama has a manageable schedule, avoiding Georgia and Florida and drawing LSU at home. Other potential stumbling blocks include a trip to Mississippi in three weeks and a season-closing road game with Auburn.
Next Games: 9/26 Arkansas, 10/3 @ Kentucky, 10/10 @ Mississippi

2. Mississippi (2-0): The Rebels have the easiest possible conference schedule as they miss Florida and Georgia and get LSU and Alabama at home. They'll get their first chance to prove themselves worthy of their top-five ranking this Thursday at South Carolina.
Next Games: 9/24 @ S. Carolina, 10/3 @ Vanderbilt, 10/10 Alabama

3. LSU (3-0): The Tigers' schedule is as dirty as the Ole Miss schedule is favorable. LSU travels to Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama and has a home tilt with Florida too. Just to get to 10-2 would probably include a road victory over a top five team.
Next Games: 9/26 @ Miss State, 10/3 @ Georgia, 10/10 Florida

Need Help:

1. California (3-0): The Golden Bears survived their biggest nonconference test with two late TDs to pull away from Minnesota and now start round robin Pac 10 play. The very good news is that Cal gets USC and Oregon State at home. Their scariest road game might be this weekend in Eugene. With Jahvid Best running the ball and a lot of good but not great conference foes ahead, expect Cal to stay near the top of the polls for a long time.
Next Games: 9/26 @ Oregon, 10/3 USC, 10/10 @ UCLA

2. Penn State (3-0): Texas fans complaining about our nonconference schedule should look to Happy Valley for familiarity-Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and Eastern Illinois (all at home). The Nittany Lions should easily be 7-0 when they travel to Michigan on 10/24. Their only other real test will come on November 7th when they host Ohio State. With the potential of playing just two ranked teams all season, Penn State fans should be rooting hard for Cal and Texas losses.
Next Games: 9/26 Iowa, 10/3 at Illinois, 10/10 E. Illinios

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