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The Road to Glendale Sept. 18th

Separation Saturday, Showcase Saturday, Black Saturday. Call it whatever you want. There is no denying that last weekend's games greatly impacted the national championship picture. Florida State was exposed as were the Fighting Irish. Tennessee and LSU took major steps backwards. The two Big East powers continued to march on. Who controls their own destiny now?  

Tier 1--The Favorites

  1.  Ohio State--The Buckeyes stared slowly but finished strong on Saturday with a 37-7 win over Cincinnati. It was more of the same from OSU. Troy Smith threw for 205 yards including two touchdowns to Ted Ginn Jr, and Antonio Pittman carved out 154 yards on the ground. The Big 10 season starts with Penn State this Saturday followed by a visit to Iowa the following week. If OSU is to lose before their regular season finale with Michigan, it will be in the next two weeks. I doubt the Buckeyes drop a Big 10 game. For you gamblers out there, OSU kicked an unnecessary field goal with less than a minute to cover.
  2. USC--Nebraska ran their mouths all week but the Trojans ran away with the game. Even on a night when their offense wasn't clicking, USC still managed to win by 18 points. The Pac 10 whooped the Big 12 this weekend by taking all four contests. Maybe the Pac 10 is better from top to bottom than we think. Maybe Arizona State or Oregon can steal one at the Coliseum. Maybe but probably not. Four of USC's next six games are on the road though. Next up: at Arizona.
  3. Auburn--You can call it bad offense or a classic defensive struggle. Either way, Auburn got a huge win 7-3 over LSU on Saturday afternoon. Auburn was held to under 200 yards of total offense and Kenny Irons ran for just 70 yards on 25 carries but the defense came up big at the end. The road gets easier for a week with hapless Buffalo coming to visit this Saturday. Auburn is far from home free. They still must go to South Carolina and Alabama and play Florida and Georgia at home.
  4. West Virginia--The Mountaineers got a showcase game on Thursday night ESPN and did not disappoint. WVU churned out 340 yards on the ground in their 45-24 blow out win over Maryland. The game wasn't as close as the score indicated. If the rushing attack continues to click, they should run the table. Only their trip to Louisville (who will likely be without their starting quarterback and running back) on November 2nd looks dangerous. Next up: at E. Carolina.
Tier 2--The Contenders
  1. Michigan--After watching the Wolverines demolish ND, some might consider them Tier 1 material. As impressive as the win was, BON is not sold yet. We have too recent memories of three and five loss seasons with similarly talented teams. The schedule does set up nicely for Lloyd Carr though. Five of the next seven are at the Big House with trips to Minnesota and Penn State also. 11-0 Michigan vs. 11-0 Ohio State to end the regular season. It could happen.
  2. Florida--If Urban Meyer is not careful, he may achieve legend status before the end of his second season. Chris Leak threw three touchdowns in the Gators 21-20 come from behind victory in Knoxville. The Gators are winning with a balance offense and a stiff defense. The Vols managed just 234 yards of total offense at home. The schedule is probably still too tough: road trips to Auburn and Florida State, a home game against LSU, and a neutral site game vs. Georgia. Next up: Kentucky.
  3. Georgia--The Bulldogs' defense didn't give up a point for the second straight week. Georgia scored on defense and on special teams. The real question is will true freshman Matt Stafford be able to lead the offense effectively in a tight game? He gets two more weeks of practice before Tennessee visits. Next up: Colorado.
  4. Louisville--The Cardinals blew out Kentucky in their opener but lost Michael Bush. They blew out Miami on Saturday but lost Brian Brohm. He could miss four to six weeks. Is Louisville good enough to survive without both of them? Three of their next four are on the road. The only real test left is West Virginia in early November. Next up: at Kansas State.
  5. Virginia Tech--The Hokies have only allowed 10 points in three games. That is very impressive even against weak competition. The ACC is down and ready for the taking. Florida State, Clemson, and Miami all have already suffered conference losses. The Hokies avoid the Seminoles this season but face Boston College and Miami on the road. Overall the schedule is manageable. Next up: Cincinnati.
Tier 3--Need Help
  1. Texas--There is not much to say about the expected drubbing of Rice. Colt McCoy looked more comfortable, our running game was extremely impressive, and the defense was dominant once again. The next real test won't come until Dallas. Next up: Iowa State.
  2. Notre Dame--New season, same defense. The Irish secondary got exposed just like in the Fiesta Bowl. Chad Henne threw the ball vertically and the ND corners and safeties looked lost. Their run defense wasn't much better. Mike Hart gained 124 yards. Is the love fest with Brady Quinn and the Irish over? Don't count on it. ND plays on prime time this Saturday and won't face another ranked opponent until USC to end the season. Next up: at Michigan State.