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Race for the Roses October 5

I'm filling in for AW this week, writing his normal column, Race for the National Championship Game that Will be Played in the Rose Bowl Several Days After the Rose Bowl but is Technically Not Actually the Rose Bowl. (Happy, burntorangehorn?) This past week didn't quite have the same earth shattering unbeaten losses that last week did, but our understanding of how good certain teams actually are have become clearer.  For instance, Let's wave goodbye to the following teams: 

(1) Oklahoma.  They're just not very good.  The Sooner O-line is bad and it scares the hell out of Bob Stoops and Kevin Wilson (public proclamations notwithstanding) so the offensive playcalling is incredibly conservative (3rd down and long?  DRAW PLAY!).  The wailing about Kevin Wilson by Sooner fans this morning rivals that of Texas fans with Greg Davis.  (Well, with the exception of the fact that OU doesn't have the #1 Scoring Offense in the nation.)  The OU defense?  Apparently a little overrated.  They came out playing Miami well (keep safeties deep and corners off to guard against the NFL-style deep ball) and it got them 2 quick interceptions.  But when Miami adjusted and started passing underneath, Brent Venables took forever to adjust back.  A couple of broken coverages and wide open running lanes later, Miami had scored 21 points.  Classic Venables.

(2) Houston.  Um, what the hell just happened in El Paso?  A post-Tech hangover was certainly in order for a group of players that had never experienced this success before, but giving up 58 points to a team that gained a total of 53 yards last week?  Welcome back to obscurity, Coogs.

One more surprise farewell after the jump, plus a look at the top contenders.

(3) Boise State?  Yes, Boise State.  Sort of.  They're not completely out of it, certainly.  But with today's AP and Coaches Polls, we have a template for how voters will deal with undefeated Boise State the rest of the season.  In case you missed it, #5 Boise State played a closer than expected home game against 1AA team UC Davis (leading 13-0 at halftime, winning 34-16), and was jumped in both the AP and Coaches Polls by Virginia Tech, which itself had a ridiculously tough time beating Duke (the Harris Poll left BSU at #5, but its lead over #6 VT shrank significantly).  It seems to me that neither team did anything worthwhile this week, but after a full week of looking at that number 5 by BSU's name, voters got jumpy and moved the Broncos down on their ballots.  It's one thing to put BSU in the top 10 so they can make the BCS.  It's quite another to realize that they're a Texas loss away from being in line for the national championship game.  It's not fair, but Boise State is not going to be in the national championship game unless everyone has 2 losses.  Sorry Broncos.

The Favorites:

1. Florida (4-0): The Gators had a bye this week, but no one got a bye from talking about Tim Tebow's concussion.  That concussion hangs over Florida's season.  By all accounts, Brantley is playing well in practice, but a night game in Death Valley isn't exactly practice.  If Tebow doesn't play next week (and his health, not the opponent, is the only thing that should determine that), Florida might be in some trouble.

Next Games: 10/10 at LSU, 10/17 Arkansas, 10/24 at Mississippi St.

2. Texas (4-0): So I don't know what the deal with UTEP is, but that win all of a sudden looks a lot better than it did last week.  And it looked good last week.  UTEP quit a little bit against Texas, but a team that can run up 581 yards against the #12 team in the country has something going for it. Texas plays tomato can Colorado this week, followed by a newly humbled OU team whose goal has changed from the national championship to beating Texas and winning the Big 12.  I'm worried about OU coming out exceptionally motivated in Dallas.  On the other hand, they also seem to be getting emotionally weaker with every single injury they suffer.  They just don't seem like they believe in themselves anymore.  But for Texas, the only thing that matters is winning.  

Next Games: 10/10 Colorado, 10/17 OU (Dallas), 10/24 at Missouri

3. Alabama (5-0): Bama looks good, no two ways about it.  They started off slowly against Kentucky, with Greg McElroy looking like a typical SEC quarterback.  But he got out of his funk and played well.  Shocking that when SEC teams have good quarterbacks and/or offensive coordinators, you can actually score points on SEC defenses.  Regardless, if Florida can escape LSU next week, I think it comes down to the SEC Championship game between undefeated Florida and Alabama.

Next Games: 10/10 at Mississippi, 10/17 South Carolina, 10/24 Tennessee

The Contenders:

1. LSU (5-0): I feel like I can just write the exact same thing AW wrote last week.  Yes, LSU controls its own destiny.  But does anyone think that they're really that good?  It took a phantom unsportsmanlike penalty and incredibly shoddy Georgia tackling to beat the Dawgs.  The week before, they almost lost to Mississippi State.  Three weeks before that, they had an exceptionally tough time with Washington.  That said, they're a different team at home and the three games listed above were all on the road.  Florida (with or without Tebow) will have a tough time in Death Valley (especially at night, when the bayou folk get good and liquored up), and if LSU beats the Gators, they've got Auburn and Arkansas at home as well, but have to travel to Alabama and Ole Miss.  Anyone watching them so far this season want to bet on them navigating that unscathed?  If so, do you remember that Les Miles is their coach?  There it is.

Next Games: 10/10 Florida, 10/17 Bye, 10/24 Auburn

2. Virginia Tech (4-1): That loss to Alabama (34-24) is looking quite forgivable at this point, and that destruction of Miami looks even better.  If the Hokies get past BC and GT the next 2 weeks, they should win out and might be in position to be the top 1-loss team.  Then again, they only beat Duke by 8, so maybe this is all a bit premature.  Their ascent to the top 5 probably had more to do with voters intent on dropping Boise State rather than elevating VaTech, so they may themselves get jumped in the near future.

Next Games: 10/10 Boston College, 10/17 @ Georgia Tech, 10/29 North Carolina

Need Help:

1. USC (4-1): Well, so much for Cal.  The fighting Tedfords do what the Fighting Tedfords always do, which is fold under the weight of great expectations.  Also, they lose to USC.  The Trojans demolished Cal a week after Oregon did the same, once again making the Trojans look like the team to beat in the Pac10.  If they beat Notre Dame in two weeks, look for USC to jump Boise State.  They still need some help, but beating a resurgent Oregon team should help their cause.

Next Games: 10/10 Bye, 10/17 @ Notre Dame, 10/24 Oregon State

2. Cincinnati (5-0): Um, would we put in a once-defeated team over an undefeated BCS Conference champion that scheduled two other BCS conference teams for its out of conference schedule?  That's a question that we may be facing later this year if Texas and an SEC team don't go undefeated.  Cincinnati is in the Big East, is undefeated, and plays the following teams the rest of this year: South Florida (the only good team left on the schedule), Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, West Virginia, Illinois and Pittsburgh.  Yikes.  We'll see how things go.  I'm not optimistic for the Bearcats' national championship chances.

Next Games: 10/10 at South Florida, 10/17 Louisville, 10/24 at Syracuse

Knocking on the Door:

1. Miami: But their schedule the rest of the way is incredibly weak and those wins over FSU and Georgia Tech don't look that impressive anymore.

2. Iowa: They're undefeated, but no one takes them seriously.  Including me.  They'll lose to someone.  They're Iowa.

3. Oregon: Huge turnaround after the Boise State game and the Ducks look good.  A win over USC gets the Ducks back in the conversation.  But would voters ever put a 1-loss Oregon ahead of an undefeated team that already beat Oregon?  Might be too much cognitive dissonance, even for the pollsters.

4. TCU: Unfortunate position of being ranked after BSU and Cincinnati.  If one of those two stays undefeated, no chance for TCU.

5. Ohio State: Please God, no.