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Race to the Roses September 28

Saturday after Saturday, the unbeatens continue to fall. A week ago, I proclaimed that, after three short Saturdays, we were already down to just seven teams who could go undefeated and have a legitimate claim to a spot in the national title game. Well, three of those seven (Mississippi, Penn State, and Cal) just lost. While it is way too early in the season to say that the title race is down to only four teams, those four (Florida, Alabama, LSU, and Texas) should each feel secure that they control their own destiny. Style points certainly matter for the bunch of one-loss teams, but for those four, it's win and move on.

Because Florida, LSU, and Alabama all reside in the SEC, there can be no more than two undefeated teams from the remaining bunch of four. This should be particularly uplifting for one-loss teams like, Virginia Tech, USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and even Ohio State, Penn State, and Cal.

I am not forgetting about the other undefeated teams: Boise State, TCU, Houston, and Cincinnati either. (Note: Kansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Florida, UCLA, and Auburn all also undefeated.)

On first glance, Boise State at #5 looks to be in the best position to earn a shot in Pasadena, but they went undefeated last year and played in a late December bowl. The Broncos don't have another ranked team on their schedule and an opening game home win over Oregon won't be enough. Boise State is in the best position to earn an automatic BCS berth from a non-automatic qualifier league.

TCU (#10) already owns road wins over Virginia and Clemson and will have the chance to add to their resume with trips to Air Force and to BYU in November. Still, running the table for TCU would only include one win over a ranked team.

Houston has two wins over Big XII schools including a win over then-#5 Oklahoma State. The Cougars have five of their next seven on the road but none will likely come against a ranked opponent. U of H could run the table if their offense continues to be sharp, but their chance to really impress has passed and they sit only at #12 in the latest Coaches poll. A ride into the top two is not possible.

Cincinnati (#11) is a little different from the other three listed here. Should the Bearcats win the Big East, undefeated or not, they will automatically earn a berth in a BCS game. You can debate the fairness of including the Big East over the Mountain West, WAC, or C-USA if you like. Cincy's resume includes a win at Oregon State and a home victory over Fresno State. However, unless South Florida jumps in the top 25, they could easily win out without ever facing a ranked opponent. The Big East is obviously the weakest of the BCS conferences, so the chances of even an undefeated champion playing for the national title remain slight.

A look at the top contenders after the jump...

The Favorites:

1. Florida (4-0): The Gators looked more like defending national champs on Saturday as they notched an impressive conference road win over Kentucky. However, things are still far from right in Gainesville. Tim Tebow entered the game reportedly suffering from the flu, along with a few other Gators, and left the game with a concussion. A bye week couldn't have come a better time.

Next Games:10/3 Bye, 10/10 at LSU, 10/17 Arkansas

2. Texas (4-0): Longhorn fans finally saw the complete performance on both sides of the ball they we've been waiting for. The defense was downright nasty, and, after the pick six, the offense raced up and down the field impressively. An off week and a spanking of the Colorado Buffaloes await, before the ‘Horns start the three game stretch which will decide their season.

Next Games:10/3 Bye, 10/10 Colorado, 10/17 OU (Dallas)

3. Alabama (4-0): I'm moving ‘Bama into this category because they control their own destiny, and more importantly, they look the part. The Alabama defense is already elite, and the sometimes stagnant offense as been nearly as impressive. Behind junior quarterback Greg McElroy and sophomore back, Mark Ingram, Alabama is averaging over 40 points per game. An SEC title game match-up with Florida is something all college football fans should be rooting for.  

Next Games:  10/3 @ Kentucky, 10/10 @ Mississippi, 10/17 South Carolina

The Contenders:

1. LSU (4-0): Sure, LSU controls its own destiny too but needing a goal line stand to win at Mississippi State doesn't do it for me. Plus, the Tigers' schedule is just ridiculous starting with a trip to Athens this weekend. Just winning one of the next two seems like a daunting task

Next Games: 10/3 @ Georgia, 10/10 Florida, 10/24 Auburn

2. Oklahoma (2-1): Don't look now but the Sooners are back in the top ten. OU also has more than enough chances to impress moving forward: three of their next four come against ranked opponents at either neutral sites or on the road. Fans of other one-loss teams may argue but if OU runs the table, their body of work will stand above anyone else's. 

Next Games: 10/2 @ Miami, 10/10 Baylor, 10/17 Texas (Dallas)

Need Help:

1. Virginia Tech (3-1): It is fairly easy to dismiss the Big East champ, but not as easy to dismiss the Hokies should they win out. Va Tech already has wins over Nebraska and Miami and could add wins over potentially ranked Georgia Tech and North Carolina. The last third of their schedule is pretty weak, though, so style points may matter more to the Hokies than to anyone else. That said, Frank Beamer's club would probably not be ranked above a one-loss Big XII champ or above a one-loss USC.

Next Games: 10/3 @ Duke, 10/10 Boston College, 10/17 @ Georgia Tech

2. USC (3-1): The modius operandi of the Trojans in recent years has been to win their nonconference games, drop their Pac 10 opener to an unranked opponent, and then either run the table or come close. So, things are going according to plan. It won't be easy to win out this season. The Trojans go to Cal, to Notre Dame, and at Oregon before closing with three straight at home.

Next Games: 10/3 @ Cal, 10/10 Bye, 10/17 @ Notre Dame