Via Straight Bangin':
1) Coming into the season, many people had October 6th circled on their calendars because it was thought that the LSU-Florida game would be the single match-up that wielded the most influence over the rest of the sport. Now that a singular cataclysm has given way to a weekly series of upheavals, is there a single remaining game that has the greatest potential to deliver on the promise of unique significance foretold in scripture the preseason blogosphere? Which one is it and why?
The Pac Ten is a sniper-filled conference that could change shape very quickly, but the best series of games for the rest of the season should be the great four-way fight at the top of the Pac Ten between Arizona State, Cal, Oregon and USC. The Cal-Oregon game was a classic (though almost none of the country saw it), and there are five more to play between teams that are all currently ranked in the top ten of the mainstream polls. If you don't live on the West Coast, hope to see two of those.
If there's one of those games that carries the biggest potential weight, most likely it's USC at Arizona State on Nov. 22, assuming neither loses between now and then, only because it's the latest and would carry de facto conference and possibly mythical championship connotations.
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The notion that the Pac Ten is a one-team league should be quickly fading - besides those four, all of them legitimate contenders, UCLA and Oregon State are still alive for the conference title, too (UCLA is on pace with Arizona State thanks to a 3-0 conference start), and history suggests both of them will find ways to make it interesting.
The SEC is putting out great games every week, including a slew of them this weekend, the biggest of which is probably Florida at Kentucky. If the Gators win, their game in November at South Carolina might decide the East. Or their game with Georgia. Or Carolina's game with Tennessee. Or Kentucky's game with Georgia. Or Kentucky's game with Tennessee...
2) Bill Callahan's tenure has been so embarrassing for Nebraska fans that the school just fired the athletic director who hired him. Meanwhile, Tom Brady is doing just fine without Charlie Weis, even though he invented offense; Dream Coach Pete Carroll is facing criticism for his team's preparation and attitude; the Urban Meyer Revolution is televised but not as advertised due to an unreliable running game; Mack Brown's players get arrested a lot; and so forth. Don't get me started on Lloyd Carr. All around the country, coaches are under duress, even the beatified ones. Name a coach or two (or three) who most deserves the criticism and explain why.
It's evident Greg Robinson has quickly run perennial Big East contender Syracuse into the ground, and Steve Kragthorpe deserves a heap o' scorn for finding a way to lose to the Orange - a win, it should be clear, that did nothing to change the `Cuse's thorough futility, as seen in three straight lopsided losses since, one of them to Miami, Ohio. Tom O'Brien left Boston College for N.C. State: why? This was a good question before the season and dumbfounding in light of the 7-0 start by B.C. and simultaneous 1-5 collapse under way in Raleigh. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are puttering around as their posh positions continue to decay. Certain segments of the amateur punditry will never forgive Lloyd Carr for losing to Appalachian State, or Charlie Weis for bungling Notre Dame's quarterback derby when it should have been Evan Sharpley from the beginning, or either for coaching at Michigan and Notre Dame, respectively.
Callahan, though, is rapidly making his case for "Dunce of the Year," and doing so with such spectacular, obviously doomed ineffectiveness that the guy who hired him was even fired; for all intents and purposes, Callahan might as well have `interim' etched into his office door. Tom Osborne's return from the heavens is a repudiation of everything Callahan was supposed to stand for, and an admission that Nebraska never had any business trying this schmancy "West Coast" business. The pro style short passing scheme hasn't worked anywhere its ex-NFL masters have tried it: Nebraska, Mississippi State, Pittsburgh and Virginia continue to bog down with no running game to bail them out on a weekly basis. The only place the West Coast offense has made any inroads at all is USC, whose skill starters are all second round draft picks at worst. Nebraska hasn't had access to that kind of skill, and apparently won't as long as Callahan is around.
And even if it did, it wouldn't be enough to overcome a defense that currently ranks dead last in the Big 12 in rushing defense (NU is 106th nationally) and total defense (104th) and has allowed 40 points to the last four opponents who are not Iowa State. It's very likely to wind up the worst D in school history, and it's a disgrace. At the current rate, the Huskers will win maybe five games, finish fifth in the North and endure its worst season in decades. Callahan might be able to survive even that if it weren't replacing his first season in 2004 at the bottom of that list. When Nebraska hired him, it had just fired a homegrown, nine-win coach after his
third second non-title-contending season, less than a decade removed from three mythical championships in four years. When you take over a program in that situation and proceed to deliver the two worst single season efforts of the modern era in your first four years, there is no saving grace.
3) With few elite teams, a plethora of pretenders, and the aforementioned steady procession of upsets, filling out a ballot each week can be challenging. What is the single hardest decision you'll have to make this week when voting?
I spent more time with this ballot (it'll be up very shortly) than any other this season, and I'm comfortable with the logic and inevitable contradictions therein. I'll go into greater detail later, but the biggest problem was how to weigh the virtue of being undefeated with the virtue of having actually played a schedule with some meat, even if there's a loss on it. I imagine it was the same with everyone else.
Give me Tebow or give me death. Well, maybe not death, but give me Tebow.
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Briefly, Arizona State, Ohio State, Boston College and Kansas are sitting on that nice `0' in the win column, and in fact have barely been challenged among them (ASU beat Washington State on a late field goal and Kansas held on to beat K-State by a touchdown, but that's it for games in doubt) because of their unchallenging schedules. The best wins by those four teams are Colorado, Purdue, Georgia Tech and Kansas State, respectively, where LSU, Cal, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Kentucky all have at least one top ten win to accompany a loss.
4) This one is similar to the last question: many teams have sent voters mixed signals all year. Is BC really a top-five team? What am I supposed to do with South Carolina? Are there even two good teams in the Big Ten? Borrow a page from EDSBS and give me two teams to buy and two teams to sell.
I'm buying LSU and Florida because the Tigers and Gators appear to me to be the two most talented teams playing at the highest level to date. LSU may fall more obviously into that category, but I've been impressed with Florida in both of their losses - it took everything Auburn and LSU had to beat UF, and neither exactly shut down Florida's offense, whatever the final score says. Tim Tebow stands at the moment as my national MVP, the first player I'd pick to build my team around if I had a choice; he was brilliant in the first half in the pressure cooker at LSU and was basically submarined by a pair of teammates' mistakes (a fumble and an interception of a good throw that bounced off an open receiver's helmet) that kept the ball out of his hands in the second. The Gators are still young and should continue improving over the rest of the season - the week off probably couldn't come at a better time.
I'm selling Florida State, my preseason ACC championship pick, because all the coaching turnover hasn't stopped FSU's slide in the least. On the two occasions I've seen the Noles, they've put together one solid half and one brutal one and lost both games to sketchy outfits from Clemson and Wake Forest. I'd also like to unload Wisconsin, which is undergoing a Nebraska-level meltdown against the run over the last three weeks. It's a miracle the Badgers had continued to look competitive against Michigan State (who it somehow beat despite allowing 14 yards per carry to MSU's starting tailback) and Illinois, but there is no hiding from a 31-point beatdown at Penn State, of all places. As long as it took Wiscon to build national respect, it's disappeared in no time.
5) Now that we know the strengths and weaknesses of many teams, explain to me how your team will make out over the remainder of the regular season.