Monday, September 18, 2006

College Football Rankings - September 18th

Some thoughts on Separation Saturday, and my rankings of the top 25 teams in the game. But first:

Steve Slaton for Heisman
I got my first glimpse this year at West Virginia and their spread option offense, and it made me positively giddy. Steve Slaton, the feature running back, has amazing speed, and is nearly unstoppable once he’s outside the tackles. So far, he’s averaging over 8 yards a carry, and while he’s yet to face a good defense, he’s dominated the lesser ones, like he should.

Slaton is my early pick for the Heisman, because I don’t see a more explosive player in the game. He’s the perfect fit for the Mountaineers’ offense, and I see no reason why he won’t continue to produce against stiffer competition. Being well-rested from taking the second half of each of the early games off should help.

Slaton is getting some love in ESPN’s Heisman Poll, but still trails Troy Smith and Adrian Peterson. I don’t have any knocks against AP, but I will point out that the dual-threat QB Smith has –14 rushing yards through 3 games – two of which were against Northern Illinois and Cincinnati.

Now, onto Separation Saturday:

(2) Notre Dame vs. (11) Michigan – 47-21 Wolverines
The Wolverines absolutely owned this game, and earned their 26 point blowout win. After rebounding from a close call at G-Tech, the Irish dominated Penn State, and were everyone’s darlings and pick to win going into this game. That played right into Michigan’s hands, who came out with a focused, methodical, dominating performance. I can hear Lloyd Carr’s pre-game speech in my head…”they don’t respect us…no one is giving us a chance”. Great coaching job by Carr and his staff. This is a very good Michigan team, though I can’t see them making it to the showdown with Ohio State in November with an undefeated record.

As for Notre Dame, their defense clearly needs work, and Brady Quinn’s Heisman campaign is pretty much dead. He hasn’t looked crisp in 2 of 3 games so far. Coincidentally or not, the one game in which he did look like a Heisman candidate was the one against the team breaking in three new starters in the secondary. My 9-3 prediction is looking good right now.

Two comments on NBC’s coverage:

1. Bring back the old theme music.
2. I have to take Pat Haden to task. On Quinn’s first interception, which Michigan returned for a touchdown, he blamed the tight end, John Carlson, who let the ball bounce off of his hands, and into the hands of a Wolverines defender. He’s right in that Carlson had his hands on the ball, but he’s wrong in his assessment. Carlson was running a crossing route, and Quinn threw the ball behind his receiver, forcing Carlson to reach back and try and make the grab. That one’s on the quarterback, which should be obvious to even the most elementary football viewer. So Haden’s either not a very good announcer, or doesn’t’ understand the quarterback position. Judging by his career NFL stats, bet on the latter.

(6) LSU vs. (3) Auburn – 7-3 Auburn
Just an ugly, smash-mouth football game. The Auburn Tigers came out on top, giving them the inside track for the SEC West crown. LSU’s defense did well holding Kenny Irons under 70 yards, and they came up a couple of plays short of stealing this game.

Props to Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox, who is an absolute warrior. He took a beating from the tremendous LSU defense, but stayed in the game, and led his team to a win.

Both of these teams will be in the hunt for the SEC title, and a BCS berth. Auburn, with this win in the bag, has to be considered a legitimate national title contender. LSU could get back there, but they need to run the table and get some help.

(19) Nebraska vs. (4) USC – 28-10 Trojans
I didn’t see any of this game, but what we can take away from the game line is that Nebraska is good, but not elite, and USC has successfully reloaded. John David Booty had a great game, and Dwayne Jarrett just might be the best receiver in the college game.

I still like the Huskers to make it to the Big 12 title game, and USC, as I anticipated, is in great shape to make a national title run.

(7) Florida vs. (13) Tennessee – 21-20 Gators
Tennessee is back, but not all the way back. They let this game slip away at home. The Gators will be a national title contender as long as Chris Leak keeps playing well, but I can’t see them getting by both Auburn (on the road) and LSU (at home). And we haven’t even talked about the world’s biggest tailgate party yet. Great team, but a killer schedule will trip them up one of these weeks.

Clemson vs. (9) Florida State – 27-20 Tigers
When did FSU fall from the elite programs? A scare against Troy, followed by a loss at home to Clemson? Coach Bowden should take a cue from his fellow septuagenarian in Happy Valley and bring in some assistants who can coach these kids and call the right plays.

Clemson rebounded well from their loss to Boston College last week, and looks to have a solid team this year. One of these teams will make it to the ACC title game.

Also, congrats to the ACC for falling to the bottom of the BCS conferences. Between FSU’s struggles against Troy, NC State losing to Akron and Souther Miss, Virginia dropping one to Western Michigan, and North Carolina eking out a 3 point win over 1-AA Furman, it’s been a rough start to the year for the ACC. A Big East representative was unavailable to comment, but if one was, he’d probably say “karma’s a bitch”. This is clearly not what the league had in mind when they raided the Big East to steal their “best” teams.

Which brings us to…

(17) Miami-FL vs. (12) Louisville – 31-7 Cardinals
Larry Coker should put his house on the market, stat. If there’s one certainty in this college football season, it’s that 2006 will be Coker’s last year at the helm of The U. Really, it’s probably deserved. Since winning a national title with Butch Davis’ team in 2001, and coming within a questionable pass interference call of winning another in 2002, Coker’s program has slowly, inexplicably declined. The team still has lots of talent, and sends a handful of top prospects into the NFL each year, so you have to think it’s coaching.

Supporting that theory is Saturday’s performance. Louisville linebacker Nate Harris called out the ‘Canes earlier in the week, saying they lost their swagger. A well-coached team would have come out fired up and would have played with a chip on their shoulder. The ‘Canes came out flat and got dominated by the Cards, even though they arguably were the more talented team on paper. This one’s on Coker. It’s time to clean house and bring in a coach who can lead The U back to prominence.

(15) Oklahoma vs. (18) Oregon – 34-33 Ducks
I’m not about to make excuses for the Sooners, since their defense disappeared in the final three minutes, but the officiating down the stretch was atrocious, and probably handed this game to the Ducks. First, they didn’t call a late hit on the Ducks defender who horse-collared Adrian Peterson out of bounds after he’d taken it inside the Oregon 10. Then they blew the onside kick, giving it to Oregon when every replay showed tha they touched the ball early. Finally, they set the Ducks up inside the Oklahoma 30 with a pass interference call that was questionable on two counts – it looked to be tipped, and the interference itself was hard to spot.

What’s my point? I still don’t believe the Pac-10 (outside of USC) is any good.

Now, my rankings for the week.

1 – The Ohio State University
They beat the champs, so they deserve to be #1 until they get knocked off.

2 – West Virginia
They return most of the key players from an 11-1 squad last year, and have looked dominant thus far in 2006.

3 – Auburn
They beat a very good LSU team this week, and won at Washington State earlier this month.

4 – USC
2-0, with impressive wins over Arkansas and Nebraska.

5 – Michigan
Anyone who dominates Notre Dame in South Bend deserves to be ranked this high.

6 – Florida
7 – Louisville
8 – Georgia
9 – LSU
10 – Texas
11 – Iowa
12 – Virginia Tech
13 – Oregon
14 – Oklahoma
15 – Notre Dame
16 – Tennessee
17 – Texas Christian University
18 – Boston College
19 – Clemson
20 – Michigan State
21 – Rutgers
22 – Arizona State
23 – Penn State
24 – Florida State
25 – Boise State

Games to watch this weekend:

(24) Penn State at (1) Ohio State
I’m not discounting the Nittany Lions as a sleeper.

(12) Notre Dame at Michigan State
The Spartans have beat the Irish six times in a row. Um, yeah, I’m real confident in the Irish for this one.

Wisconsin at (6) Michigan
It’s a Big 10-happy weekend. This is one of those games that always seems to trip up the Wolverines.


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