By popular Demand (hola padre), here's my first college football post of 2011. It comes at an important turning point for the season as a lot of teams still look to be in the hunt for the national championship. So, here it is, your contenders:
They Are Who We Thought They Were
They've looked like the preseason #1 team in the country to start the year, rolling to solid victories against a conference foe (Missouri) and a ranked non-conference opponent (Florida State). We'll have to wait and see if FSU can right the ship after losing two in a row before we can really judge how good a win that was, but the Sooners will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves against ranked conference opponents down the road. Their slip from 1 to 2 in the polls should be nothing to worry about.
Roll Tide Roll. Alabama has looked the same it has the last three years under Nick Saban. Damn Good. Early concerns about QB play have gone by the wayside as sophomore AJ McCarron took the starting job and improved in each game this season. Having a guy behind center who completes 66% of his passes and has a 2:1 (TD:INT) ratio is all the Crimson Tide need with their talented backfield and vaunted defense. Good victories against ranked Penn State and Arkansas teams provided good tests before this weekend's trip to The Swamp to face a resurgent Florida Gators, but the game circled on everyone's calendar is LSU's trip to Tuscaloosa on October 22nd.
Better Than Advertised
Follow me on this one. Yes, the Bayou Bengals were a top-5 preseason team, but with QB Jordan Jefferson suspended for the first few games of the season the LSU offense had a lot of questions. Hell, there have been a lot of questions about the LSU offense for the last couple of years, but the defense and a little luck has gone a long way for the Tigers. However, you can't give luck credit for this year's early victories against ranked-opponents Oregon (2), Mississippi State (25), or West Virginia (16). LSU has looked impressive enough to take the top spot in the AP poll from an undefeated Oklahoma squad, and now the October 22nd showdown with Alabama is shaping up to be the biggest game of the regular season
Do you like offense? Do you like come-from-behind wins against top-10 conference opponents? Of course you do, and so does Mike Gundy and his Oklahoma State Cowboys. Okie State looks to be more than just a tough out for its Big-12 brethren this season after a gutsy comeback win last weekend against a good Texas A&M (8) team. The Cowboys are now ranked 5th in the AP and look as good as just about any team in the top-5. They've proven themselves to be a legit contender, but the heart of Big 12 play lies ahead of them, leading up to a what might be a battle for a National Championship Game berth against Oklahoma on December 3.
Contenders With Something Still To Prove
A win against Nebraska on Saturday will go a long way to show that the Big Ten have a horse in the national championship race. I've been a Russell Wilson fan since his time at NC State (he went to high school in Richmond with my buddy Carter), but his arrival in Madison has made the Badgers serious contenders and put Wilson into Heisman speculation. Having an accurate, legit dual-threat QB behind that massive offensive line to pair with a very good running game and a gritty defense makes Wisconsin one of my favorites outside the SEC to make it to the big game this year. Saturday's game is going to be a good one and could propel the Badgers into the top-5.
Despite losing their head coach to the NFL, the Andrew Luck-led Stanford Cardinal have continued to be a high scoring team that doesn't allow opponents to put up many points on the board. Victories against San Jose St., a disappointing Arizona team, and a Duke team that lost to FCS Richmond (shout out to my alma mater) aren't really anything to write home about. Neither are wins against any of the teams on their schedule for the next month. Luck and Stanford won't be able to prove anything until the Oregon Ducks come to town on November 5th, but that could be a huge win for the Cardinal. Until then it's probably a better use of your time to debate whether or not Luck will win this year's Heisman.
Disclaimer: I am a Hokie fan. It was the 1995 Sugar Bowl that really made me a football fan when I was a kid. So, with that said, the Hokies have a lot of work to do. Nothing about their first month of the season shows that they can win a national championship, but that might all change this weekend with a top-25 match up with a Clemson team that just upset Auburn and Florida State in back-to-back weeks. We've seen the pieces - offense against Appalachian State; defense against ECU - but this weekend is when we'll see if VT can put it all together. A ranked Clemson team is the first challenge of their season, and if the Hokies win in Blacksburg on Saturday, then their the way to an undefeated season, another ACC Championship, and a possible berth to the big game is all but paved. Fingers crossed.
Playoffs? Don't Talk About Playoffs.
Hi Boise State. Welcome back to the top-5. Welcome to the Mountain West without Utah, BYU, or TCU starting next season. Yeah, the MWC isn't going to get a BCS automatic bid anytime soon, and an undefeated season with wins against Georgia and TCU don't look nearly as impressive as we thought it would four weeks ago. Le sigh. The season is still young, but it doesn't look like you'll have much of a chance to gain ground on the "Big Boys" in the coming weeks. Your only hope may be for Florida to beat Alabama who has to lose to LSU who has to lose to Florida who has to beat South Carolina who has to lose to Georgia who has to beat Florida who has to beat LSU who lost to Oregon who has to beat Stanford but lose to Arizona State who lost to an Illinois team that has to beat Wisconsin after losing to Michigan who will have to lose to both Michigan State and Nebraska who has to lose to Wisconsin (Saturday at 8pm on ABC) and maybe one other Big Ten team. You got all that? Oh wait, there's still the Big 12 teams and a possibly undefeated Clemson or Virginia Tech. So, good luck with that.
The Best Of The Rest
Nebraska (Big Ten)
Beat Wisconsin and the rest may fall into place. Until then, good luck Big Red.
Oregon (PAC 12)
3-1 with an early loss to LSU is not a bad place to be. A very good team that is poised to take advantage of the mistakes and tough conference schedules of its opponents.
South Carolina (SEC)
Ol' Ball Coach. Maybe the best running back in college. Maybe the best wide receiver in college, who's going to throw it to him? Easiest of all the SEC contenders' schedules.
Back-to-back games against Bama and LSU. Whammy. Sorry Gators.
A road win against the Hokies would go a long way, but high expectations usually prove to be too much for the Tigers.
South Florida (Big East)
Lookin' good until a stinker against Pitt last night. No point in talking about anyone from the Big East anymore. Just another mediocre battle for the conference's automatic BCS bid.
Michigan (Big Ten)
That game against Notre Dame was one to remember, but did first-year coach Brady Hoke use all his magic to pull out that one? Conference games against Michigan State and Nebraska loom big.
Yes, much of this will be irrelevant in 36 hours after the first Saturday of October gets played out, but that's why we play the game. Or something like that.