Thursday, November 16, 2006

College Football Update

As we head into the biggest weekend of the season I felt I should get everyone up to speed regarding the most important matters in the sport as of today. They are as follows:

1.) The Big Game
2.)The BCS
3.)The Heisman race

Since this is not my weekend preview I will skip most of my analysis of The Big Game for that post. Let me just say that it's a good thing that my son's end-of-the-year Little League festival ends before 3:30 so I will have plenty of time to be on the couch for the epic Michigan/Ohio State grudge match Saturday. You've heard all about it by now: #1 vs. #2 for a spot in the BCS championship game, the Fiesta Bowl, on January 8th. It's the first time these two titans have been ranked 1 & 2 and both undefeated heading into the intense rivalry game. Let's just say that if the contest lives yo to even half of the hype it will be a classic.

As for the BCS there were some changes at the top this week thanks to the upset losses by Louisville, Texas and Cal. That means out with the old & in with the brand-new (Rutgers' is in the Top 10- holy s...). Here are the latest BCS standings, with AP ranking in parentheses:

1.)Ohio State(1) 11-0 next game: Michigan
2.)Michigan(2) 11-0 next game: @ Ohio State
3.)USC(4) 8-1 next game: Cal
4.)Florida(3) 9-1 next game: W. Carolina
5.)Notre Dame(6) 9-1 next game:Army
6.)Rutgers(7) 9-0 next game: @ Cincy
7.)Arkansas(5) 9-1 next game: @ Miss St.
8.)West Virginia(8) 8-1 next game: tonight @ Pitt
9.)Wisconsin(12) 10-1 next game:Buffalo
10.)Louisville(10) 8-1 next game:USF

As you can see there are a few discrepancies in the two polls, most notably USC jumping over the Gators after Florida's lackluster (& lucky) win over Spurrier's 'Cocks and the Trojan's 35-10 thumping of #21 Oregon. This move was huge because now the Gators must win out AND hope for a USC loss to even have a shot at the title. But playing lowly Western Carolina is going to annihilate their strength-of-schedule next week, especially with USC taking on #17 Cal Saturday night.
So who will be playing the MICH/OSU winner in the Fiesta? Impossible to tell. With so many big games left to be played by all the combatants involved there are literally about a half a dozen scenarios that could play out. Here's a few:

- Ohio St/USC: if both teams win out this is the likely battle, due to the fact that USC will have to beat both Cal & BCS Top 5 Notre Dame to get there.

-Ohio St./Michigan: if the game is anywhere near being a close, nail-biting, see-saw affair that has either team losing on the last play or is just so competitive that it proves both teams are superior to the rest, the rematch could go down in the desert.

-Michigan/USC: combine the upper two scenarios and you get this. If Michigan should win and USC wins out the voters may opt for this Rose Bowl-like matchup.

Ohio State/Rutgers: although it's an apparent long shot with Rutgers 6th, this scenario can happen: OSU wins, USC loses to Cal but then beats ND, Florida loses either to the Noles (don't laugh) or in the SEC title game, and Rutgers defeats West Virginia in their season finale. There is no way they could put a team with 1-2 losses ahead of an undefeated Scarlet Knight team and come away looking good.

Notice I have no Gator scenarios up there. That's because when they lose to Florida State they will be out without even having to worry about the SEC Championship.

So everything will be decided in the next 3 weeks, starting with the Michigan/OSU game and ending with the Rutgers/WVU game on Dec. 2nd.

Speaking of West Virginia, the now 8th ranked Mountaineers return to Thursday Night Big East Football on ESPN for their annual grudge match, The Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh. It will be West Virginia's second foray into the Thursday night arena, the first resulting in their devastating loss to Louisville 2 weeks ago that ended their title hopes. The panthers are in classic Dave Wannstedt free-fall mode, losing to Rutgers, USF and a double OT 46-45 heart breaker to UCONN in succession the past three weeks. Ouch. But this game is always one of those "throw out the numbers" heated & hate-filled rivalries, as the two schools are only 70 miles apart, and couches all over the WVU campus will be seeking shelter pending the result. You see, the crazy kids in Morgantown like to burn couches on their porches following Mountaineer victories in the series.
The game should be close- for a while- before visiting West Virginia's superior firepower takes control. Led by 2 Heisman hopefuls, running QB Pat White (1979 tot yds, 22 combined TDs) and battering-ram back Steve Slaton (1363 yds, 12 TDs) the Mountaineer offense is like a locomotive barreling down the tracks. Pitt's formerly formidable offense is led by QB Tyler Palko (2223 yds, 22TDs), but they have sputtered the past lately, putting up only 22 points in the Rutgers & USF losses. After halftime the suddenly porous Pitt D will feel beat down by White & Slaton, and look for both to pad their Heisman resumes while coasting to a victory.
MY PICK: West Virginia 31, Pitt 17 (hide the couches)

My Updated Heisman Picks:
1.) Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: the clear front- runner has done nothing to diminish his chances of winning the trophy the past two weeks. With his eye-popping season stats (2191 yds passing, 26TDs, 4INTs, 221 yds rushing, 1TD), highlight-reel plays, and huge stage this weekend the award is all his to win
2.)Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers: let me jump on this little guy's back and pray he gets an invitation to Manhattan. all he has done is carry the Scarlet Knights on his 5'9" back, amassing 1334 yards and 15 TDs (4th in NCAA) while becoming the focal point of the Rutgers attack. Plus he came up big (131 yds, 2TDs) in their win over #3 Louisville last Thursday night and still has 2 games to go.
3.)Steve Slaton, RB, WVU: this guy is a beast, even though his missing the 3rd quarter of the Louisville loss due to a bothersome funny bone could have cost him the trophy. He still put up nice numbers in that one (156yds rushing, 74yds receiving, TD) and his numbers for the season are hard to ignore: 1363 yards (5th), 12 TDs (t-7th), 7.5 YPC(5th), except for the fact that he will be cancelled out by his teammate, White, much like Manny does to Big Papi.
3.) Pat White, QB, WVU: part 2 of the Cancel-Out Crew is Slaton's fellow Mountaineer backfield mate, the mobile Pat White. He has compiled some impressive numbers for a running back (839 yards, 15TDs), let alone as a passer (1142 yards, 7TDs), but his dominance is shared with Slaton, and unfortunately they cannot share the trophy.
5.) Undecided: Not sure who is in the slot here. It will be decided in the next couple of weeks, also, as the big guys play in the big games. The list includes ND's Brady Quinn (welcome back to the party, but don't gag against SC), USC's John David Booty (ditto) Michigan QB Chad Henne or RB Mike Hart (see Salton & White), and Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson (his zero-catch game against Clemson really killed his chances.)

I will have my preview post on Friday night/Saturday morning. Gotta go watch The Brawl now, before the real brawl gets underway at 3:30 Saturday in Columbus.

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