At the season’s halfway point, the national championship picture is rapidly becoming clearer. There are precious few undefeated teams left in the country (nine, to be exact) and every single one of them (outside of Boise State, whose schedule is as tough as butter) faces multiple major tests in the next two months. This week could produce the demise of multiple unbeaten teams as Boise State plays Tulsa, Iowa travels to Wisconsin, South Carolina faces Alabama, Arkansas visits Florida, Texas faces archrival Oklahoma and Big East unbeatens South Florida and Cincinnati square off. But before the craziness continues on Wednesday, let’s look back at an eventful week six.
SIX THINGS WE LEARNED THIS WEEK
Florida Is Not Invincible
The Gators should be given all the credit in the world for their 13-3 victory at LSU. Florida looked amazing on defense while holding the Tigers to 162 yards of total offense and they’ve been nothing short of dominant all season. That said, their offense looked less than impressive for the 2 nd time this season and both underwhelming performances came in their only two matchups with strong defenses.
Now, I know that the argument about this game will be that Tim Tebow wasn’t fully healthy. I’m sorry, but the young man ran the ball 17 times and that wouldn’t have happened had his health been a concern, so arguing that his health slowed their offense won’t hold sway with me. Florida’s passing game has some issues to work out and while they’re an excellent team, they’re certainly not my frontrunner for the National Title anymore.
The Art Of The Return Has Not Been Lost
Texas and Ohio State faced off against two upset-minded conference foes this past week and emerged victorious thanks to a plethora of returns for touchdowns. Ohio State had two interceptions returned for touchdowns and a kickoff return for a touchdown to blow out previously unbeaten Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Texas turned a halftime deficit against weakling Colorado into an easy victory thanks to three returns. Special teams can have a huge impact on games and these two top ten powers proved it this week as their special teams were, well, special.
Nebraska Is A Player In The Big XII
Last Thursday’s Mizzou-Nebraska tilt was perhaps the most boring game that anyone will watch all season. Played in a driving rainstorm, the game featured more fumbles, penalties and punts than anyone cared to count and Missouri held a 12-0 lead heading into the 4 th quarter. I watch as much football as humanly possible and I wanted to turn the game off!
Then Nebraska woke up. Their defense held onto a few interceptions after dropping about half of a dozen in the first three quarters and turned a 12-0 stinker into a shocking 27-12 statement: The Huskers are for real.
Their defense harassed the nation’s #1 rated passer in the 2 nd half and their offense finally broke through for a victory. Look, this was an ugly game. Both teams had over 100 yards worth of penalties! But if you had told me before the 4 th quarter started that Nebraska would go from losing by nearly 2 touchdowns to winning by more than two touchdowns, I would have laughed in your face. Nebraska showed the heart and determination that a team needs to be great and they’re going to be a force in the Big XII North behind Ndamakung Suh on defense and maturing quarterback Zac Lee.
What Depth? The SEC Belongs to Alabama and Florida
Behind the headlines of the big Florida-LSU and Alabama-Ole Miss clashes, it was a very telling week in the SEC. Let me pose this question to you: Who is the 3 rd best team in the conference? Considering the resumes, it would have to be a toss up between South Carolina and LSU, both of whom sit at 5-1. That said, LSU was completely outclassed by Florida thanks to their lack of offense and South Carolina barely edged Kentucky, who was just blown out by the aforementioned Gators and Tide in the previous two weeks! Meanwhile, lowly Tennessee blew Georgia out, Arkansas blew out previously unbeaten Auburn and Ole Miss appears headed for a four or five loss season.
To make matters worse, Vanderbilt lost to Army and Mississippi State lost to Houston, giving the conference two losses to non-BCS teams! Ouch. At this point, Florida and Alabama have clearly established themselves as the dominant pairing ahead of a bunch of good but not great teams that make up the core of the conference. While both the Gators and Tide could realistically finish the regular season unbeaten, it wouldn’t be shocking if the next tier of SEC teams finished the regular season with as many as three losses apiece! The SEC’s strength this season lies with their top two teams, not their much-hyped depth that simply doesn’t exist this season.
Parity Is The Word In The Pac Ten
While we’re on the topic of depth, let’s head out to the Pac Ten. After this week’s games, there is exactly one unbeaten team in conference play: Oregon. Of course, you have to still believe that USC is the favorite to win the conference with their reams of talent but look at the depth across the board behind those two: Washington, Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA and Stanford are all very talented teams and I expect all to finish eligible for the postseason. Behind them, both California and Arizona State are solid teams that should also impact the conference race and challenge for a bowl berth as well! With so much depth, Oregon and USC will be hard-pressed to navigate the rest of their conference schedule unbeaten and I think that the Pac Ten might be the deepest league in the country.
Oklahoma Is Rounding Into Form Just In Time For Texas
He’s baaaaaaaack! That’s right, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford returned last week to lead his team to an easy 33-7 victory against Baylor. What was most interesting while watching this game was that you could literally see the rust coming off of Bradford as the game progressed and I think he’s going to be more than ready for the Red River Shootout next week against Texas.
But beyond their star quarterback (who is expected to get leading receiver Ryan Broyles back from injury as well), Oklahoma is going into the game with a couple of major advantages. At this point, they’ve lost two games by one point but they’ve practically become an afterthought to the rest of the country. Somehow, Oklahoma is being overlooked despite the fact that they’d definitely be unbeaten playing Texas’ schedule. Meanwhile, the Longhorns have the spotlight squarely upon them and their unbeaten record. The pressure will be on Texas in this game in a major way and that will only benefit the Sooners.
The other major advantage Oklahoma has is their defense. In five games this year, Oklahoma has allowed 40 points. That’s eight points per game! Texas, on the other hand, has allowed 75 points in five games for an average of 15 points per game. While the Longhorns have allowed twice as many points, they’ve also done so against a significantly easier schedule, which leads me to believe that Oklahoma’s defense is significantly better!
So, you have one team with a ton of pressure on their shoulders thanks to an unbeaten record that has been accumulated against inferior competition playing against a loose team with two close losses that boasts the superior defense. On top of that, this is a rivalry game and typically in rivalry games, the team that has more to lose, well, loses it. I don’t predict upcoming games in this column (that will be later this week) but Oklahoma sure looks like a good bet this weekend.
NEW FEATURE: BOWL PROJECTIONS
Continuing last week’s new feature, I have updated my bowl projections. Unlike my rankings, this is how I expect the season to play out into December and January and obviously these are going to fluctuate in a serious way for the foreseeable future. While my projected BCS bowls haven’t changed, there have been a lot of changes throughout the lineup from last week, the most notable of which is my removal of Florida State from the list of predicted bowl eligible teams.
BCS Championship: Alabama versus Texas
Rose Bowl : Ohio State versus Southern California
Sugar Bowl : Florida versus Miami
Fiesta Bowl : Iowa versus Boise State
Orange Bowl : Virginia Tech versus Cincinnati
Without further ado, here are the newest top 25 rankings…..
IN THE NATIONAL TITLE DISCUSSION
#1) Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, #1 Last Week)
Week 6 Result: 22-3 Victory at Ole Miss
Alabama’s defense is simply dominating. They forced Jevan Snead to throw twice as many incompletions as he did complete passes at home in their dominating 22-3 victory in Oxford! Simply put, the Tide will score some points thanks to a great running game and play fantastic defense. They’ve also been the most consistent and frankly the best team in country this year.
Week 7: Home versus #8 South Carolina, 7:45 PM EST
#2)Virginia Tech Hokies (5-1, #3)
Week 6 Result: 48-14 Victory at Home versus Boston College
Virginia Tech keeps looking better and better. While a lot of people will roll their eyes at a victory over Boston College, the Hokies beat a 4-1 team by 34 points! At this point, Virginia Tech appears to have exactly one major hurdle left in the regular season and that comes this week when they travel to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech.
Week 7: At #15 Georgia Tech, 6:00 PM EST
#3)Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, #4)
Week 6 Result: 30-28 Victory at Home versus Michigan
Iowa continues to win games. Though they tried their best to give Saturday night’s game to Michigan, the Hawkeyes knocked off their 4 th BCS conference team, all four of which have winning records at this point. Iowa now faces two extremely difficult road tests as they have to travel to both Wisconsin and Michigan State in the next two weeks. If they win both, expect the Hawkeyes to boast a 10-0 record heading to Columbus to face Ohio State in November.
Week 7: At #20 Wisconsin, Noon EST
#4)Florida Gators (5-0, #8)
Week 6 Result: 13-3 Victory at #2 Louisiana State
Most impressive, Gators. Florida’s 13-3 victory was the product of one of the most dominating defensive showings that we’ll witness all season and their victory broke a multi-year winning streak for LSU at home under the lights. While there are some concerns here due to their underwhelming showing thus far offensively, the Gators have built a solid resume. But beware: Dangerous Arkansas comes to the Swamp this week.
Week 7: Home versus Arkansas, 3:30 PM EST
#5)Southern California Trojans (4-1, #5)
Week 6 Result: Off Week.
USC had an off week so they sat still in the rankings. However, the Trojans face two stiff road tests in the next three weeks, beginning with a trip to South Bend this weekend. USC will have to continue relying upon their stellar defense to navigate a difficult stretch run.
Week 7: At Notre Dame, 3:30 PM EST
#6)Miami Hurricanes (4-1, #6)
Week 6 Result: 48-16 Victory at Home versus Florida A&M (D-1AA)
The Hurricanes played their first weak opponent of the year and honestly, they deserved the break after playing four ranked teams to start the year! If the Hurricanes can continue to perform at a high level and avoid youthful mistakes then they could truly have a season that their elite forefathers would be proud of. They’ll have to be ready this weekend when they travel to play a Central Florida team that will treat this game like the Super Bowl.
Week 7: At Central Florida, 7:30 PM EST
#7)Ohio State Buckeyes (5-1, #9)
Week 6 Result: 31-13 Victory at Home versus #14 Wisconsin
The Buckeyes played one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen against Wisconsin. Only one of the teams’ five touchdowns was scored by an offensive unit! Ohio State’s first score was an interception return for a touchdown and the Badgers countered with a fake field goal for a score to take a 10-7 lead late in the 2 nd quarter. However, Ohio State drove 88 yards to score the only offensive TD and gave the Buckeyes a 14-10 lead at the half, setting up the oddest 3 rd quarter I’ve ever seen. Wisconsin got the ball first and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown before driving for a field goal. However, the subsequent kickoff was returned for another Ohio State touchdown and by the time their offense got back on the field, the score was 28-13 in favor of the Buckeyes with 2 minutes left in the quarter! Ohio State won this game despite allowing the previously unbeaten Badgers to hold the football for 42 minutes! Considering that Wisconsin didn’t score an offensive touchdown, I’ve got to nominate this defense as the #1 contender to Alabama for the title of best defense in college football.
Week 7: At Purdue, Noon EST
#8)South Carolina Gamecocks (5-1, #15)
Week 6 Result: 28-26 Victory at Home versus Kentucky
This will probably shock a lot of observers, but has anyone looked at South Carolina’s resume? They’re 3-1 against BCS conference opponents and 5-1 overall. Furthermore, they’ve actually found an offense! While I think that they’re probably overrated at #8, few teams have done as much against such strong competition this year. Can they shock everyone and knock off Alabama this week in Tuscaloosa?
Week 7: At #1 Alabama, 7:45 PM EST
#9) Texas Longhorns (5-0, #7)
Week 6 Result: 38-14 Victory at Home versus Colorado
The more I see of Texas, the less I like this team. They were actually losing at half to Colorado, before three returns for touchdowns put them ahead 31-14 late! Now, Texas fans will claim a double standard here: Didn’t Ohio State require the same return prowess to claim victory yet they were moved up? Well, here’s the difference: Ohio State was playing a 5-0 opponent and didn’t trail at trail 14-3 late in the 2 nd quarter to a 1-4 team like Texas did. Colorado is simply not a very good team and Texas needed a bunch of breaks to beat them. The Longhorns’ weak early schedule might come back and bite them this week against the Sooners and with Mizzou and Oklahoma State on the horizon right afterwards, I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever if the Longhorns lost a game before November rolls around.
Week 7: Red River Rivalry in Dallas versus #21 Oklahoma, Noon EST
#10) Louisiana State Tigers (5-1, #2)
Week 6 Result: 13-3 Loss at Home versus #8 Florida
LSU’s chronic inability to score points finally caught up with them against the Gators. However, there’s no denying that their defense is an impressive unit and they’re still in line for a strong year. Still, the Tigers need to work on their offense during the off week if they want to have any chance at a ten win season because their defense is the unit which has carried them to a 5-1 start.
Week 7: Off Week
#11) Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-1, #10)
Week 6 Result: 36-31 Victory at Texas A&M
Oklahoma State showed the both strength and weakness of their team in their victory at Texas A&M. The Aggies are much improved on offense but the Cowboys continually managed to allow them back into the game after taking a multi-score lead. Oklahoma State can score points on anyone but they haven’t shown that they can stop anyone since the season’s opening day. It will be a very interesting game when they host Mizzou this Saturday.
Week 7: At Home versus Missouri, 9:15 PM EST
#12) Cincinnati Bearcats (5-0, #12)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
Judgment week for the Bearcats, part one. Cincinnati runs into fellow unbeaten South Florida in the first of three major clashes which will define their Big East run. With an off week to prepare, can the Bearcats live up to the hype and move to 6-0?
Week 7: Thursday at #23 South Florida, 7:30 PM EST
#13) Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-1, #18)
Week 6 Result: 27-12 Victory at Missouri
I’m officially a believer. Nebraska beat their first BCS foe this week in dramatic fashion, roaring back from a 12 point deficit to fashion an easy 15 point victory. Bo Pelini has really done a great job restoring the defensive pride that the Huskers were once known for and Nebraska is now a legitimate contender for the Big XII Championship.
Week 7: Home versus Texas Tech, 3:30 PM EST
OUTSIDE THE NATIONAL TITLE DISCUSSION BUT DANGEROUS
#14) Oregon Ducks (5-1, #16)
Week 6 Result: 24-10 Victory at UCLA
After a weak first half in the Rose Bowl, Oregon scored 21 points in the first five minutes of the 2 nd half to decide the game. Oregon’s defense has been impressive in the past few weeks after struggling at times to open up the season and they’re now the only unbeaten team in Pac Ten play. With a week off to heal up injuries, the Ducks are sitting in good position to make a run at the conference title.
Week 7: Off Week
#15) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-1, #21)
Week 6 Result: 49-44 Victory at Florida State
After a shootout victory of epic proportions amidst a backdrop of an electrical storm against Florida State, the Yellow Jackets can focus on the game which effectively decides the ACC Coastal Division. A home victory over Virginia Tech puts Georgia Tech into a 3 way tie atop the division with Miami while a loss virtually ensures that the Hokies will represent the Coastal Division in Tampa for the conference crown. The Jackets have had some concerns on defense this year but their offense has proven to be trouble for opposing teams. This game is truly a season-defining tilt for the Techies.
Week 7:Home versus #2 Virginia Tech, 6:00 PM EST
#16) Penn State Nittany Lions (5-1, #17)
Week 6 Result: 52-3 Victory at Home versus Eastern Illinois (D-1AA)
Penn State finished off their ho-hum non-conference slate with a dominating blowout victory over a D-1AA weakling and can finally concentrate on Big Ten play. That’s important because their next four games are against 4-2 Minnesota at home, at 4-2 Michigan, at 4-2 Northwestern and against 5-1 Ohio State at home. Needless to say, Penn State’s season will be defined by the end of their tilt with the Buckeyes and we’ll get a true measure of how good the Nittany Lions are against some winning conference opponents.
Week 7:Home versus Minnesota, 3:30 PM EST
#17) Houston Cougars (4-1, #23)
Week 6 Result: 31-24 Victory at Mississippi State
Houston continues to fluxom fans and writers alike. They’ve beaten more BCS conference teams than some other ranked ‘big six’ teams but they have a high-profile dud at UTEP and a schedule that won’t really help them move up throughout the rest of the season. Still, their 3-0 record against Big XII and SEC foes and their 4-1 mark overall means that they’ve earned their way into the top 25 at this point.
Week 7: At Tulane, 3:30 PM EST
#18) Auburn Tigers (5-1, #10)
Week 6 Result: 44-23 Loss at Arkansas
Auburn’s unbeaten season ended quite unceremoniously at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Simply put, they couldn’t stop Arkansas from scoring a ton of points and that doesn’t bode well for the Tigers. At the halfway mark, Auburn is one win away from bowl eligibility and that’s a very good thing because their second half schedule includes, LSU, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama! I think Head Coach Gene Chizik really wants this week’s game against Kentucky to give him some peace of mind during a tough 2 nd half run.
Week 7:Home versus Kentucky, 3:30 PM EST
#19) Kansas Jayhawks (5-0, #19)
Week 6 Result: 41-36 Victory at Home versus Iowa State
The Jayhawks continue to field the exact same team that they’ve had the past three seasons: Strong offensively but average, at best, defensively. Granted, Iowa State was 3-2 coming into the game but Kansas shouldn’t have played such a weak opponent so close at home if they want to be considered a contender in the Big XII North. A win against Colorado this week would move the Jayhawks to 6-0 but a brutal second half awaits.
Week 7:At Colorado, 7:00 PM EST
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#20) Wisconsin Badgers (5-1, #14)
Week 6 Result: 31-13 Loss at #9 Ohio State
The Badgers have to at a loss for words after holding the ball for 42 minutes against the Buckeyes but losing by 18 points. That said, Wisconsin is still a solid team and their defense has to feel very good about holding Ohio State’s offense to ten points in the Horseshoe. A win over unbeaten Iowa would go a long way towards giving the Badgers a realistic shot at a ten win season. However, I don’t think Brett Bielema is feeling the heat anymore in Madison after a 5-1 start.
Week 7: Home versus #3 Iowa, Noon EST
#21) Oklahoma Sooners (3-2, #25)
Week 6 Result: 33-7 Victory at Home versus Baylor
I moved Oklahoma up 4 spots after beating an average Baylor squad. My explanation? Well, Oklahoma continues to be the one team that I haven’t fully applied my rules towards in this top 25. Baylor was their first win over a BCS squad and they have two losses. However, with a vicious defense and a healthy Sam Bradford, I have a feeling that I’ll be able to justify a much higher ranking for the Sooners next week after they beat Texas.
Week 7: Red River Rivalry in Dallas versus #9 Texas, Noon EST
#22)Texas Christian Horned Frogs (5-0, #22)
Week 6 Result: 20-17 Victory at Air Force
TCU barely avoided upset-minded Air Force this week and made me reconsider their standing as a top 25 team. However, I decided to give them credit for their earlier victories over BCS conference foes and their 5-0 record and leave them at the same spot in the rankings as before. However, a big showdown at BYU looms in two weeks and TCU will need to be very careful not to overlook Colorado State.
Week 7: Home versus Colorado State, 4:00 PM EST
#23) South Florida Bulls (5-0, #24)
Week 6 Result: Off Week
South Florida gets their first chance to impress a national audience this week when they host unbeaten Cincinnati on Thursday night. Without Matt Grothe, the Bulls will rely on a strong defensive showing to try to defeat the Bearcats, who have become somewhat of a national darling with their early wins. The Bulls know they’re the underdog at home and I’m sure that will motivate them but can they manage to move to 6-0 at Cincinnati’s expense?
Week 7: Thursday at Home versus #12 Cincinnati, 7:30 PM EST
#24) Pittsburgh Panthers (5-1, Not Ranked)
Week 6 Result: 24-21 Victory at Home versus Connecticut
Pitt rallied in a major way against Connecticut, coming back from a 21-6 3 rd quarter deficit to win the game on a late field goal. This might be the most talented team in the Big East but they’ve been hamstrung by bad quarterbacking for the past two seasons. Still, the Panthers have a great defense and a powerful running game and could find themselves bowl eligible for the second consecutive season with a win this Friday night at Rutgers.
Week 7: Friday at Rutgers, 8:00 PM EST
#25) Oregon State Beavers (4-2, NR)
Week 6 Result: 38-28 Victory at Home versus Stanford
Is this the start of Oregon State’s usual 2 nd half run? After a rough early beginning with losses to Arizona and Cincinnati, Oregon State prevented Stanford from moving to 4-0 in conference play thanks to the Rodgers Brothers’ dominating night on offense. This is usually the point in time that the Beavers kick things into high gear, as they went 7-1 down the stretch in 2006, 6-1 in 2007 and 6-1 last year! However, any potential closing kick will have to wait a week as the Beavers get a midseason break this Saturday.
Week 7: Off Week
TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
West Virginia Mountaineers
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Boise State Broncos
Texas Tech Red Raiders
The SEC maintains their top spot in the top 25 with five teams representing their conference. However, the Big XII has five representatives of their own, tying them for the lead. Behind those two, the Big Ten checks in with four teams while the Big East, ACC and Pac Ten each have three teams. The Mountain West and C-USA round out the top 25 with one team apiece.
Matt Baxendell is collegesports-fans.com’s football writer. Keep an eye out all fall for his multiple weekly articles discussing everything college football. If you want to get in touch with him, email him at Matt.Baxendell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @MattBaxendell
By Matt Baxendell
CollegeSports-fans.com Staff Writer
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