Sunday, September 27, 2009

What do we know?

In about a 48-hour span between Thursday night and Saturday night, one thing became painfully obvious: There are a total of three excellent teams this year.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that Florida, Texas and Alabama (not necessarily in that order) are all very good. After that, we just don't know. Mississippi? The offense was atrocious against South Carolina, whose defense gave up 41 points against Georgia just two weeks before. Penn State? I don't know if Iowa has some sort of voodoo hex over Joe Paterno, but for the second year in a row, the Hawkeyes' lines dominated on both sides of the ball and Darryl Clark fell apart. All you need to know is that Iowa put up nearly 200 rushing yards on Penn State's supposedly vaunted defense and Clark finished 12-for-32 with three interceptions. Cal? Ummm ... 42-3. Enough said.

And after those teams we have LSU -- I guess they're undefeated, but only after coming up with a miraculous goal-line stand with a minute left against an uninspiring Mississippi State team -- and Boise State just ahead of the group of already-exposed one-loss teams (Virginia Tech, USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State) and the who-knows-if-they're-any-good teams (Cincinnati, TCU and Houston).

I'm honestly not sure which of those teams I'd rank highest. Let's break things down:

* Boise State's win over Oregon was probably a little better than it first appeared. The Ducks' offense was horrendous that night, but I'm willing to concede that the Broncos' defense probably had a lot to do with that. Oregon, on the other hand, finally looked like I expected (on offense, anyway). If the Ducks can take down USC on Halloween night at Autzen, those Pac-10 title hopes should be in excellent shape.

* I have absolutely no explanation for what happened to Cal. How was Jahvid Best held to 55 yards on 16 carries? How did Jeremiah Masoli -- completing 45 percent of his passes for 126 yards per game before Saturday -- finish 21-for-24 for 253 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions? That was just a bizarre and inexplicable performance in every way, even if the Oregon team I expected at the beginning of the year finally showed up.

* Despite the opening-night loss to Alabama, Virginia Tech is pretty good. I predicted a win over Miami -- I didn't think Jacory Harris could keep up his spectacular play three weeks in a row, especially on the road against an elite defense -- but I never expected a 31-7 ass-whooping.

* Miami is a good team, but Jacory Harris isn't Tim Tebow and the Canes' offensive line still has issues against quality defenses. This is exactly why I had a problem with people skyrocketing Miami to No. 1 or No. 2 on their ballots last week -- the Canes have some obvious weaknesses, and it was just unrealistic to assume that those wouldn't be exploited at some point.

* LSU has two decent but fairly uninspiring road wins -- over Washington and Mississippi State -- and while I'll give them credit for doing enough to stay unbeaten, I just haven't been that impressed. We'll know way more about the Tigers after the next two games (at Georgia and home against Florida), but I'm not sure they'll win either one.

* There's a pretty good chance that Cincinnati will be unbeaten until at least November 13, when the Bearcats play West Virginia at home on a Friday night. Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in the country, and the offense can score on anybody (hence 47 points against Rutgers in Piscataway) ... but it's kind of hard to say what this team would do against someone like Ohio State or Oklahoma, and there's certainly no test like that coming in Big East play.

* Houston also has a pretty good shot at being unbeaten into November, but at least we have a point of comparison for the Cougars (two points, actually). Houston has beaten both Oklahoma State (which beat Georgia) and Texas Tech (which gave Texas a pretty good run), so I have no problem putting them in the top 15.

* USC has issues on offense. Any debate about that was put to rest by a 27-point performance at home against an embarrassingly bad Washington State team that had given up 30 points the week before to freakin' SMU. As good as the Trojans' defense is, I just don't think USC can score enough right now to keep up with the other elite teams in the country.

Where does that leave us? Well, the AP hasn't been generous enough to give me a ballot (please?), but my hypothetical top 10 would look something like this:

1. Florida
2. Alabama (I'm waffling between Alabama and Texas at No. 2)
3. Texas
4. Virginia Tech
5. Boise State
6. USC
7. Ohio State
8. LSU
9. Oklahoma
10. Miami

I know what you're thinking: AAAAAARRRGHGHGH BOISE STATE IN THE TOP FIVE?!?! Trust me, I know. But right now, I don't think there's a team any lower that I'd pick to beat the Broncos on a neutral field (USC seems incapable of losing to a nonconference opponent, but that can't last forever).

In other words, it's not that I think Boise is a dominant team, just that I can't find many teams that are better. Never have I been so in agreement with an AP voter:
"This was one of the toughest weeks I can remember in my 10 years of being a pollster, because after the top 3 there simply weren't any other squads that merited a top-10 ranking, much less a No. 4-5-6," said Barker Davis of The Washington Times in an e-mail.
Exactly. And if two of those three teams somehow end up with a loss ... man, I don't even wanna think about it.

1 comment:

JD said...

The question I have is if Tebow gets hit again. Obviously he'll go against LSU, but you know people will be gunning for him, especially after they've seen him (finally) crumble.