By Jim Weber
We are now halfway through the college football regular season and, as such, it’s time to step back and reevaluate the national title picture.
There are nine undefeated teams in the national title hunt (Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi State, Oregon, Oregon State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Notre Dame) and it appears that the BCS National Championship Game will come down to the SEC Championship Game winner vs. the Pac-12 champion, Big 12 winner or Irish.
One thing’s for sure: The SEC title game showdown on Dec. 1 has all the makings of an instant classic. There certainly won’t be a third straight blowout by the SEC West with the way the defenses for South Carolina and Florida are playing. The Gamecocks-Gators winner on Oct. 20 will be on a collision course for No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta, which makes your body hurt just thinking about all the huge hitting that would take place in that contest.
While a lot of things can still happen, the SEC champion will most likely face either Oregon or West Virginia at Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 7. The Ducks have looked dominant but have a brutal road to South Beach that includes at No. 11 USC, vs. No. 17 Stanford, at No. 10 Oregon State and the Pac-12 Championship Game.
West Virginia doesn’t have another road game against a ranked opponent and plays in a conference without a championship game, making an undefeated season a real possibility if the Mountaineers can get by No. 6 Kansas State in two weeks.
Selfishly I’d like to see the SEC teams knock each other out for a change of flavor in college football after six straight BCS titles by the conference. If you asked casual fans which national title game they’d most like to see, I think they would say Oregon vs. West Virginia. If that came to pass, can you imagine how many points those two teams would score?
But my guess is that the national title game will be Alabama vs. West Virginia in a contest that would definitely challenge the notion that “Defense wins championships.”
FRAUD STATE UNIVERSITY: Almost as soon as everyone proclaimed Florida State “back” for beating Clemson, the Seminoles blew a 16-0 halftime lead at NC State to lose, 17-16, and once again reveal themselves as preseason imposters. In his third season as head coach, Jimbo Fisher has now lost five games the ‘Noles entered as double-digit favorites. Not scoring a single second-half point to an NC State defense that allowed Miami (FL) to put up 44 points the week before is simply mind-boggling.
VERTICALLY CHALLENGED: Since winning the 2007 national title with Matt Flynn at quarterback, LSU has finished 71st (2008), 97th (2009), 107th (2010) and 106th (2011) in passing offense. QB Zach Mettenberger was supposed to change all that this fall with his cannon right arm. That hasn’t happened. LSU’s passing offense was anemic as usual on Saturday in a14-6 loss to Florida. If you take away a 56-yard pass that was fumbled by WR Odell Beckham at the end, the Tigers threw for a total of 102 yards on the afternoon. I don’t care how good your defense and running game is, that’s just not going to get it done.
MEYER’S MAGIC: You can’t give Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer enough credit for what he’s done with OSU’s offense through six games in Columbus. This is a unit that finished 81st in scoring offense last season after averaging 24.5 PPG. Now? The Buckeyes are averaging 38.5 PPG and hung a ridiculous 63 points on Nebraska on Saturday night. Sophomore QB Braxton Miller has a real shot at being invited to New York City for the Heisman ceremony in December.
POOR RICH ROD: How do you lose a game when you score 48 points on the road against the vaunted Stanford defense? When your name is Rich Rodriguez. To be fair, Rich Rod’s first season in the desert has already well surpassed expectations and the program is definitely headed in the right direction. But the same defensive problems that plagued Rodriguez at Michigan reared their head in Palo Alto as the Wildcats blew a 14-point lead with 7:00 minutes left to lose in overtime, 54-48.
WE NEED A LEADER, NOT A LOSER! Remember the Auburn fan that heckled athletic director Jay Jacobs upon Gene Chizik’s hiring in 2008 with, “We need a leader, not a loser!” He’s probably feeling pretty justified right now because without Cam Newton or offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s offense has been a disaster under first-year OC Scot Loeffler. Now 1-4 after a 24-7 loss to Arkansas, the Tigers’ offense hit its nadir on Saturday with five turnovers and eight sacks allowed. Averaging 15.4 PPG is just horrific and could lead to Chizik’s dismissal just two years after winning a national title.
RHOAD WARRIORS: Speaking of Chizik, Iowa State fans certainly aren’t bemoaning his departure for Auburn with the program Paul Rhoads is building in Ames. Iowa State is now 4-1 after pulling off a 37-23 upset at TCU. Each of Rhoad’s four seasons at Iowa State has included a signature upset and now he will be going for a second of 2012 with Kansas State coming to town on Saturday. Expect Rhoads’ name to fly around the coaching rumor mill this offseason, including at Auburn – where he was the defensive coordinator in 2008.
THE DOOKIES! Before people start projecting Duke to play in the Orange Bowl, let’s realize the Blue Devils haven’t beaten a team with a winning record this season and were destroyed at Stanford, 50-13. But at 5-1, Duke is now one win away from being bowl eligible. This is a program that hasn’t gone bowling in 17 years. The rest of the schedule is much more difficult but a road win at beleaguered Virginia Tech next Saturday would be a program-defining “W.”
Top five games: Week 7
5. No. 10 Oregon State vs. BYU: If you like great defense, this is the game for you. Will Oregon State’s dream season continue or will it be stonewalled by the third-ranked scoring defense (8.8 PPG) in the nation?
4. No. 6 Kansas State vs. Iowa State: K-State had best not look past Iowa State for the Wildcats’ showdown with No. 5 West Virginia in two weeks, as Oklahoma State learned last season.
3. No. 15 Texas vs. No. 13 Oklahoma: Texas and Oklahoma have already seen their national title dreams go up in smoke but it’s still the Red River Rivalry and a BCS bowl is still within reach for the winner.
2. No. 17 Stanford vs. 7 Notre Dame: Next up on Notre Dame’s revenge tour: Snapping a three-game losing streak to Stanford. The Irish beat Miami (FL) senseless on Saturday night but the Cardinal will be much more difficult.
1. No. 3 South Carolina vs. No. 9 LSU: The Gamecocks better not celebrate the Georgia victory too long because a trip to Death Valley is next. QBs Connor Shaw and Zach Mettenberger might not get a lot of sleep this week as this game features possibly the two best defensive lines in the country.
Photos: John David Mercer, Tim Heltman, Jim Brown/US Presswire