As other top contenders falter, steady Boise claims top spot
I've told you all season that there might come a day when I seriously shook up the top of the poll. That day came Saturday.
Oregon, my No. 1 since early October, looked quite mortal at Cal. TCU, which ascended to No. 2 last week, played a tighter-than-it-should-have-been game and saw the value of its signature win plummet like the 1929 Stock Market as Utah got thrashed at Notre Dame. Auburn's defense looked typically average, but all the controversy swirling around quarterback Cam Newton appeared to make the nation's best player even better. Meanwhile, Boise State crushed yet another overmatched opponent.
So who should be No. 1? USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan thinks I had it correct last week (Oregon, TCU, Boise State, Auburn). Last week, Sheridan told Fanhouse that Oregon would be favored against the other three and that Auburn would be an underdog against the other three. Boise State-TCU, Sheridan said, would be a pick 'em.
I'm not so sure. I kept Oregon at No. 1 most of the season based on the assumption that its offense was unstoppable. Cal proved the Ducks are quite stoppable, and if the Golden Bears had a semblance of an offense, they might have won the game. That said, Oregon's 18-play drive to seal the win was quite impressive. That's the type of drive championship teams can pull off at a crucial moment.
I moved TCU to No. 2 last week based largely on the strength of a 40-point win at Utah. A smackdown of the Utes by a very average Irish team proved that I had overrated Utah. TCU's drop has less to do with a close win against San Diego State than it does a correction of my bad evaluation of the Utah win.
Auburn's defense was the main reason I kept the Tigers mired at No. 4. The defense hasn't gotten any better, but the offense has improved quite a bit. Oregon proponents are completely correct when they remind me that Auburn had its own Cal game -- a 17-14 win at Mississippi State on Sept. 9 -- but that win came before Auburn coaches figured out how to properly use Newton. Saturday against Georgia, Newton was absolutely unstoppable. At no point did the outcome feel in doubt.
(Another note about Auburn: These rankings assume Newton is Auburn's quarterback. Unless the school or the NCAA says otherwise regarding Newton's eligibility, the Tigers will be evaluated that way.)
Boise State, meanwhile, just keeps humming along. The Broncos don't play as tough a schedule as Oregon or Auburn, but only the most myopic power-conference elitist would believe the Broncos couldn't beat every team in the country on a neutral field.
The fact of the matter is all four teams deserve a shot at the national title. So do the one-loss teams in the Big Ten and the teams that can survive the SEC West with only one or two losses. But for now, we're stuck with this stupid system, so really good teams will get nitpicked until we end up with two in the title game.
On a lighter note, this week's Disgrace to the University comes from Steve in Tavares, Fla., who took offense when I passed along a message from the football gods -- who detest high school shenanigans during college games -- that Florida's Blueout last week would end in disaster just as all the recent high-profile [insert color]-outs have. "So your basis for thinking South Carolina could win in The Swamp is what color the fans in the stands are wearing?" Steve wrote. "Very intelligent..." Sorry Steve, but this week's Told You So came Saturday from the football gods: South Carolina 36, Florida 14.
Last Week: 3
Boise St. Broncos (9-0)The Broncos may be No. 1 in the Power Rankings, but they've got some work to do in the BCS standings. Because fourth-ranked Boise State still must play 6-3 Fresno State and 9-1 Nevada, the Broncos should be able to pass TCU, which only plays Mountain West doormat New Mexico. This is important, because if Oregon and Auburn don't lose, there remains an excellent chance that the lower ranked of the two non-AQ powers will get left out of the BCS bowls.
Last game: Beat Idaho, 52-14
Next game: Friday vs. Fresno State
Last Week: 4
Auburn Tigers (11-0)Auburn has no avenue through which to appeal the automatic one-half suspensions for defensive linemen Michael Goggans and Mike Blanc, who were ejected from Saturday's win against Georgia for throwing punches. Neither player is a starter, but both play quite a bit in the Tigers' defensive line rotation. Their absence will affect Auburn's defensive line depth against Alabama, but they'll be back for crunch time.
Last game: Beat Georgia, 49-31
Next game: Nov. 26 at Alabama
Last Week: 1
Oregon Ducks (10-0)Oregon coach Chip Kelly has issued a bye-week media blackout to give his players a break. That's probably for the best. Repeated questions about the Cal game -- the biggest outlier on Oregon's schedule -- would become an annoyance. But here's the scary thing for Oregon's opponents the rest of the way: Now that Cal has shown how to slow the Ducks, Kelly and company have almost two weeks to tweak the offense to avoid the pitfalls it faced in Berkeley.
Last game: Beat Cal, 15-13
Next game: Nov. 26 vs. Arizona
Last Week: 2
TCU Horned Frogs (11-0)The good news for the Horned Frogs is that TCU offensive line coach Eddie Williamson was released from the hospital Monday. Williamson suffered a heart attack during the first quarter of the San Diego State game. Judging by this report from Dallas television station WFAA, Williamson is in good hands at home. His wife, Patty, plans to make sure her husband doesn't overwork himself as TCU prepares for its regular-season finale next week. "He blows the whistle on the field," Patty told the station, "but I usually blow the whistle at home."
Last game: Beat San Diego State, 40-35
Next game: Nov. 27 at New Mexico
Last Week: 5
LSU Tigers (9-1)Even if Les Miles repeats his clock-management disaster from last year in Oxford, I'm not allowed to criticize him. The man has provided too much entertainment this year. LSU is a lot better than Ole Miss this time around, so that probably won't be an issue. Still, there is a rivalry here. Miles didn't always have the market cornered on magic in his division. At one time, the Most Interesting Man in the SEC West was the Right Rev. Houston Nutt. And just in case anyone forgot that, here's video of Nutt's Monday press conference.
Last game: Beat Louisiana-Monroe, 51-0
Next game: Saturday vs. Ole Miss
Last Week: 6
Stanford Cardinal (9-1)After surviving a test from the nation's best 4-6 team -- seriously, Arizona State nearly won at Wisconsin and got closer to Oregon than anyone until Cal -- Stanford now gets its own crack at the nation's most schizophrenic team. Like Oregon, the Cardinal will face Cal in Berkeley. That means Stanford will get the good version of the Bears. It will help if the Cardinal can get receiver/kick returner Chris Owusu back. Owusu missed the Arizona State game with an undisclosed injury.
Last game: Beat Arizona State, 17-13
Next game: Saturday at Cal
Last Week: 14
Michigan St. Spartans (9-1)Why did Michigan State rise so high without even playing last week? Allow me to explain. The Spartans had been drilled by Iowa, which had lost to Arizona and Wisconsin. Because I didn't want to punish Iowa for playing a difficult schedule, I evaluated Iowa on par with the other one-loss Big Ten teams. That changed when Iowa -- and Arizona -- lost this past Saturday. Michigan State has the same record as Wisconsin and won the head-to-head meeting. That's why the Spartans are now ranked above the Badgers, who are ranked above Ohio State by virtue of their head-to-head win against the Buckeyes.
Last game: Beat Minnesota, 31-8
Next game: Saturday vs. Purdue
Last Week: 7
Wisconsin Badgers (9-1)Did Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema break an unwritten rule by allowing his team to score 83 points against Indiana on Saturday? Yes and no. Bielema began using backups in the fourth quarter -- as early as one can reasonably expect in a conference game -- but he did have backup quarterback Jon Budmayr throw quite a bit. Up that much, it's standard practice to just keep handing off and milk the clock to keep from embarrassing your opponent. The last touchdown -- a 17-yard run by third-string quarterback Nate Tice to cap a drive that included no passes -- is on Indiana. If a team can't keep an opponent's third-string quarterback from running for a touchdown, it's time to recruit better players.
Last game: Beat Indiana, 83-20
Next game: Saturday at Michigan
Last Week: 8
Ohio St. Buckeyes (9-1)The Buckeyes head to Iowa City needing a win to stay in the hunt for a sixth consecutive outright or shared Big Ten title. Iowa won't make it easy, though. This is the best opponent Ohio State has faced since Wisconsin handed the Buckeyes their only loss on Oct. 16. These teams went to overtime last year playing for a spot in the Rose Bowl. This one could be just as close.
Last game: Beat Penn State, 38-14
Next game: Saturday at Iowa
Last Week: 9
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-1)A few weeks ago, the home stretch of Nebraska's regular season looked fairly easy. Not anymore. Texas A&M has evolved into a much better team, and while a loss to the Aggies probably wouldn't keep the Cornhuskers from winning the Big 12 North title, it would erase any faint hope Nebraska had of playing its way back into the national title picture in the case of chaos atop the polls.
Last game: Beat Kansas, 20-3
Next game: Saturday at Texas A&M