By Stewart Mandel
October 17, 2010

So ... it's going to be that kind of season, is it?

Two consecutive weeks, the No. 1 team goes down. The team that beat No. 1 last week (South Carolina) goes and loses at Kentucky. The team that two weeks ago fell out of the Top 25 for the first time in a decade (Texas) goes and beats the No. 5 team (Nebraska). It's beginning to feel a whole lot like 2007.

The initial BCS standings released Sunday had Oklahoma No. 1, Oregon No. 2. As I wrote last week even before their 52-0 rout of Iowa State, the 6-0 Sooners are a perfectly deserving No. 1 team based solely on résumé to date. They'll further add to that résumé if they win at 6-0 Missouri on Saturday.

But do you really trust Oklahoma to run the table? I don't, for much the same reason I don't trust Oregon or No. 4 Auburn: the lack of an elite defense. As riveting as it was to watch the Ducks storm back to beat Stanford 52-31 and the Tigers put away Arkansas 65-43, national-championship teams don't give up 28 points per game in conference play like Oregon, or let Arkansas' backup quarterback complete 15 of his first 17 passes like Auburn. (I'm not writing off Oklahoma yet, but the Sooners rank 72nd in total defense.)

As Texas reminded us so vividly Saturday against the previously splashy Huskers, even the most dangerous offense can be tempered by a dominant defense. Thus, amid this budding season of chaos, it may be time to start embracing the steady hand. And as much as fans of the bluebloods refuse to hear it, the BCS' current No. 3 team, Boise State, may actually be worthy of No. 1.

Now, now. Stop cursing. Take your fingers out of your ears. And put aside for a second the Boise State schedule-strength argument, because nobody's disputing it. No, the Broncos probably wouldn't go undefeated if they had to play Alabama's schedule, or Oregon's schedule, or Oklahoma's schedule -- but guess what? Neither will those teams. And unlike those teams, Boise's defense is the most dominant in the country. Literally. The Broncos are No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 in rushing defense and No. 1 in pass-efficiency defense.

If the teams played today, there's very little chance Oregon -- the No. 1 team in both major polls, mind you -- would put up 42 points against the Broncos. Last year it scored eight, and while the Ducks are far more explosive today than they were back then, Ryan Winterswyk, Billy Winn and the rest of the Boise defense certainly haven't gotten worse.

If Boise State faced Auburn tomorrow, Cameron Newton might well run for a whole bunch of yards. He's done so against every team he's faced. But if Tyler Wilson (who?) can throw for 332 yards on the Tigers, what ungodly numbers would Kellen Moore put up? Auburn is currently the highest-ranked team in the SEC -- and yet, if they played, I would consider Boise State the favorite.

Of course, nobody south of the Mason-Dixon Line remotely agrees with what I just wrote. Heck, few people outside of Boise yet believe it. The only thing they can agree on is that the Broncos "haven't beaten anybody," what with their two most high-profile victims to date, Virginia Tech and Oregon State, barely hovering around the bottom of the Top 25. (The Hokies re-entered this week, the Beavers fell out.) The rest of their opponents, of course, are "garbage."

But Boise's done to those opponents exactly what a championship-caliber team should do: beaten them 51-6 (Wyoming), 59-0 (New Mexico State), 57-14 (Toledo) and 48-0 (San Jose State). TCU has been similarly consistent, yet for whatever reason isn't garnering the same respect. Certainly last year's head-to-head Fiesta Bowl result is playing a factor.

All along, we've assumed Boise's chances of reaching (and staying) No. 2 were minimal, in part because the computers would kill the Broncos' schedule (and indeed, computers, not polls, are the reason Oklahoma sits higher than Boise today) and in part because the big boys would eventually pass the Broncos.

But what happens if the big boys keep losing? What happens if the SEC produces a two-loss champion? What happens if Oklahoma and Oregon fall late in the season? Ultimately, the polls carry the biggest weight in the standings, and at some point there might not be teams left to move ahead of the Broncos.

Boise's best hope is actually for those teams to lose sooner than later, forcing the pollsters to move the Broncos to No. 1. As long as they're No. 2 or lower, they'll always be ripe to be passed, especially as their computer scores continue to deteriorate.

But No. 1 is another story. Voters aren't prone to dropping No. 1 teams without a good reason. As the weeks go by, as the carnage piles up elsewhere, they may have no choice but to embrace the reality that maybe, just maybe, a team with an All-America quarterback, two NFL receivers and a consistently dominant defense may well be the most flawless in the country.

Mack Brown meant no disrespect, but a couple of times during his Saturday postgame press conference when answering questions about his defense suffocating Nebraska freshman sensation Taylor Martinez, Brown subtly suggested that perhaps we, the media, had been a little presumptuous in anointing "T-Magic" as the second coming before he'd faced his first elite defense. It was fun while it lasted, but the Martinez-Denard Robinson hype machine screeched to a halt Saturday, around the same time that Auburn's Cam Newton made it abundantly clear whom the most lethal dual-threat quarterback is in the country right now.

Unlike Robinson and Martinez, who rely almost entirely on their breakaway speed -- which is negated when facing similarly fast defenses -- Newton is a 6-foot-6, 250-pound battering ram who spent much of Saturday's Arkansas game either bowling over or dragging helpless defenders around his ankles. A week after running for 198 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries against Kentucky, the junior carried 25 times for 188 yards and three scores against the 12th-ranked Razorbacks. He also completed 10 of 14 passes for 140 yards and a score to remain second nationally in pass efficiency (180.5).

Having said that, Newton faces his own moment of reckoning this week when the fifth-ranked Tigers host sixth-ranked LSU in a clash of 7-0 teams. Newton has faced a more notable gauntlet to date than Robinson or Martinez, but he hasn't seen anything like LSU, which boasts the No. 3 defense in the country. It's entirely possible Drake Nevis and Co. will humble Newton the way Texas did Martinez. He'll almost certainly have to throw more than 14 times to win.

Or, Newton could put up another 100-yard rushing day, put Auburn in the thick of the national title hunt and assert himself as the undisputed Heisman leader, in which case I'm guessing we'll see more and more stories about his "troubled past," with more and more mentions of an inaccuracy I've seen numerous times.

So please, fellow writers and fans, take a moment to get your facts straight. Cameron Newton did not steal a laptop. Really. He made an error in judgment, which he's discussed candidly, but he is not a thief, nor was he dismissed from Florida. He left on his own accord, in large part because Tim Tebow decided to return for his senior season.

As it turns out, Newton may follow in Tebow's footsteps after all -- in New York.

The party in Madison lasted well into the wee hours Sunday following Wisconsin's biggest win since its late '90s Rose Bowl trips. Fifth-year coach Bret Bielema, who'd previously gone 1-8 against ranked opponents and had yet to fully win over the locals, should have no such problem now after his team outplayed No. 1 Ohio State in every aspect of a 31-18 upset Saturday night.

"It's justification for me that we are doing the right things," said Bielema. "What we do 365 days a year, you saw today. And I know it can be successful."

The obvious ramification is that Wisconsin shattered the Buckeyes' national-title hopes. Following its worst defensive performance in nearly three years and an erratic performance by Terrelle Pryror, Jim Tressel's team plummeted to 11th in the AP poll. But the result also raises an intriguing question: Who's going to win the Big Ten?

No. 8 Michigan State -- which could still creep into the BCS title conversation -- sits alone at the top (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten), but No. 12 Iowa (5-1, 2-0) may ultimately have the biggest say in this thing. The Hawkeyes host the 10th-ranked Badgers (6-1, 2-1) next week, the Spartans a week later and the Buckeyes (6-1, 2-1) on Nov. 20. It seems like a tall task for Iowa to win all three, but it could still get to the Rose Bowl with one loss if it beats the right teams. Or Sparty could run away with it. Or the Buckeyes or Badgers could get back in it.

This much we know: There's a significant drop-off between those four teams and the rest of the conference. Is it crazy to think the league could end in a four-way tie for first with four 7-1 teams? Who wins that tiebreaker? And what a fitting ending it would be in the last year before the league gets a title game.

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:

Title game: Boise State vs. Alabama

Rose: Iowa vs. Oregon

Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Utah

Orange: Florida State vs. West Virginia

Sugar: Auburn vs. Michigan State

I'm throwing darts this week. With my midseason Crystal Ball predictions due later this week, I couldn't just slap up the status quo, because I firmly believe nearly every current top 10 team is going to suffer a loss between now and December, with the possible exception of Alabama, which would rise to the top of the one-loss pack. Whether voters keep Boise State above the fray will likely remain unknown right up until Dec. 5.

Equally arbitrary: Picking a Big Ten Rose Bowl representative (I went with Iowa under the assumption that the Hawkeyes will hand Michigan State its sole defeat) and dealing with TCU and Utah, which meet on Nov. 6 in Salt Lake. Right now I favor the Utes, ever so slightly. I reserve the right to change my mind before then.

• Thoughts and prayers go out to Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand, who underwent emergency spinal surgery and was paralyzed below the neck after making a tackle against Army. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said he spoke with mentor Joe Paterno, whose former player, Adam Taliaferro, endured a similar injury in 2000 and made a long, successful recovery.

"As I talked to our team, we're just going to believe that Eric LeGrand is going to walk onto that field again with us," said Schiano. "That's what we believe. We'll see with the speed of which that happens."

• Oklahoma State (6-0) ended its 66-year drought in Lubbock behind the most dominant performance yet from star receiver Justin Blackmon (10 catches, 207 yards). The sophomore is having a Michael Crabtree-like season, with 57 receptions, 955 yards and 12 TDs just halfway through the season. Next week, however, he and the Cowboys face their first elite defense when sure-to-be-angry Nebraska visits Stillwater in a defining game for Mike Gundy's team.

• USC quarterback Matt Barkley picked up where he left off last week against Stanford, torching Cal for 352 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-14 drubbing. Barkley has now thrown 20 touchdowns, second-most nationally, and freshman receiver Robert Woods has five TD catches in the past two games. A looming game to keep an eye on: No. 1 Oregon's trip to the Coliseum in two weeks. There's little evidence to this point that either team can stop the other's offense.

• Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray's career is often associated with disappointment, most notably the injuries that kept him out of the Sooners' 2007 and '08 bowl games. But Saturday against Iowa State, Murray etched himself into the school record books, breaking Sooners' legend Steve Owens' career touchdowns record with his 58th score. "I admire him for coming back and continuing to play and be competitive," Owens told the Tulsa World. "I'm a big fan of his."

• The Sooners will be facing a much different Missouri team this week than they did in the 2007 and '08 Big 12 title games. The Tigers (6-0) have a legit defense, one that sacked Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson seven times in Saturday's 30-9 victory and now ranks second nationally in scoring defense (10.8 points per game). Still, you have ample reason to remain skeptical until proven otherwise. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is thus far 0-11 against Oklahoma and Texas.

• Following in Oregon's footsteps last week, Arizona (5-1) saw its quarterback, Nick Foles, go down to injury against Washington State. However, unlike Darron Thomas, who suffered a mild shoulder sprain, Foles will miss "probably two to three weeks" with a knee sprain, said coach Mike Stoops. Arizona, which probably can't afford more than one stumble to keep its Rose Bowl hopes alive, plays Washington, then visits UCLA and Stanford in the next three weeks.

• Driving from Lincoln to Omaha late Saturday, my radio picked up a Chicago sports talk show that was suggesting a "quarterback controversy" at Michigan. Seriously? Yes, Tate Forcier threw for 239 yards against Iowa after Robinson went down, but the Wolverines were down 35-14 by then and Forcier had to throw it. Robinson ran for 105 yards and was 13-of-18 for 96 yards before going out. Just a guess: He'll be staying on the field for as long as physically possible.

• Two former SEC coordinators, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen and Kentucky's Joker Phillips, got their first signature victories as SEC head coaches. Mullen returned to his old training ground, The Swamp, to torture reeling Florida 10-7 (the Bulldogs won despite throwing just one pass in the second half) and improve to 5-2. Meanwhile, Phillips' Wildcats returned South Carolina to reality, rallying from a 28-10 deficit to win 31-28 and picking off Stephen Garcia in the end zone to seal it.

• Florida's offense has scored a combined four touchdowns in its past three games (all losses) -- yet the Gators still control their own destiny in the SEC East.

• The most entertaining game Saturday night took place in Seattle, where Washington's Jake Locker threw five touchdown passes, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers scored four times and the game went to double overtime, where Beavers quarterback Ryan Katz's two-point conversion pass to tight end Joe Halahuni barely missed. Beavers coach Mike Riley will take heat for not kicking the extra point, but he made the right call, on the road, with a drained defense, to try to win it.

• Florida State began the season with a "CP7 for Heisman" campaign to promote quarterback Christian Ponder. There was a time during Saturday's Boston College game when it looked like it might get changed to CP6, as in pick-six, because Ponder threw one and had another nullified by penalty in a four-turnover game. The 'Noles (6-1) overcame those mistakes, eventually edging the Eagles 24-19, but for some reason it's still hard to put full confidence in this team.

• Hawaii (5-2) earned its biggest win since the June Jones era Saturday by upsetting Nevada (6-1). Quarterback Bryant Moniz (26-of-36, 287 yards, three TDs) was cranking it as always, but more impressively, the Warriors held the Wolf Pack to 293 total yards in a 27-21 win. But don't go thinking Hawaii is suddenly Boise State's toughest remaining WAC foe. The Warriors are significantly more imposing at home than on the Mainland. They have to visit Boise on Nov. 6.

• N.C. State's Russell Wilson may be the ACC's top quarterback, but he'd rank pretty low on Conference USA's pass efficiency charts. Wilson's worst performance of the season, a 10-of-30, 105-yard nightmare, came in a 28-21 win at UCF in the second week of the season. On Saturday, East Carolina held him to 26-of-52 completions and picked him off three times in a 27-23 overtime upset.

• TCU has now allowed three points in three weeks after handling BYU, 31-3. And yet for the second straight week, a Big 12 team (Oklahoma) passed the Horned Frogs in the coaches' poll. Whom did Gary Patterson tick off?

• Baylor (5-2) stands one win away from ending its 16-year bowl drought following a 31-25 win at Colorado (3-3). That sixth win will either come next week against Kansas State or Nov. 13 against Texas A&M, both of which are in Waco.

• Bizarre factoid: North Carolina's 44-10 win at Virginia marked its first win in Charlottesville since 1981, ending a 14-game losing streak there. You don't just walk into Scott Stadium and ...

So Minnesota wins the 2010 award for fastest coaching firing. By axing the flailing Tim Brewster on Oct. 17, AD Joel Maturi beat 2009 winner Memphis (Tommy West) by three weeks, but couldn't quite match 2008 winner Clemson, which ousted Tommy Bowden on Oct. 13.

Brewster's dismissal was inevitable, what with a 15-30 record and the program slinking to a 1-6 start (including losses to South Dakota and Northern Illinois) at a time when the program should really be building momentum following last year's opening of TC Bank Stadium. Rarely have I seen a coach as outwardly loathed as Brewster, who burned through six coordinators in four seasons and purportedly butted heads with nearly anyone connected to the program. Maturi delivered this parting shot Sunday when delivering a message to Brewster's hypothetical successor.

"You're not following Vince Lombardi here," said Maturi.

Well, Joel, you're not exactly Jeremy Foley, either.

Scroll back through the recent annals of Minnesota history. In 2006, Maturi gave then-coach Glen Mason a lucrative four-year extension only to turn around and fire him a year later after the Gophers blew a 31-point lead in the Insight Bowl, costing the school roughly $3.6 in buyouts and deferred compensation. As Mason's replacement, he hired a tight ends coach from the Denver Broncos who'd never even served as a coordinator at the college or pro level. Now, he's pledging to find "a Tubby Smith" for football, referring to the Gophers' revered hoops coach.

Would you trust this guy to make the right hire?

If "high profile" is Maturi's top priority (and it probably should be to generate buzz for the program), one has to think the guy who delivered Mason's Insight Bowl death blow, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, is near the top of the list. (Maturi said he contacted Tony Dungy, but that the alum is not interested.) By opening the job now, Maturi gets a head start in the courtship. There's nothing stopping him from contacting the unemployed Leach tomorrow.

But somehow that move probably makes too much sense.

Brady Hoke is at it again. The coach who turned long-dormant Ball State into a 12-win team two years ago is now working his magic at San Diego State. The Aztecs, who last posted a winning season in 1998, notched their first win over a ranked foe in 14 years Saturday, edging No. 23 Air Force 27-25. Standout freshman tailback Ronnie Hillman ran for 191 yards on 24 carries.

"We fought all 60 minutes, and that's something you have not seen out of an Aztecs team in a long time," said quarterback Ryan Lindley.

Remarkably, 4-2 San Diego State is only a couple plays from being 6-0. It came within 51 seconds of knocking off Missouri in Columbia, losing 27-24 on a 68-yard touchdown pass, and lost 24-21 to BYU last week in part due to a botched replay review of a fumble call so egregious it got three officials suspended.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said after Saturday's game that the Aztecs "should easily win eight games this year," another feat the program hasn't accomplished since 1996. San Diego State's rise from the grave is surely welcome news for Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, who desperately needs one of his incumbent programs to help fill the void once Utah and BYU leave next year.

Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:

LSU at Auburn, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): The home team has an explosive offense and an extremely suspect defense. The visitors have a dominant defense and ludicrously suspect offense. It should be fun, and it should be entertaining, because CBS will insist that Les Miles stage a last-minute drive regardless of the score.

Oklahoma at Missouri, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): I never considered how many Tigers play college football until writing these first two game capsules. Sooners quarterback Landry Jones is coming off a ridiculous 30-of-34 night against Iowa State, but has frequently struggled away from Norman. This will be a great litmus test.

Wisconsin at Iowa, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Wisconsin coach Bielema, an Iowa alum, has a Hawkeye tattoo on his calf. Kirk Ferentz's team has tattooed Wisconsin the past two seasons, but the Badgers are much more physical this time around. It's a matter of whether they avoid a post-Ohio Sate hangover.

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