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.
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