Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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The BCS National title game is starting to come into focus with each passing week but the key to trying to figure out what the national title game might look like is remembering it is an entire season that counts and therefore some numbers could change with regards to the computers.
So some teams – like Oregon – will get a nice bump as the Ducks remaining schedule contains plenty of quality opponents while other teams, like Kansas State, don’t have a whole lot left to get excited about.
With that in mind, I took a look at the top ten teams in the current BCS and try to handicap what I think their chances of making it into the BCS National title game actually is (have to finish in Top 2 obviously) and what they likely need to happen to get there, so let’s take a look.
1. Alabama (8-0) – The Tide have the simplest route of any team – just win out. There is no way if they finish undefeated they won’t be No. 1 , especially when the next two weeks they play LSU and Texas A&M and then they will have to play a likely Top Five team in the SEC title game. Alabama is basically that ridiculous field goal fest loss to LSU last year away from having a 22-game winning streak and even more impressive – during this streak of winning 21 of 22 games, they have won every game by 14 or more points. This is a machine.
2. Kansas State (8-0) – As good as the Wildcats have been, they may need Oregon and maybe even Notre Dame to lose a game in order to feel safe even if they win out. They really don’t have many opportunities left to make a big splash and it looks like the Big 12 is not nearly as strong as we thought. I think if they win out they will squeezed out of the game by Oregon, assuming the Ducks win out as well.
3. Notre Dame (8-0) – The Irish got a huge lift with a win over Oklahoma this past weekend and now with their next three games against Pitt, Wake Forest and Boston College, they should easily get to 11-0. At that point, however, they must find a way to beat USC in Los Angeles and while the Trojans aren’t who we thought they were, they still have had Notre Dames number recently. My gut is there isn’t quite enough here to hold off a surge by Oregon.
4. Oregon (8-0) – Humans love the Ducks, computers are not so sure. That will change, however, as the Ducks have three BCS-ranked opponents (Oregon State, USC, Stanford) left in their four games and with a little bit of luck, they could get a fifth in the Pac-12 title game if UCLA can run the table and get to 10-2 by the end of the regular season. That should strengthen the Ducks computer numbers and since they are already No. 2 in the human polls, they could jump over ND and K-State and into the second spot.
5. LSU (7-1) – If there is a one-loss team who may be able to jump an undefeated team based on quality of wins and strength of schedule it is the Tigers. I still have hard time believing it but it is possible – especially if the Tigers put on a good show and beat Alabama this week and then follow it up with a big win over Mississippi State and finish with a strong win in the SEC title game over Georgia. That resume would be very hard to pass up – especially when the one loss was by a touchdown on the road at a Top Ten (Florida) school.
6. Georgia (7-1) – The Bulldogs are similar to LSU in that they could have a shot at Alabama in the SEC title game but this is the problem – the Bulldogs were blown out in their lone loss and they don’t have as many quality wins on their resume. That means they will need some help in terms of other teams losing but if they win the SEC they will obviously be the top one-loss team.
7. Florida (7-1) – The Gators have a nice resume with some nice wins and the chance to add another one at the end of the year over Florida State. The problem they have is this – they are in the same division as Georgia and now have tie-breaker issues with the Bulldogs because they lost the head-to-head matchup. So they are not likely to even win their division of the SEC, much less the SEC championship and therefore they will need a lot of things to fall their way in order to get into the top 2 – starting with Georgia losing to either Ole Miss or Auburn.
8. South Carolina (7-2) – The Gamecocks have two losses, one of them ugly, and tie-breaker trouble in their own division – and they have a superstar running back out for the year with a knee injury. Put a fork in them, they aren’t getting to the championship game.
9. Florida State (8-1) – I buried the Seminoles when they lost to N.C. State and still think they have some strength of schedule and computer problems because of how weak the ACC is. That being said there is a glimmer of hope because of some of the things that took place this past weekend. The big thing was North Carolina knocking off N.C. State and thus putting the Seminoles back in charge of the Atlantic Division of the ACC. Here is their road as I see it – Florida wins out, FSU wins out and beats Florida to get a really good quality win at end of year. North Carolina gets to 9-3, gets ranked and wins the Coastal Division of the ACC and FSU gets another quality win by beating them in ACC title game. They would obviously leap over USC and Florida and then they’d need to hope Alabama cleans out LSU and Georgia. This would put the Seminoles at the top of the one-loss heap and I believe still ahead of an undefeated Louisville team. Then, of course, they’d need help from USC (knock off Oregon and Notre Dame) and a Kansas State loss. Again, it is a long, long shot – but it isn’t impossible now. And we’ve seen crazier things happen.
10.) Louisville (8-0) – I have no idea where the Cardinals fit in and have a hard time believing they will get into the top two unless everyone ahead of them has two losses. And the reason is the Big East is awful, the Cardinals have no quality wins (North Carolina could grow into one) and no chances to get one down the stretch. They could finish the season without a single game against a ranked opponent – and they have not exactly been impressive in their wins, by the way. I say they are a longshot at best and even that may be a pipe dream. Ah, life in the Big East.
And then there were six: Four more teams – Mississippi State, Rutgers, Oregon State and Ohio U – fell from the ranks of the undefeated which means we are down to only six undefeated teams in Division I-A – Notre Dame, Kansas State, Louisville, Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State. Of the six, Louisville has the easiest path to a perfect season but are the weakest of these six teams every week they will be a candidate to lose. The other five teams all have some tough games left but all should be favored the rest of the way so this could be one of those years where we do have an undefeated team (other than Ohio State who is not eligible) not get into the national title game as there could be more than two of them.
As for the three whose perfect seasons were ruined :
Ohio (7-1) was trying to become the “BCS Buster” of the year by running the table and finishing undefeated and looked like it was capable of doing so since they had already beaten Penn State. But now, after a 23-20 loss to Miami (Ohio), the Bobcats are going to have to scramble and need a little help just to win the MAC East.
Rutgers (7-1) – Once again – leave it to the Big East. Last week Cincinnati feel from the ranks of the unbeaten at the hands of a MAC team (Toledo) and apparently the Scarlet Knights needed to show they could pull the same stunt as the lost to Kent State. And not only did they lose to Kent – they got blown out 35-23 (they scored late to make it more respectable). Rutgers turned it over seven times and that included a six-interception day by quarterback Gary Nova. The good news – the Scarlet Knights could still win the Big East by winning out since it was a nonconference game.
Mississippi State (7-1) – I thought the Bulldogs were a bit phony and it was only a matter of time and sure enough they got blasted – albeit by Alabama – in their first real test of the season. They could save some face these next two weeks with wins over Texas A&M and LSU but I haven’t seen enough from them to believe they are good enough to do so.
Oregon State (6-1) – The Beavers had some impressive wins on their resume but the problem is they were always living on the edge and never really blew anyone out – so it seemed like only a matter of time before they were picked off and this weekend at happened at Washington, 20-17. And it probably won’t be their last loss, either, as they probably have another one in them at least.
Is there Hazard pay with that job? I don’t know what in the world is going on at Maryland but the job of Terps quarterback will soon have a reality show based on it, much like the “Deadliest Catch”. I mean, my goodness the Terps will enter this weekend’s action with either a converted linebacker (Shawn Petty) or a tight end (Brian McMahon) as their starting quarterback. Why? Because for the FOURTH time this season they lost their starting quarterback to a season-ending injury. Let me repeat that – they have had four different quarterbacks go down to season-ending injuries – and when you add to the fact that a fifth quarterback, Danny O’Brien, transferred before the season, they are technically on their fifth-string quarterback (which is why they are down to converting people from other positions). But this past weekend in a loss to Boston College, the Terps lost freshman Caleb Rowe to an ACL injury. Rowe replaced Devin Burns (broken foot) who replaced Perry Hills (ACL) who replaced C.J. Brown (ACL). Brown (Seneca Valley) and Hills (Central Catholic) are WPIAL kids, by the way, so you may recognize their names. This is obviously one of those quirky things that happens from time to time but my goodness, it has been a rough year to be Maryland’s quarterback. Not sure if there is any truth to the rumor that Neil O’Donnell called Randy Edsall to tell him he still had a year of eligibility but I am checking into it. And yet, despite all that the Terps are 4-4 and still have an outside shot of getting to a bowl game. And if that happens – they get to the postseason – Edsall should be in the coach of the year discussions because that would be amazing given all that has happened.
Game of the Week: North Carolina 43, N.C. State 35 was an absolutely tremendous game to watch as it had all of the elements – big plays, big defensive plays, lead changes and last-second drama to qualify as a great game. North Carolina jumped to a big lead early, N.C. State came way back and seemed to have control of the game. But trailing by ten going into the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels scored a touchdown and then kicked a field goal to tie the game at 35-35. N.C. State got the ball back with less than two minutes to play but couldn’t move it and was forced to punt with 30 seconds left – which is when Giovani Bernard stepped into hero status by returning the punt 73 yards for the game-winning score. And if you watched the game – which, me being a junkie, well I watch as many as I can – the way it unfolded was really cool as he made one guy miss and then the Tar Heels blockers made a perfect wall to open up the right sideline. And once Bernard got to the sideline, fans were treated to what a 4.3 or 4.4 really looks like as he turned on the jets and took it to the endzone. A fabulous play, a fabulous game.
Ugly Game of the Week: You know a long time ago, the Colorado Buffaloes had a preacher guy named Bill McCartney coaching them and despite the fact that he led them to national titles, Big-time bowl games and made the program a national power – some fans complained that he talked about God too much and his religious messages were offensive because it was a state school. So they constantly tried to run him out of town and he eventually just retired to take over the Promise Keepers group. Well, I am just wondering after watching some of the Oregon 70, Colorado 14 debacle if even the most atheistic of Colorado fans are longing for the days of listening to sermons about how God blessed the Buffaloes. I mean, my goodness this program has fallen from one of the best to one of the worst and make no mistake, they are awful. Oregon probably got more out of their Green-White Spring game than this nonsense as the Ducks scored on their first eight possessions and led 56-0 before half-time.
Upset of the Week: Washington 20, Oregon State 17. The Huskies are a program at a crossroads and really trying to get back to their glory years and wins like this – and their earlier win over Stanford – show that the Huskies are getting close to breaking through. The team was reeling after losing three games in a row – the sign of a team that is still learning how to win – but put together a really good effort, played great defense and kicked a late field goal to seal the win. The Huskies are 4-4 but with games against California, Utah, Washington State and Colorado left they should definitely go bowling and could finish 8-4.
Team of the Week: People in Kent, Ohio should take their photo with Darrell Hazell and have him sign it because I don’t think he is going to be there much longer. Not after the job he has done in his two years with the program. In fact, Hazell is another one of those guys whose names needs to be in the coach of the year discussion. This weekend Kent knocked off previously undefeated Rutgers, to give the Golden Flashes their first win over a ranked opponent in 23 tries. It is being touted as the biggest win in school history and it was their 6th in a row – which is the longest winning streak since 1940. Kent, which now has to be a serious favorite to win the MAC, jumped to a 21-3 lead and never really was threatened.
Player(s) of the Week: Behind every great man is a woman (or something like that) and likewise, behind every great quarterback there is a great receiver. And that was the case Saturday in Winston-Salem when Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards and five touchdowns and 202 of those yards (another school record) went to receiver Sammy Watkins. The two hooked up for one touchdown and for two plays of 50-yards or more and led Clemson to a 42-13 rout of Wake Forest. And since you can’t have one without the other – they both get the nod as our player of the week.
Key Personnel Issues: The biggest blow is to South Carolina, who lost all-world tailback Marcus Lattimore to a hyperextended knee. I know the prognosis is he may return next year but that is a very, very difficult injury to come back from. Still, from all accounts he is a great kid and has a lot of people rooting for him and I hope it works out. Wisconsin is also trying to replace a key player as quarterback Joel Stave is down for the year with a broken clavicle. Michigan’s news was better as Denard Robinson has an injured elbow but should play this week against Minnesota. Pitt announced that Dan Mason was down for the year with an internal injury and that is a shame because he worked so hard to come back from that dislocated knee. And Iowa State lost its top defender – All Big 12 linebacker Jake Knott – to a season-ending shoulder injury.
Questionable Decision(s) of the Week: I love what Bill O’Brien is doing at Penn State but he is still learning how to be a head coach and that means there will be sometimes where his game day decisions are questionable. And I think in retrospect he would look at two decisions he made in Penn State’s 35-23 loss to Ohio State and wish he had done something different. And that’s not because neither of them worked out - it is because neither of them were sound football decisions. One was a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at the OSU 43 and with the Nittany Lions trailing, 14-10. That was a decision of impatience and smelled of panic but it wasn’t necessary – the PSU defense was playing extremely well, the Lions had field position way in their favor and the right move was to punt and trust the defense would hold the Buckeyes in deep. The risk-reward of going for it didn’t add up as they still needed to go more than 30 yards to score even if they got the first down, which, they didn’t and OSU took possession and drove down the field for what was basically the game-clinching touchdown. The second came later, after Penn State scored a TD to pull to within, 28-16. The easy decision is to kick the extra point to get to within 11 points – which means you can tie with a touchdown, 2-pt and a field goal. But O’Brien went for two and didn’t make it – and that left Penn State with a 12-point deficit which means they still needed two touchdowns. There was no reason to go for two there and frankly in not making it, he sealed the Nittany Lions fate as they weren’t going to score two more touchdowns against OSU’s defense. Obviously the Buckeyes were better than the Nittany Lions and probably would have won the game anyway, but these are the kinds of crucial decisions at crunch time that coaches have to learn through trial and error. I think that’s what Penn State and Pitt and to a lesser degree West Virginia fans are going to have to live with for a year or two – a learning curve until these first-time head coaches really gain experience at managing games and making decisions under fire.
A Nice Touch: O’Brien put the names of the Nittany Lions on the uniforms because he thought the players who stayed deserved to be recognized. Pitt coach Paul Chryst took the opposite approach and left the names off the Panthers uniforms because he wanted them to understand it was team first and individual second. But this week he announced the Panthers would get their names back on their jerseys because they fought back to 4-4 and also because they have been selfless since he arrived and have sacrificed for the good of the team. I know things like this – these little symbolic gestures are mostly meaningless in terms of winning and losing but it is still a nice way to recognize your players and let them know you are paying attention to them.
Here is my weekly Top Ten. As always, I rank teams based on their body of work and what they’ve accomplished and who they have beaten so it has been a little bit different than the Top Ten.
1. Alabama (8-0) – This is a no-brainer and this team is so good that I don’t think t is going to come down to BCS points to get them into the national title game as they seem destined to be 13-0.
2. Notre Dame (8-0) – Look, it hasn’t always been pretty but the Irish have won a lot of games over quality opponents. And that defense is as good as any the SEC has to offer. This is a real team.
3. Kansas State (8-0) – The Wildcats have been as consistently good as anyone and they have beaten some good teams. But the Big 12 is overrated right now and that is going to hurt them in the end.
4. Oregon (8-0) – The Ducks have probably, outside of Alabama, been the most impressive team and have rolled over almost everybody they’ve played. But they have played the weakest schedule thus far of the undefeated – this will change, though, as they have three of four games down the stretch against ranked opponents.
5. Ohio State (9-0) – The Big Ten is bad this year, probably the worst it has been, and the Buckeyes have had some close calls. But they are clearly a team on the rise and once Urban Meyer gets this thing rolling like he wants, they will be a tough for the rest of that conference to deal with. They aren’t eligible for the BCS (or any bowl) and thus aren’t in the BCS top 25 but if the AP can rank them, so can I.
6. Georgia (7-1) – It is hard to differentiate between these SEC teams with one loss but I’ll do the easiest thing – Georgia beat Florida who beat LSU so……
7. Florida (7-1) – Honestly, of the three the Gators still have the best resume but they did just lose to Georgia so here they sit.
8. LSU (7-1) – For all the hype the Tigers have played three ranked opponents and are 2-1 against them. Now, if they win this week against Alabama, well, they go to a whole different category.
9. Florida State (8-1) – The Seminoles, like I wrote, have a little bit of life despite the fact that for some odd reason they sit behind a South Carolina team that has two losses and has been very underwhelming in most weeks. FSU got a huge lift this weekend when NC State lost because it means the Seminoles have the inside track to the ACC title game and that could help them at the end if some things fall their way.
10. Louisville (8-0) – At some point, being one of the last undefeated teams in an automatic qualifying BCS conference has to mean something. The Cardinals resume is very thin as their best two wins are Cincinnati and North Carolina.
Five (actually six) to Watch:
Oregon State (6-1) – The Beavers lost a tough one this week at Washington and there is no shame in that as the Huskies are a tough out at home. The Beavers still have a pretty good resume and some opportunities to bounce back in the next few weeks.
Clemson (7-1) – Yep, the ACC is weak and the Tigers schedule is not very impressive by any measure and they lost the one game against a quality team they played. But if you look at what they have done – they have really pounded most everyone they have played and that’s the sign of a good team.
Texas A&M (6-2) – The Aggies are a work in progress but they continue to improve, their resume isn’t bad and their two losses were by a total of eight points and came at the hands of Florida and LSU. This is a good football team.
Boise State (7-1) – Since losing to Michigan State in a heartbreaker in the opener, the Broncos have won seven in a row and have seemingly gotten stronger each week. There is no question this team could go 11-1 and it would be interesting to see where that would leave them with regards to the BCS.
South Carolina (7-2) and Oklahoma (5-2) – Both of these teams have good computer numbers and both of them have been extremely underwhelming to me. I think they are good teams and it won’t shock me if both finish 10-2 and that would put them back in the top ten but again, I am not sure how good either of them actually is.
And while we are at it let’s pay tribute to the FIVE WORST teams in the six BCS Conferences…..
1. Auburn (1-7) – After getting thumped by Texas A&M (63-21) I don’t think there is any question the Tigers are the worst team of the BCS conferences. They are dreadful and it is hard to believe that Gene Chizik, despite his national title, can survive this mess. This team is an overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe away from being winless.
2. Colorado (1-7) – This is another extremely bad team. The Buffaloes have been outscored 171-37 in their last three games and their lone win was a 35-34 squeaker over Washington State. The Buffaloes are ranked No. 124 in the NCAA Division I-A in points against (46 ppg).
3. Kansas (1-7) – Charlie Weis is so easy to root against because he is so arrogant and this team is awful. But unlike Auburn and Colorado, at least the Jayhawks are competitive in some of their games. Still, they are on a seven-game losing streak and their lone win of the year is a 31-17 win over South Dakota State. That may be a good win in women’s hoops, but not in football.
4. Kentucky (1-8) – Here is the amazing thing about Kentucky – the Wildcats are awful but they actually have a quality win, over Kent State. Beyond that, though, this team has a lot of ugly losses and the Wildcats lost to Western Kentucky and got blown out – 49-7 – by a bad Arkansas team.
5. South Florida (2-6) - Had it not been for a miraculous comeback win over Nevada , the Bulls would be on a 7-game losing streak and while they are seemingly in every game, they are winless in the Big East and that’s not a good thing. And on top of that, the Bulls look like they are the same team they always have been – they take stupid penalties, they beat themselves with mistakes and negative plays.
OK, that’s about it for this week, enjoy the LSU-Alabama game…
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