Sunday, November 12, 2006

Will any legitimate #3 team remaining?

National Title contenders are dropping like the price of candy the day after Halloween. Each week, the media picks a new darling, and each week, that darling fails to represent. For a while, two sports columnists went so far as to have West Virginia ranked #1 in their polls, despite, at the time, the Mountaineers having a schedule ranked as the 104th easiest in the country. When the Mountaineers ran into their first tough competition of the season, they folded like a double helix.

Early on this season, we witnessed #2 Texas losing to Ohio State in week two, #2 Notre Dame losing to Michigan in week three, #2 Auburn losing to unranked Arkansas in week six, and #2 Florida losing to Auburn in week seven. Since that point, the #1 and #2 ranks have been relatively secure, with Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan holding out for the upcoming Armageddon/Game of the CenturyTM.

Since then, it's been #3 and below that has had trouble holding on. In week nine, #3 USC lost to unranked Oregon State. In week ten, newly appointed heir to the throne, West Virginia, couldn't hold on against upstart Louisville. Louisville held on the title of next-in-line for a total of one week, losing to Rutgers on Thursday night, a prelude to the BCS shakeup that occurred last night. In the past week, the following occured:

#3 Louisville lost to #15 Rutgers 28-25
#4 Texas lost to unranked Kansas State 45-42
#5 Auburn was blown out by unranked Georgia 37-15
#8 California lost to unranked Arizona 24-20

and #6 Florida needed to come up with a blocked field goal attempt with eight seconds left to pull out a 17-16 victory from the jaws of defeat over unranked South Carolina.

So, who's left...

#6 Florida is now 9-1, but after barely eaking out the victory over South Carolina, do they deserve to move up to #3. Florida has a clear path to the SEC championship game, and should make a decent case to appear in the national title game with a 12-1 record and an SEC championship.

#7 USC looked impressive in their win over upstart Oregon, two weeks after losing to Oregon State. They now face California and Notre Dame in their next two weeks to wrap up their schedule. USC is 8-1, and should also make a strong case for a national title appearance if they can pull out wins over Cal and Notre Dame. USC has looked pedestrian at times this season, but seems to be putting things together since the big upset.

#9 Notre Dame - Besides the 47-21 blowout loss against Michigan, Notre Dame has held their own. Mind you, their schedule hasn't really been much to brag about since the amazing come-from-behind win against Michigan State. Notre Dame's lone tough remaining match is in two weeks against USC.

#11 Arkansas - After an opening week 50-14 blowout loss against USC, Arkansas continues to roll, with another impressive 31-14 win over #13 Tennessee. If it wasn't for preseason rankings and long-standing biases, Arkansas would've been ranked a lot higher by now. It's hard to understand why Auburn was #5, while a one-loss Arkansas was #11 after winning the head-to-head matchup.

#14 Boise State - Entering long-shot territory. Boise State does not play a ranked opponent this season. At 9-0, they deserve a BCS game, but do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the national title game until they pick up some ranked non-conference opponents. If they win out, they guarantee themselves a spot in a BCS matchup after last night's big shakeup.

#15 Rutgers - Rutgers is the most complete team I've seen this season outside of Michigan/Ohio State, and they are completely underrated. If teams were not judged by preseason rankings and long-standing biases, Rutgers would definitely be in the top ten by now. On Thursday, Rutgers demonstrated how for ahead they are of the rest of the Big East, with a dominating second half defensive performance. Defense wins championships, and after falling behind 25-7 to Louisville, the Rutgers defense pitched a shutout, and allowed the offense to continue grinding out enough points for the eventual victory. Ray Rice seems to be almost a clone of Michael Hart, and the speedy, but undersized, Scarlet Knights defensive front should present a unique challenge to any team. I'd keep Rutgers out of the top 5 for now, but if they pull out a win against the Mountaineers, I think the Scarlet Knights should deserve serious consideration for a national championship appearance.

If it was up to me, the new rankings would look like this:

#1. Ohio State (11-0)
#2. Michigan (11-0)
#3. Florida (9-1)
#4. Arkansas (9-1)
#5. Rutgers (9-0)
#6. USC (8-1)
#7. Notre Dame (9-1)
#8. LSU (8-2)
#9. Boise State (10-0)

If either Florida or Arkansas runs the table to the SEC championship, they should have be given the most consideration for a national title bid. Yesterday's mess improves the chances of a Ohio State/Michigan rematch for the national title if Armageddon is close. If it was up to me, I'd say Flordia, Arkansas, Rutgers, USC, and Notre Dame all still have a shot of making the national championship game, but we'll have to wait and see what the media decides.