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Archive for October, 2007

Fourth and inches …

Was it really upset weekend, or does South Florida really have a shot at the national championship game? Let’s face it, there’s greater parity in college football than ever before. Skills are being learned and talent is being developed at an earlier age across the U.S. than in the past. And there’s only a total of 10,115 Division I-A scholarships available each year. That means there are some pretty good football players walking on and playing without scholarships around the country at the school of their choice, as well as others who opt to compete at the D-IAA level or below.

If you scan the NFL rosters, it’s an eye-opener regarding how many pros come from outside the D-IA level. Take the Dallas Cowboys, for instance. They have 10 players from outside the D-IA ranks, including QB Tony Romo, who is a product of D-IAA Eastern Illinois.

Out of 32 NFL team rosters (including their injured reserve lists), there are 199 players who did not come from a Division I-A program. That’s an average of 6.2 players per team. The Chiefs had the most with 12, and the Rams had the fewest with three.

Since the NFL rosters have an average of 10 to 11 percent of their players who didn’t even play at the D-IA level of competition, you have to ask yourself if that is evidence of more parity at the highest level of college football. If there are that many good football players outside of D-IA ball, doesn’t it stand to reason that there must be a pretty good base of talent spread throughout all 119 D-IA programs?

►Do you think the Big Ten and Pac-10 would like to call it a season right now? Their teams occupy four of the five top spots in the polls this week. I’m sure the Rose Bowl Game officials would be elated if they knew they could pit Cal against Ohio State or Wisconsin in the “Granddaddy” on Jan. 1.

►Heisman hopefuls … Kentucky QB Andre Woodson maintains his number one spot and he could ice it away with three straight Heisman-caliber performances against South Carolina, LSU and Florida … Darren McFadden remains steady but needs big-game attention to shine brighter … Cal’s DeSean Jackson moves up to a solid No. 3 with his great effort against Oregon last week. Rounding out my top five are Michigan’s Mike Hart and BC’s Matt Ryan.

►Worth reading … If you’re a college football junkie, then you’ve got to make Stewart Mandel’s College Football Mailbag on SI.com a part of your regular weekly reading. He’s got a keen football mind and is always interesting. This week, he comes up with three classifications for what would normally be termed “upsets:” Level 1–Stunners, Level 2–Surprises, and Level 3–Weird Ones. He also has a great idea for dealing with highly paid coaches who haven’t delivered on their promises. I think I have a better idea than the Celebrity Crush, though …


►How many Colts does it take to toss nine interceptions in one day? The answer is two. Hawaii’s Colt Brennan surrendered the ball five times to the Idaho Vandals last Saturday and Colt McCoy of Texas coughed up four picks to Kansas State later the same day.

►Top Graduation rates?… Is it any wonder the top graduation rates in Division I-A belong to Navy, Air Force, Northwestern, Duke, Stanford, and Notre Dame? All six programs were above 92 percent.

►Worst Graduation rates?… The two worst graduation rates belong to Arizona and Georgia (41%), closely followed by Texas (42%), Michigan State (43%) and Oklahoma (44%). Ouch.

►Fifteen teams still undefeated … down from 23 last week … The only undefeated teams going head-to-head this week are Ohio State and Purdue …

►Is it really possible that either Oklahoma or Texas will be knocked out of the Big 12 title race by this Saturday? The loser will be two games back in the loss column with only six conference games remaining after this weekend.

►Florida leading Texas … for most players arrested in a 12-month period. Gator safety Tony Joiner was arrested a couple nights ago and charged with a felony. Although it will most likely be reduced to a misdemeanor trespassing charge, Joiner is the eighth Florida player arrested in the past seven months, giving the Gators a two-arrest lead over the Texas Longhorns, who have achieved six arrests since June.

►Potential BCS Busters … Hawaii lucked out with last week’s upsets and moved up three slots in the AP poll to No. 16, despite playing WAC bottom feeder Idaho. Their star QB blew his slim chance at nabbing the Heisman Trophy when he threw five INTs against the Vandals. The Warriors cannot afford to lose one game this year with the Twinkie schedule they are playing.

►As if Irish fans needed to be reminded … Notre Dame lost its seventh game in a row dating back to last season. The Irish are now 0-5 this year and still have UCLA, Boston College and USC coming up, beginning this weekend.

►Quick Snap Question … presented by the 83rd East-West Shrine Game, Jan. 19, 2008 in Houston, on ESPN2:

What college football programs have received the NCAA’s “death penalty” since 1965?

Be quick and be correct. The first email received with the correct answer wins you a limited edition two-card set of 2007 Rose Bowl Game trading cards. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

►Best Games of the Week … Kentucky Wildcats at South Carolina Gamecocks … Kansas Jayhawks at Kansas State Wildcats … Wisconsin Badgers at Illinois Fighting Illini … TCU Horned Frogs at Wyoming Cowboys … Oklahoma Sooners versus Texas Longhorns … Georgia Bulldogs at Tennessee Volunteers … Virginia Tech Hokies at Clemson Tigers … Ohio State Buckeyes at Purdue Boilermakers … Florida Gators at LSU Tigers … Cincinnati Bearcats at Rutgers Scarlet Knights … Nebraska Cornhuskers at Missouri Tigers …

►Upset Specials of the Week … Last week (3-0, season 10-9) … Illinois Fighting Illini over Wisconsin Badgers … Purdue Boilermakers over Ohio State Buckeyes … Wyoming Cowboys over TCU Horned Frogs …

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

Upset weekend brought seismic action to the AP poll for Week 6. LSU leapfrogged over USC to the Numero Uno spot, and now holds a razor-thin 2-point lead. Cal moved up three notches to #3. Ohio State followed suit and jumped four to #4, with Wisconsin right behind, up four to #5. Biggest gainers were South Florida (plus 12) and Kentucky (plus 6) with the biggest drops felt by Texas (minus -12), Rutgers (minus -11), West Virginia (minus -8) and Oklahoma (minus -7). Kansas State joins the AP poll this week for first time this season.

NO. 1 LSU TIGERS (5-0). The Tiger offense was obviously looking past Tulane last week to the upcoming SEC war with Florida, but it didn’t matter. The LSU defense clamped down on the Green Wave until the struggling offense could get untracked, and Les Miles’ team pulled away in the second half, 34-9. LSU now leads the nation in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense and total defense. The fact that they haven’t truly been tested could be a negative factor when the Gators come to town, but the noise and the general menace of a Baton Rouge Saturday night should be a counterweight. One disturbing stat from the Tulane game: LSU QB Matt Flynn was sacked six times.

NO. 2 USC TROJANS (4-0). The men of Troy looked very beatable in Seattle last weekend; hence, their fall to #2. Don’t think for one Washington minute that the Huskies are anything like what we’ve seen of them the past couple years. They are a much improved team and tough to beat in their own crib. Ask Boise State, if you don’t believe us. The Trojans suffered several injuries in the game, but they get Stanford at home this week. Nothing like hosting the Cardinal when you really need a bye week to heal up those wounds. There’s a good chance you’ll see USC back on top again next week, but that will depend solely on the Gators pulling off an upset in Baton Rouge.

NO. 3 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (5-0). The Bears’ game at Oregon last week lived up to all they hype and came down to one big play at the end to preserve a road win. With 22 seconds remaining. defensive back Marcus Ezeff laid the wood to Duck receiver Cameron Colvin at the 1-yard line, knocking the ball into the end zone for a game-winning touchback. Heisman candidate DeSean Jackson got back on track and had a huge game with 11 receptions good for 161 yards and 2 scores. It was the first time Cal had won at Autzen Stadium since 1987. The Bears will entertain Oregon State at home this weekend.

NO. 4 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (5-0). The Buckeyes rolled over the hapless Minnesota Golden Gophers 30-7 in Minneapolis last weekend, and benefited from the upset weekend to jump up four spots. Quite frankly, it’s really difficult to imagine Ohio State being ranked this high this early in the season, considering the smack-down they suffered against Florida last January. They’ve only impressed us once this season and that was an impressive win at Washington. Playing on the road at undefeated Purdue this weekend will provide a better test to the Bucks’ claim to #4.

NO. 5 WISCONSIN BADGERS (5-0). We said last week that the Badgers didn’t look deserving of a Top 10 ranking and yet they held off a feisty Michigan State squad and moved up four slots. Nobody expected Wisconsin to beat the Spartans if they gave up 34 points, but *Voila* and Bielema’s Boys managed to conjur up 37 points. The Badgers’ rivalry with Illinois will be at a fever pitch in Champaign-Urbana this weekend since all of a sudden the Fighting Illini are a factor, and perhaps even a contender for the Big Ten title. PJ Hill will need to rush for at least 120 yards for the Badgers to win this game.

NO. 6 SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (4-0). The Bulls’ meteoric rise this season is reminiscent of one of the memorable lines from the classic film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Pursued by a mysterious posse, Sundance keeps wondering: “Who are those guys?” To which Butch replies: “I don’t know, but they’re very good.” Now, though, after consecutive victories against Auburn and West Virginia, the word has gotten around, and Jim Leavitt’s team won’t be sneaking up on anybody the rest of the season, starting with Florida Atlantic this Saturday.

NO. 7 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (5-0). The Boston College Eagles just keep winning – which is more than all but a handful of other Division 1-A teams can say. This week, the Eagles host Bowling Green, a final oasis before what could be a rough stretch drive – Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson and Miami. Sure, Notre Dame is awful, but the Irish undoubtedly remember all the times BC has ruined their season, and would love to reciprocate. Bowling Green shouldn’t be much of a problem, although the Eagles have shown a tendency (one coaches hate) of playing either up or down to their opposition. Through it all, though, Matt Ryan is emerging as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.

NO. 8 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (5-0). You may want to read that again, just for the novelty effect. Kentucky, No. 8? Yup. The SEC should start to sort itself out on Thursday night, however, when the Wildcats travel to 4-1 South Carolina. Both teams may be for real, but one will emerge as more real than the other. It could well be Kentucky, whose QB, Andre Woodson, is already getting lots of Heisman love.

NO. 9 FLORIDA GATORS (4-1). Quarterback Tim Tebow does it all for Urban Meyer’s Florida team – and last week against Auburn, that was part of the problem. Auburn kept Tebow at least partially under wraps, produced just enough offense to hang around and beat the Gators in their beloved swamp, 20-17, on a last-second field goal from Wes Byrum. This week, it’s LSU in Baton Rouge. “I think there is a lot that guys are going to take as motivation,” Tebow said to reporters. The Tigers, who lost to Florida last season, have some motivation of their own.

NO. 10 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (4-1). “Yawn.” That’s what we said about the prospects of Oklahoma being challenged by 23-point underdog Colorado last weekend in Boulder. Boy, were we wrong. The Buffs finally showed some signs of life in their program with the upset win. As for the Sooners, they have no time to mourn their loss. They play Texas in the Red River Shootout this weekend in Dallas and both teams are ornery and desperate to win. A loss will put either the Sooners or the Longhorns two games back in the loss column with only six conference games remaining.

NO. 11 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (4-1). South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is 14-0 lifetime coaching against Kentucky, and seems as amazed as anyone else that a game between these two perennial SEC bottom-feeders could the second most-watched conference match-up on the schedule this week. It used to be, Spurrier mused, that when UK and USC met, “somebody won, somebody lost, somebody was still in position to win six games and maybe go to a bowl.” Now, a BCS bowl is a least an outside possibility for the winner, especially given the spark provided recently by Gamecock QB Chris Smelley. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Smelley Stinks” T-shirts aren’t already being cranked out in Lexington.

NO. 12 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (4-1). Georgia RB Thomas Brown, who was all but written off for this season after a severe 2006 knee injury, dashed and plowed for 180-yards and three touchdowns last Saturday in a 45-17 victory over Mississippi. The Dawgs may have had their minds elsewhere during a 17-17 first half (like in Knoxville, where they’ll face Tennessee this week), but then simply bulldozed the Rebels for four straight second-half touchdowns. Tennessee is probably better than it’s demonstrated to date – and Rocky Top, as the name implies, is no picnic.

NO. 13 WEST VIRGINIA (4-1). A couple of Heisman campaigns may have gone up in smoke down in Tampa last week – West Virginia QB Pat White got hurt and RB Steve Slaton rushed for just 54 yards and fumbled twice. Overall, the Mountaineers lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions in a 21-13 loss to South Florida. This week, WVU gets to feast on Syracuse – and since the Orange upset Louisville a couple of weeks ago, the Mountaineers probably won’t be taking them lightly.

NO. 14 OREGON DUCKS (4-1). This is one tough Duck team this year and they would have beaten Cal were it not for their turnovers in the second half. It will be very interesting to see how they handle visiting USC in three weeks, but lest we get ahead of ourselves, the Ducks get to lick their wounds with a bye this Saturday and then welcome Washington State next weekend. The Cougars are beginning to look like one of the two weakest teams in the Pac-10 and shouldn’t present much of a challenge for the big O. The Ducks still have a chance to win the conference but they need to regroup and guard against a letdown.

NO. 15 VIRGINIA TECH (4-1). This Saturday – a game at Clemson — could determine whether Virginia Tech is a legitimate ACC title contender. The Tigers look uncomfortably like another group of Tigers – LSU – on offense, and Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, while talented, is still just a true freshman. A Hokie victory here could give Frank Beamer’s team all the confidence it needs.

NO. 16 HAWAII WARRIORS (5-0). Hawaii moved up three slots from last week and not because of themselves. They can thank the upset committee that arranged for some of the big dogs ahead of them to take a tumble. Colt Brennan appeared on the cover of ESPN magazine this week and promptly tossed 5 Picks (yes, you read that correctly, 5 Picks) to one of the WAC’s lowliest teams, the Idaho Vandals. Those 5 INTs wrote him right out of the dark horse role in the Heisman race script. The Warriors get to munch and crunch on an even worse WAC team this week, the Utah State Aggies.

NO. 17 MISSOURI TIGERS (5-0). The Tigers had the week off at just the right time in preparation for a must-win game with Nebraska. It’s a must-win because the Tigers are about as loaded with talent and experience as they’ll ever be, and they have home field advantage to boot, not to mention the extra week of healing and game planning that came with last weekend’s bye on the schedule. If they can’t knock off the Cornhuskers this week, it probably ain’t ever gonna happen.

NO. 18 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (5-0). The Sun Devils went on the road to Palo Alto and throttled Jimmy Harbaugh’s Cardinal, 41-3 behind stellar performances from WR Rudy Burgess (7 grabs, 137 yards, 1 TD) as well as RBs Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring (combined 186 yards on 24 carries with a score by Herring). Word has it that the victory was dedicated to a Super Fan and his birthday Bride who had ventured in for the game from the Central Valley. Stanford averaged 28 ppg in three previous games against UCLA, San Jose State and Oregon, so this #6 ranked Sun Devil defense just might be for real. They’ll be on the road this weekend at Washington State, which is always a tough Pac-10 road game, no matter how bad the Cougars might appear to be.

NO. 19 TEXAS LONGHORNS (4-1). Boy, were we wrong on the Longhorns last week. We said that K-State fans would be in for a long day of payback from Texas, but this game wasn’t even close, thanks to four Colt McCoy interceptions. The Wildcats led 24-14 at the half, and just piled it on in the last two quarters to thrash Texas with their worst home defeat in the Mack Brown era, 41-21. QB Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game with a mild concussion and now UT gets to try and recover in time for the Red River Shootout with Oklahoma this weekend. Look for Texas to absorb a second consecutive loss.

NO. 20 CINCINNATI BEARCATS (5-0). The Bearcats appear to be this year’s Wake Forest – complete with a former Wake Forest quarterback, Ben Mauk, who threw four second-half touchdown passes in a 52-23 rout of San Diego State. The knock on Cincinnati is that it hasn’t played anybody yet, but it will this Saturday – No. 21 Rutgers.

NO. 21 RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (3-1). The Scarlet Knights tumbled 11 spots in the Top 25 with their loss to Maryland last Saturday, nearly sliding out of the rankings altogether. They hope to begin their climb back up the ladder by beating the team one rung above them, Cincinnati, on Saturday. Rutgers will be home, and Greg Schiano’s team remembers that the Bearcats handed them their first loss last season, 30-11.

NO. 22 CLEMSON TIGERS (4-1). Clemson’s high-octane offense turned into biodiesel last week against Georgia Tech, as the Tigers struggled through a 13-3 nightmare. Tech’s Tashard Choice looked like LaDainian Tomlinson against the Clemson defense, which might have Brenden Ore of Virginia Tech – this week’s opponent – salivating. On the other hand, this Death Valley – like the one at LSU – is an exceedingly tough place to play.

NO. 23 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (5-0). Purdue enjoyed adding to Notre Dame’s dismal season last week with a 33-19 win, but this team still is a big question mark in many pollsters’ minds. All of that will be settled this weekend when #4 Ohio State comes to town. A Boilermaker win will set them up as the favorite to win the Big Ten Conference because they don’t have Wisconsin on their schedule this year. Look for defensive coordinator Brock Spack to have some tricks up his sleeve on Saturday to trip up the Buckeyes.

NO. 24 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (3-1). Despite hooking the ‘Horns last week, it seems a bit too early for the Wildcats to appear in the Top 25. They lost on the road to Auburn and knocked off San Jose State and D-1AA Missouri State. Kansas State will host archrival and currently undefeated Kansas this week. It’s for state pride and respect outside the Big 12. Thanks to a fairly easy schedule so far, the Jayhawks have had the same problem getting the respect they feel they deserve, so look for this to be one heckuva fight with the ‘Cats coming out on top in their own lair.

NO. 25 NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (4-1). The Huskers should have moved up several slots in the poll after defeating Iowa State 35-17 and coupled with all the upsets last weekend. That goes to show you what everyone’s thinking about this team–it could be the last we see of Nebraska for a while if they lose to Missouri on Saturday. Their conference schedule does not get any easier after seeing the pain K-State and Colorado inflicted on the Big 12’s upper crust.

ON THE BUBBLE: Florida State, Miami, Illinois, Auburn, UCLA, Texas A&M, Michigan State, Michigan, Connecticut, Alabama.

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

For the second week in a row, the AP Top 25 was severely shaken by upsets, with none more disturbing than USC’s loss to Stanford. Wisconsin’s defeat at Illinois dropped the Badgers 14 spots and ushered the Illini back into the AP poll for the first time in seven years. Biggest gainers this week include Kansas (plus 20), Tennessee (from Not rated to #25), and West Virginia and Oregon both moved up 5 spots. Biggest drops besides Wisconsin were Georgia (minus 12), Kentucky (minus 9), and USC (minus 8).

NO. 1 LSU TIGERS (6-0). Les Miles rolled the dice, his team rolled on the ground, and the Tigers barely kept their claws dug into the No. 1 spot, beating defending national champion Florida, 28-24 on a late touchdown by Jacob Hester. LSU converted five fourth down plays and a fake field goal before a record crowd in Baton Rouge, but still needed Jacob Hester’s short touchdown run inside the three-minute mark to hang on. Hester had his first 100-yard rushing game for the Tigers, who next travel to No. 17 Kentucky.

NO. 2 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (5-0). Cal had the week off and enjoyed another bump upstairs, thanks to cross-town rival Stanford’s upset of Pac-10 foe USC. The Golden Bears have not been ranked this high since 1951 and signs are popping up on campus that read “New Orleans or Bust.” The perfect recipe coming off a bye week is a home game against a middle of the road conference opponent, and that’s just what Cal will be served with the Oregon State Beavers coming to Berkeley on Saturday. Cal blew the Beavers (3-3) away in Corvallis last year, 41-13. Expect more of the same in front of a frenzied fan base this week with speedster DeSean Jackson leading the charge.

NO. 3 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (6-0). The Buckeyes notched their second statement win of the season last week with the thorough dissection of Purdue’s offense, 23-7. The Boilermakers’ only score came in the last minutes of the game, long after they had been rendered helpless. While Ohio State’s offense doesn’t have comparable weapons to last year’s Heisman-winning version, they are getting the job done and letting a much improved defense dominate their opponents. The Bucks get a breather this week, hosting Kent State. The rest of the schedule is shaping up to be a very good test of the Silver and Red’s path to the national championship. Five successive conference games against the Big Ten’s current upper crust: Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan.

NO. 4 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (6-0). Like a race driver adept at avoiding pileups, Boston College continues to steer upward around the wreckage of former Top Five teams. Matt Ryan threw four TD passes (doesn’t he do that every week?) in a 55-24 rout of Bowling Green, setting up an intriguing matchup at Notre Dame on Saturday. If you’ll recall, Boston College has made a tradition out of ambushing higher-ranked Irish teams, and the Golden Domers would love some payback.

NO. 5 SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (5-0). This is the No. 5 team in the nation? For now, it is. The Bulls didn’t exactly cruise against Florida Atlantic, winning 35-23, but they found a new offensive weapon in running back Benjamin Williams — built more like a sheep than a Bull at 5-7, 190 pounds. With leading rushers Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor out, Williams bolted for 186 yards and four touchdowns while QB Matt Grothe added 120 yards on the ground as the Bulls set aside a sputtering passing game and ran FAU ragged. This week, they host Central Florida.

NO. 6 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (5-1). The Sooners won the Red River Shootout over Texas for the first time in three years and with USC’s unexpected tumble, they were rewarded with an immediate 4-step gain up the national title chase ladder. Freshman QB Sam Bradford went 21-32 for 244 yards and 3 TDs against the Longhorns, and he is clearly the key to Oklahoma’s success. Witness their only loss to Colorado two weeks ago when he was 8 for 19, 112 yards and 2 picks. Undefeated and #11 ranked Big 12 foe Missouri visits this weekend and they will provide the Sooners with their toughest test of the season. Oklahoma is lucky this game isn’t on the road.

NO. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (5-1). The defense bailed Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks out in a key (who’d have thought it?) matchup with Kentucky. Sophomore defensive end Eric Norwood returned two fumbles for touchdowns, redshirt freshman QB Chris Smelley (who is blossoming into a Spurrier-style passer) provided just enough offense to win, and the Gamecocks moved up into rarefied poll territory. That shouldn’t change after a trip to North Carolina this weekend, although the Tar Heel appear to be making progress under Butch Davis.

NO. 8 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (5-1). Syracuse held West Virginia RB Steve Slaton under 100 yards and knocked QB Pat White out of the game last Saturday, and still lost 55-14. Fullback Owen Schmitt provided the offense with a couple of touchdowns, WVU’s defense held the Orange to five (that’s right–5) pass completions, and the Mountaineers stayed close to the top of the pack in the Big East. White, who hurt his shoulder, will have a bye week to heal and is expected to be ready for Mississippi State.

NO. 9 OREGON DUCKS (4-1). The Ducks had a much-needed week off following their disappointing loss at home to Cal two weeks ago. They will entertain Washington State this week and it should be a good tune-up for getting back into the conference race. With USC’s loss to Stanford, anything can happen in the Pac-10. Oregon will get to host the Trojans in three weeks. Fans are even talking BCS, seeing that their green and yellow troops are situated within the Top 10 at this point in the season. We advise caution in looking ahead, as the Cougars gave Oregon a tough battle last week and they are dangerous when cornered…and boy, are they cornered right now (2-4 record, 0-3 in Pac-10). They beat the Ducks soundly last October, 34-23, so beware.

NO. 10 USC TROJANS (4-1). Last week’s shocking loss to Stanford in front of a SRO Los Angeles Coliseum crowd will either shake this sleeping giant out of its doldrums or lead to the demise of its Pac-10 stranglehold. USC couldn’t ask for a better antidote to their problems than Mike Stoops and his bumbling 2-4 Arizona Wildcat team coming to LA this week. If Pete Carroll is smart, he’ll keep his Booty on the bench and play the Mark Sanchez card this week. Booty intends to play with a broken middle finger, claiming it didn’t bother him against the Cardinal last week. Yeah, right. Much has been made of USC’s ability to remain in the Top 10 of both major polls following the Stanford collapse. This week’s game with new look Air-i-zona will do much for settling pollsters’ minds where the Trojans really belong. Anything short of demolishing the Wildcats should bring about a drop in the polls next week.

NO. 11 MISSOURI TIGERS (5-0). If you couldn’t see the storm clouds gathering East of Nebraska before last week’s game, then you had your blinders on. This Tiger team is the best version assembled in the past 25 years and they are loaded with experience and confidence. There was no way the Cornhuskers were going to invade Columbia last week and escape with yet another win, and the Tigers made that certain from the start on their way to a 41-6 thrashing of Big Red. QB Chase Daniel was 33-47 for a career high 401 yards and 2 TDs. He added another 72 yards on the ground good for two more TDs. Nebraska came into the game averaging 36 points, and Mizzou held them without a touchdown for the first time in nearly three years. This week’s clash at Oklahoma will be the true test of where this Tiger team is headed this year. Will it be a BCS game, or a second-tier bowl? Lest you think playing on the road bothers these cats, Missouri has already won twice this year in hostile environments (Illinois and Mississippi).

NO. 12 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (5-1). The Hokies’ passing game sputtered against Clemson last Saturday and the running game was off and on. No problem: There’s always Beamerball. Macho Harris hauled a kickoff back 100 yards for one touchdown, Eddie Royal returned a punt 82 yards for another, and D.J. Parker scored on a 32-yard interception return. That’s why they call them “special teams.” Frank Beamer’s team travels to Duke this weekend, a traditional “W.”

NO. 13 FLORIDA GATORS (4-2). Florida coach Urban Meyer gave his best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation after a 28-24 loss LSU last Saturday, telling reporters: “The Gators will be back, smoking.” He must have wondered what Tiger counterpart Les Miles was smoking during the game, but a series of fourth-down gambles and a fake punt helped kill Florida’s hopes of repeating as national champions. Tim Tebow played well again, although the young Gator secondary continues to experience some growing pains. The Gators now have a bye week to lick their wounds…(do gators lick?).

NO. 14 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (6-0). The biggest question arising out of this week’s AP Top 25 poll is: “How in the world did this undefeated Sun Devil team not leapfrog over USC after they throttled the Cardinal in Palo Alto 41-3 the previous week and the Trojans choked at home last week?” It boggles the college football fan’s mind. Anyway, while the Trojans were getting their butts kicked by Jim Harbaugh’s boys, ASU did have a struggle of their own on the road in Pullman, barely eeking out a 23-20 win. Don’t let that score fool you, though. Despite sporting a losing record, Washington State has been one of the toughest road games in the Pac-10 for years. Rare is the day when opponents ride into town and wallop the Cougars, so a win is a win and a good one at that. The ‘Devils get Washington at home this week and it could be one of the best games of the week. Ty Willingham’s Huskies are giving opponents fits this year. It won’t be easy, but you gotta like ASU on their home turf.

NO. 15 CINCINNATI BEARCATS (6-0). The hospitable folks in East Rutherford, NJ were hollering “Overrated!” at the Bearcats when Rutgers took a 17-7 halftime lead last Saturday, but in the end, that label seemed more appropriate for the home team. Heisman hopeful Ray Rice failed to gain 100 yards, Scarlet Knight QB Mike Teel had his worst game of the season, and Ben Mauk rallied UC from behind to a 28-23 victory. This week: An interesting matchup with Louisville at home.

NO. 16 HAWAII WARRIORS (6-0). The pollsters got this one right last week, refusing to move Hawaii up the chart after they struggled at home against a hapless Utah State squad, 52-37. Island Poster Boy Colt Brennan got hurt again, and backup QB Tyler Graunke promptly proved June Jones’ system works no matter who’s at the helm by going 9 for 11, 246 yards (22.4 yards per attempt!) and 3 TDs. Hawaii returns to the mainland this week for a Friday night game against San Jose State. Last year, the Warriors devastated Dick Tomey’s team, 54-17. Expect more of the same bloodletting, as the Spartans are a shell of what they were 12 months ago.

NO. 17 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (5-1). Let’s hope UK fans enjoyed the first half of the season. The next two weeks, their heroes host LSU and Florida. QB Andre Woodson and RB Rafael Little can move the chains with anybody, but the Wildcat defense needs to step up. End of story.

NO. 18 ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI (5-1). We’ve been hearing about it for a few years now that Ron Zook is working miracles in Champaign-Urbana, but now we have proof. Barring their nail biting, season opening loss to #11 Missouri, Illinois could easily be in the Top 10 right now. These kids are for real. Last week’s gritty win over a battle-tested Badger clan is just the stepping stone the Orange and Blue needed to plough into the final half of the season. Looking ahead, after this week’s road game at Iowa, the Illini will host Michigan next week and face Ohio State on the road Nov. 3. It could be a miracle season in the making.

NO. 19 WISCONSIN BADGERS (5-1). Where do the Badgers go from here? There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in their Big Ten conference schedule with a loss this early in the season. Wisconsin heads to dangerous territory this week to take on Penn State in Happy Valley, and a loss would squelch any talk of a Big Ten title, especially with back-to-back games coming up in the next month with Ohio State (in Columbus) and Michigan. The loss to Illinois was devastating–unless Brett Bielema can rally and regroup the team for a furious charge through the last six weeks of the season.

NO. 20 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (5-0). Quick, take a look at where these Jayhawks are sitting. Not many prognosticators gave them a chance on the road against instate rival K-State last week but they managed to pull off the win, 30-24. QB Todd Reesing gained 267 yards through the air, good for 3 TDs; just as important, his teammates survived his three picks. He’ll need to sharpen up his game from here on out. Kansas should remain in the poll thru next week after hosting Baylor this Saturday. After that, their conference schedule hits treacherous turf with back-to-back road games at Colorado and Texas A&M.

NO. 21 FLORIDA STATE (5-1). The tomahawk chop is back, along with the nasty Seminole defense. In disposing of N.C. State 27-10 last Saturday, FSU created four turnovers and notched six sacks. Meanwhile, coach Bobby Bowden has apparently grown tired of waiting for QB Drew Weatherford to turn into a star and gone with the more mobile Xavier Lee, instead. This week: At Wake Forest.

NO. 22 AUBURN TIGERS (4-2). Like extra sugar dumped into southern sweet tea, the SEC — Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee – has sunk to the bottom of the Top 25 this week. There is reason to hope for Tiger fans, though, especially the play of RB Brad Lester. Coming off a lengthy probation, Lester rushed for 77 yards in an easy victory over Vanderbilt and now gives Auburn three good backs — Lester, Ben Tate and Mario Fannin — to soften up opposing defenses for QB Brandon Cox. Auburn has won three straight, including a last-second upset of Florida, but will be tested at Arkansas this Saturday.

NO. 23 TEXAS LONGHORNS (4-2). It’s been years since the Longhorns were in a position of fighting for their lives just to get into the Big 12 title game. Following last week’s loss to Oklahoma, Texas is now two games back in the loss column to archrival Texas A&M, and to make matters worse, the sophomore jinx has hit Colt McCoy smack-dab between the eyes. And guess who the home team is for that season finale against the Aggies? Gulp. Yep. The Aggies. Well, strap on your boots and get back to business, boys. If you let your current situation get you down, Iowa State might just pull off the unthinkable in Ames this weekend and knock you clear outta the Top 25.

NO. 24 GEORGIA BULLDOGS (4-2). Mark Richt’s club ran into a chainsaw up at Rocky Top last Saturday, taking it on the chin from Tennessee, 35-14. “Our goal now is to beat Vanderbilt,” said Richt after watching his Bulldogs surrender 411 yards of real estate and prove unable to turn off the UT running game. QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno still fuel a potentially explosive offense, however.

NO. 25 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (3-2). A lot of “Also Receiving Votes” teams were no doubt grumbling about Tennessee’s ascension into the national ranking — albeit as the caboose — but Philip Fulmer’s club definitely looked like a Top 25 pick in decimating Georgia, 35-14. Just three weeks after absorbing a 59-20 pounding from Florida, the Vols are tied for first (with two other teams) in the SEC East. This week’s game with Mississippi State will be no walk in the swamp, however — MSU is 4-2 (including an upset of Auburn) and has decided that it likes winning too much to give it up easily.

ON THE BUBBLE: Texas A&M, Colorado, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Texas Tech, Rutgers, Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas State.

Fourth and inches …

It’s really tempting to not make Stanford’s upset of USC the lead this week … because the way this season is going, we’ll probably witness several more shockwaves in college football during the next seven weeks … Besides, it’s not like the Trojans were knocked out of the polls, or truly hurt by their loss.  They are still ranked in the Top 10 in both polls and in prime position to move up and play for the national title this season with #2 Cal, #9 Oregon, and #14 ASU on their schedule.

What the polls are telling us … Every national sports talk show had their phone lines crammed this week with confused and angry fans wondering why USC didn’t fall harder in the polls after losing at home to Stanford, while #5 Wisconsin tumbled 14 spots after a close loss on the road to a very good Illinois team.  For that matter, why is an undefeated ASU squad still ranked behind the Trojans when they went to Palo Alto and kicked Stanford all over the stadium, 41-3?

It’s all about perception of each program’s strength.  Pollsters look at the USC loss as an aberration, whereas the Wisconsin loss wasn’t happenstance.  Even if USC were to lose again, you wouldn’t see them fall out of the Top 25.  Certainly not with a host of two-loss teams like Florida, Auburn, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee currently holding poll positions.  It would probably take four losses to knock the Trojans out of the polls altogether.

Prediction: Look for USC backup QB Mark Sanchez to play well in place of the injured John David Booty this week.  So well, that you’d question replacing him when Booty is healed … but there’s no way Pete Carroll would replace Booty for the rest of the season, even if the Trojans lose again.

Heisman hopefuls … Kentucky QB Andre Woodson falls out of the top slot in my book to #3.  He has two big games against LSU and Florida this week and next to make his case.  Shooting to the top this week is Mike Hart.  He is carrying the Wolverines on his back right now and if he keeps it up, it would be difficult to deny him the statue.  Arkansas’ Darren McFadden holds at #2, with Cal’s DeSean Jackson at #4 BC’s Matt Ryan at #5.

Franchione on his way out at A&M? … News reports are indicating he violated his contract by not reporting the additional income he was making from booster subscriptions to his insider newsletter.  The cost for each subscription was $1,200, and the school is reporting that Franchione netted over $37,000 from the side business.  It’s impossible to imagine A&M keeping DF on board after this year.

Another coach who looks really stupid right now … Tom O’Brien of North Carolina State.  He left behind the best team Boston College has had since the days of Heisman winner Doug Flutie.  What on earth was he thinking?

Talk about courage… The Naval Academy’s Zerbin Singleton is the most recent nominee for the FedEx Orange Bowl- FWAA Courage Award that will be announced at the end of the 2007 season. Singleton didn’t know his father until he was a senior in high school and a year later, his father committed suicide. He had been living with cousins in Georgia since he was 11, when he left his home in Alaska because his mother went to jail for a parole violation. Wanting to pursue military aviation and his dream of becoming an astronaut, Singleton was accepted by the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy, and chose the Navy.  Unfortunately, Singleton was hit by a drunk driver one week before he was scheduled to graduate high school (as valedictorian) and his injuries prevented him from enrolling at Navy.  After a year at Georgia Tech, Singleton transferred to Navy where he’s been a two-year starter with a 3.2 GPA in aerospace engineering.


Gotta love Paterno … After a woman ran a stop sign on campus this week, JoePa pulled up beside her and shook his finger, saying that he had taken down her license plate number.  Moments later, someone knocked on Joe’s window and said “That’s my wife.”  The coach’s response?  “Boy, that’s your problem.”

The Gipper makes a comeback … There is no truth to the rumor that Fighting Irish fans have dug up the body of George Gipp to get DNA that can be used for breeding Notre Dame football players, although ESPN did send a news crew to Traverse City, Michigan to cover the exhumation.  Not all Gipp family members are happy about the event, calling it a desecration.  The reason for the exhumation will be made public at a future date.

Only 11 teams still undefeated … and the Big East has three of them with Cincinnati, Connecticut, and South Florida.  The Big 12 has two with Missouri and Kansas, while the Pac-10 has two with Cal and Arizona State.

Did you know … that Missouri hasn’t defeated Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma since 1966.  Yes, I’m going out on a limb and predicting that streak will end this week (see below upset specials)…

Angels in the outfield? … Well, sort of.  Is the spirit of former Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner living on in his players this season?  The 5-1 Hoosiers are enjoying their best start since the miracle 1968 Rose Bowl team, and will be bowl-eligible with one more victory.  I expect them to win three more regular season games and finish at 8-4.  That will put them in a decent bowl game … you gotta like the fact that they do not have either Michigan or Ohio State on their conference schedule this year.

Potential BCS Busters … Hawaii stayed at #16 after struggling with Utah State. 52-37. QB Colt Brennan left the game after taking a big hit … no big deal, backup QB Tyler Graunke came in and didn’t miss a beat, going 9 for 11, 246 yards, three TDs and running for another.

Irish fans relieved/UCLA fans irate … Notre Dame scooped up their first win of the season, on UCLA’s home turf, no less.  Bewildered and angry Bruins fans are wondering why head coach Karl Dorrell had an empty cupboard at the QB slot.  Patrick Cowan was already out with a serious hamstring injury when Ben Olson suffered a knee injury against the Irish, forcing the Bruins to rely on a redshirt freshman, McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Best Games of the Week … LSU Tigers at Kentucky Wildcats … Central Florida Knights at South Florida Bulls … Purdue Boilermakers at Michigan Wolverines … Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Miami Hurricanes … Illinois Fighting Illini at Iowa Hawkeyes … New Mexico Lobos at Wyoming Cowboys … Texas A&M Aggies at Texas Tech Red Raiders … Wisconsin Badgers at Penn State Nittany Lions … Washington Huskies at Arizona State Sun Devils … Missouri Tigers at Oklahoma Sooners … Louisville Cardinals at Cincinnati Bearcats … Auburn Tigers at Arkansas Razorbacks …

Upset Specials of the Week … Last week (2-1, season 12-10) … Mississippi State Bulldogs over Tennessee Volunteers … Colorado State Rams over Air Force Falcons … Missouri Tigers over Oklahoma Sooners

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

For the third week in a row, the pinnacle positions of the AP’s Top 25 were rocked by upsets with Kentucky outlasting former #1 LSU in triple overtime and Oregon State over #2 Cal 31-28. The results created a seismic shift with Ohio State, South Florida, and Boston College thrusting upward to assume the top three spots.

Even Michigan managed to slip back into the poll for the first time since Week 1 with their fifth consecutive win. Biggest gainers were Texas Tech (plus 10), Kansas State (plus 10), and Kentucky (plus 9). Notable drops included Cal (minus 8) and Cincinnati (minus 8). Illinois stuck around just long enough for a cup of coffee before falling back into the bubble with the other wannabes.

NO. 1 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (7-0). The Buckeyes throttled instate MAC opponent Kent State 48-3 and then they were gifted with the Numero Uno ranking when LSU and Cal both choked in their respective games. Brian Hartline returned a punt for a school-record 90-yard touchdown and Donald Washington returned an interception 70 yards for another TD. QB Todd Boeckman is growing more comfortable with each week. He went 13 for 16, good for 184 yards and 2 scores. Big Ten opponent Michigan State visits the Horseshoe this weekend.

NO. 2 SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (6-0). Will Jim Leavitt’s Bulls wind up playing in the BCS title game? Maybe, but don’t count on it. As good as they are, the Big East leaders have now been painted with the traditional target — and that’s been the kiss of death thus far in a chaotic college football season. Thursday night, the Bulls travel to Rutgers, and they still have Cincinnati and Louisville at home. Moreover, they’re in big trouble if anything happens to double-threat quarterback Matt Grothe or big-play DE George Selvie.

NO. 3 BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES (7-0). The primary strength of the Eagles is their experience — Jeff Jagodzinski’s team is loaded with it. A case in point: In the third quarter of last Saturday’s 27-14 victory over ancient rival Notre Dame, Eagle QB Matt Ryan fed an interception to Irish LB Brian Smith, who dashed 25 yards for a touchdown that cut BC’s lead to 20-14. Unruffled, Ryan calmly marched his team right back down the field to score. The Eagles now have a bye week to prepare for what might be their pivotal game the rest of the way — at Virginia Tech on Thursday night, Oct. 25.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA SOONERS (6-1). Boomer Sooners! With the exception of their loss to Colorado, they are proving that they know how to finish games this year. Missouri led them 24-23 at the end of the third quarter last Saturday, but the final frame was all Oklahoma. Final score over previous #11 Mizzou, 41-31. RB Chris Brown was a standout on the offensive side of the ball with 67 yards rushing and 3 TDs on 13 carries. Curtis Lofton led the defensive surge with a Chase Daniel fumble returned for a touchdown which proved to be the back-breaker for the Tigers. Next up: A breather of sorts on the road at Iowa State. A date at Texas Tech on Nov 17 is beginning to loom heavy in the future.

NO. 5 LSU TIGERS (6-1). Les Miles’ team fell from the top spot by the width of a Tiger’s whisker — 43-37 to Kentucky, at Kentucky, in triple overtime. Along with the chance for an unbeaten record, however, went the myth of LSU invincibility — a supposedly impenetrable defense gave up 375 yards to the Wildcats, who converted 9 of 17 third-down chances. And the swashbuckling Tigers went out not with a growl, but a whimper, as Charles Scott was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on fourth and two. Don’t count the Bayou Bengals out of a national title, though — Matt Flynn had a horrible game against Kentucky, and he’s a lot better than that. The coaching staff has shown the ability to recognize problems and make adjustments. Moreover, the rest of the schedule looks promising — except, perhaps, for similarly defensive-minded Auburn this Saturday at home. That score could be 3-0.

NO. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-1). Steve Spurrier has apparently found his quarterback in Chris Smelley, but the Gamecock offense was a bit smelly in the second half against North Carolina, emerging with a 21-15 squeaker. The Tar Heels are not good, so that didn’t bode well for a Gamecock squad with plenty of chances to be upset the rest of the way, beginning with Vanderbilt this week. Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas await next.

NO. 7 OREGON DUCKS (5-1). Quack, quack. It’s duck-hunting season, but these Mad Ducks were too much of a match for the Cougars of Washington State, annihilating their guests, 53-7. The win was rather costly, though, with WR Cameron Colvin going down with a broken ankle and RB Jeremiah Johnson out for the year with a torn ACL in his right knee. “Those are serious blows. Our depth will be tested,” head coach Mike Belotti said. Oregon will head to Seattle to take on Pac-10 rival Washington this weekend. The conference schedule will be grueling the following weeks with USC and Arizona State invading Autzen Stadium.

NO. 8 KENTUCKY WILDCATS (6-1). The challenge now for the Wildcats will be setting aside their campus-wide high after beating No. 1 LSU last Saturday and gettting ready for a Florida team that is not as highly ranked, but equally dangerous. Rich Brooks’ team overcame a 27-14 third-quarter deficit to outlast the Tigers in triple overtime, and they did it without star running back Rafael Little and two other starters. Florida has to come to Lexington, but Urban Meyer has had a bye-week to get his team ready.

NO. 9 WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (5-1). The Mountaineers have been more than convincing in every one of their victories, but Rich Rodriguez’s team couldn’t seem to hold onto the football in a 20-13 loss to South Florida. Some young players in the offensive line and secondary are beginning to come around, but QB Pat White has to get healthy for a rough late-season schedule that starts with Mississippi State this week and includes Rutgers, Cincinnati and Louisville. Thursday night, the Mountaineers will become huge Rutgers fans (the Scarlet Knights host South Florida).

NO. 10 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (5-1). A possible undefeated season and certainly the #1 ranking slipped from the Bears’ claws in their 31-28 loss to Oregon State. Freshman backup QB Kevin Riley made a huge mistake on the final play of the game and took away Cal’s chance at a field goal and overtime. With 14 seconds remaining and no timeouts left, Cal had the ball on the Beavers’ 12-yard line. A pass play was called to try for the winning touchdown, but Riley was forced out of the pocket. Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds to set up the tying 3-pointer, Riley seemed to have forgotten Cal didn’t have a timeout. He scrambled, was tackled, and the game ended. “I saw the field and I thought I could get around that guy, but it just didn’t happen,” said Riley. The Bears play at UCLA this Saturday.

NO. 11 VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (6-1). Having rediscovered the magical elixir of BeamerBall, the Hokies can make a significant jump up the ladder on Oct. 25 when they host Boston College on one of those Thursday night games that Tech always seems to win. Meanwhile, they have an off-week to savor a 43-14 butt-kiciking of Duke last Saturday. Freshman QB Tyrod Taylor went down with an ankle sprain early in that game, but deposed-starter Sean Glennon stepped in to play by far his best game of the season. Of course, that was Duke.

NO. 12 ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (7-0). So far, the 2007 season is looking rather magical for the Sun Devils. Led by Keegan Herring’s 119 yards rushing (76 of those yards on a spectacular touchdown run) ASU compiled 523 yards on offense to crush Washington, 44-20. The Devils’ defense swarmed all night and held Husky QB Jake Locker to his worst outing of the season (10-28, 142 yards, 1 int.). And justice was served in the AP poll by moving ASU ahead of the suddenly lackluster USC Trojans. The Sun Devils get a much needed bye this week in preparation for one helluva run at the Pac-10 title. Beginning on Oct 27, ASU plays Cal, Oregon, UCLA, USC and archrival Arizona to close the regular season.

NO. 13 USC TROJANS (5-1). The Trojans’ thoroughly unimpressive 20-13 home win over Arizona last week finally gave the pollsters the proof they needed to drop Pete Carroll’s boys below conference foes Arizona State and Oregon in the rankings. USC will get a respite from Pac-10 conference action this week as they travel to play archrival Notre Dame in South Bend this week. The Golden Domers could go a long way toward redeeming their dismal 1-6 season record by knocking off the Trojans, so it’s not going to be a cake walk for USC. The key is to stay healthy for an upcoming conference slate of games that could knock this team for a loop, including away games at Oregon, Cal and ASU.

NO. 14 FLORIDA GATORS (4-2). There’s no doubt that Florida has the talent to knock off No. 8 Kentucky in Lexington this week — any team with Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin can never be too much of an underdog. The defending national champions lost to Auburn and LSU by a total of seven points, and under ordinary circumstances, they would be sky-high for the Wildcats. The wild card, though, is the death of walk-on QB Michael Guilford — a popular player — in a motorcycle accident during the bye week. The Gators could either play as though shell-shocked, or draw even more inspiration from that tragedy.

TIE NO. 15 MISSOURI TIGERS (5-1). It really appeared this could be a special Mizzou team for the first three quarters last week in Norman. The Tigers held a 24-23 lead heading into the final quarter, but penalties and turnovers doomed them. Also a factor, was the absence of running back Tony Temple, as Missouri was held to 57 yards rushing by the Sooners. It’s important for head coach Gary Pinkel to rally his troops and reload quickly because the Big 12 conference schedule is bringing the high octane offense of Texas Tech to Columbia this weekend, followed by big games with Colorado, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Kansas. Oh yeah, throw Iowa State in there somewhere, too.

TIE NO. 15 KANSAS JAYHAWKS (6-0). “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.” That might have been a famous line from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, but it’s applicable to this Jayhawk team (so far) this season. Head coach Mark Mangino, who resembles a walrus more than the Wizard of Emerald City, will need to find a way to keep pouring on the points if Kansas is to fulfill the order for a magical season. The Jayhawks are second in the nation in scoring this season with a 50.3 per game average. Latest victim Baylor succumbed to the Jayhawk barrage on Saturday, 58-10. The remainder of the Big 12 season schedule holds the real test for Kansas. Next up is an away game this Saturday at Colorado, followed by tilts with Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Missouri.

NO. 17 HAWAII WARRIORS (7-0). Question: How do you win and still fall in the polls? Answer: By failing to impress the pollsters. Well, that’s what Hawaii and USC both did this past week. While USC’s drop might be more unexpected, the Warriors’ setback in the polls was nonetheless disconcerting to head coach June Jones. Seriously, Coach, when you barely beat a mediocre WAC team and then have the audacity to say you would have scored 60 more points if the field had been dry, we really have to question taking you seriously. Hawaii’s cream puff schedule continues this week when New Mexico State arrives in the island paradise. Seeing as how Boise State laid out the Aggies 58-0 two weeks ago, plan on Hawaii posting big scoreboard this week.

NO. 18 AUBURN TIGERS (5-2). The Tigers are obviously human, having lost to South Florida and Mississippi State, but that was without the suspended Brad Lester, now back in harness and part of a potent three-tailback rotation. Auburn’s defense was good enough to shut down Heisman hopeful Darren McFadden of Arkansas last Saturday, and could pose a problem for LSU this Saturday in Baton Rouge if the “other” Tigers aren’t able to bounce back quickly from weekend’s triple-overtime loss at Kentucky.

NO. 19 TEXAS LONGHORNS (5-2). The Longhorns took out their frustrations in Ames, Iowa last Saturday, pummeling Iowa State, 56-3. They’ll get another chance to vent their angst on the road this week when they take on Big 12 doormat Baylor in Waco. It’s all about pride for Mack Brown’s squad from hereon out because they don’t have a shot at playing in a BCS bowl this season.

NO. 20 TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (4-2). Philip Fulmer’s team is still very much alive in the unsettled SEC race, and may have put a couple of bad early season losses (45-31 to Cal and 59-20 to Florida) behind it. QB Erik Ainge will be playing on Sundays next year, RB Arian Foster appears to be fulfilling his potential (139 rushing yards against Mississippi State last week) and the Vols’ O-line hasn’t allowed a sack of Ainge in 200 snaps. The problem has been a young defense, but it seems to be coming around. UT meets one of its traditional rivals, Alabama, at ‘Bama this Saturday, then plays four straight home games before finishing at Kentucky.

NO. 21 GEORGIA BULLDOGS. (5-2). Georgia held off upset-minded Vanderbilt, 20-17, last week, but TB Kregg Lumpkin joined the previously injured Thomas Brown on the sidelines in the process. That leaves freshman Knowshon Moreno, talented but green, as the lone quality rusher. That isn’t good, with Florida, Auburn and Kentucky still on the schedule. Mark Richt does have a bye week before the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” (oops, they don’t like that title any more, do they?) and the Gators.

NO. 22 TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (6-1). TT thoroughly sliced, diced, and dissected the Texas A&M defense last week in their 35-7 triumph. They also probably sealed Dennis Franchione’s one-way ticket out of Texas with the win. QB Graham Harrell has already passed for 3,151 yards and 31 TDs with only 3 picks this season. Last week, he was 30 for 37, 425 yards and 3 TDs against the Aggies. Tech goes on the road to Mizzou this weekend for a huge test. Aside from a game at Baylor in a few weeks, the rest of the schedule is very tough with Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma on the horizon.

NO. 23 CINCINNATI BEARCATS (6-1). The Bearcats plummeted in the polls after losing to Louisville, and that may provide them with some incentive for the rest of the season. It’s Pitt on Saturday, then a trip to current No. 2 South Florida. With the top five teams in the Big East gleefully knocking each other off, Cincinnati is still in the running for a plum bowl.

NO. 24 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (5-2). Welcome back to the AP Top 25, Michigan. Last weekend’s big 48-21 win over Purdue was a statement. These Wolverines are intent on making a run at the Big Ten title this year. Despite early season setbacks against D-1AA Appalachian State and current #7 Oregon, Michigan has reeled off five straight wins, including a big one over formerly ranked Penn State. This week will be a stern test at Illinois. Of crucial concern to Wolverine fans is the health of running back Mike Hart, the nation’s most productive running back (154 ypg, 12 TDs). Hart suffered an ankle injury last week and sat out the entire second half of the Purdue game.

NO. 25 KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (4-2). The Wildcats’ impressive 47-20 dismantling of Colorado last week earns them the Bounceback Team of the Week award. They had been ranked at #24 two weeks ago, but instate rival Kansas knocked them out of the polls last week. Now back in the Top 25, K-State will be tested on the road at Oklahoma State this Saturday. The rest of the Wildcat schedule actually looks very favorable, highlighted by a visit from current #15 Missouri on Nov 17.

ON THE BUBBLE: Penn State, Virginia, Illinois, Boise State, Alabama, Rutgers, Wake Forest, Wisconsin, Clemson, and Connecticut.

Fourth and inches …

There hasn’t been a regular season like this in years … so, to heck with the rankings and current BCS hullabaloo. That roller-coaster ride won’t stop until the final week, so this week’s column is dedicated to examining the title races in each conference. You might be surprised how many conference races will come down to nail-biting final week clashes to determine which teams are left standing with a trophy in their hands.

►Atlantic Coast Conference … The front-runners in each division are Boston College and Virginia Tech. They square off in Blacksburg next Thursday night. Both teams could absorb a loss and still run the table on their remaining schedules to take their respective divisions. Still alive: Wake Forest, Virginia, and Maryland. The Demon Deacons have the most favorable schedule to close out the season, but Boston College owns the tie-breaker over them in the Atlantic Division.

If BC stays healthy, it’s difficult to imagine them losing more than once down the stretch but that will probably happen this week with this year’s strange curse of the No. 2 national ranking hanging around their necks. Look for the Eagles to knock off the Hokies when they meet again in the ACC championship.

►Big East Conference … Right now, Connecticut is the only undefeated team in conference play at 1-0. They will easily lose 2-3 games down the stretch. The real players in the title chase are South Florida, Cincinnati, West Virginia, and Rutgers. The Bulls and the Scarlet Knights have the most favorable schedules to close the regular season. Rutgers owns the tie-breaker over USF, and USF owns the T-B over West Virginia. Louisville will lose a couple more times, but will spoil Rutgers in a shootout to end the season. Conference champ: South Florida.

►Big Ten Conference … If Mike Hart doesn’t play this weekend, look for Michigan to get tripped up by Illinois. Ohio State will falter once down the road, but it might not happen until the Buckeyes’ season finale at Michigan. If they enter Michigan Stadium undefeated on Nov. 17 and Mike Hart is healthy, the Wolverines will win the game and the conference tie-breaker. Penn State and Illinois will be left on the outside looking in with one too many notches in the conference loss column.

►Big 12 Conference … Oklahoma will win the South Division and the North Division winner will come out of the Nov. 17 game between Kansas State and Missouri. Texas Tech will spoil a few rivals’ hopes along the way, but it’ll fall short once again. Look for Missouri to knock off Oklahoma in a rematch in the conference championship.

►Southeast Conference … LSU won’t lose again in conference play. Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina will all lose at least one more game. That will leave LSU as West Division champs playing Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks as the East Division champs. LSU roughed up South Carolina 28-16 with the help of its home-field advantage earlier this season. They’ll prevail in a closer conference championship contest, too.

►Pac-10 Conference … Arizona State and UCLA currently are the two remaining undefeated teams in the conference. USC, Oregon and Cal each have one loss. The Bruins are impostors with gimpy quarterbacks and will lose at least twice before the season is over. Check them off the list. ASU gets Cal and USC at home, but they’ll lose on the road to the Ducks. If the Sun Devils can overcome the loss of RB Ryan Torain, they have two-week prep times for both Cal and USC and I see them winning both of those games. I see USC losing two more conference games, and it’s difficult to imagine Oregon losing again. If they do, it will be a big unexpected choke, like at Washington this weekend. This is the toughest conference race to call. I think it will be Oregon and ASU in a tie, with the Quackers holding the head-to-head tie-breaker.

►Mountain West Conference … BYU is in the driver’s seat holding a 3-0 mark with wins over two of its top three challengers. They get TCU and Utah at home, with their toughest hurdle being a mid-November chiller in Laramie against Wyoming. Air Force will lose on the road at New Mexico, giving them two losses. Look for Utah to knock off both New Mexico and Wyoming at home to kill their title hopes, respectively. If BYU falters once before its conference finale, it will be a doozy with Utah having a shot at beating the Cougars and winning the tie-breaker. But wait–if Air Force only has one more loss in this scenario, it’ll own a tie-breaker over the Utes, and BYU would own the tie-breaker over the Falcons. BYU needs to make this easy to figure out and win straight through to the Utah game. Then it won’t matter if the Cougars win or lose (well, it will, but you know what I mean) because they’ll have already clinched the MWC title. Bet on the Cougars.

►Western Athletic Conference … Hawaii and Boise State are headed for a huge showdown the Friday after Thanksgiving in what should determine the WAC championship. However, Fresno State and Nevada are very dangerous teams, especially with the emergence of Colin Kaepernick at QB for the Wolf Pack. Both of these teams could throw the WAC into a WACky funk with Hawaii visiting Reno on Nov. 16 and Boise State at Fresno State on Oct. 26. Nevada was actually far more impressive on offense than the Broncos last week in their 69-67, triple-overtime loss at Boise State, and Hawaii failed to impress, once again, in its close-shave win over San Jose State. BSU’s been there, done that, and somehow the Smurf Turfers always manage to find a way to win their way through the WAC, so give the edge to Boise State to win the title. Again.

►Conference USA … East Carolina has practically locked down the East Division honors after consecutive close-shave victories over Houston, Central Florida and UTEP. They finish with UAB, Memphis, Marshall and Tulane. Yep, surrender the East to the Pirates. The West Division race is more complicated. Houston has to play at Tulsa and UTEP. Southern Miss’ biggest challenges are Central Florida at home and UTEP away. UTEP has Houston and Southern Miss at home and Central Florida on the road. The Miners will win the West Division in a tie-breaker under the skillful direction of Mike Price and then they’ll exact revenge on East Carolina in the C-USA title game.

►Sun Belt Conference … If this conference was actually relevant, I’d spend more time dissecting it. Look for Troy to win this one by virtue of hosting the season closer against Florida Atlantic.

Special Note: I reserve the right to revise these predictions in a few weeks. The way this season is going, I’ll need the mulligan.

►Heisman hopefuls … Kentucky QB Andre Woodson is back in the driver’s seat with his gutsy performance in the upset win over LSU. Michigan’s Mike Hart slips back to No. 2. BC’s Matt Ryan jumps to third. Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell debuts at a surprising No. 4, while Arkansas’ Darren McFadden drops to fifth, and Cal’s DeSean Jackson falls of the chart … for the time being.

►Guaranteed Goners … Nebraska’s Bill Callahan and Texas A&M’s Dennis Franchione. It doesn’t matter who wins this weekend. They’re both dead men walking.

►Best Games of the Week … Tennessee Volunteers at Alabama Crimson Tide … Wyoming Cowboys at Air Force Falcons … Texas A&M Aggies at Nebraska Cornhuskers … USC Trojans at Notre Dame Fighting Irish … Miami Hurricanes at Florida State Seminoles … Florida Gators at Kentucky Wildcats … Texas Tech Red Raiders at Missouri Tigers … California Golden Bears at UCLA Bruins … Kansas Jayhawks at Colorado Buffaloes … Kansas State Wildcats at Oklahoma State Cowboys … Auburn Tigers at LSU Tigers … Michigan Wolverines at Illinois Fighting Illini … Virginia Cavaliers at Maryland Terrapins … Michigan State Spartans at Ohio State Buckeyes … Oregon Ducks at Washington Huskies … Louisville Cardinals at Connecticut Huskies …

►Upset Specials of the Week … Last week (0-3, season 12-13) … Alabama Crimson Tide over Tennessee Volunteers … Illinois Fighting Illini over Michigan Wolverines … North Dakota State Bisons over Minnesota Golden Gophers …