Monday, November 03, 2008

College football 2008: the home stretch

As we enter the final few weeks of the college football season, it's interesting to see how much different the national championship picture is today than it was at the season's beginning.

The preseason consensus (AP plus USA Today) top five - Georgia, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Florida - have all suffered at least one loss. Two of them have already lost twice and are out of the championship hunt altogether: preseason number one Georgia, who lost to Alabama earlier in the season and suffered a thrashing at the hands of Florida in Jacksonville last Saturday, and my preseason pick to go all the way, Ohio State, who got crushed by USC early in the season and who lost to Penn State at home last weekend. In fact, of the preseason consensus top five, the only team that currently finds itself in the current BCS top five is Florida, at #5. College football's current elite are Alabama, Texas Tech, Penn State and Texas, in that order. While all of these schools were ranked at the season's beginning, how many people would have predicted in August that this would be the BCS lineup at the beginning of November?

The Red Raiders find themselves near the top of the college football world due to their thrilling 39-33 victory over #1-ranked Texas in Lubbock last Saturday. I don't consider their defeat of the Longhorns to be a major upset - Texas Tech is a legitimately good program and Jones Stadium is a tough place for opponents to play - but the fact that the Red Raiders, who have never finished the season in the top ten, are now the second-best team in the country is certainly something of a surprise.

It will be interesting to see if the Red Raiders can hold on to their lofty position and reach the Big 12 title game: their next two opponents are Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, both of which are ranked in the top ten. Alabama and Penn State, on the other hand, both appear to have easier schedules from here on out: the Crimson Tide look to have a clear shot at the SEC title game if they can get past #15 LSU this weekend, and the Nittany Lions' only remaining opponent with a winning record is #18 Michigan State. One-loss Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and USC squads aren't completely out of the picture yet, either, but they need one or more of the top three to lose.

On the other end of the college football spectrum is North Texas. The Mean Green avoided an O-fer season by defeating Western Kentucky, 51-40, at home last Saturday. A 97-yard interception return by UNT's Tobe Nwigwe as time expired sealed the win, which is a step in the right direction for the foundering program.

Things just keep getting worse in Ann Arbor. Last year, Michigan began the season with that infamous home loss to Appalachian State. Earlier this season, the Wolverines lost to a team from the MAC for the very first time. And, after losing to Purdue last Saturday, Michigan will miss its first bowl game since the 1974 season and will suffer its first losing season since 1967.

Finally, an era is coming to an end in Knoxville. Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer is being forced out after seventeen years at the head of the Volunteer helm.

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