The landscape is starting to take shape on the 2008 college football season. As expected, the SEC is the most dominant conference in the country. Georgia, Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Auburn all look to be capable of knocking off any team in the country on a good day. Of the remaining conferences, only the Big 12, with Oklahoma and Missouri, looks to have more than one team capable of competing for a national title. The Pac 10 has USC, and they're probably the best team in the country, but besides the Trojans the best teams in the conference are probably Arizona St, Oregon, and California, all of which already have non conference losses on their resumes. The Big 10 has a number of decent, but not great, teams in Ohio St, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Penn St. might be good enough to run the table and sneak into the BCS championship but it's hard to tell right now because they haven't played anyone of note. All in all, it will probably take a few more weeks for the dust to clear completely. In the meantime the biggest threat the BCS power structure has ever seen is looming on the horizon and it's not a team. It's an entire conference.
The Mighty Mountain West:
BYU beat Washington and UCLA. UNLV beat Iowa St. and Arizona St. TCU beat Stanford. Utah beat Michigan. Granted, with the exception of Arizona St. none of those teams were supposed to have particularly successful years, but it's still quite an eye opener for non-BCS schools to be this dominant over their brethren from richer conferences. Currently Utah, BYU, and TCU have all played their ways into both the AP and Coaches polls while making a strong case that the eventual winner of this conference, probably BYU or Utah, deserves a spot in a BCS bowl, if not the BCS title game if they happen to escape unscathed. In fact, you can make a strong case that the MWC is a stronger conference than the Big East, Pac 10, and ACC.
Currently the Big East has South Florida as their lone representative in either poll. The ACC has two teams, Wake Forest and Clemson, while the Pac 10 has only USC in the AP poll and both USC and Oregon in the coaches poll. You could make an argument, and it would be a strong one, that it's far too early to use these polls as a realistic barometer into the strength of conferences, and to expect them to compete on the same field with the likes of USC, Georgia, or LSU is probably wishful thinking. Still, it would be interesting to place BYU or Utah in the Big East or ACC this year. I, for one, think they could end up winning either league. TCU plays Oklahoma this week, I don't expect them to win, but if they can keep it fairly close, say within 10 points, it will go a long way towards solidifying the Mountain West as a true power conference.
Game of the year.......so far:
LSU at Auburn was billed as a clash of the titans and it didn't disappoint. Both defenses came out flying all over the field, delivering big hit after big hit. Andrew Hatch, one of two LSU quarterbacks to play in the game, found that out first hand in the third quarter when an Auburn defender laid him out on a designed run, knocking him 2-3 feet sideways and into his own player. Hatch was visibly shaken and wobbled around before finally taking a seat on the field. He wouldn't return.
Auburn jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead behind a 1 yd plunge from running back Ben Tate and a 24 yd interception return by Gabe McKenzie on an extremely ill-advised pass from Jarrett Lee. The second half, however, would see Lee making much better decisions. The momentum, and the lead, would swing back and forth between both teams until LSU scored on an 18 yard pass from Lee to Brandon LaFell with 1:03 left on the clock to put the Tigers on top for good, 26-21.
The unsung hero of the game, and one who didn't contribute any actual points to the contest, was LSU running back Charles Scott. He rushed for 132 yards on 21 carries, and repeatedly gashed Auburn's defense for long gains. IF LSU ends up back in the SEC title game the large back, at 5'11" and 233 lbs, will be one of the main reasons why.
What I'm looking forward to this week:
Alabama at Georgia
You can hate Nick Saban all you want, there are a million different reasons and he rarely does anything to make himself seem even remotely likable, but what you can't do is claim the man doesn't produce results. This is an Alabama team that was supposed to be, at best, a year away from serious contention in the SEC West, and all they've done is demolish national title hopeful Clemson and go on the road at Arkansas and seemingly shrug off the Razorbacks like they were a piece of lint.
Meanwhile, Georgia returns from a 27-10 victory at Arizona St. that was much more lopsided than the score would suggest. They already had two Heisman contenders in Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, and now AJ Green has burst onto the scene. If the freshman receiver is even half the player he appeared to be against the Sun Devils it will prevent teams from stacking against the run and make the Bulldogs offense nearly impossible to defend against.
Both teams have suffocating defenses, pretty much par for the course in the SEC this year, so the difference in this game is going to come down to whether or not the young Alabama team can play for four quarters in Athens, whether or not Georgia was affected by their West Coast trip last week, and the play of Stafford and John Parker Wilson, the two best quarterbacks in the SEC that aren't named Tebow. Expect at least one touchdown scored by either defense, and the winner to be the team with fewer turnovers.
Georgia 23 Alabama 21
Illinois at Penn St
Both teams have explosive offenses that can put up 40 points on just about anybody in the country on the right day. Unfortunately for the Illini only one of them has shown they can play defense, and they aren't the team from Champaign.
Penn St 45 Illinois 24