— As many teams reach the season’s midpoint — the sixth game — it’s time to take some stock. Who is really good? Who is really not? And what does it all mean moving forward? Here are five storylines to consider as college football rumbles into a tale-telling weekend.
1. Unbeaten and unloved
So it’s going to be No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Ohio State in the BCS championship game, right? That is, unless the voters give a break to poor No. 4 Boise State or No. 5 TCU. But what about scary-good Oregon, the fast-rising No. 3-ranked team? Is anybody better than those Ducks? And don’t forget No. 6 Oklahoma. You see any losses on that Sooners schedule?
Alabama-Boise State? Oregon-TCU? Oklahoma-Ohio State?
The possibilities abound.
More than any of us might think, actually.
Get ready for Counterfeit Saturday. It’s that time of the season. We’re going to find out who’s real (and who’s not).
There are the top-heavy unbeaten teams, the usual suspects heading up practically everyone’s BCS title-game projections. Then there are several under-the-radar unbeaten squads that must be taken seriously at some point.
No. 17 Michigan State (5-0) at No. 18 Michigan (5-0): Ah, the perfect weed-out game. We’ve got to salute the Spartans for handling Wisconsin 34-24 last week. That looks like the most impressive victory for either school. The Spartans have been grinders. The Wolverines have been breath-taking with sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson establishing himself as the Heisman Trophy favorite.
How big are the stakes? If Michigan State wins here, the only legitimate trapdoor on the schedule is Oct. 30 at Iowa. If Michigan wins, it becomes bowl-eligible for the first time under coach Rich Rodriguez.
The pollsters must adjust their thinking with some style points.
The Michigan State-Michigan winner should be a top 10-level team.
No. 12 LSU (5-0) at No. 14 Florida (4-1): Yes, the Tigers are the nation’s luckiest team, a distinction established during the national title run of 2007, when everything broke right and allowed two-loss LSU to win it all.
Last week, of course, LSU topped itself with a Keystone Kops finish, which will be Exhibit A in the next coaching clinic for how not to manage the game clock. The Tigers should have lost against struggling Tennessee at home — Volunteers coach Derek Dooley and his players thought the deed was done — but the late-game chaos found the Vols penalized for too many men on the field. LSU made good on its second chance, pulling through 16-14.
The Tigers have played a decent schedule, although it has been filled with skin-of-their-teeth victories against North Carolina (30-24), West Virginia (20-14) and Tennessee.
Florida is a different deal.
LSU has dropped nine of its last 11 games in Gainesville, including the past two by a combined 84-31 margin.
If the Tigers prevail Saturday, the SEC West might be about far more than awaiting that season-ending Auburn-Alabama game.
No. 9 Arizona (4-0) at Oregon State (2-2): You keep waiting for the bubble to burst on Arizona. It hasn’t happened yet.
The Wildcats’ season-making 34-27 victory against Iowa was followed up by a less-impressive 10-9 squeaker against California. Doesn’t matter. It was a win.
No Rose petals thrown at Arizona’s feet just yet. But if the Wildcats can win at Oregon State, for our money the best 2-2 team (respectable losses against Boise State and TCU) in the land, attention must be paid.
Colorado (3-1) at No. 24 Missouri (4-0): Missouri has barely cracked the rankings, mostly because its season has been carried by a neutral-field victory against Illinois and a 27-24 scare against better-than-most-people-know San Diego State.
Beating much-improved Colorado would turn some heads. Who knows? The Buffaloes might still be giddy from their field-storming 29-27 triumph against Georgia, which happens to be 1-4.
No. 10 Utah (4-0) at Iowa State (3-2): Utah’s future includes membership in the Pac-10. But its present isn’t bad, either.
The Utes, playing out the string in the Mountain West Conference, got the attention-grabbing bump by opening with an overtime victory against Pittsburgh, considered the Big East Conference favorites by many observers. Going on the road against a Big 12 team should count for something — and it will — giving Utah more confidence as it looks toward its gauntlet (at Air Force, TCU, at Notre Dame).
2. Prime-time game again
No. 23 Florida State (4-1) at No. 13 Miami (3-1) is back where it belongs — a prime-time game, one that has relevance.
Granted, it figures heavily for the ACC title, not exactly something that will propel a team in the direction of Glendale, Ariz. But it’s all about baby steps in the ACC. The collective good health of Florida State and Miami is a very good thing for the league.
Remember when the ACC expanded to 12 teams? There was a fear among the membership that Florida State-Miami would be the league’s title game every season.
It hasn’t happened — not once.
For two seasons, the ACC championship game was held in Tampa, a place that was begging and screaming for Florida State-Miami. Nope.
Now the ACC’s showcase is headed to Charlotte.
Even on Tobacco Road, isn’t it time for Florida State and Miami to reclaim their thrones?
This game would be a start — and a potential title-game preview.
3. Spurrier being Spurrier
Steve Spurrier’s juices should be flowing.
His No. 19 South Carolina Gamecocks (3-1) play host to No. 1-ranked Alabama (5-0), coming off the emotions of a narrow escape at Arkansas, then last week’s punctuation-mark thrashing of the Florida Gators.
Since arriving at South Carolina in 2005, Spurrier had coached teams that largely lacked a signature victory (unless you want to count the victory against Florida that first season, although that Gators team was an Outback Bowl participant).
If not now, when?
Spurrier has defeated a top-ranked team only once, and that was at the 1997 Sugar Bowl, when Florida drubbed Florida State 52-20.
Alabama is a solid favorite.
But with The Visor standing on the opposite sideline, the threat of Spurrier alone, along with South Carolina’s puncher’s chance, is enough to get you worried.
4. The Dooley Bowl
Vince Dooley, the patriarch of Georgia’s modern program, will be watching when his son, Derek, takes the Tennessee Volunteers into Athens, Ga.
The old man will be watching, all right.
It’s a king-sized conflict, of course. But blood is thicker than Uga. The elder Dooley is cheering for his son, but he wouldn’t think of doing that in plain view, somewhere Between the Hedges.
If he looks closely, he might not believe his eyes.
For the first time since 1906, Georgia (1-4) and Tennessee (2-3) will meet with neither team featuring a winning record.
If Georgia loses, it will be the program’s eighth loss in its past 10 SEC games. It will also be its first five-game losing streak since 1953. And this from a team that had 10 starters returning on offense to augment the relative inexperience of redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray.
5. Bottom feeders
Meanwhile, far from the BCS championship game …
A couple of matchups should catch your eye Saturday.
Western Kentucky (0-4) at Florida International (0-4): The Hilltoppers will attempt to break the nation’s longest losing streak (24 straight games). Florida International can relate to that. Three years ago, the Golden Panthers ended a 23-game losing streak, which was the nation’s longest at the time.
New Mexico (0-5) at New Mexico State (0-4): The Lobos have allowed 52 points per game and have been outscored by an average of 40.4 points per game. The Aggies are last nationally in total defense and have not recorded a sack this season.
Somebody has to win, right?