Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sporting News: Looking at the BCS party crashers

After the first week of the college football season, if someone had said that Rutgers, Wake Forest, Arkansas, California and Boise State all would be in legitimate contention for BCS bowls ... well, you would've had them tested for a plethora of banned substances.
Let's start with that State University of New Jersey and their 8-0 start. On Thursday night, they are basically what their opponent, Louisville, was exactly seven days prior. Rutgers is unbeaten and hosting the biggest game in school history in prime time with nothing to lose in a revenge game against an unbeaten team in their conference that is ranked third in the nation and looking to play for a national championship.
Louisville won in this spot a week ago and Rutgers may do the same to the Cardinals this week. Why? Rutgers can run the ball like West Virginia, who put up over 300 yards against the Louisville defense, yet Rutgers can play pass defense, which West Virginia couldn't against Brian Brohm. While Rutgers probably won't get into a position to play in the BCS National Championship game, it can still win the Big East and go to the Orange Bowl where head coach Greg Schiano can become the talk of the town as a possible replacement for outgoing Miami head coach Larry Coker.
Rutgers' opponent in that Orange Bowl could very well be Wake Forest, although any of the candidates to represent the ACC in that BCS game would be a great story. However, Wake Forest is the only ACC team with just one loss and that defeat was one of the biggest fourth quarter disasters I've ever witnessed. The Demon Deacons were up 17-3 at home against Clemson and lining up a short field goal to start the final 15 minutes. Instead of being up 20-3 after the play, Clemson was now down just 17-10 and went on to win 27-17.
A loss like that would destroy most teams, like the Arizona Cardinals, but not Jim Grobe's boys. No way. Since that self-inflicted defeat, Wake Forest has won three games by a touchdown or less and is playing with character and poise never seen before in Winston-Salem. Not bad considering the season began with a yawn-inspiring win over struggling Syracuse and then a one-point decision over Duke.
Arkansas gladly would've taken that start to its season as the Razorbacks were shredded by the new 21st century superpower to open 2006. Despite losing Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, the Trojans came into Fayetteville and trounced the Razorbacks nearly as badly as they did in the L.A. Coliseum the previous season. Funny how since that season-opening 50-14 USC win, the Trojans haven't looked anywhere close to that good ... and Arkansas hasn't looked remotely that bad.
Led by perhaps the best running back in the nation in Darren McFadden, the Razorbacks have won eight straight since, including a 27-10 result at Auburn which may not only cost Auburn a shot at the SEC title but also the national championship. Whether it's true freshman Mitch Mustain or the recently summoned sophomore Casey Dick at quarterback, Arkansas controls its fate and may also be in position to knock Florida out of the national title picture en route to the Sugar Bowl.
Think the opening of the season was bad for Arkansas? Try telling that to anyone in Berkeley. With USC supposedly "rebuilding", the hot preseason choice to take out the Trojans in the Pac 10 were the Bears and the Heisman trophy was even a possibility for running back Marshawn Lynch. Then came the opening game at Knoxville where the Volunteers once again looked like the Volunteers and the preseason top ten Bears looked like the Bad News Bears. While the Heisman is not in the picture for Lynch, the Rose Bowl is Cal's to lose as quarterback Nate Longshore and California have rolled off eight straight wins since that nightmare at Neyland and are the only unbeaten team in conference play.
As strange as it would be to see Rutgers play Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl, Arkansas win the SEC and Sugar Bowl host bid and California sniff the roses for the first time since 1959, anyone ever imagine Boise State playing against Texas or Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl? Particularly after last season, which ended with the Broncos losing a bowl game on their home field as their head coach bolted for Colorado.
Following the success of Dirk Kuetter and Dan Hawkins was a tough task for Chris Petersen, but its pretty clear to me he's the best head coach of the three as Boise State has rolled to a 9-0 mark and actually held June Jones' Hawaii offense to under 40 points in its only close game of the year. Thanks to the new five-game Bowl Championship Series, there are more at-large bids to go around and the Broncos may earn one in Glendale. As a matter of fact, Boise State may clinch an automatic BCS bowl bid if they hold their current position in the top 16 of the BCS rankings and the eventual ACC champ fails to do the same, which is a definite possibility.

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