By Pete Thamel.
Three weeks have passed in the college football season, and the landscape has been scattered with bizarre upsets and serious struggles for traditional powers. The knee-jerk reaction after seeing outcomes like Utah beating U.C.L.A. by 44-6, Kentucky upsetting Louisville and Notre Dame setting standards for ineptitude would be to say that parity has given numerous teams the opportunity to win the national championship. That assumption is usually followed by the outdated logic that the reduction in scholarships to 85 in 1994 has leveled the playing field in college football. But any notion of parity in this 2007 college football season was erased with a bit of channel surfing the past three weeks. Six teams have emerged that could conceivably win the national title. And behind them, there is apparently a large gap to second-tier teams, which are beating one another to perpetuate the illusion of parity. Four of those six top teams — Southern California, Louisiana State, Oklahoma and Florida — have better chances than the other two — California and West Virginia. But these six teams are so far ahead of the pack that any notion that the championship race is wide open is laughable. Here is what they are facing on the road to the national title:
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT ALL In thrashing Nebraska, 49-31, in Lincoln on Saturday night, the Trojans played their most dominant offensive game since Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart left campus.
WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT ALL The symbol of the Trojans this year is: @. U.S.C. plays @ Washington, @ Notre Dame, @ Oregon, @ California and @ a rejuvenated Arizona State.
GAME TO WATCH At Cal on Nov. 10. It will be the West Coast’s biggest game of the year.
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT ALL The Tigers probably have more talent than anyone in college football and have already torched Virginia Tech’s defense, considered one of the country’s best. Their toughest Southeastern Conference road games are against Kentucky and Alabama.
WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT ALL It appears that they will have to play Florida twice: once in Baton Rouge and again in the SEC title game. Questions still linger about Les Miles as a big-game coach.
GAME TO WATCH Florida at home on Oct. 6 will be a circus.
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT ALL The Sooners are the class of a watered-down Big 12. The redshirt freshman Sam Bradford has answered the program’s biggest need — stability at quarterback.
WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT ALL If U.S.C. and L.S.U. go undefeated, Oklahoma probably will not be able to leapfrog either one and play in the national title game. They would turn into the 2004 version of Auburn.
GAME TO WATCH On Oct. 6 in Dallas against vulnerable Texas.
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT ALL By the end of the season, Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin could be dueling for the Heisman Trophy. Consider that Florida scored 59 points against Tennessee without the star receiver Andre Caldwell.
WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT Their defensive tackles are mediocre by SEC standards, and the secondary is still green. They have to find a way to beat L.S.U., too.
GAME TO WATCH At L.S.U. on Oct. 6 will be the ultimate test for Tebow and Harvin.
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT ALL The Mountaineers’ offense has taken on a new dimension with the emergence of the talented freshman tailback Noel Devine, who had 136 yards on five carries Thursday against Maryland.
WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT ALL The defense has not been tested yet and will not be until West Virginia plays at South Florida on Sept. 28. You can’t outscore everyone, right?
GAME TO WATCH At Rutgers on Oct. 27, with the Big East title likely to be determined.
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT ALL The Bears have already trounced Tennessee and play top-ranked U.S.C. at home in November. DeSean Jackson is one of the country’s most dynamic players.
WHY THEY CAN’T WIN IT ALL A pass defense ranked No. 78 nationally (241.67 yards a game) and an overall defense ranked No. 69 (371.33) does not bode well for Pacific-10 play.
GAME TO WATCH On Sept. 29 at Oregon. The Ducks have blown out Houston, Michigan and Fresno State.