That picture right there: that’s your college football championship landscape.
Let’s review the last few weeks:
-Two weeks ago, Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia, Texas and Rutgers -- all of whom were in the Top 10 at the time -- lost.
-Last week, No. 1 LSU survived a scare against Florida, No. 2 USC suffered the biggest upset (based on point spread) in history and Top 10 teams Wisconsin and Kentucky also lost.
-Did someone say Kentucky? The Wildcats came right back and beat No. 1 LSU, and No. 2 Cal also went down. It’s the first time in 11 years that 1 and 2 both lost on the same day in the regular season.
Entering the week, Ohio State, Boston College and South Florida were 3 through 5 in the rankings, and could be 1-2-3 when the polls come out Sunday. The early projections on the first BCS Standings of the year actually put South Florida at No. 2, behind only Ohio State. If you had those two teams atop the first BCS Standings of the year when the season started, congratulations, you are now the proud owner of Las Vegas.
Obviously, with all the craziness, you have to throw out the week-by-week rankings and just start over. Don’t just keep moving USF up because the Bulls haven’t lost. Don’t rank the 1-loss teams in order of who lost the longest time ago. That said, here’s my Top 10:
1. Boston College
I know they struggled with UMass two weeks ago, but they’ve otherwise looked very impressive this season.
2. Ohio State
They’ve had their share of struggles too (can you say “3-2 halftime lead against Akron”?) but they find a way to win.
A 3-point loss on the road is all that stands between this team and a completely dominant resume. They way they destroyed Missouri Saturday goes a long way to putting them back in the national title picture.
A triple-overtime loss on the road against a ranked conference opponent shouldn’t damn them. But they’ve looked less dominant in the last 3 weeks (bad 1st half vs Tulane, near-loss to Florida, loss to Kentucky).
5. South Florida
Their resume isn’t completely invalid. They’ve got impressive wins over Auburn (a win that looks better with each passing Auburn win) and West Virginia (ditto). Still, I’m not sold on a program that wasn’t even I-A a decade ago.
6. South Carolina
The fighting Steve Spurriers’ only loss came on the road against LSU. They’ve got a nice win over Kentucky. The win over Georgia doesn’t look as good as it did earlier in the year, but the Gamecocks seem to find a way to win.
Here’s where things get hard. There are three 1-loss Pac-10 teams.The only two who’ve played each other are Oregon and Cal, and Cal won that game. However, I’ve watched Oregon just DESTROY teams on more than one occasion this year.
Really, this is like 7a and 7b. Should I be giving Cal more credit for winning AT Oregon? Maybe. But losing at home to Oregon State probably offsets that. Plus, I didn’t like how anyone on that Cal team (coach, QB, o-line, etc.) handled those last few seconds Saturday.
9. West Virginia
This ranking relies on them having a healthy Pat White. If they don’t, drop them out of here. But with White and Steve Slaton running that offense, there’s no reason they couldn’t run the table and finish with one loss.
The last of the one-loss Pac-10 teams (and yes, I put any of them ahead of Pac-10 leader Arizona State). I know USC hasn’t looked great yet this year (the win over Nebraska is looking pretty shitty now that pretty much anyone could beat Nebraska). But they’re still USC. We’ll get a lot of answers in two weeks when USC plays at Oregon. The loser of that game is out of the Top 10 for the rest of the year.
Some other things worth keeping in mind:
-Arizona State, Kansas and Hawai’i are also still unbeaten, but haven’t done anything to prove themselves to be Top 10 worthy. If ASU beats Cal next week, I vault them into my Top 10, I promise.
-Don’t look now, but the Michigan Wolverines control their own destiny for a BCS Bowl berth. Since starting 0-2 in embarrassing fashion, the Wolverines have ripped off 5 straight wins, and are one of two teams unbeaten in Big Ten play (Ohio State is the other). How funny would it be if, after all the calls for Lloyd Carr’s head (and I’ll freely admit I was among them), Michigan ruined Ohio State’s perfect season and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl?
Looking ahead to next week, here are the games that could once again change the landscape:
South Florida at Rutgers, Thursday, 7:30 ET on ESPN
Speaking of teams not completely out of it, Rutgers has one conference loss, but could re-gain control of its BCS hopes with a win here. A South Florida win goes a long way toward establishing the Bulls as a real BCS favorite.
Michigan State at Ohio State, Saturday, 3:30 ET on ABC
Sparty hasn’t been bad this season, and could create some problems for Ohio State. If the Buckeyes want people to consider them a true No. 1 (rather than No. 1 by default), a double-digit win here is a must.
Auburn at LSU, Saturday, 9 ET on ESPN
How do you bounce back from a loss and get back into the title picture? Beating a ranked team that’s on a 3-game win streak wouldn’t hurt. Obviously LSU can’t REALLY be in the title picture until some of the other unbeatens lose, but the Tigers can’t worry about that right now. They need to take care of their business first.