Why do I keep getting the feeling that this season won't be finished until Alabama says it is?
Six weeks left in the regular season and there are a precious seven unbeaten teams, the same number at this point last season. 'Bama, though, has gone from controlling its own destiny in 2009 to having embarked on its Rehabilitation Tour 2010. The highest-ranked one-loss team left must win and hope from here on in. That South Carolina loss? Not gone but fading from view. But Alabama remains a factor because Saturday proved there are no great teams left, only good ones. Those who fell in love with Auburn after a nationally televised grinder of a win over LSU should look west. Anyone is susceptible.
|Dodd's Power Poll|
|1. Boise State|
|7. Michigan State|
|11. Ohio State|
|15. Florida State|
|17. South Carolina|
|18. Oklahoma State|
|19. Mississippi State|
|20. Virginia Tech|
|25. San Diego State|
There was a fraud alert in Stillwater, Okla. where quasi-darling Oklahoma State gave up 51 points to a Nebraska team that was shut down by (muffled snicker) Texas, which was, well you know. Ask UCLA and Iowa State.
Oklahoma was kidding itself with squeakers over Cincinnati, Utah and Air Force. I'm not knocking the schedule -- there was a win over Florida State too -- I'm asking if the shock has worn off yet. Who knew that Missouri was just flat-out better?
Look further west. Three of the remaining seven unbeaten teams are a non-BCS armada. Saturday's results put Boise State, TCU and Utah closer to the adult table when it comes to the national championship game. For any of them to get in, it seems there has to be no more than one undefeated BCS conference championship. That's the same dilemma Alabama faces.
It could happen, given what we've seen so far this season. There were baby steps toward the adult table last season when TCU and Boise, two of the five undefeated teams, played in the Fiesta Bowl.
Auburn has to know that its biggest threat still remains in the western part of its state. Since the South Carolina loss, the Rehab Tour has produced solid wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee. Just how close can a one-loss Alabama get to the top two in the BCS? Damn close, if you believe there are no great teams and that the Nov. 26 Iron Bowl in T-town could be the biggest in decades. A one-game playoff for the division, a berth in the SEC Championship Game and possibly a fifth consecutive SEC national championship.
For now, it's a great week to live in Alabama. You've got the best player in the country (Cameron Newton), the No. 1 team in the BCS (Auburn) and an intimidating spoiler wearing crimson. If you thought the season was lost, 'Bama, think again. Six of those seven teams ahead of you play on the road this week.
Here's a breakdown of the Select Seven in alphabetical order:
The good: There are only four regular-season games left. Saturday showed that Auburn is a complete unit. We knew about Newton although, damn, that 49-yard touchdown run in the second half broke ankles and dropped jaws. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley probably solidified an All-American berth and made himself an Outland finalist terrorizing LSU's backfield. Unlike 2004, Auburn seemingly has leverage with an undefeated season in 2010. In other words, the projection is that Auburn is the only team right now that controls its BCS destiny. Win out and the Tigers are in Glendale.
The bad: Two Saturdays ago Auburn played a game that would have been laughed at by SEC snobs if it had come out of the WAC (65-43 over Arkansas). It has had to win five of its games in the fourth quarter or overtime. There were road struggles at Mississippi State and Kentucky. Maybe that's nit-picking. What can't be argued is Alabama has to be in Auburn's head. It is the Tigers' biggest challenge left.
The verdict: After what I saw Saturday, it doesn't matter where the Iron Bowl is played. As long as Auburn has Fairley and Newton, the Tigers have a chance against anyone.
The good: Still my No. 1 team. Still think they could win the SEC East, Big 12 and Pac-10 this season, among others. Pay attention to the team, not the schedule.
The bad: Dropped out of the national consciousness a bit after not playing on Saturday. (The next game is Tuesday against Louisiana Tech.) The Broncos are likely to continue to take a beating in the BCS because of strength of schedule.
The verdict: Boise needs help. As long as Auburn and Oregon keep winning, it will be stiff-armed out the title game.
The good: This one was called "Mouse Trap," the latest in a line of Mark Dantonio's trick plays that have defined the season. A fake punt helped beat Northwestern on Saturday, 35-27. There is little championship game buzz about the Spartans. That's fine. Saturday's game at Iowa looms as a play-in for Michigan State's first Rose Bowl in almost a quarter century. The Spartans are 4-0 in the Big Ten and, after Iowa, have only Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State remaining. They don't play Ohio State and have already beaten Wisconsin.
The bad: Michigan State has been the Rust Belt version of LSU, getting to this point with some well-timed fortune. The difference is, Dantonio has an idea of when to call those trick plays and how to manage the clock. The Spartans have to avoid a letdown similar to Saturday against Northwestern.
The verdict: Pack your bags for Pasadena, Sparty.
The good: The win over BCS No. 1 Oklahoma was the first over the Sooners in 12 years and only the second in the last 21 years. No one is talking about the Tigers for the title game but they reached a new level in the program's history, getting to 7-0 for the first time in 50 years. No one would have thought in August that this would be the Big 12's last remaining undefeated team.
The bad: It could all go away if Nebraska wins next week in Lincoln. The Huskers would be tied for the North lead and own the tiebreaker.
The verdict: Beating Oklahoma might be enough for Missouri to get an at-large BCS berth at 11-1.
The good: Knockin' out chumps and lightin' up suckas, offensively. On track to shatter Oklahoma's modern-day record for points in a season. The offense seemingly can't be stopped, averaging 55 points per game.
The bad: Not much. We are witnessing the high point of Oregon football. There are three road games left in the final five games. Two of the final five are against ranked teams (USC, Arizona).
The verdict: Jeremiah Masoli is missing a heck of a party.
The good: Great defensively, as usual. In the last four games the Frogs have given up a total of 10 points and posted two shutouts.
The bad: Boise beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, started in front of the Frogs to begin the season and remain in that spot in the polls. However, a battle in the BCS standings could be looming. Neither team needs to battle each other and the big boys.
The verdict: Another undefeated regular season will hinge on a trip to Utah on Nov. 6.
The good: Quarterback Jordan Wynn's sprained thumb in September hasn't mattered. Since beating Pittsburgh on opening night 27-24, the closest game has been 17 points. Five times the Utes have scored at least 38 points.
The bad: Utah is the lowest ranked of the non-BCS contenders.
The verdict: Not much hope. Certainly no respect. Utah is ranked behind one-loss Alabama in AP and coaches. Has everyone forgotten about the 2009 Sugar Bowl?