Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: After the top 10, the rest isn't even close

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There figures to be a lot of soul-searching this week. Coaches who have covered a double-digit spread by the first commercial break of the second quarter will have to consider ...

... when to show mercy during a mercy killing ...

... when to show pity to the pitiful ...

... when to pull the starters.

C'mon, the fans have to know when to hit the bars.

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If you haven't noticed, we've entered a sort of dead calm this season. We'll reach the halfway point Saturday looking for compassion.

For whatever reason, the top 10 has become one, big giant boat race. The nine teams playing last week won by an average of 35.6 points. The nine teams playing in the top 10 this week are favored by a cumulative 199½ points.

As you might guess, No. 10 Arkansas is a prohibitive favorite over bye.

Upsets R Not Us.

First thought: Top 10 teams should win. Second thought: Not like this. Would it be too much to ask for one head-spinning upset? Appalachian State, where ya at?

LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and Wisconsin have more or less separated themselves. More to the point, it seems like we're all just killing time until LSU-'Bama.

The dead calm has come about mostly because of some conference mismatches. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy had a tough choice last week against Kansas -- whether to score 100 or not. Gundy pulled quarterback Brandon Weeden before halftime when the Cowboys led 56-0, on their way to a 70-28 win.

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops had a similar decision. The 55-17 win over Texas was the largest in the series since 2003. Stoops' smothering defense scored three times. He cleared the bench in the fourth quarter. Definitely not the stuff of running it up. Yet Stoops still had to face The Question.

"I don't think anybody tries to [run it up]...," he said. "It's one of the more frustrating situations because you don't know how to handle it. At the end of the day, the other team needs to stop you."

That seems to be the prevailing thought among the coaching fraternity. No one wants to be the bad guy, even when they are.

"What's your deal?"

Tom Osborne, the author of some epic maulings while at Nebraska, always had a fallback excuse after hanging half a hundred on a helpless opponent: We're just running our offense.

The old I-option, at its best, destroyed everything in its path -- without passing.

That thought has to be entering Turner Gill's mind this week. Gill, one of the best players in Huskers history, used to guide some of those offenses. In some cosmic way, he has been getting payback in his second year as Kansas' coach.

The Jayhawks are dead last in total defense and scoring defense. They have given up at least 42 points in four of their five games. Kansas has become the opposite of Gill's Nebraska.

It seems cruel, then, that some programming genius had the idea of putting Oklahoma at Kansas on Saturday at 9:15 p.m. ET. To call it prime time would be a slap in the face of NCIS. That's programming. This is torture.

There is little to hold back those top 10 powers this week. This being the debut weekend of the BCS standings, style points and margin of victory will definitely come into play.

Get ready, then, for some Batman sound effects from this week's assortment of potential top 10 beatdowns:

No. 1 LSU at Tennessee: Pow!
No. 2 Alabama at Mississippi: Boom!
Indiana at No. 4 Wisconsin: Kablam!
No. 5 Boise State at Colorado State: Crash!
No. 6 Oklahoma State at Texas: Whamo!

As Robin used to put it ... "Holy nightmare."

Scouting the Nation

If you have any issues with WWL, remember ESPN told me what to do ...

First BCS standings: Just to be clear, if Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma all win this week, it really doesn't matter what 1-2-3 order they appear in on Sunday in the first BCS standings.

Judging from the first Harris Poll and latest coaches poll, Wisconsin is a distant No. 4. We can debate the Badgers' worthiness later, but for now nothing should change up top. A winner will emerge from LSU-Alabama in three weeks. Oklahoma seemingly controls its own destiny if it wins out.

Wisconsin plays three currently ranked teams the rest of the way (Michigan, Illinois, Penn State) before the Big Ten Championship Game. Oklahoma plays four (Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State).

Best guess for Sunday assuming the favorites win:

1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Oklahoma
4. Oklahoma State

Little Brother strikes back: Still trying to get used to this whole divisions thing in the Big Ten. Apparently the Michigan-Michigan State winner will have an advantage in the Legends.

Remember when Michigan's Mike Hart called the Spartans "little brother?" That was 2007 and Michigan State hasn't lost since. It's getting personal. Defensive end Jerel Worthy has a tattoo depicting a Spartan stomping a Wolverine.

Even laconic Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, "I believe in making it [the game] important."

The Spartans are trying to win four in a row in this series for the first time in half a century. Michigan vs. Michigan State preview

Suspended but not forgotten: Almost 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns ago, Dan Herron was All-Big Ten and Ohio State's leading rusher.

WWL mentions this because Herron's return from that infamous five-game suspension (at least there was the Sugar Bowl) could be a big difference in the Illinois game. Really, this is about football for once. The unbeaten Illini have lost eight straight at home to the Bucks.

Just don't ask Ron Zook the score ... because he might not know. This is how he described a two-point conversion try against Indiana last week.

"We were down five, right? Up five, I mean," Zook said. "It was 20-13? Up seven? Maybe I didn't know what the score was. That's happened to me before." Ohio State vs. Illinois preview

Free Ron Morris: Steve Spurrier doesn't want you to know there is a season-defining game this week at Mississippi State. He is deflecting attention away from a possible loss to the mercurial Bulldogs that could cause South Carolina to lose its grip on the SEC East.

Let's just say as a public information officer, Spurrier is a heck of a football coach. On the day (Tuesday) he decided to finally kick Stephen Garcia off the team, Spurrier clumsily bobbled the issue by going after an accomplished sportswriter.

It was small, it was petty and it diminished his legacy. I may get cut out of the exclusive media inner circle for this, but why hasn't Spurrier developed a quarterback at South Carolina? In that sense, he has lost a lot off his fastball.

The Legend of Spur Dog died for me a little this week.

Elbowing their way in: Now that Oregon's LaMichael James is semi-officially out of the Arizona State game -- at least quarterback Darron Thomas says so -- there is still hope.

Junior Kenjon Barner is LaMike Light and could start for a lot of teams. Tra Carson, 227 pounds, broke James' single-season rushing record back at their Texarkana, Texas, high school. De'Anthony Thomas is the fastest and quickest of the three. Chip Kelly likes to use him in the slot, or what he calls the "tazer" position. Arizona State vs. Oregon preview

Red River Fallout: Stoops (at Kansas) is 12-0 after the Texas game. Mack Brown (vs. Oklahoma State) is 13-0 after the Oklahoma game. Stoops has won his week-after game by an average of 25 points. Brown has won his by 21.

Something has to give. Most likely it will be Texas, which will be facing the highest-scoring team, (51.4 points per game for the Cowboys), the oldest quarterback (Weeden, 28) and a bleak outlook. Oklahoma State vs. Texas preview

Just survive, baby: It's hard to tell who is losing traction quicker in Oxford -- AD Pete Boone or coach Houston Nutt.

The Alabama game is a referendum on both. If Mississippi hangs close until the fourth quarter, consider it a victory. Then consider it a loss. That's when 'Bama has outscored opponents 52-8. Alabama vs. Ole Miss preview

The opposite of coming home: One-hundred years ago, Missouri claims to have invented homecoming. How absurd is it that on the anniversary of this century-old tradition, Missouri is holding the sport hostage, actually trying to leave its home in the Big 12.

What could be the last Iowa State game for Mizzou provides the backdrop for the sport's biggest distraction this season.

Purdue at Penn State: Urban Meyer makes his coaching debut for the Nittany Lions ... Wait, what? Not yet?

Boise decision: Do the Broncos want to go to the Big East, hoping the league retains its BCS bid, or stay in the Mountain West and continue to chase one?

Either way, it is likely weighed down by the competition it plays. Colorado State, this week's opponent, just lost to San Jose State.

Tyrann-osauraus: An individual is never greater than the team. Except on Saturday at Tennessee.

LSU All-American-in-the-making Tryann Mathieu this season: four forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered.

Tennessee this season: four forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered.

WWL will take the individual. LSU vs. Tennessee preview

Something to chew on ... and spit out: "I would just personally like to thank the coach at N.C. State. I'm serious. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Who knows where we're at or the position we're sitting in if Russell isn't here." -- Wisconsin defensive back Aaron Henry on quarterback Russell Wilson, who chose the Badgers for his last year of eligibility when he wasn't welcomed back by Tom O'Brien at North Carolina State.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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