This just in from our Birmingham bureau: The SEC is really good.
|Third-ranked Georgia faces a daunting task making it through the SEC unscathed.(AP)|
Watching Tennessee's Erik Ainge and Florida's Chris Leak going head-to-head was like watching a future Heisman winner going against a future NFL quarterback. The problem is deciding which is which.
Yes, it's obvious. The hype, noise and plays emanating from last week's LSU-Auburn, Florida-Tennessee games were like twin 747s taking off at the same time.
With thousands of people rooting them on from the edge of the runway.
"Holy smoke!" Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges said after experiencing Jordan-Hare Stadium at the top of its game. "It was neat, neat, neat. When you're calling plays, you have to be careful not to get caught up in that atmosphere. This is football like I've never been part of in my life."
Borges is a Cali guy, been on the West Coast most of his career, so you can understand his excitement. Those who experience SEC fever for the first time are hooked.
|Why I'm at this game|
|Air Force at Utah|
|During a week when there are few DNA-altering games around the country, this gives me a chance to see a hottie. I'm talking about Utah coach Urban Meyer who, if you believe the chat rooms, has one foot at Notre Dame, North Carolina or the NFL. The Utes are the highest-ranked (No. 14) non-BCS program.|
That's why it's a shame. It's a shame that the SEC is sooo competitive that it isn't likely to produce an undefeated team. And unless some team goes through undefeated, a national championship becomes less likely.
I know, I know, LSU lost to Florida last season. But it lost early enough and won often enough (seven in a row) to get to the Sugar Bowl.
This year LSU, Georgia, Auburn or Tennessee look like they could win it all. If Florida doesn't win the SEC this year, it will next year. Alabama is next best and was headed for a major bowl until Brodie Croyle went down. Arkansas and South Carolina will give you as much as you want in any given week.
This is important because conference play is beginning in earnest around the country at most places this week. That means it's time to separate the F-150s from the El Caminos. Here's a look at this weekend's big games, in descending order of league strength ...
The SEC's latest Armageddon game is Alabama at Arkansas. It really doesn't matter that Arkansas is missing a lot of 2003 starters. It's time to move on. The Texas game slipped away. The Hogs can't let 'Bama get away without hanging an L on it.
Two years ago, Tyler Watts was injured. In stepped Croyle for his first start, which turned out to be a 30-12 victory over Arkansas. Since that day, 'Bama has been an up-and-down 13-11. Marc Guillon takes over for Croyle and in some ways might be better. The Miami (Fla.) transfer is bigger and, at this point, healthier.
"We felt better going into the season about our quarterback situation than we did at anytime last year," David Shula said. "This is what Marc is prepared for."
In Shula's 16 games, offensive coordinator Dave Rader has had to prepare Croyle, Spencer Pennington, Brandon Avalos, Croyle (again) and now Guillon.
"Remember when we were in our late teens and early 20s, how we'd sit on Saturday nights (watching Saturday Night Live) and listen to Rosanne Rosannadanna say, 'It's always something?'" Rader told the Birmingham Post-Herald. "Well, it's always something."
Outlook: Tennessee (East) and Auburn (West) are the favorites for now, but it's going to be a wild ride. Preseason favorite Georgia is struggling offensively. The winner of Arkansas-Alabama will have something to say. Somehow, we think LSU isn't done either.
Just watch those SEC officials.
Games of the year: Auburn at Tennessee; LSU at Georgia, both on Oct. 2. Florida vs. Georgia, Oct. 30.
This week's Bowden Bowl has lost its sheen -- mostly because both coaches have lost too many games recently.
Clemson's Tommy got a contract extension basically from beating his dad last year. With the Tigers at a disappointing 1-2, Tommy would be in trouble again but has the security of a $3 million buyout. Papa probably will lay a whipping on his son, but his heart isn't in it. Miami beat his team, putting FSU behind from the start in the ACC and national rankings.
Bobby sounded almost depressed this week talking about the game. He has good reason. There was the death of his grandson in a car crash and now he has to go out and beat his son.
"For the family, it's just not fun," Bobby said. "You picture a mother whose got a son who has got to win the ballgame, got a husband who has got to win the ballgame. For the family, it's lost its luster and excitement of the early days."
Jeff Bowden is FSU's offensive coordinator. Terry Bowden will be there to analyze it on television. Who's bringing the potato salad for this family reunion?
Game of the year: Virginia at Florida St., Oct. 16.; Miami at Virginia, Nov. 6.
There's a hint of a challenge to USC with both Cal and Arizona State still undefeated. The Sun Devils (3-0) announced themselves with a trouncing of Iowa last week. This week Oregon State (1-2) comes to the desert in what has to be the conference game of the week.
Win this one and the Devils start 4-0 for the first time since their Rose Bowl season in 1996. Hard to believe, but quarterback Andrew Walter needs 12 touchdown passes to break John Elway's Pac-10 career record of 77.
The Beavers are dangerous. They rebounded from tough losses at LSU and Boise State to beat New Mexico. Derek Anderson has thrown a touchdown pass in 21 consecutive games.
Special mention: UCLA, which is 2-1, should be 4-1 when it goes to Cal on Oct. 16. There is a pinhole of light in that blanket the Trojans have thrown over the Bruins. Last week, Maurice Drew rushed for a school-record 322 yards and five touchdowns against Washington.
Games of the year: Cal at USC on Oct. 9, Arizona State at USC on Oct. 16.
Eight teams in the Big 12 have a bye, which is another way of suggesting police call for backup at the campus bars Saturday night. Oops, forgot that Dusty Dvoracek and Richie Incognito had been booted.
The only conference game this week is Texas Tech at Kansas, which is huge because the Jayhawks (2-1) need this to have a realistic chance of winning the division. If the Big Ten is down, then the Big 12 North is in a coma. This month marked the first time since December 1967 that a team from this division hasn't been ranked.
Colorado (3-0) is the division's only unbeaten team and seems to be doing it with mirrors. Its defense is 99th nationally.
Game of the year: Texas vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 9.
Gimme a T, gimme an H, gimme a U, gimme a G!
What's it spell in the Big Ten? Try Penn State's cheerleaders. They might as well be installed as a 6½-point favorite over Wisconsin. It seems that the pompon pukes got a little aggressive in the bookstore last week with a woman who didn't necessarily want her body plastered with Penn State stickers. Police are investigating the woman's allegation that she was struck by one of the Terminally Perky.
If only the football team was this overzealous. Quarterback Zack Mills seemingly has regressed (four turnovers last week vs. Central Florida). There's little big-time talent. Penn State has lost six consecutive road games. With games coming up against Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa, JoePa absolutely has to have this game. He won't get it.
Team of the year, er, month: Minnesota. The Gophers (playing host to Northwestern) are off to their first 3-0 start since last year. OK, so the last one before that was, um, 2002. The point is that Minny needs to finish well. It is 12-16 after Nov. 1 under Glen Mason. With no Ohio State on the schedule and Michigan vulnerable, the possibility is real for the first Rose Bowl in 43 years.
Game of the year: Ohio State at Purdue, Nov. 13.
No Big East conference games this week, but the most pleasant surprise is Boston College. The Eagles (at Wake Forest) are 3-0 and have a legit star in quarterback Paul Peterson.
West Virginia (playing host to James Madison) is no surprise. The No. 6 Mountaineers were supposed to be 3-0. If they can win at Virginia Tech on Oct. 2 they could go unbeaten.
"Whatever the people want to think, let them think it," running back Kay-Jay Harris said. "We have a goal. I won't tell you what it is. ... Oh hell, you know what it is. We want to win the Big East. We want to go undefeated. Who doesn't?"
Game of the year: Boston College at West Virginia, Nov. 13.
The best conference not to have an automatic BCS bid has had two ranked teams (Louisville, Memphis) already this season. Counting TCU and Southern Miss, it possibly has more quality teams than the Big East.
Alabama-Birmingham (1-1) tries to rebound from a rout at Florida State in playing host to Memphis (3-0). Louisville (2-0) travels to suddenly dangerous North Carolina. Southern Miss (1-0) is playing only its second game of the season at Tulane (1-1). It already has won at Nebraska. South Florida (1-1) and TCU (2-1) meet for the last time as conference rivals before going to the Big East (Bulls) and Mountain West (Horned Frogs).
Game of the year: Louisville at Memphis, Nov. 4.
It's all about Utah ...
... in the Mountain West. The No. 14 Utes open Mountain West play against Air Force as a 20½ point favorite. Whoa, hold the Fiesta Bowl.
During its 10-2 season last year, Utah was able to sneak past the Falcons 45-43 in triple overtime. Since then, the Utes have won seven in a row.
You have to root for them to get to into the BCS. Utah has five first-round draft choices in its history. Miami had six last year. That would be parity. Come to think of it, Miami-Utah would be a hell of a Fiesta Bowl.
Game of the year: Colorado State at Utah, Nov. 6.
SMU (0-3) has its best chance this season to break a 15-game losing streak against San Jose State (1-1) in the conference opener.
The streak is the second-longest in the nation behind Army (17) and is a low point even for the only program to suffer the NCAA's death penalty. Athletic director Jim Copeland reiterated his support for coach Phil Bennett this week, although another winless season is certainly possible.
SMU claims it has the youngest team in the country -- 85 underclassmen, including 57 freshmen -- on its 112-man roster.
The Spartans' lone victory is against I-AA Morgan State, which was invited to San Jose because its nationally known band could draw fans. Critics have called for the end of football at San Jose State.
It's quite a yin and yang in the WAC. Both Boise State and Fresno State are ranked and have beaten schools from BCS leagues. Each has a chance to reach a BCS bowl. Boise has the nation's longest winning streak, 14 games. At the other end of the standings there is some horrid football.
Game of the year: Fresno at Boise, Oct. 23.
Please, kill the pain, doc. The MAC has fallen, broken a hip and can't get up. Four of the nation's top seven losing streaks belong to MAC teams. Four of the league's 14 teams are No. 100 or worse in total defense. Its teams have lost all 29 games against non-conference I-A competition.
Toledo (1-2) has the best chance to break through when it plays host to Temple. Marshall (0-3) obviously overscheduled. It is playing tough, but has lost to Troy, Ohio State and Georgia. Still, the Herd might be the favorite to win the league.
Last year's game of the year, Bowling Green-Northern Illinois, will be played Friday night with a lot less fanfare. This will be both teams' chance to beat a I-A opponent.
Game of the year: Miami (Ohio) at Marshall, Sept. 29.
Cinching up the Sun Belt
The league's best team isn't even in the league. Florida Atlantic (3-0), due to join next season, has beaten North Texas and Middle Tennessee.
Only Troy (2-1) is over .500 overall. It has the league's most intriguing game this week, playing at South Carolina. Watch the sneaky fast Trojans defense, which has surrendered only five touchdowns all season. Three-time defending champ North Texas (0-3) is looking for its first victory at Baylor. If it fails, the Mean Green could still win a fourth consecutive league title with an overall record below .500 as it did a couple of years ago.
Game of the year: Florida Atlantic at Troy, Nov. 6.