Taking conference roll call
With the season approaching the halfway point, it is time to take a look at some of the key on-field issues. Enough expansion chatter for now. Those issues will work themselves out eventually.
The early season had some surprises in the conference races.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Clemson and Georgia Tech are the leaders of the packs.
Clemson always has great expectations, but too often coach Dabo Swinney’s team underachieves.
This year could be different. Beating Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech in consecutive games deserves major praise. It still may be too early to put the Tigers in the national championship picture, however.
Let’s see if Clemson can avoid the classic letdown game tomorrow against Boston College. The Eagles are capable of making the Tigers fret, if not sweat, as much as they are capable of being routed.
Georgia Tech was not supposed to be on top in the Coastal Division, where Virginia Tech was the solid preseason favorite. But any team coached by Paul Johnson is dangerous.
Not a whole lot of surprises in a conference where there was no clear-cut favorite. West Virginia was considered the best in class, and that still appears to be the case.
If Rutgers can beat Pittsburgh tomorrow, the Scarlet Knights could be a factor. Rutgers gets the major contenders - West Virginia, South Florida, and Cincinnati - at home.
Can you see the Scarlet Knights in the Orange Bowl? Not likely, but then again, who would have picked Connecticut for the Fiesta Bowl last season?
Form is holding. Alabama and LSU are the best of a strong pack in the West, and the East is a food fight among Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.
The feeling here is that Alabama and LSU are BCS-bound, and both could be in New Orleans in January, playing in the Sugar Bowl and the BCS title game.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were regarded as the heavyweights. That holds true, and the end-of-the-regular-season battle in Stillwater should be an epic.
But Texas, Texas Tech, and Kansas State are undefeated. There’s a lot that has to be sorted out here.
Wisconsin and Michigan State still appear to be the best bets to make it the Rose Bowl. But Michigan and Illinois are still unbeaten.
Michigan has started fast and faded before. But maybe first-year coach Brady Hoke can keep the Wolverines focused.
Ohio State is in shambles with all the mess left behind by former coach Jim Tressel.
The good news for Illinois is that it faces Michigan and Wisconsin at home. The bad news is that it is still Illinois and could lose at any time, including tomorrow against Northwestern.
Oregon and Stanford were the picks at the start of the season, and nothing has changed. The Ducks bounced back from their season-opening loss to LSU, while the Cardinal, with quarterback Andrew Luck quietly putting together a Heisman-type of season, has soared through the first part of their season unbeaten, justifying their top-10 ranking.
Stanford still has some challenges ahead, specifically a date with Oregon Nov. 12. That is followed by the Big Game with California and a regular-season finish with Notre Dame. All three games are at home, and if Luck is going to win the Heisman, the Cardinal will probably have to finish unbeaten.
When the Fighting Irish started 0-2, we downgraded them because of a lack of production, not a lack of ability. Don’t look now, but Notre Dame (3-2) may be a factor on several fronts.
Ahead lies a schedule that includes Air Force, Southern Cal, Navy, and BC in South Bend. Wake Forest, Maryland, and Stanford are the remaining road foes. Of those games, Notre Dame will be an underdog only against Stanford. And in the last game of the season, with such things as the Heisman Trophy, BCS bids, and unbeaten seasons at stake, anything is possible.
So is a 10-2 record and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.