Second Verse, Same As the First?
by Mike Mitchell
This week's college football preview begins with the same old song as undefeated Louisville faces an unbeaten opponent for the second straight week. After handing West Virginia its first defeat last Thursday, the Cardinals visit unbeaten Rutgers in another Thursday night game on ESPN. The Cardinals will be looking to preserve their place among the top three teams in the BCS Standings while the Scarlet Knights will have this opportunity to show a national television audience that they are for real.
Rutgers, along with Boise State, has been under-appreciated in most of the national polls and rankings. The Scarlet Knights are just 13th in the BCS, but 7th in the CCR Top 119.
Rutgers' resume is more impressive than most pundits acknowledge. They've defeated four teams with winning records, including MAC East leader Ohio, Navy, Pittsburgh and South Florida. In addition, they blanked the Big 10's Illinois 33-0 early in the season.
Louisville has had a history of scoring considerably fewer points on the road than at home. Last year, they were unexpectedly blown out 45-14 at South Florida, in addition to their triple-overtime loss at West Virginia where they surrendered a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter. While the Cardinals went 6-0 at home in 2005, they were 3-3 away from the friendly confines of Papa John's Stadium in a season that concluded with a loss to Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
The Cardinals scored only 24 and 28 points, respectively, in road wins at Kansas State and Syracuse this year. Their only other road wins were over Temple and Middle Tennessee.
Boise State (14th in the BCS, 5th in the CCR Top 119) visits San Jose State. Two years ago, the Broncos took their 8-0 record for a visit to the Spartans and escaped a wild shootout with a 56-49 win in a game that was moved to a 9am start to accommodate television. That year, San Jose State was just 2-7. This year, the Spartans are 6-2 and eligible to receive their first bowl bid since 1990.
Ohio State and Michigan have to survive just one more week to set-up their annual rivalry game as a monumental showdown of No. 1 vs. No. 2.
This week, the Buckeyes visit a schizophrenic Northwestern team. The puzzling Wildcats have lost to 1-AA New Hampshire at home, and beaten Big 10 Iowa on the road. Lately, Northwestern has shown the kind of defensive efforts one would expect from a team coached by former Wildcat All-American linebacker Pat Fitzgerald. After losing just 17-3 at Michigan, the boys from Evanston rung up a huge 21-7 win last week at Iowa. Now, they need to figure out how to put some points on the board as they've managed to score more than 21 points in a game just once all year, and that was in the first 2-and-half quarters of the loss to Michigan State.
Michigan also draws a confounding opponent when the Wolverines host Indiana. The Hoosiers were inexplicably bombed 63-26 last week by a Minnesota team that hadn't won a single Big 10 contest. That blowout defeat came just a week after Terry Hoeppner's squad destroyed Michigan State 46-21. Indiana has to upset Michigan on Saturday, or win at Purdue next week, to become bowl eligible.
Wisconsin, comfortably in third place in the Big 10, makes an uncomfortable journey to Iowa. The Hawkeyes have dropped three of their last four games, and four of their last six.
The topsy-turvey ACC delivers some more interesting match-ups this week as surprising Atlantic Division co-leaders, Wake Forest and Maryland, face difficult opponents.
The Demon Deacons take their 8-1 record to Tallahassee to face a downtrodden Florida State. The 'Noles enter this game needing one more win just to become bowl eligible but Bobby Bowden's boys are coming off, perhaps, their best game of the year, a 33-0 shellacking of Virginia.
Maryland hosts a riled-up Miami team, desperately trying to salvage its season after dropping to 5-4 with last Saturday's loss at home to Virginia Tech. But now the Hurricanes find themselves dealing with the tragic homicide of defensive lineman Bryan Pata on Tuesday. There's no telling what effect that will have on a football team that seemingly has adversity camped out on its doorstep. The 'Canes have lost two straight, but haven't lost three in-a-row since 1999. These teams haven't met since 1987, and the Terrapins haven't defeated Miami since their wild comeback in the Orange Bowl in 1984 when they rallied from a 34-3 halftime deficit.
Clemson will try to regroup from two consecutive losses when the Tigers host N.C. State. A Wolfpack loss eliminates Chuck Amato's team from bowl consideration.
Georgia Tech can secure the Atlantic Division title with a win at North Carolina.
Texas can clinch the Big 12 South Division title with a win at Kansas State on Saturday. The Wildcats have done well under first-year head coach Ron Prince. Kansas State enters the game with a 6-4 record over-all and 3-3 conference mark, following back-to-back wins over the North Division weakest links, Iowa State and Colorado.
If Nebraska loses at Texas A&M on Saturday, the Wildcats and idle Missouri are both still mathematically alive for the North Division title. A Nebraska win secures a spot for the Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Championship game for the first time since 1999.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma entertains Texas Tech with pride on the line for both schools. The Red Raiders would drop to 6-5 with a loss, far below the computer's 11-1 preseason forecast. The Sooners would fall to 7-3 if they lose on Saturday. Oklahoma played spoiler to Texas A&M's South Division title hopes last week with a hard-fought 17-16 win at College Station.
One week away from a showdown with Cal, USC hosts Oregon. If the Trojans get past the Ducks, they can move back into the PAC-10 lead with a win over the Golden Bears in the Coliseum next week.
Cal controls its own destiny to its first outright conference title since 1958 when the Golden Bears finished first in the Pacific Coast Conference. The Golden Bears shared the PAC-10 title with UCLA in 1975.
Suddenly, I wouldn't want to be in Mike Shula's shoes as Alabama has won just 7 of its last 13 games after starting the 2005 season at 9-0. The Tide has won just 2 if its last 6 conference games and they barely won those, beating Vanderbilt on a last-second field goal and Mississippi in overtime. Alabama is bowl eligible is at 6-4, but faces Auburn at home next week after the journey to LSU this week.
Auburn tunes up for the Iron Bowl by hosting Georgia this week. The Tigers won 31-30 in Athens last year and lead the tight series 53-48-8, having outscored the Bulldogs by just two points over the 109-game history of the border rivalry. The cumulative score stands at 1,650 to 1,648. Auburn is 15-7-1 in the last 23 meetings.
SEC West Division-leading Arkansas hosts a Tennessee team that saw its conference title hopes, and slim national championship aspirations, fade to black with last week's home loss to LSU.
The 'Ol Ball Coach returns to Gainesville where Florida will be looking for revenge for last season's 30-22 loss to South Carolina in Columbia. The Gators have already clinched the SEC East Division title while Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are just 5-4 with games remaining against the Gators, Middle Tennessee and Clemson. They may have to depend on beating Middle Tennessee next week just to become bowl eligible.
From 1982-1985, Fisher DeBerry's Air Force teams beat Notre Dame four straight times. The Falcons will be looking for their first win over the Irish since 1996 when they host Notre Dame on Saturday for their first meeting since 2002.
This is the first year since 1995 that Notre Dame has played all three Academies - Air Force, Army and Navy - in the same season.
Five teams enter the week with unblemished records - Boise State, Louisville, Michigan, Ohio State, and Rutgers. There will be at least one casualty as Louisville and Rutgers meet in Piscataway on Thursday night. It is the second week in-a-row that the Cardinals have been involved in a game where both combatants were undefeated. Louisville handed West Virginia its first loss last week in Louisville, 44-34.
Boise State (9-0, 5-0 WAC) visits San Jose State (6-2, 3-1 WAC); Michigan (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) hosts Indiana (5-5, 3-3 Big Ten); Ohio State visits Northwestern (3-7, 1-5 Big Ten).
Last year, there were just three undefeated teams at this point of the season (Alabama, Texas, and USC).
Ten teams enter this week with just one loss. There were twelve at this point last year.
Three schools are still looking for their first win - Duke, FIU, and Stanford.
Duke (0-9, 0-5 ACC Coastal) visits Boston College (7-2, 3-2 ACC Atlantic); FIU (0-8, 0-3 Sun Belt) hosts Louisiana-Monroe (1-7, 0-4 Sun Belt); Stanford (0-9, 0-6 PAC-10) visits Washington (4-6, 2-5 PAC-10).
Four teams were still winless at this time last year (Buffalo, New Mexico State, Rice, and Temple).
No 1-A schools play a 1-AA school this week.
1-AA teams are 7-70 for the season against their higher-classified brethren. Since the start of the 2003 campaign, 1-A teams hold the upper hand by a huge margin, 234-25 (.903).
Over 75 schools took the opportunity of a 12th game to schedule a cupcake opponent.
Ohio State has won 17 straight games.
Louisville has won 13 straight regular season games.
Boise State has won 11 straight regular season games, and 35 consecutive regular season home victories. The Broncos have never lost a home game to a WAC opponent (23-0).
USC has won a nation's-best 30 consecutive home games.
Texas has won 21 straight conference games, and 17 straight road games.
Duke has lost 17 games over-all, and 19 straight to 1-A teams.
Stanford has lost 11 straight games.
New Mexico State has lost 20 straight to 1-A teams.
The 2006 season introduces 11 coaching changes. We're tracking their progress throughout the season.
Boise State, 9-0 under Chris Petersen, visits San Jose State.
Wisconsin, 9-1 under Bret Bielema, visits Iowa.
Middle Tennessee, 6-3 under Rick Stockstill, visits Arkansas State.
Kansas State, 6-4 under Ron Prince, hosts Texas.
Rice, 4-5 under Todd Graham, visits Tulsa.
Idaho, 4-6 under Dennis Erickson, is idle.
Northwestern, 3-7 under Pat Fitzgerald, hosts Ohio State.
Buffalo, 2-7 with Turner Gill, visits Akron.
San Diego State, 1-7 under Chuck Long, hosts UNLV.
Colorado, 1-9 under Dan Hawkins, hosts Iowa State.
Temple, 1-9 under Al Golden, visits Penn State.