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Monday, December 9, 2013

Final Week of Regular Season: Top 25

Ladies and gentleman, we have arrived.  A long season filled with questions about all the undefeateds, who gets in, who gets left out, and who deserves respect uncharacteristically worked everything out on it's own for us.  More relieving than the fact that we have a relatively clean finish to our season is the fact that we have survived the BCS era.  The last slate of BCS games are out and in the end, for once we got a slate of games with almost no controversy (one small controversy but better than seasons past).

I for one feel this warrants a celebration and I plan on doing just that.  Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing an opinion on the best way to handle a reconfigured bowl system and for all the BCS haters out there, a top ten list of the biggest flops of the BCS systems over the past ten years.

But now, let's get to the last top 25 until we have a national champion crowned.

1. Florida State - A stat flashed briefly on my screen while watching the ACC championship game on Saturday.  I was surprised that the commentators made no mention of it, at all,  the state appeared, left, and the broadcast moved on.  The stat?  The Seminoles kicker, Roberto Aguayo, has outscored Seminole opponents on the season.  Knock the schedule if you want but this is the best team I've seen on a college field since the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.

2. Auburn - No debate from me here on who gets the second spot.  They compiled a great won-loss record against mostly light-weights through the first ten games of the season but successive victories over Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri make it obvious who has earned this spot.

3. Michigan State - Unlike most voters, I take into consideration the fact that the Spartans are conference champions when deciding where to rank them.  I know Alabama is good but Michigan State won their conference, played an extra game, and won the biggest game on their schedule.  Alabama didn't do any of those things, so Sparty gets my vote here.

4. Alabama - If Saban calls a Hail Mary instead of a field goal attempt, we are drooling over the prospect of Alabama-Florida State.  He didn't, we aren't.  Alabama may be the second best team ever to not win their conference (behind Alabama from two years ago).

5. Baylor - Think about this for a second, the last three BIG 12 champions are Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Baylor.  Over those three seasons combined, those schools spent less on their football team than Texas did this year.  Baylor's conference championship caps the best season in school history and maybe the most unlikely BCS AQ conference winner ever.

6. Stanford - Times have really changed when Stanford is disappointed to be playing in the Rose Bowl as a two loss team but I think that's how the Cardinal have to feel.  Stanford played that hardest schedule in the nation this year, beating seven ranked teams and playing ten games against teams going to bowl games.  The fact that both losses came to unranked teams, and one of only three teams on the schedule not going to a bowl, will make for a long offseason.

7. Ohio State - Two years into Urban Meyer's tenure as the Buckeyes head coach and we still have no idea how good they really are.  We know they are better than Wisconsin (beat them in each of his two seasons) but have no idea how good nationally.  The non-conference schedule is a joke and no team they've beaten in the 24 game winning streak has finished higher than 17th in the seasons final rankings.

8. South Carolina - Much like Stanford, the Gamecocks must be wondering how they won ten games, beat two teams headed to BCS bowls, and were the only team to beat Missouri in the regular season, yet they lost to Georgia and Tennessee.

9. Arizona State - One of my least favorite things about the BCS systems is that it penalizes teams for playing an extra game.  ASU has lost three times, yes, but they have played 13 games.  Two of those losses are to Stanford, no one else ranked ahead of them had to play Stanford once.  I refuse to penalize the Sun Devils for playing an extra game and believe they belong in the top ten.

10. Missouri - 11-2 is a really nice record and a miraculous turnaround from last year, however, Missouri beat up on a lot of teams that were in the midst of being destroyed by injuries.  Ranked wins of over Florida, Georgia, and Ole Miss do not look as strong now as they did when they occurred.  Missouri, like Ohio State, will have a lot to prove in it's bowl game.

11. UCF - Probably the hardest team for me to rank because they have that "play to the level of your competition" stink all over them.  The Knights looked tough, gritty, and like a legitimate top ten team in early victories over Louisville and a hard fought loss to South Carolina.  At the end of the day though, they managed to win seven games by seven points or less, making South Florida and Temple look just as tough as Lousiville.  I'll respect the record and be very curious to see how they play the Fiesta Bowl against a Baylor team that could run away from them in a hurry.

12. Oklahoma - After the blowout loss at Baylor, I think the nation wrote off Oklahoma as a contender this year.  They quietly won out from there and capped the season with an upset of the rivals Cowboys in Stillwater.  Both losses were against strong teams and they also compiled wins over Texas Tech and Notre Dame along the way.

13. Oregon - The record and reputation made me instinctively think they should be higher but when you really analyze this team, they played sooooo bad down the stretch that even placing them here seems generous.  The two losses were bowling-shoe-dropped-in-an-outhouse ugly.  The final score in the Stanford game does not do justice to how hopelessly outclassed they were almost the entire game and the blowout loss to Arizona was just embarrassing.  Then they come back and barely survive an Oregon State team that was coming off a 42 point demolishing at the hands of Washington.  The Ducks don't deserve to be in a BCS bowl this year.

14. Clemson - The Tigers also fall into that category of "who knows" with Ohio State and Missouri.  Nice record, they play in an AQ conference, but their best win was against Georgia (seems like I've said that a lot, says a lot about how their season went) and that was on opening night.  Since that night, Clemson was beaten by the only two ranked teams they played, and the loss to FSU was the worst home loss in school history.  The Tigers best win since then is probably Boston College.  The Orange Bowl will be fun to watch and see who wants to lose the game less between them and Ohio State.

15. Oklahoma State - Season ends in disappointing fashion against the Sooners but the thrashing of Baylor at home remains one of the best victories for any team all season.  The Pokes are finally playing well on both sides of the ball as well, watch out for these guys next year.

16. UCLA - The Bruins haven't quite yet learned how to win all the big games but it shows a lot in how far this program has come that they can win all the smaller ones.  UCLA dropped games against Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State on the year, the best three teams in the conference.  However, they did pick up wins over Washington and Nebraska, as well as all the teams they "should" beat.

17. Wisconsin - The Badgers finished off a season that was better than it had any right to be by winning nine games.  Coming off of a five loss season and losing their head coach, that is a great accomplishment.  The season ending loss to Penn State is bad but the other losses are to Ohio State and a highly controversial loss on the road at Arizona State.  Really, I'd say their record is 9 1/2 - 2 1/2.

18. LSU - The Tigers of 2013 did not look like the ones we are used.  Instead doing enough on offense and pulverizing teams on defense, LSU was inconsistent on both sides of the ball.  The only team to beat Auburn and make Johnny Manziel look like a foolish dancer behind center also dropped games against Ole Miss, Georgia, and then simply gave up at halftime against Alabama.  This team had a lot of turnover from last year and will be back in the top ten next season.

19. Louisville - Just like the UCF team represents the Cardinals only loss, this team spent the second half of the season playing to the level of their competition and the competition was bad.  After losing to the Knights, you could say that they "Oregoned it" and decided that they shouldn't play hard for anything but an unbeaten season, just play hard enough to win.  Bridgewater is a stud and the defense is among the countries best when it wants to be but they just did not play a very complete season.

20. Northern Illinois - I love cheering for the little guys, and I really want to put NIU higher than this, but I just can't.  In the preseason, I thought they had a great chance to go unbeaten this year, after they struggled to pull out early wins against Idaho and Eastern Illinois, I wrote that idea off.  Somehow they almost did it anyways.  Jordan Lynch is a Heisman worthy quarterback and that win over Iowa looked better and better as the season rolled on.  That being said the rest of the schedule aside from Ball State and Bowling Green (who beat them) belong in the bottom thirty of the entire FBS.  Hard to put them any higher despite the record.

21. Duke - The Blue Devils had the greatest season in school history.  After getting crushed by Georgia Tech and then losing a 58-55 shootout to Pitt, it would have been easy to accept this as a season just like last year.  That team beat bad teams and then let good teams score as much as they wanted.  The losing streak ended at two.  From there the Blue Devils would win eight in a row, including upsets of UNC, Virginia Tech, and Miami, before falling to the mighty Seminoles.

22. Fresno State - I have one bias that I will not deny. I hate teams that only play one side of the ball.  Teams that throw like crazy and give up points by the boatload, I hate em (Hint: Texas A&M doesn't make my rankings).  That bias comes into play here.  I could easily put this team up around 18 if I wanted to, but I don't.  Fresno State has allowed 37 or more points 4 times this season, including their one loss where they let a San Jose State that is 47th in the country ins scoring offense hang 62 on them.  David Carr is great, Davante Adams is great, but the defense is just awful.

23. Georgia - You have to wonder how far the Bulldogs could have gone if this team had been healthy at all this season.  The injuries started by halftime in the opening game against Clemson and got worse all through the season, culminating with Aaron Murray's ACL tear after 11 games of carrying the entire team on his back.  The four losses came by a total of 27 points and three were to teams that finished in the top 13.  Also, they did beat LSU and South Carolina along the way.  They faced one of the three toughest schedules in the country and faced it hurt the whole way.

24. USC - Not a bad finish for a team that decided to fire it's coach by halftime of it's fifth game.  The Trojans should be excited about what a deeper roster and a real head coach to start the season could mean for next years team.

25. Bowling Green - The MAC champions finish the season on a five game win streak that included a victory over the previously unbeaten Huskies of NIU.  Of the three losses on the season, two came by a combined 4 points.  It's not an overwhelmingly great season by any means, but it's only the 25th spot.

Also considered: Miami (FL), Ball State, Rice, and Texas

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From Incognito to Infamous

Usually I try to keep my writing light-hearted.  Lists, ranking, and shouting about how much I hate Alabama dominate the text throughout my blog.  Today, however is going to be a little different.  For the first time in seemingly ages, the Miami Dolphins are the center of sports media attention, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.

Today, I put on my serious face and give my perspective on the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin debacle that is unfolding.  If you are not familiar with the story, check it out the link below.

I spent the majority of the morning listening to ESPN Radio, listening to every show my app could find that touched on the subject.  Mike & Mike, Tony Kornheiser, Chris Carter, Ron Jaworski, and Tim Hasselbeck all gave some insight to the story throughout the morning, but the best commentary I heard came from someone I'm usually very critical of: Colin Cowheard.  Cowheard described Richie Incognito as a sterotypical "tough guy."  A guy who pushes others down, tells anyone who is hurt, emotionally or physically, to just get over it.  A bully that that takes what he cans from others and uses his size and demeanor to stop others from standing up to him.

As Colin stated, the good news about guys like this is that they are dumb.  They eventually pick a fight they can't win, or wear out their welcome in whatever environment they are a part of and fall down the proverbial societal ladder.  Simply put, the bad guy eventually loses.

A nice sentiment but Incognito being the ultimate loser assumes that Martin comes out as the winner.  The problem here is that this situation has no winners.  Someone "winning" assumes that they come out from the situation in a better position than they were previously in.  I challenge anybody to find a party that comes out the better for this.

The easy answer is that Jonathan Martin is the winner but let's take a closer look at the situation.  Did Martin get Incognito out of his locker room?  Yes, it appears that he has, but Martin has perhaps an even bigger challenge left at this point.

You see football is not a great career choice for a player that struggles to stand up for himself.  Martin plays right guard and there are expectations that teammates have for any player on the offensive line.  The expectation is that you stand up and be a human wall.  Whether you are forcing a defender in a specific direction to open a running lane, or more frequently in the current landscape of the NFL, you are protecting your quarterback while he prepares to throw the ball doesn't matter.  Your job is to be a force that protects one or two specific players on your team.

As an offensive lineman in the NFL, you are looking down the barrel of a smoking gun at all times.  The biggest, strongest, meanest, and baddest men on a football field line up six inches from you.  They stare you down in silence waiting for that ball to snap and then they explode at you.  Whatever anger they are holding from their personal life, any issues with their role on their team, or even simple frustrations from the flow of the game, as a lineman you have to survive whatever motivation they have to be a force of destruction every time that ball leaves the center's hands.

Jonathan Martin will have a long fight in front of him to prove to anyone that he is up for that task again.  Offensive linemen, at all levels of football, know they have to trust the brothers by their side to do their job.  They know that the armor is useless with a single chink in it and the quarterback behind him knows that he may be the difference between a touchdown pass and a season ending injury.  Simply put, Jonathan Martin's job is to stand up and hit every big man coming his way, harder than they hit him.  To fight through hostilities and pain, to man up and protect the guy behind him.

The situation with Martin says to me that he is not ready to play football in the NFL.  Not because he is in the wrong, he isn't.  Not because he should have to put up with grief from other players or buy their meals, he shouldn't.  Not because he isn't talented enough to play, he absolutely is.  The reason is because a right guard has to be able to stand up and protect all the guys behind him and right now Jonathan Martin does not seem to know how to even protect himself.

Martin is six feet, five inches tall and weighs 312 pounds.  If a player is pushing him to far, stand up, punch him in the face during practice, and survive a shewing form your head coach.  For 100 years now, this has solved most conflicts on a football team.  Martin is a physical monster, he is physically capable of defending himself when necessary, and has chosen not to.  What is even more alarming to me though is not Martin's inability to defend himself physically but mentally.  Martin is a graduate of Stanford University, the best school West of Illinois at least, and was in the right, why did he not go to his coach or other teammates and resolve this.

Again, I have to point out that I fully believe that Martin is in the right here, but he should be ashamed of the way he handled the situation.  If you want to play football in the NFL, you can't solve disputes by saying nothing for 18 months, then deciding you need time to deal with emotional issues, state there are no issues with the team, and then wait for the league to come probing for an issue to admit that someone has been bullying you for almost two years.  No matter what consequences he feared could come from "ratting" out the treatment from Incognito, it would have been impossible for it to have damaged his team as much as this "solution" did.

Richie Incognito is certainly a loser in this situation.  He is suspended indefinitely, which means he is losing money, and regardless of what other news breaks one has to believe that his career could be done for.  Miami almost certainly will have to part ways with the veteran guard, for PR reasons at least, and based on on his reputation this would have to be strike three.  Three years of good behavior (supposedly) have helped many forget how problematic his career has been and it may be at a point where no one else will take a chance on him.  How this situation plays out is irrelevant, the NFL days are likely over for Incognito.

The entire Miami Dolphins organization is free-falling from this as well, they are not Penn State, but they have taken over Tampa Bay as the team that has the worst reputation.  There are reports of coaches being involved in asking Incognito to "toughen up" Martin.  Even if those are false, or the coaches are lower level and easily replaced, second year head coach Joe Philbin has egg all over his face and looks at the least painfully ignorant, if not completely dismissive.  Keep in mind that last year Sean Payton sat the entire season out despite limited evidence of any involvement in the "bounty" scheme.  Philbin may have to miss some time, even if he keeps his job.  Given the way that the NFL operates and how much your organizations public reputation has been made a heightened importance recently, I expect a "house-cleaning" to occur.

Philbin and the coaching staff are therefore also losers in the story.  What about the rest of the team?  Absolutely.  Perhaps the most concerning part of this story is the fact that Martin has absolutely zero locker room support right now.  Incognito is not believed to have been alone in this and keep mind that Martin plays right between him and the younger Pouncey, whose recent involvement with Aaron Hernandez will certainly gain him some accusatory looks as this draws on.  Keep in mind that Miami just acquired starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie in a trade less than two weeks ago.  If Pouncey ends up as part of this story, then only one starter on the Miami offensive line next week may have been starting just 14 days ago.

This is all happening on a line that led the league in sacks allowed when all the starters were healthy.  Ryan Tannehill is a young quarterback, that is only in the fourth season of his entire life playing the position. His pocket presence is sub par, he holds the ball to long, and is going to take a beating this season that may take years off his career.  The window for Tannehill to blossom is closing alarmingly fast.  There are defensive linemen being lumped into this story as well, so the defense might suffer as well.

The bottom line is that the organization is looking at an extraordinary loss of talent, general manager Jeff Ireland was already on the hot seat and seems assured to be fired by season's end once this team misses the playoffs.  The rebuilding process may be painful and slow if they lose all the talent as well.  The Dolphins don't draft well and haven't for years, and free agents don't typically walk into fires.  The fans are the biggest losers of this whole ordeal.

The NFLPA loses as well, they have to represent both players in the inevitable litigious process.  Veterans the league over are losing out as well, because you can bet your favorite team cap that the big meals on the rookie tabs and other initiations are going to be a huge center of attention this offseason and will be gone no later than the next time union agreements come up for bargaining again.  It's easy to overreact to stories but this one is going to linger and sting.

The real story here is that it may not pay to be a bully but being vindictive certainly is paying big dividends either.  I sympathize for stories about children that are bullied, the 40 pounder that gets beat down on the playground, the kid with a speech impediment that can't use his words to defend himself, but not behemoth that chooses to save voicemails and text messages in case he reaches a breaking point.

Bullying is a hot issue in our country right now but this is not bullying.  Bullying is when someone incapable of defending themselves is victimized by others who exploit that fact.  Martin chose not to stand up for himself, it's not bullying, it's just being weak, and hopefully players on both sides of issues like these can learn from the train wreck unfolding in front of us.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Weekly Round-Up: 10/3/13

Topic One -  Is A Swift Death Less Painful?  The Lane Kiffin Story

Lane stared out the window of his cell, reliving the steps that had left him stranded on the metaphorical island he now resided on.  It had all happened so suddenly, the events transpired in such  a blur.  One moment he held this beautiful child in his arms, so ripe and full of potential.  "You can be President of the United States of America someday if you want to."  He didn't say it in the usual way that parents are obligated to inspire their children, he meant it, this child of his could be the best of the best.  Here he sat now, just a short 13 months later, on death row for the crime of the swift, brutal murder of the child he held so dear.  He awoke from the memory and placed the order for his last meal.  "Fried Gator" he stated.  "A cut from the thigh would be great. And some roasted red potatoes, the kind my mama used to make with just a hint of garlic.  A Keystone Light to wash it down please, so I can feel young one last time."  

Lane sat and ate his final dinner a few short hours later, pensively, slowly as he reflected on some of the other children in his life.  Would he have done the same to the kid he nearly adopted in Tennessee?  If an opportunity had not taken him to the other side of the country he surely would have nurtured the child in similar fashion.  What about the child in Oakland? Was he really destined to be a killer or had the circumstances and stress of Hollywood done this to him.  Lane cleaned his plate and then wiped his face clean with the napkin and neatly folded it and placed it on his plate.  His mother had taught him to do that and he thought she would appreciate seeing that the lesson had stuck if she was still here.  

Lane then made the long, dreaded walk to the Coliseum where the viewing party included Pat Haden and some respected donors.  Although no one was hurt by the damage done like the masses of Los Angeles, they were not invited to bear witness to the execution.  He had been sentenced to a cruel, some would say inhuman, death.  He was to be tortured by Cougars for three hours and then slayed by a Sun Devil.  Lane turned out to be more resilient than any give him credit for, lasting the three hours and even fighting off the Sun Devil with breath still in his body.  Lane sat bloody, bruised, barely able to sit up and wondered "what is waiting on the other side?  I hope I don't have to be an assistant in Cleveland..."  Finally, unable to watch any more, Haden stepped out of the viewing party and quickly and unceremoniously put two bullets in Lane.  One to the head, the other to the career. The Lane Kiffin incident had finally come to an end.  

No joke, when I read the report, I thought of the Green Mile.  The scene where John Coffee is found in a field holding the dead bodies while the townsmen come after him with pitchforks.  One has to wonder if Kiffin is the victim of his own success.  Kiffin arrived to brutal NCAA sanctions and the lowest expectations that have likely ever greeted a USC head coach, but then the 2011 season happened.  His squad over achieved, won 10 games, and finished in the top 10.  This was a feat well beyond what any expected from the Trojans.  The past two seasons he has spent with squads no where near complete due to scholarship restrictions and they have played like a team that lacked depth.  Kiffin was the wrong fit for the job and was never going to be "the guy" at USC but if Bill O'Brien goes 7-6 or starts 0-2 at Penn State in 2015, you can bet he'll make it out of the airport the next day with his job safe.  The hire was bad but the firing was worse and Haden may find that the handling of Kiffin's dismissal may alter the way candidates look at the job.  I'd like to think Lane got a nice last meal on the plane ride home

Topic Two - The Change In Conference Power Structures

For year now, everyone has talked about the seeming invulnerability of the SEC.  It also seemed that most had accepted that the Big 12 was next in line and then likely the Big 10.  If teams from these conferences managed to go unbeaten, it would not matter who else from any other conference managed the same feat, these conferences were destined to play for the national championship.  The power structure now has clearly changed.  I heard several question whether the PAC-12 is now superior to the SEC in terms of football and frankly, those people are vastly over-reacting.  Could the PAC-12 be better than the SEC this year?  Sure it's possible.  The PAC-12 may have the best out of conference wins this season but none of them were against SEC teams.  Additionally, it's kind of hard to ignore the five year reign of terror that the SEC has put on against all other conferences in bowl match-ups.  The boys down south are not infallible but it will take more than four good weeks of regular season play before we should start stating someone else is the best. Here is how I stack the conference power rankings out for the season.

1. SEC - As mentioned above, it is way too early to start assuming that the SEC has fallen.  So far the two big out of conference losses are Georgia falling to Clemson and Florida's loss at Miami, those two teams are currently in the top fifteen of both polls.  If you are going to peg your argument on two losses, then they should be bad losses.  Are there a ton of quality wins?  No, but the SEC hasn't regularly challenged themselves out of conference in like 300 years why are we pretending it makes a difference now?

2. PAC-12 - While I think it is too soon to crown the PAC-12 as the best, a good bowl showing would make that argument.  Currently four unbeaten teams remaining (Oregon, Stanford, Washington, and UCLA) and all are getting respect in the polls.  The conference has great depth as well with other strong teams in Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona, Kiffin-less USC, and much improved Washington State team.  There are some bottom feeders but not as many as in the rest of the major conferences.  PAC-12 fans should really be excited about the long term prospects though.  The PAC-12 signed some astronomical TV rights contracts with the expansion two years and it seems virtually every program is flooding money into new facilities and stadium re-vamps.  This has already started to show in improved recruits.  They can't claim to be the best yet but by 2015, it's very possible.

3. ACC - The ACC has serious depth issues but if you look at the top of the conference, it is clear that it is heading in the right direction.  Clemson is in the process of restoring it's powerhouse status, Florida State is back to being Florida State, and Miami looks like the second most improved team in the country this year (behind Washington).  Throw the traditional powers of the two Techs and the conference is top-heavy but powerful.  The fanbases aren't as big as the Big 10 and the it may be a long ways off for having the media presence but right now they are clearly better on the field.

4. Big 10 - Three years ago it was becoming apparent that the Big 10 could not keep up with the SEC and the won/loss column in bowl season was getting embarrassing. Forget competing with the SEC though, this conference is struggling to consistently beat the MAC right now.   Ohio State is still Ohio State.  Michigan is trying very hard to be Michigan again but isn't quite there yet.  The rest of the conference stinks of mediocrity.  Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, and Penn State have embarrassing out of conference losses this season, Wisconsin beats down on overmatched small conference but has yet to beat anyone who isn't, and Illinois and Minnesota are still Illinois and Minnesota.  There is still a ton of work to do in restoring the national reputation and Michigan beating Notre Dame isn't going to cut it.

5. Big 12 - This conference has really fallen apart over the past two years.  Texas is in it's third straight season of "should be back to being Texas", they aren't.  Kansas State has come plunging back down to earth after two years of shockingly high levels of achievement, and West Virginia has completely lost the luster they held in the Big East.  Honestly, outside of the state of Oklahoma, the only team with any sort of national respect right now is Baylor.  You don't want to hinge hopes on Baylor.

NCAA Top 25

1. Alabama - Tough choice between the Tide and Ducks for the top spot.  Oregon looks better but favoring the Tide because of the competition thus far.
2. Oregon - Ducks have beaten teams from three different AQ conferences by 40+ points.  However all three look to be near the bottom of their conference this season.
3. Stanford - One week later and that spanking of ASU looks a lot stronger.  Stanford-Oregon will be bigger this year than LSU-Bama.
4. Clemson - Nice bounce performance against Wake Forest after a near choke against NC State a week ago.  Sure it was Wake but the nobodies are the ones you worry most about with Clemson.
5. Louisville - More likely to play in title game this year: 12-0 Cardinals or 2 loss SEC team.  This could be an actual debate in December.
6. Oklahoma - Sooners smothered Notre Dame on both sides of the football Saturday.  Texas should start preparing to accept another curb-stomping in the Red River game.
7. Ohio State - First win against a team with a pulse this season against Wisconsin.  A win over Northwestern this week would likely vault them another spot or two.
8. Washington - Double digit wins so far against two different ranked teams.  Washington is underrated right now in polls but I will respect their schedule here.
9. Florida State - Defense looked awfully shaky against BC, Seminoles need to tighten it up before showdown with Clemson.
10. Georgia - Bulldogs survived the nastiest September slate I've seen for a title contender in the past five years.  Now they need help from the nine teams in front of them.
11. Miami - Canes are 3-0 against other teams in Florida this season but it needs to be wary of looking ahead at FSU to become 4-0.  If they don't lose focus this Canes team could easily be in the BCS mix.
12. UCLA - Bruins have an comparatively impressive out of conference schedule, now they have to prove they can hold up in a deep PAC-12.
13. They haven't played anyone yet but against Big 12 defenses, this team may see the offense roll all season.  Bears have scored 70+ points in every game this year.
14. Northwestern - Wildcats ready to start a brutal October schedule - if they win the next four, we have a BCS team in Evanston.
15. Maryland - What a difference a week can make.  Maryland didn't play but the 37-0 rout over West Virginia a week ago looks like a huge win right now.
16. Texas Tech - Maybe the country's most surprising unbeaten. The Raiders should be able to compete in a weak Big 12 this year.
17. LSU - Tough loss but the schedule gives plenty of opportunities to prove they are an elite team the rest of the way.
18. Fresno State - This team needs to manage it's garbage time better.  For the second time this year they allowed over 30 second half points in a game they led by more than 35.
19. Northern Illinois - After their second win over the Big 10 this season, the Huskies may be in a dog fight with Fresno the rest of the season for a BCS spot.  The BCS buster era will go down swinging.
20. Missouri - If they can stay unbeaten after a few weeks in conference play, I'll give them a bit more respect but they haven't been that great against some really bad teams thus far.
21. Michigan - That UConn team they just barely survived got blown out by Buffalo this week.  No, not the Bills, the Bulls.  Notre Dame losing doesn't help their case either as it's the only decent win they have.
22. Arizona State - Where there's Sun Devils, there's fire(d).
23. Houston - Honestly, I haven't seen a single snap of Houston football this year but I respect the record.
24. South Carolina - Decent SOS thus far but this team has a lot to clean up if it wants to survive the SEC slate.
25. Virginia Tech - The offense still has some huge concerns but the defense appears capable of picking up the slack.
Also considered: UCF, Texas A&M, Penn State, Florida, Arizona.

NCAA Bottom 5

1. Western Michigan - Expectations are not that high in Kalamazoo but losing to Nichols State is still not reaching them.
2. Georgia State - Don't expect the Panthers, who are currently in a transition season to the FBS, to win a game this year.
3. Temple - So far they have been housed by a FCS school and Idaho.  No other team has two losses that bad.
4. UConn - Well, one might.
5. South Florida - The AAC has to be wondering how it fell this far.  Right now they have three teams worse than anyone in the Sun Belt.  The Bulls have not been competitive in a single game this year and suffered the biggest blowout loss I've ever seen anyone have against an FCS team to start the season.

NFL Power Rankings

1. Denver Broncos - A new number one after yet another dominating win over Philadelphia.
2. Seattle Seahawks - A lot of folks in Seattle have to be wondering if Matt Schaub had money riding on them on Sunday.
3. New Orleans Saints - Spent the first half of Monday's game toying with Miami like a cat does with a mouse.  Spent the second half devouring the mouse.
4. Kansas City Chiefs - Chiefs fans have to love the way this team always seems to pull away in the fourth and turn close games into blowouts. Team gets better as the game goes along.
5. New England Patriots - This team would be higher if Vince Wilfork was not lost for the season in the win over Atlanta.  A mind blowing stat I picked up this week, over the past five seasons, New England is eighth in the league against the run when he plays and dead last when he doesn't.  Dead last against the run could be a problem in this division.
6. Chicago Bears - I don't take this past week as a sign that the Bears are still turnover prone as much as they are good enough to keep a game close even when everything goes wrong.
7. Indianapolis Colts - Luck appears to be avoiding the sophomore slump, the question here is when Trent Richardson going to get going?
8. Detroit Lions - Win against Bears is huge for a team that looks on paper to only be third best in division.
9. Miami Dolphins - Saints undressed them a bit but the Saints do that to a lot of teams at home.  TE Charles Clay looks like a nice secret weapon moving forward.
10. Tennessee Titans - I would have had them much higher, the defense looks great, but hard to have much faith if Jake Locker misses extended time.
11. Houston Texans - Take away the Schaub pick sixes and this team is unbeaten.  That being said this is a QB driven league so........
12. San Francisco 49ers - Kaepernick this season has been great against bad defenses and awful against good defenses.  Houston is next, niner fans better hope that trend reverses.
13. Atlanta Falcons - The season looks like it's off to a really bad start until you realize that the 3 teams to beat them are a combined 11-1 with the one loss being New Orleans beating Miami (both teams have beaten Atlanta).  This team is probably not ready to make the step up to the Super Bowl but the playoffs are still likely as the schedule lightens up a bit.
14. San Diego Chargers - Phillip Rivers has to be considered the comeback player of the year right now.  The absence of Norv Turner is speaking volumes.
15. Green Bay Packers - The bye week was much needed, if Aaron Rodgers starts turning the ball over, then the Packers are in huge trouble.  Still, way to much offensive talent to not assume a bounce back is coming.
16. Dallas Cowboys - This team looks schizophrenic right now.  Both the defense and offense have looked great and awful at times.  How good is this team?  I have no idea, so right in the middle seems right.
17. Carolina Panthers - The defense looks incredibly improved this year.  Panthers can make some noise in this division if Cam Newton doesn't have to try carrying the whole team on his back.
18-20. Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens - Pick the order because I can't figure out this division.  They look to all be dueling it out for the right to lose to Kansas City or Denver in a wild card game.
21. Buffalo Bills - This team does nothing spectacularly but seems to do everything well enough to be competitive.  The two losses come by a combined 10 points.  Buffalo looks much better than anyone expected.
22. Arizona Cardinals - Carson Palmer is reminding fans why Oakland gave up on him after 18 months, the defense is trying to keep him invisible, which tends to work when the stands are empty for your games.
23. Minnesota Vikings - I know it was only one week but the Chiefs have to be wondering how Matt Cassell could fail to have a single game this good in 4 years sinking the ship in Kansas City.
24. Philadelphia Eagles - The defense is bad, really, really bad, however in the NFC East, it's average.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This team has to catch a break at some point.  Maybe they should trade for Carson Palmer.
26. St. Louis Rams - A lot of folks thought Jeff Fisher and an underrated defense could lead this team to being a playoff sleeper this year.  Instead it's been what we in the know would call a "Rams-like" season.
27. Washington Redskins - Mike Shanahan seems to have abandoned the run.  I guess dropping back 50 times a game is supposed to help "protect" RGIII?
28. New York Jets - Butt Fumble II?  Really? I hope Rex Ryan coaches here forever.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers - The return of rookie LeVeon Bell should provide a decent spark to a faltering run game.
30. Oakland Raiders - Matt Flynn does no that the NFL doesn't use a "one alligator, two alligator" rule right?  Guy sits in that pocket like it's a damn Lazy Boy.
31. New York Giants - Two years ago they were Super Bowl champions.  This year no one was even surprised when Kansas City beat them down.  How does one even fall apart this fast?
32. Jacksonville Jaguars - I hate to beat a dead horse but if you have to rotate starting QB's every two games why not make the fans happy and go get Tebow?  How much worse than Blaine Gabbert can he really be?