Schedule creates college grid Final Four showdown

Posted: October 23, 2011

1. Showdown time

Now that the Bowl Championship Series has released its first standings of the 2011 season, we can see the opportunity for a Final Four of sorts with the "semifinal" winners emerging to compete for the national championship Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

Louisiana State and Alabama, the top two BCS teams, meet in two weeks in Tuscaloosa. The next two teams, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, go at it in their "Bedlam" matchup on Dec. 3.

Sure, much can happen between now and the final week of BCS standings, but teams such as Wisconsin, Boise State, and Stanford can only hope things do happen to have any shot at the big game.

2. Waiting, waiting

In the meantime, LSU (vs. Auburn) and Alabama (vs. Tennessee) are big favorites to win at home before getting two weeks to prepare for their duel.

The Tigers must play without the suspended Tyrann Mathieu, their best defensive player, but should be able to hound first-time quarterback starter Clint Moseley.

As for the Crimson Tide, their game-week highlight came when coach Nick Saban dropped an expletive at his weekly Monday news conference after being asked if possible SEC expansion would affect his team's rivalry with the Vols. "Excuse my French," Saban said. "But come on, let's talk about the game."

3. Doing the QB shuffle

Apparently teams in the elite SEC are having the same quarterback issues as everyone else. Even LSU is going with two QBs now, with Jordan Jefferson, who has served his suspension, providing a run alternative to Jarrett Lee. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier switched to Connor Shaw over Stephen Garcia, who was later dismissed from the team.

In all, 10 of the SEC's 12 teams have gone to two or more quarterbacks this season, with mixed results. "I think what you're seeing is most of us don't have the great quarterback, the guy who can do it all, a guy that everyone believes in," Spurrier said.

4. The unknowns

Considering the strong offensive football played in the Big Twelve, it didn't seem possible that a pair of unknowns would be 1-2 in conference rushing through the season's first half.

Missouri's Henry Josey began the year as the No. 3 tailback on the depth chart, but got his chance because of injuries to the guys ahead of him, and has gained 717 yards. The No. 2 rusher, Dominique Whaley of Oklahoma (627 yards), is a walk-on who transferred from Langston University, an NAIA school. Josey is ninth in the nation in rushing, and Whaley comes in at No. 25.

5. Working miracles

Kansas State was mired in a 0-26-1 rut in 1988 when Bill Snyder came on as head coach, and Snyder completely turned around the program to the point where Barry Switzer dubbed him "coach of the century." Snyder retired in 2005 but returned four years later, and now has the Wildcats at 6-0 and ranked 12th after they were picked eighth in the preseason Big Twelve media poll.

Now 72, Snyder wants his current team to get the attention, not him.

"After a while, you get tired of hearing about the way it used to be," he told the Associated Press. "You want to hear about how it is right now."

6. On (or over?) the edge

The attention that the Michigan State defense has received for its outstanding play is being clouded over by whether it has crossed the line into over-aggressiveness.

The Spartans were penalized 13 times - six for personal fouls - last week against Michigan, and the Big Ten assessed defensive end William Gholston a one-game suspension for punching a Wolverine player. Earlier in the week, coach Mark Dantonio defended his team's play, explaining that football is a game of reaction and collision "and anybody who does not understand that hasn't been out there."

The Spartans cannot afford penalties against No. 4 Wisconsin.

7. Expatriate of the Week

Joe Brennan, a redshirt freshman out of Camden Catholic from Audubon, N.J., is picking up valuable experience at Wisconsin as the backup to quarterback Russell Wilson, a Heisman Trophy candidate.

With the Badgers outscoring their opponents by 301-58 in their first six games, Brennan has seen playing time. His lists of personal milestones include a first collegiate appearance against UNLV, a first touchdown scored against Northern Illinois, and a longest run (31 yards) against Indiana.

8. Unranked, still rivals

The only news in the Southern California-Notre Dame rivalry, where the combatants have combined to win 13 national championships, is not good.

This is first time both teams have been unranked on the day of their game in back-to-back years, and only the 10th occasion in 73 meetings since the AP poll began in 1936.

Interest in the game hasn't waned, however, and Notre Dame officials and South Bend police have spread the word they will not tolerate unruly behavior given the hours and hours of tailgating available before the 7:40 p.m. kickoff, the Fighting Irish's first home night game since 1990.

9. The buzz in Houston

It's too bad that the Big East, which reportedly has invited Houston to join for all sports, couldn't get the Cougars involved right away to put some life into its drab collection of football schools.

The 21st-ranked Cougars (6-0) lead the nation in total offense (603.7 yards per game). Quarterback Case Keenum, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after sitting out nearly all of 2010 with a torn knee ligament, needs just 130 yards Saturday against Marshall to become the all-time NCAA total offense leader.

10. Beware of prosperity

Clemson is one of the surprise teams of 2011, standing at 7-0 and No. 8 in the polls going into its game against North Carolina. Now the Tigers must avoid the pitfalls that have tripped them in the past when it looked as if they were headed for exceptional seasons. That's why their fans got scared last week when they fell behind, 28-10, to Maryland, but Clemson rallied to overtake the Terps.

"A win's a win, no matter how you get it," offensive lineman Phillip Price told the AP, "whether you get up big and stay up or whether you've got to scratch and claw."


The Real Top 10

1. Oklahoma 6-0

2. Louisiana State 7-0

3. Alabama 7-0

4. Wisconsin 6-0

5. Oklahoma State 6-0

6. Stanford 6-0

7. Clemson 7-0

8. Boise State 6-0

9. Oregon 6-1

10. Arkansas 6-1

- Joe Juliano


Games of the Week

TOP CHOICE

Auburn at Louisiana State, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: Ranked No. 1 by both the AP and the BCS, LSU enters the game without two of its best players - cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and tailback Spencer Ware - because of suspensions. However, for the third straight week, its highly rated defense will be going up against a QB making his first career start, this time Auburn sophomore Clint Moseley.

PICK SIX

North Carolina at Clemson, noon, ESPN: The eighth-ranked Tigers rallied from 18 points down last week to defeat Maryland, and can't fall asleep against a Tar Heel team that is dying to spoil someone's season.

Oklahoma State at Missouri, noon, FX: The No. 6 Cowboys have issues on one side of the football (100th in the nation in total defense) but not the other (551 yards of total offense and 49.2 points, per game).

Georgia Tech at Miami, 3:30 p.m., ESPN: The Yellow Jackets' triple option will be a challenge for a Hurricane defensive line that is minus tackle Micanor Regis, suspended for striking an opponent in the groin.

Tennessee at Alabama, 7:15 p.m., ESPN2: The No. 3 Crimson Tide attempt to stay interested against the downtrodden Volunteers in their last game before the LSU showdown in two weeks.

Southern California at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC10: The Fighting Irish, winners of four straight, are in the bottom 20 nationally with 15 turnovers; the Trojans have seven takeaways in their last two games.

Wisconsin at Michigan State, 8 p.m., 6ABC: The fourth-ranked Badgers play their first true road game of the season in a hostile place, where quarterback Russell Wilson goes against maybe the toughest defense he'll face all year.

- Joe Juliano


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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