1. It's only the third week of the season and we've already seen some highly ranked favorites drop out of national championship contention. Preseason favorite Cal dropped to #21 after a loss and a pair of underwhelming victories. Who's your pick as the next NC contender to take a fall?
As usual, Paul Wall Westerdawg came correct and picked out Michigan, noting that the 10/14 night game at Penn State might be a "Lloyd Carr special." Similarly, any Michigan fan with an ounce of sense and/or historical perspective has to be somewhat wary of just about every game on the schedule between now and October 28th, when Michigan hosts a pretty crappy Northwestern team. Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Michigan State, at Penn State, and Iowa may not be an SEC gauntlet of death, but it's an unquestionably treacherous schedule. Were those five games broken up by Indiana, Northwestern, and Ball State, they'd still be difficult; but taken as a block, they are daunting. Sure, after last weekend, Michigan looks like it should be favored in each of those matchups, but let's not kid ourselves and pretend that UM lives up to expectations from week to week.
Picking out an SEC contender is almost too easy, as Florida, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, and Auburn may well beat each other up, but of that top group (not so fast, Vols), Georgia, with its freshman QB, seems most likely to struggle. Especially since the Bulldogs rarely seem to win in Jacksonville and the Gator defense looks great.
And if old reliables Michigan and an SEC team to be named later aren't doing it for you, how about Iowa? The Hawkeyes look to be one Drew Tate injury away from falling apart and still have to deal with Ohio State and Michigan.
2. By that same token there are several schools hanging around without a loss that all of a sudden look like surprise contenders. There are also a few one loss teams with a legit shot at getting back into it. Looking at the rankings who's the team no one's talking about with the best shot at crashing the party?
If accuracy is among our most important goals, the last part of this question makes the query a difficult one to satisfy. With its emerging defense, explosive offense, and Troy Smith, Ohio State looks to have a two-game season left: at Iowa, vs. Michigan; with its own strong defense, wunderkind 8th-year junior quarterback, Pac-10 schedule, important games at home, and Dwayne Jarrett, USC looks like it will have few tests before January; and with the Big East, though improving, still being the Big East, both West Virginia and Louisville basically only have each other. These four teams, all undefeated, appear to have the easiest paths to blemish-free living. But we're all talking about them.
Ditto with LSU, an obvious choice, in the abstract, as the one-loss team with the best chance of remaining in the national title picture, thanks to its obvious talent and great defense. The catch for the Bayou Bengals, of course, is that we don't live and play in the abstract; we live and play in reality, a place where Auburn needs to lose twice and LSU needs to win out for LSU to even get to the SEC title game. People are talking about this team, too.
Since its home loss to the Buckeyes, few people seem to be all that concerned with a Texas team still ranked in the top ten. Thanks to playing in the mediocre-as-always Big XII, the Longhorns have a great chance to win out if they can beat an Oklahoma team that doesn't defend the run, tackles relatively poorly, and might have left its mind on the same "crowned" field that ruined Lloyd Carr's dreams in 2003. Unless, of course, OU's president writes to Myles Brand requesting that the season be cancelled and that the Sooners be selected as national champions to compensate them for the pain and suffering caused by last weekend's poor officiating and even worse defense and special teams. It's only fair, you guys.
3. Every team has their quicksand away game. You know. That place you should win but somehow find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or at least scare the &*%^ out of you every year. Did you know that over the last 21 years Kentucky hasn't won once in Knoxville? Where is your team's yearly sandtrap?
Wherever there is an excuse to be found.
Right away, let's just agree that South Bend and Columbus are bad choices because: a) UM isn't supposed to win in those pits of awfulness; 2) and maybe this is just exhibit aa, but those teams are usually good. Notre Dame, of course, still hasn't returned to whatever glory it once had, and it has been a pretty mediocre program for about a decade, but those Irish teams would still beat UM in Indiana, so really, UM might be passed the most easily identified quicksand.
But to posit this as a conclusive answer is to neglect an important hallmark of the Lloyd Carr era. "Michigan doesn't make excuses" is what we're always told as the team and its leadership proceed to make excuses: officiating, clock (mis)management, crowned fields, pre-game dog-aided searches--you name it. It's always something with the Wolverines. Why live up to the talent, and why devise aggressive game plans, when you can instead "play it safe" and complain about it afterwards when things don't work out?
And so the real quicksand is Life's Inherent Unpredictability. Damn you, life! When you employ a football philosophy that, undeterred by failure, regularly allows for little margin of error, your most persistent tormenter is the wickedness of life's undulations. The thinking goes like this: once you have the lead, there is no need to continue to play aggressive football. If you just pack it in, grind out the tough yards, play stout defense, and punt well, you should have no problems because the opponent will just succumb, relenting to your logic and abandoning any hope for change. Never mind that you can't reliably get the tough yards, don't regularly play stout defense in crunch time, and are not known for your virtuosity in the kicking game. The opponent will never exploit these vulnerabilities and nothing unforeseen will ever occur. And besides, if any of that stuff actually happens, you can always blame a failure to execute or one of a number of variables.
4. Now that you've looked into the darkest place in your football soul, free Escalades aside, turn and look into your crystal ball. Conference play is either just starting or a single game in. Based on what you've seen so far, give the order of finish in your conference, and if you've got a Conference Championship game tell us who the winner will be. Independents must predict the remainder of their schedule. The results your predictions will be held against you at the end of the season.
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Penn State
- Illinoise (like Ron would say it)
Bud Light. Moderate but not unpleasant taste + thin consistency + priced to move + readily available = Good times.
More seriously, I love me some Yuengling, a Pennsylvania lager that has a fine taste and was introduced to me in a sporting context, so it will forever have a football connotation, deserved or otherwise.