By Dave Hershorin
October 17, 2006

Due to my weekend trip to the Big Apple and lots of driving, I was unable to watch the bulk of the games most saw. It precludes me from being able to talk very much about the proceedings, but here are a few notes from the little bit that I caught.

As much as one team from college football’s toughest conference wants to dominate the SEC, it looks like none of them will allow for any to become the clear cut best. Auburn proved the league’s parity by dealing with Florida at home the way they should have dealt with Arkansas last week. A lack of respect for the Razorbacks meant an upset loss, but this week, Tommy Tuberville wasn’t going to let the same unfocused approach creep into their confrontation with the undefeated Gators. Auburn used sharp defense and superior special teams to take down Urban Meyer & Co. 27-17. The Tigers seemed to win the battle(s) up front in the latter half, and they didn’t let the presence of freshman phenom Tim Tebow open things up for the Gator offense. Those few extra wrinkles Tebow affords may have been needed, for Gator QB Chris Leak didn’t look good in their most needed times. Trailing 18-17 with a third-and-three at the Auburn six yard line in the fourth, Leak succumbed to the pass rush, fumbling as he tried to pump-fake. The Tiger’s next drive came up short as they missed a 45-yard FGA, giving Leak another chance for road heroics with 3:16 left. But the INT he threw on the Gator’s first ensuing play iced any shot of another miraculous ending for UF. Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Mississippi State all have three losses and are the only teams that seem out of contention for the league title. The other eight have been perfect against their non-conference foes, so that their only losses are against other SEC teams – no one is undefeated in conference play. We told you here to start the season that no SEC team would run the conference gauntlet unscathed, and that this likely means no SEC rep in the BCS finale. Three of the top five scoring defenses are from the SEC, as are five of the top 15 teams in the AP Poll.

If you want a conference that reflects equality of its bell-curved participants, you need go no further than the ACC. Clemson is the only ACC school that looks like it can legitimize its ranking – they are one point away from being unbeaten. At season’s start, who would have guessed that (in week seven) FSU, Miami and Virginia Tech would be unranked and that the Tigers, Boston College, Georgia Tech, and perennial doormat Wake Forest would be situated in the top 25? Granted, the year isn’t out yet, but…hey, did we just say Wake Forest? The dilemma that seems to be plaguing the usual powerhouses is offense. Clemson is the only ACC offense ranked in the top 50. Not coincidentally, they are also highly ranked (4th) in rushing offense, with Georgia Tech the only other team in the league to rank in the top 50 for ground production (GT is 22nd). UM, State and VT are 55th, 84th, and 101st for rushing and 61st, 60th, and 79th overall, respectively, in their offensive efforts (or lack thereof). Only their 5th, 20th, and 8th total defenses keep them from falling off the respectability map, so I think you get the point. And whereas each has only two losses, none has shown enough such that rankings are worthy. If you look at the quality of their recruiting classes, it becomes hard to fathom how this much talent does not equal more commanding performances. Eventually, we have to start looking at these school’s coaches and why they can’t turn their four- and five-star laden lineups into top 25 teams. But it also proves how valid the idiom of teamwork really is. Remember, on any given Saturday… Stay tuned this Saturday night as the Ramblin’ Wreck and Clemson square off in a possible preview of the ACC conference championship.

The biggest road wins of the week…

Michigan pulling it off 17-10 in Happy Valley. Penn State proved how defense can keep you viable, but their inconsistent offense was no match for the Wolverine’s top-rated run-stoppers and seventh-ranked D. The key stat on Michigan is how they are 17th-ranked for pass efficiency, though only 72nd for their overall passing numbers. They really don’t have to pass since they possess the 21st-ranked rushing offense, so the poignant times they do put it up for grabs, they find success. If Michigan can stay focused for this weekend’s home matchup with underachieving underdog Iowa, it looks like that late November tilt at the Horseshoe will guarantee that one of the participants in the BCS title game is from the Big Ten.

Cal holding Wazzu’s 22nd-ranked total offense to just three points in their Pac Ten showdown. Remember, the Bears lost early (to much-improved Tennessee), the perfect formula for re-attaining a high spot in the human polls. Now No.11, Cal goes into Los Angeles November 18th, but they seem to be lacking the defense to finally take the Trojans off their perch.

Rutgers embarrassed the Midshipmen 34-0. This was a good Navy team that had been beaten only once by one point. And they were the nation’s best rushers until the Scarlet Knights allowed Navy only 113 yards on 50 tries. Rutgers, No.19 and undefeated, has their highest ranking since 1977, and with the nation’s best scoring defense (and second-best total defense), they have the wares to knock off the Big East elite. Pittsburgh, 6-1 and on the verge of breaking into the top 25 themselves, is next for “UNJ”, but it is the midterm against Louisville and the final versus West Virginia that will determine who goes BCS bowling from here.

Nebraska’s 21-3 win in Manhattan means only their away loss to USC keeps them from perfection. The Cornhuskers have quietly established the nation’s eighth-ranked total offense with their revamped “west coast” approach, and senior QB Zach Taylor remains I-A’s best unknown hurler. NU next draws Texas at home, a team they haven’t beaten since 1999 and one sure to prove whether the country should be taking Nebraska a little more seriously.

Vandy’s 24-22 shocker in Athens. Dawg offensive woes slipped to a new low, and their 13th-ranked defense just couldn’t save Mark Richt yet again. The Commodores reeled off a 15-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal as time expired to offset Georgia’s 24-yard INT return for six that had put UGA up 22-21 with 9:22 left in the fourth. After struggling to beat Mississippi and Colorado, the Dawgs have now lost two straight to division/league foes, and they have to beat Florida in two weeks to even have a chance at regaining some self-respect.

Ohio State’s 38-7 trounce in East Lansing further validated why the Buckeyes are atop all rankings (except those pesky computer ones). Dominating is the only word to describe the only team that looks superior for all 60 minutes each week. How the non-human systems can put USC (and hated Michigan) above the Buckeyes just goes to prove why a playoff is needed. Brutus beware!!!