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Top Teams 2008

After Week Seven

  1. Alabama
  2. Penn State
  3. Texas
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Florida
  6. USC
  7. Georgia
  8. LSU
  9. BYU
  10. Missouri
  11. Ohio State
  12. Oklahoma State
  13. Texas Tech
  14. Utah
  15. Kansas
  16. USF
  17. North Carolina
  18. Miami
  19. Boise State
  20. Georgia Tech
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Pundit Roundup

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--- ESPN's Bruce Feldman checks in with a Friday Mail Call.

Also: Book tour bonanza, weekend picks, top 10 scariest places to play and credit goes to Zook for Illini's start

I just got home from 10 days in the South on one of the early legs of the "Meat Market" tour. I ended up falling asleep at 9:15 last night local time. Sad truth of the road swing: I do think I've gotten over Chick fil-A. Saturday in Atlanta I had it for all three meals, and honestly it wasn't planned that way.

On the ride to Athens, I tried to get an egg and cheese sandwich and couldn't get it at the Publix I stopped at, but I was told that I could get it at Chick-fil-A. Sure enough, I did. Then after the Ole Miss-Georgia game a friend's wife gave me a chicken sandwich that became a late lunch as I watched Alabama-FSU from the press box. Finally, while scrambling to the Airport Marriott to try and catch the Auburn-Florida and USC-Washington games, I needed to pick something up to go and it was either a grilled chicken sandwich or Taco Bell. I opted for the chicken. By my calculations, I had six meals at Chick-fil-A, three dinners of ribs, 11 glasses of Sweet T, and the rest of the trip I lived off PB and whey bars. I'm back on the road again Friday.

--- ESPN's Ivan Maisel checks in from Tampa detailing USF's upset of West Virginia.

Pandemonium overtook the field at Raymond James Stadium, and the grizzled veteran inside you thinks, "It's September, for goodness' sake. Act like you've been there before."

And then you remember -- USF has never been here before.

In its 11th season of college football, in its seventh season of I-A football, and in its third season in the Big East, South Florida had never played before a sellout crowd at home. It had never established itself as one of the best teams in the nation. It had never reached the big time.

The Bulls did all of that Friday night. They didn't do it very prettily. But what the game lacked in artistry -- and if you missed the game on television, look at the box score and find the 10 turnovers -- it more than made up for in the passion that makes college football different from the game played in this stadium eight Sundays a year.

Also: Another weekly round of I-Formation

--- ESPN's Pat Forde says Insanity Saturday has shifted college football's landscape

Also: The Dash

--- ESPN's Mark Schlabach says baseball helped Dennis Dixon find success in football

Dixon said he spent an hour throwing the football and watched film two to three hours each day this summer. "When he came back to school, I was the first person he came to talk to," Bellotti said. "He said, 'Coach, I'm totally committed to football.' I know he was throwing and watching film, but he wasn't here. He had some things to prove to people because he wasn't here."

But Kelly knew Dixon had put in the work and would return as a much different player than the quarterback who left. "I saw it when I went down there and when I'd talk to him on the phone," Kelly said. "He'd call me in the middle of the night and say, 'Coach, I'm watching film of the spring game and they're running this coverage. What do you think?' When I talked to him, I got a feeling there was a trust factor between the two of us."

Also: Cal beats Oregon, Instant Analysis and On (and Off) The Mark

With the No. 6-ranked Bears leading No. 11-ranked Oregon 31-24, Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon had driven his team right down the field in the final two minutes. Oregon reached the California 40 with 53 seconds to play. The Ducks were on the Bears' 20 with 29 seconds to go, then the 5 with only 22 seconds left.

"They did a nice job of making it down the field," California coach Jeff Tedford said. "I was getting ready for overtime. From the 5? They're too good from there."

After Tedford called timeout to let his defense catch its breath, the Ducks lined up to try to tie the game. Dixon took the snap and threw to the left side for senior receiver Cameron Colvin, who caught the pass around the 4. Ezeff had to fight through a block -- which he described as an illegal pick by a different Ducks receiver -- before he chased down Colvin near the end zone.

Ezeff leveled Colvin near the 1-yard line, but the Ducks receiver tried to stretch his right arm and the football around the pylon at the end zone. The football fell out of his hand.

It bounced into the end zone and rolled out of bounds.

"In my mind, I thought he scored," Ezeff said. "I was like, 'Damn, I'm going to be in trouble with my coaches.' But then I looked up and saw [cornerback] Brandon Hampton going after the football. I saw my coaches running at me making the signal for a touchback.

--- ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski takes a balanced look at Mike Gundy's press conference rant and its role in the coach/athlete/team vs. media relations game. A must read, too much good stuff to excerpt.

--- ESPN's Bill Curry says Gundy's outburst falls into a gray area

--- Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel returns for another round of The Mailbag

Also: Alabama matchup looms large for struggling Seminoles

Also: Mandel's Blog

--- Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy finds South Florida ready to prove itself against West Virginia (and did they ever!)

--- Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden says players are fair game and open to criticism in big-time college sports

--- Sports Illustrated's Arash Markazi profiles an 11-year-old alleged quarterback phenom named David Sills

--- Sports Illustrated's Cory McCartney profiles soon-to-be NCAA rushing record-holder Danny Woodhead of Chadron State

Also: The All-Out Blitz 

--- CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd says Cal's program is structurally sound as long as Jeff Tedford is around

Since December a group of activists have climbed into a grove of oak trees to protest the construction of new athletic facilities. One of them gets naked from time to time. He was a tourist attraction during the season opener against Tennessee. While protecting the trees, the activists themselves are protected by a chain link fence and, on game days, a security force.

"There's a lot of concerns about our fans taking matters into their own hands," a Cal spokesman said.

For now, the activists have won. Ground isn't going to be broken any time soon. A judge is expected to rule soon regarding a tangled web of lawsuits that have delayed what athletic director Sandy Barbour believes will take the program to the next level.

If Tedford wasn't tied up through 2013 with a new four-year extension, there would all-out panic among Cal fans. It's hard enough luring recruits to a 78-year-old stadium where earthquake cracks are visible.

Also: Sunday 7, great teams turn to pumpkins before Halloween, Renegade? Ha! South Florida is downright lova-Bull after upset, weekend watch list, Insider and give Jags credit for the Eagles' hot start

Observers already are noticing a looser feel to the Eagles. Ryan -- Matty Heisman for now -- is throwing downfield more. Not that he had a choice under new offensive coordinator Steve Logan.

"You guys are playing to win," offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus quoted a friend as saying. "Before you played not to lose."

If Logan ever needs work, he could slide right over to his own radio show. Whoops, Logan already has done that. His show at 620 The Bull in Raleigh, N.C., was legendary for its quirkiness, humor and cool music.

Here's a slice: The former East Carolina head coach calls tailback L.V. Whitworth "NASA" because "conditions have to be absolutely perfect for him to launch."

When the defense dominated a spring scrimmage, Logan compared it to the mother-in-law who drove her car off a cliff. "Good news," Logan said, "but I sure did like that Cadillac."

Logan's idea of a perfect play is one play, 80 yards. Down 14-0 in the opener to Wake Forest, Jagodzinski turned to Logan and politely asked, "What's going on?"

"I know," Logan said, "don't worry about it."

BC won 38-28.

--- CBS Sports' Spencer Tillman talks about dollars, cents and the burden of the student-athlete

A former coach and friend, the late Bill Walsh, had a rule. You could not raise an objection in one of his meetings without providing a solution. Next week, we'll explore what can and should be done to correct the gross inequity. The solutions might surprise you.

--- The Sporting News' Matt Hayes returns with another round of Inside Dish

Also: The biggest losers, Winners & Losers: The AP poll goes mad, Big East looking like a big disappointment, did Coach Fran give A&M a reason to fire him?, no bull: South Florida is on the map, what to watch, Heisman watch and the Big Red of Nebraska looks awfully little.

--- The Sporting News' Tom Dienhart says Arkansas is leading the pack in new-look offenses

No school does it better than Arkansas. Star running back Darren McFadden, a Heisman front-runner, has gone hog-wild in the WildHog formation. "He's a great athlete who has quarterback mechanics," says Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt. "We wouldn't do it unless we had a difference-maker."

Arkansas has been running a variation of the WildHog since 1999, Nutt's second year as coach. McFadden caused a stir in the scheme last season when the formation was known as the Wildcat. The absence of a steady passing threat -- and McFadden's megaskills -- prompted Arkansas to snap him the ball so often that in some games the Wildcat looked like the base offense.

McFadden took 16 snaps against LSU and 13 against Tennessee. Arkansas scored touchdowns on three of those plays against Tennessee and averaged 8.3 yards on the snaps against LSU. McFadden threw three touchdown passes from the Wildcat formation last season and one from the WildHog in the opener this season against Troy. He took the snap and ran 56 yards for a TD last week against Kentucky.

"When he's a quarterback, they're basically a spread-out offense running a lot of wishbone principles, creating a pitchman with somebody going in motion and running a misdirection zone read," says Alabama coach Nick Saban. "You have to have run support on both sides. That isn't simple to do unless you load the box. And when a defense does that, it becomes vulnerable to the pass."

Arkansas also has a variation of the WildHog called the Race-Horse, which features running backs Peyton Hillis and Felix Jones flanking McFadden as he waits for the snap.

Also: Week five awards, Blog Fog: are NFL Sundays this exciting?, all hail the Big Ten! Really, Franchione's breach of trust likely won't be forgiven, which Big 12 coach will blow up next?, Conference Call and black candidates for coaching jobs abound

What's it mean? Fran is done.

The fact the Aggies are mired in mediocrity was enough to put Fran on the edge. This news pushes him over it.

I talked with someone close to the program last night and was told there was a player's only meeting yesterday. And it was very quiet. Fran later talked to the players.

I have to think the players feel their trust has been broached. Will they continue to lay it on the line for Fran?

And, I know this about people: If they aren't truthful about one thing, you sure as heck can believe they aren't being truthful about many things in their lives.

It's all about trust. And that bond has been broken. A marriage, friendship, etc., can't thrive without trust.

Early word I hear is that Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville would be interested in coaching A&M, where he worked earlier in his career. He wants out of Auburn, and Auburn wants him gone.

Stay tuned for more coaching news each week.

--- Yahoo! Sports' Terry Bowden talks about how his old man almost followed Bear Bryant's footsteps at Alabama

Very interesting read here, too much to excerpt so be sure to click on this if you like back stories and imagining the possibilities if things had gone down differently in life.

--- Yahoo! Sports' Gerry Ahern says the Wisconsin Badgers got by Saturday against Michigan State

--- CSTV's Brian Curtis tries to make sense of a wild week five

No, parity is not here in college football. If you think there is parity just look at the teams who were winless heading into this weekend. Five were teams from the Sun Belt, who kept getting stomped by BCS teams. That is not parity.

However, I am beginning to believe that parity may just have arrived for the BCS conference schools. On any given Saturday, there is a growing chance that either team can win on the field. Maybe not on a regular basis, but more times than in the past. That's why Oklahoma can lose to 2-2 Colorado and Kansas State can beat Texas (again) and Auburn with two losses sticks it to Florida and Clemson goes down to Georgia Tech and Illinois skyrockets to 4-1. In the six major conferences, plus Notre Dame, I can count three teams, maybe four, who clearly, well, have little or no chance against their brethren. That's not bad out of 66 teams.

--- CSTV's Trev Alberts returns for another weekly round of Mailbag

--- CSTV's Adam Caparell profiles Desmond Howard's magical punt return against Ohio State that prompted "The Pose"

Once Howard got to midfield, the Buckeyes were in his rearview mirror and there was nothing but pay dirt in front of him. As he raced down the sidelines, clear of everyone, speeding past a stunned and helpless Ohio State sideline, a thought popped into Howard's head.

"Should I do the pose, should I not? Should I do it? Should I not?"

The idea of striking the pose wasn't entirely Howard.  A teammate had actually brought up the idea to Howard earlier in the season, but Howard has just shrugged it off. He knew he was a legitimate Heisman candidate, but he didn't want to jinx himself by doing the pose prematurely.

And everything Howard was about growing up told him not to do it. Howard was raised and coached to put the team first. You don't celebrate the individual.

"Especially at Michigan," Howard said.

But in those few brief seconds, as Howard hit the 20-yard line and raised his finger high in the sky toward the Michigan faithful, he wrestled with idea. He didn't want to come off selfish, didn't want to be perceived as an individual. That was the last thing he wanted to do.

But 20 yards, later, Howard's mind had been made up.

"Once I crossed that goal line I said, `Forget it. I have to do it.'"

So as Howard ran past the goal line, entering the end zone just to the side of the far hash mark, Howard slowed up and came to a stop almost perpendicular to the goalpost.

Predictably, the crowd went wild. Howard had just scored his 23rd and final touchdown of the season and the decibel levels soared to ear-drum shattering proportions. Then, as if to defy all logic, the Big House got louder as they witnessed Howard give the stiff arm, his left leg lifted in the air, and brimming ear to ear he had just returned the longest punt in Michigan history.

"They loved it. They thought it was great," Howard said. "They thought the timing was perfect. It was like seizing the moment. So I had a lot of positive feedback."

--- Be sure to stop by the Rivals.com story archive for all the latest from Olin Buchanan, David Fox, Mike Hugguenin and Steve Megargee

--- Sun Sports TV's Whit Watson has a feeling for history in the making.  Check out this entry about how things have changed in the state of Florida.

I'm writing this entry in my office at 8:30pm on a Friday night. I'm here because South Florida is playing West Virginia on a Friday.

Because Rec Warehouse College Kickoff re-airs twice on Saturday mornings, the crew was compelled to stay at the studio until the conclusion of the USF-West Virginia game, so that we could re-tape the opening segment of the show to include USF highlights from Friday night.

To repeat: Sun Sports is paying me, a full crew, and two analysts to stick around until midnight in order to make sure that USF highlights make it into the Saturday morning re-airs.

Let this speak volumes as to how far the Bulls have come.

And please, let this get the USF fans off our backs.

I watched Saturday morning and sure enough, changes had been made to include USF.

Also: Bull Run

Let me offer you this nugget about how sports are produced on television: when the crew starts going to interviews in the stands and lengthy biographical sketches of players, they ain't doing that to "enhance the broadcast."

They do that when the game is a dud, or a blowout. USF fans should take this as a compliment.

The final stats on Friday night don't reflect it, but South Florida's defense was absolutely stifling. West Virginia, a team ranked 2nd in the nation in rushing coming in, managed 188 yards on the ground -- 169 yards below its average.

I said it on Rec Warehouse College Kickoff, and I'll say it again: USF's defense on Friday night was as good as I've seen anybody play all year. Period.

--- USA Today's Kelly Whiteside finds surprises galore in college football's first month

Also: One-and-out not necessarily the case in title chase, Oklahoma State hopes to move on from tirade, Justin Forsett rushes into limelight at California

--- The New York Times' Pete Thamel names winners and losers after a weekend of upsets

Also: Cal holds its ground and sets its sights on a title, a mentor to quarterbacks applies a deft touch at Oregon

At Oregon and at New Hampshire, [Oregon Offensive Coordinator Chip] Kelly has impressed those around him with his ability to retain football information. On New Hampshire bus trips, a popular game was trying to stump Kelly on which college any player in the N.F.L. went to. [Oregon quarterback Dennis] Dixon said Kelly can name the college, junior college and high school of every N.F.L. quarterback.

“Football things I retain pretty well,” Kelly said. “I do forget when to pick up my dry cleaning and where I parked my car, though.”

For both [New Hampshire quarterback Todd] Santos and Dixon, Kelly’s football mind has helped them create some memorable moments.

Also: The Quad Blog

--- MSNBC's Michael Ventre asks: USC or LSU? Both have their flaws

--- The Dallas/Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Wendell Barnhouse returns with another round of College Football Insider

Also: Still no clear-cut favorite in crowded Heisman race, Franchione's "VIP Connection" newsletter raises a number of troubling issues, Duke lineman's brainchild might turn into dot-com gold

--- Be sure to check out the blog of Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Tony Barnhart

--- The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi says if God does care, St. Bobby will beat 'Satan'

I've never bought into the notion of God rooting for certain teams. Somehow, I just don't think He takes time out from comforting tsunami victims and feeding the Sudanese homeless just so he can become the Gators' 12th Man in Baton Rouge.

But if ever we needed divine intervention in sports, this would be the week -- the week Florida State plays Alabama in Jacksonville. I don't know about you, but I have to believe God never would allow Bobby Bowden to lose to Nick Saban.

Think about it: Bowden is known across the country as "St. Bobby"; Saban is known by another message-board moniker that is sweeping the nation: "Nick Satan." Personally, I don't believe Little Nicky is a disciple of the devil, but he is a disciple of Bill Belichick. And isn't that almost as bad?

Here's all you need to know about Saban's reputation: Georgia Coach Mark Richt, a Bowden protege, closed practice last week for the first time in seven years as a head coach. Not coincidentally, Richt's decision came on the same week Georgia was playing Saban's team and, yes, within a few day of when Saban's mentor -- Bill Beli-Cheat -- was nabbed for video-sabotaging his opponent.

--- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Ted Miller says USC's Pete Carroll is clicking on quest for perfection

What often gets undersold, though, are the philosophical and intellectual underpinnings of Carroll's approach to coaching and running a program.

His style has garnered more attention, but his success is hung on substance.

Here's what he told the Los Angeles Times this summer in a column about how he is devoted to, of all things, the 1974 book, "The Inner Game of Tennis."

"We are trying to create a self-actualized program," he said. "It's really about divine nonchalance."

Huh? Don't write that off as psycho-babble, though.

"Self-actualized," a term best known as the peak of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, simply means a person becoming the best person he can be. "Divine nonchalance" suggests being great without needing outside validation, to be above the fray.

While many coaches study psychology and leadership -- UW coach Tyrone Willingham recently recommended Spencer Johnson's "The Present" during a discussion about the topic -- Carroll is a true aficionado.

Carroll's high school football coach apparently used Maxwell Maltz's groundbreaking self-help book, "Psycho-Cybernetics" -- a celebration of goal-setting as the driving force of a good life -- to educate and motivate his team, according to a profile in The Orange County Register.

Carroll also is longtime friends with Lou Tice, a Seattle-based management and motivational guru and founder of the Pacific Institute. Carroll and Tice partnered in 2003 for a charity, A Better L.A.

Carroll can be fairly curt and standoffish when asked questions that bore or annoy him. But introduce a topic that piques his interest and an eager and highly intelligent conversationalist appears.

It's clear he's still completely engaged and driven to "do it better than it's ever been done," which at present means leading the top-ranked Trojans to a third national title since 2003.

--- The Tuscaloosa News' Cecil Hurt details Alabama's woeful play against legitimate non-SEC foes over the past two to three decades.

So let’s keep going. Alabama has played a few non-conference teams that do meet that standard recently, teams like Oklahoma (twice) and UCLA (twice) and Virginia Tech (newly arrived in the neighborhood but deserving of the big-time label because of its successes under Frank Beamer). Alabama has played those teams — it just hasn’t beaten them.

In fact, if you stick to any strict definition of big-time football, it’s been over a decade since Alabama recorded a non-conference win of that stature. The Crimson Tide defeated Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 1997. It was the last game that Gene Stallings coached, and if any further symbolic evidence was needed to illustrate the chaos that followed him for a decade, the bare statistic — that Alabama hasn’t beaten a non-conference team more illustrious than Texas Tech since — should provide it.

You can make the question a little bit tougher, and provide some context for this weekend’s Florida State game, if you ask it this way.

When’s the last time Alabama won a big non-conference game in the regular season?

Again, we aren’t talking Hawaii or BYU here. So if we exclude Duke, as we should, then you really have to gas up the time machine.

The answer lies in the Bill Curry Era, when Thomas Rayam reached a big mitt into the sky and blocked a Penn State field goal try to preserve a 17-16 win on Oct. 28, 1989. To put that in context, just remember that some of the blue-chip high school seniors that Alabama is recruiting today hadn’t been born at the time.

--- The Birmingham News' Kevin Scarbinsky suggests September was the best month of football ever in the state of Alabama

Today, the first day of October, should be Fan Appreciation Day in this state, with a twist. 

Instead of college football teams celebrating their fans, college football fans should show their appreciation for their teams.

Think of what we just witnessed in the last 30 days.

It wasn't always pretty, and it wasn't close to perfect, but it just may have been the best month of college football there ever was in this state.

If you like games that ain't over till they're over, and not necessarily even then, it was a September to remember.

Auburn and Alabama played 10 games. Seven of those games were in doubt till a final drive. Five of those games weren't over till the final play was done.

From the first Saturday in September to the last, from Brandon Cox coming out of his fog to lead the winning drive against Kansas State to Brandon Cox rising out of the Swamp to lead the winning drive at Florida, it's been one heart-stopper after another.

No wonder Bill Oliver's on the radio selling the virtues of defibrillators.

--- The Mobile Register's Paul Finebaum says Bobby Bowden has fallen and he can't get up

Despite the media's best efforts, the FSU program has fallen and it can't get up.

Oh, it might win today (the Seminoles are a slight favorite) over Alabama. But the days of BCS glory and national relevance are long gone. FSU can't even compete for prominence in its own state anymore now that Urban Meyer has arrived. It is possible Bowden can still cobble together a decent season, in spite of a horrific start. Perhaps he can still leave the game with a modicum of respect, but most in the industry fear it's probably too late for him to go out with anything more than a whimper.

Bowden has taken the path of most great coaches who forget that the good of the program is more important than the selfish wishes of its leader and have to be shoved out the door as opposed to retiring with grace.

To read articles and blog entries from many other college football writers, be sure and visit CFR's "The Punditry" links. You can either bookmark that link or find it via CFR's College Football Links section on the menu at left.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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