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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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A "weekly must-read"

--- ESPN's Bruce Feldman analyzes teams 51 to 75 in ESPN's "Ladder 119" countdown of the top 119 programs in the last decade.

There is a nether region of programs in college football that tend to be just decent enough that their coaches retain their jobs. Yet these teams never get over the proverbial hump and make it to a bowl game you'd watch for more than 10 minutes. That's the profile of many of these programs ranked from 51 to 75.

They usually teeter from "pretty good" to "mediocre," depending on the season, and are rarely much better or worse than that. It's a strange lot in life. The big question is: Can any of them ever jump the tracks and move up to legitimate heavyweight status where they are the perennial top-20 fixtures that blue-chippers grow up rooting for?

Also: Irish eyes smile on high-schooler Crist

[B]ut [Notre Dame coach Charlie] Weis' pitch ultimately won him over.

"His big selling point was his quarterback development and his tutelage of Tom Brady and Brady Quinn," Crist said of Weis. "Just being able to work with a guy like that drew me to Notre Dame. He said there is no one who is gonna make you a better player than I can. He was so confident.

"And, as coach Weis said, verbatim, 'I'm in love with nobody but my wife,' meaning there's always gonna be a chance. The best player is gonna play, and that was something that really stuck with me."

--- ESPN's Ivan Maisel says Pete Carroll's coaching propelled USC to the top of ESPN's "Ladder 119" rankings.

USC got off to a slow start in the last 10 years. Carroll didn't arrive until December 2000, and anyone who recalls that the coaches in the previous four years were Paul Hackett and John Robinson either is a diehard Trojan or needs a hobby.

The point is that you could make the case that USC didn't dominate the decade long enough to deserve to be No. 1. But the most interesting observation to come out of this ranking is the realization that none of the teams has been dominant for 10 years. Bob Stoops has made No. 5 Oklahoma into a power over his eight seasons, but in the two years before his arrival, the Sooners won a total of nine games. No. 4 Florida endured the moderate three-year dip under Ron Zook. The only team that can make a good case for 10 consecutive successful seasons is Ohio State, which is No. 2. The Buckeyes, however, have one fewer national championship than the Trojans, and their four seasons under John Cooper in this decade produced a lot of wins, but not enough of them in big games.

Also: Two memorable encounters with Bill Walsh

Also: Harbaugh treasures time spent with Walsh

--- ESPN's Mark Schlabach says underachievers and overachievers highlight teams 26 through 50 in ESPN's "Ladder 119" countdown.

Also: Steve Spurrier has high hope for Gamecocks

"We won our fourth bowl game in school history this year, by the way," Spurrier said. "The history there is not all that super-duper. ... What we need to do is understand that the object of a football season is to try to win your conference championship. I really believe that."

--- ESPN's Pat Forde tackles Pac-10 Media Day with the attendant Jim Harbaugh strangeness and USC love-fest.

Then, on Thursday at his first Pacific-10 football media day, Harbaugh sent a jolt through a sleepy room of sports writers by declaring that this USC team "may be the best team in the history of college football."

Figuring that perhaps Harbaugh had confused the current USC team with the Matt Leinart-Reggie Bush 2004 unit that went 13-0 and seal-clubbed Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, he was asked if he meant what he said.

Harbaugh repeated the statement. "They may be the best team in the history of college football. My opinion."

Given one more chance at clarifying, backtracking or otherwise softening that opinion, Harbaugh stood in the pocket and delivered a third time.

"I think their current team is that good," he said.

Since there wasn't enough time to check Harbaugh's concussion history before Carroll came into the room, we had to assume the Cardinal coach was of sound mind at the podium. Naturally, I couldn't wait to ask Carroll what he thought of the latest from his new nemesis up the coast -- because if there's one thing coaches hate more than fumbles in the red zone, it's hyperbolic praise from the opposition.

"Gotta love Jim, don't you?" Carroll chirped, making it rather clear how little he loves Jim. "I'm glad he thinks that."

Do you think it, Pete?

"There's no way I'd ever try to understand what that's about. … Thanks, Jim," Carroll responded.

Also: Quarterbacks earn respect the hard way.  Good read.

But it takes a special breed to be a great quarterback, with a unique mix of attributes. This is Tedford's five-part recruiting checklist when shopping for a QB:

1. Mental and physical toughness. "Obviously, physically, you're going to take a pounding, and you've got to get up and have your team follow you. You have to be mentally tough because if you throw a couple picks, you've got to be tough enough to come back."

2. Intelligence. "You've got to be able to understand and control the offense."

3. Competitiveness. "We look for a guy who wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line."

4. Escape dimension. "Not everything happens the way it's drawn up. We want a guy who can elude the rush and make something happen when a play breaks down."

5. Natural throwing motion. "He's got to be able to get the ball around the field."

--- ESPN's Bill Curry, in respose to ESPN's "Ladder 119" feature, says rankings are subjective and sometimes irrational.

Mike Golic once said he liked the schools with the most food. Not the best food, but the most food. He once ate an entire turkey leg on camera, sneaking behind Dave Barnett and me while we were doing a two-shot. The now svelte Golic will have to devise a new ranking system, I suppose.

--- Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel says Virginia Tech now has an image problem in the wake of the Mike Vick dogfighting scandal.

I would hope the rest of the country does not view Vick's alleged transgressions as a reflection on Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech had nothing to do with it. However, because Beamer took a lot of heat for babying the similarly troubled Marcus Vick during his stint there, I imagine there will be many who lump the two together as an indictment against the program.

The good news is, Virginia Tech will have a chance this fall to supplant that image. Despite all the great teams and marquee names (Kevin Jones, DeAngelo Hall, et al.) who have come through the program since, the Hokies' defining image to this date remains that of Vick running circles around Florida State's defense that night in New Orleans.

But if Tech were to go on a national-title run this fall and truly deliver a Hollywood-like story, the program would finally take on a new identity sans-Vick.

Also in The Mailbag: why schools who never factor in the recruiting wars manage to factor in national rankings on the field, the difference between Florida State and Miami, a Mr. Irrelevant for BCS programs, Notre Dame's "home" road games, asking SI about ESPN's apparent disrespect for Georgia, differentiating the successes at Louisville and Kentucky, more Mailbag Crush talk, the risks of playing a legit OOC schedule for non-BCS contenders and offending emails.

Also: Heisman favorite McFadden must carry the Hogs in 2007

"I know it's going to be crazy," McFadden said of the season-long Heisman hoopla. "If you have a good game one week, they say he's a great Heisman candidate, and if you come back and have a bad game, it's, 'We're not sure if he's a Heisman candidate.' It probably will bother me, if I'm going to be honest, but I won't allow it to affect my playing ability."

Also: Mandel's Blog.  Steve Spurrier relegated to Opening Act at SEC Media Days, Nick Saban takes center stage (again), Gators' Meyer could use help from Goodell and 'Best in history?' Slow down there, Jim.  This blog format fits Mandel well, lots of goodies in those entries.

Also: College football and breaking the rules.

The basic tenant to keep in mind is that when a school gets nailed by the NCAA for cheating, that doesn't necessarily mean it's indisputably dirtier than its competitors. It's just that the perpetrators happened to be sloppy, stupid or unlucky enough to actually get caught.

--- CBS SportsLine's Dennis Dodd says expansion has done nothing to boost ACC play at this point.

Also: If you ain't cheatin', you're welcome in Slive's SEC

The magic date is June 11, 2008 -- 325 days and counting. If everyone behaves, that's when every SEC school will be out of NCAA jail, as a group, for the first time in 26 years.

Slive is crossing his fingers, toes and probably himself in the name of the Father, the Son and ... Holy Cow, let's pray it doesn't happen again.

"You've got to try," Auburn's Tommy Tuberville said. "Our league hasn't had a great reputation."

Also: Nick Saban can slog through the insanity of being head man at Alabama

"I have two gray suits and two gray sport coats," Saban said, leaning into the backseat of his Mercedes on the way to the SEC media days 75 minutes away in the Birmingham suburbs. "That's about all I have that goes with the Alabama colors. I try to wear Alabama colors to satisfy the fans. I get an e-mail the other day from a guy who's a big Auburn fan: 'They're laughing at you because you wear the same suit all the time.'

"How can I please everyone?"

Also: Little consensus on handling bad behavior

"I have a general philosophy about how to do things. If you want to, you can make a book full of rules. The key is to get your guys to make good decisions so you get them to rely on right and wrong.

"If I do this (rules) for four years, all I've done at the end of four years is prove they can follow directions. When do they become decision makers?"

--- The Sporting News' Matt Hayes finds that the Pac-10 will not agree to a "Plus One" playoff format.

Also: Terry Bowden's coming back to coaching.

Also: Scouting the ACC And Pac-10 at their respective Media Days.

USC coach Pete Carroll: "At a time when sports needs something good to happen, college football is coming."

Also: Virginia's Groh has some winning to do.

Also: Will new school president Gordon Gee shake up Ohio State's athletic department?

Also: Inside Dish.  Tinkering with the tailbacks at LSU, Willie Williams' role in the Louisville defense and the ACC's future plans for its championship game.

--- The Sporting News' Tom Dienhart says it's too easy to be too hard on the Huskers.

"I flew down here this morning on a private jet," [Nebraska coach Bill Callahan] says. "The thing can go Mach I. It took us about an hour and a half."

Also: Tommy Bowden is circling the drain at Clemson.

Also: Scouting the Big 12 Media Day.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no representative in San Antonio, despite the fact Missouri was picked to win the North for the first time ever. One word: amazing.

Also: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach stands out at Big 12 Media Day.

Also: Sitting down with "St. Nick" Saban.

--- The Sporting News'/Rivals.com's Mike Farrell writes the early demise of Notre Dame quarterback recruit Jimmy Clausen has been greatly exaggerated.

--- Yahoo! Sports' Terry Bowden looks forward to college football 2007 ... and his hopeful return to the game in 2008.

Folks, I just can't sit and watch anymore. I need to be standing on the sideline. I need to reach down and pick some grass to toss into the wind. I need to scream in a quarterback's ear. I need to reach up and grab that linebacker by the facemask. I need to call the play that wins – or loses – the game. As much as I love writing about the game, I just need to be a part of the action again.

I sure am excited for the 2007 season, but I'm even more excited about what may come in 2008.

--- CSTV's Brian Curtis remembers Bill Walsh.

--- CSTV's Trev Alberts answers reader questions in his latest Mailbag.  Inside: The Big East schedule strength issue, Trev's sleeper team in the ACC and the best coach in college football history.

--- CSTV's Adam Caparell checks in with weeks nine and ten of his 2007 college football schedule planner.

Also: Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer's burden in the wake of the shooting and murder spree that happened back in April on the school's campus.

--- CSTV's Brian Jones checks in to break down the SEC in 2007.

--- Sun Sports TV's Whit Watson finds Florida coach Urban Meyer in a cheerful mood (among many other observations) at the Florida Sports Writers Association College Football Media Days.

--- The Rivals.com staff continues its prolific pace covering conference media days and whatnot.  See this week's archive for all their content here.

--- USA Today's Kelly Whiteside writes that the turbulent offseason has united Darren McFadden and all his Razorback teammates.

Also: Nick Saban's 'rock star' welcome continues at Alabama.

--- The Dallas/Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Wendell Barnhouse checks in with a round of College Football Insider.

Also: Don't believe a word Nick Saban says.

--- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Tony Barnhart blogs away on all things SEC.

--- The Austin-American Statesman's Kirk Bohls checks in with a bevy of entries from Big 12 Media Day including Bill Callahan's search for fullbacks, Gene Chizik's heartbreak over Texas' loss to Kansas State last yearMike Leach's praise for new North Texas coach Todd Dodge and a stable full of big-name visitors who study the Red Raider offense.

--- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Ted Miller sits down for a candid talk with one of college football's ultimate good guys, Washington State coach Bill Doba.

What makes this all the more excruciating is that Doba couldn't find solace last season from the place he'd turned for the previous 43 years. His beloved wife, Judy, who he met as a freshman at Ball State, died after a two-year battle with cancer in April 2006, meaning thereafter Doba took his professional burden home to an empty house echoing with memories.

He admits it wasn't easy. Still isn't. With some reluctance, he'll talk about it with a catch in his voice, but he also asks that the tape recorder be turned off. He is as affable and as open as any man in college coaching, but he doesn't want his personal pain detailed again for public consumption.

Most folks wouldn't understand anyway. And, though he doesn't say it, he seems weary of people's frequent expressions of sympathy.

He covets distraction. He knows winning is great medicine. So he's thrown himself back into his work with renewed zeal. He wants to chuck his hot seat into a Pullman snow drift this fall because fans are cheering again, not because he's a good guy who's been through a lot.

That's why he decided to take over as his own defensive coordinator -- the post he held under Mike Price for nine of his 18 seasons on the Palouse -- when Robb Akey was hired as Idaho's head coach during the offseason.

He missed the hands-on teaching. He wants to be involved. He doesn't want to have any regrets when the season ends Nov. 24 in Seattle.

--- The Birmingham News' Ray Melick finds rival coaches keeping a close eye on Nick Saban.

In his seven months at Alabama, Saban's name has turned up more than any other coach's in other schools' allegations of secondary NCAA rules violations, an official with knowledge of the infractions process says.

That doesn't mean he's breaking more rules than anyone else - or that he's breaking any rules at all. It just shows how closely rival coaches are monitoring the Alabama staff.

Coaches at other schools never seem willing to admit to filing any official complaints about any other coaches. It seems all coaches love to talk about how, if they suspect a rival coach of doing something inappropriate, they call that coach and settle it just between themselves.

But those same coaches who say they haven't officially complained about Saban all say they know of coaches who have.

What they're complaining about, if true, would all appear to be secondary violations in nature - improper contacts with recruits, for instance - and allegations of this kind are made by coaches against each other almost every week.

Even if proved true, individual secondary violations occur so frequently that, unless the NCAA determines they occurred consistently and willfully, they rarely bring any sort of serious action against the school.

In fact, a person familiar with the NCAA's handling of such matters told me a certain number of secondary violations are tolerated by the NCAA. If anything, NCAA officials often get suspicious when a major school with a broad-based athletics program self-reports only two or three secondary violations in a year. The NCAA understands it is almost impossible not to accidentally cross the line occasionally in the course of doing ordinary business.

Also: Tommy Tuberville and his Auburn Tigers, taken for granted.

Tuberville spent his share of time in front of the largest contingent of national media ever to attend an SEC football media days event talking about everything except, it seemed, his own team.

Also: Cheating refs and what the SEC does to prevent issues that can destroy the integrity of the game.

--- The Mobile Register's Paul Finebaum says Steve Spurrier tops the list of the SEC's best coaches.
Phew!  That took ... forever.  Maybe I should throw in the towel around "Media Day" season next year?
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.

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