The first month of the college football season has ended. Therefore, it deserves a look back at what occurred and how teams ranked in or just outside of the Top Twenty-five polls have fared so far. They are organized into one of four classifications in terms of their viability to play in the mythical national championship game in New Orleans.
Alabama: The pundits and coaches lauded the Crimson Tide before the season. Alabama has proved praiseworthy so far with a lopsided win in Happy Valley then the domination of Arkansas at home. However, some tougher challenges lie ahead, starting with a trip to the Swamp on Saturday.
Louisiana State: The Fightin’ Tigers survived the gauntlet of three pre-season ranked teams in four weeks, all away from Tiger Stadium. However, home games versus Florida and Auburn await them in October. Surviving those would build up a cataclysmic confrontation with the team led by their former head coach.
Nebraska: So far, this team dispatched four opponents who have no prayer of receiving a vote in either national poll, three of those in romps at home. On Saturday, this team will determine if it can seriously contend for a spot in the BCS title in its first Big Ten game of the season.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s concern is its penchant for dropping a road game versus an inferior opponent. Three such games follow the trip to Dallas. If the Sooners take care of business in those, there will much more than Bedlam surrounding the last game of the regular season in Stillwater.
Oklahoma State: The trips to Austin, Columbia and Lubbock will present slightly more difficulties than not looking ahead to the home finale versus their hated cross-state opponent.
Wisconsin: The same description for Nebraska applies here.
Baylor: Can a one-man offense actually lead a perennial doormat to a conference title? That is doubtful but the Bears will find out with road trips to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State sandwiched around an open date in October.
Boise State: The Broncos garnered much respect by marching into Atlanta and handling Georgia. However, short everyone in the BCS conferences having at least one loss, the Bronco’s chances of playing in the BCS title game seem remote at best. They need to hope for chaos on the level of 2007 for a shot to play in New Orleans.
Florida: The Gators won four games which they should have. They can seize the country’s attention if they can knock off two top five teams in the next two weeks.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini’s four wins constitute the best start in sixty years. That reveals how much this program has been mired in mediocrity. A 6-0 start seems likely leading to the first true test versus Ohio State.
Kansas State: A nail-biting victory at Miami carries some weight, even though the current Hurricanes lack the aura of the Eighties and Nineties’ squads. Wins in two nationally broadcasted games in the next two weeks would bolster the Wildcats’ credibility.
Michigan: The Wolverines have two Big Ten pushovers before having a shot to end the three-year losing streak to their intrastate “little brother”. If Michigan can remain undefeated after October, this season will switch from “rebuilding mode” to something much loftier.
South Carolina: Close wins versus Navy and Georgia will not impress many. However, if this team can somehow lose no more than one game and win the SEC, some voters could be tempted to boost Steve Spurrier into one last title shot.
Stanford: Andrew Luck will have plenty of opportunities to pad his statistics and his Heisman Trophy résumé against mediocre Pacific Twelve opponents until ending the month at Southern California.
Texas: Consecutive games versus Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will test the notion that last year’s 5-7 mark was a fluke or the start of the decline of the program.
Virginia Tech: The lack of an opponent from a BCS conference among the Hokies’ non-conference slate caused a dearth of talk about this team. A victory at Clemson would spark some positive chatter.
Arizona State: A narrow loss at Illinois likely killed any chance of BCS title contention. However, sweeping through the Pacific Twelve to claim the conference crown might re-establish the Sun Devils as a contender if no undefeated teams remain by late November.
Arkansas: Teams with one loss team from the SEC have previously won the rest then the SEC Championship Game to play for the BCS title. However, the Hogs still have to play Texas A&M, South Carolina and LSU so at least one more loss seems probable.
Houston: The media have anointed the Cougars as a possible “BCS buster”, especially after opening the season with a win over UCLA. However, their strength of schedule will sink any chance of finishing in the top two positions of the BCS rankings. So far, Houston’s conference-mates have lost all three matches against the SEC and all five matches versus the Big Twelve.
Michigan State: The Spartans are seeking to build on their first Big Ten title in two decades. Despite the ugly loss at South Bend, they can prove that they are an ascending program. They start the month in Columbus and end it in Lincoln with home games versus Michigan and Wisconsin in between. A schedule as tough as that will legitimize or cripple their hopes as a contender for conference and national respect.
Oregon: The Ducks’ very high pre-season ranking saved them from tumbling out of the top twenty after losing in lop-sided fashion to LSU. Relative weakness of other Pacific Twelve members will hurt their chance to climb back up even should top ten teams starting losing games. The upside is the loss was in the first week against another pre-season top five team.
Tennessee: The Volunteers face a similar situation to Arkansas’ but slightly less daunting. They only host LSU and South Carolina with a trip to Tuscaloosa in between in a three-week span. Also, no tough non-conference game remains.
Texas A&M: The top ten ranking is the only reason that the Aggies still have an outside shot at climbing back to the top two spots in the BCS. However, as they move toward the exit from the Big Twelve conference, every one of their brethren will aim at the “SEC” target on their backs. An 11-1 finish looks unrealistic.
Auburn: The loss at Clemson hurt. An impending torture session of consecutive games at South Carolina, at Arkansas, at home versus Florida then at LSU will prove to be excruciating.
Florida State: Two losses in the last two weeks have crushed any designs on re-elevating the program to the pinnacle of the Eighties and Nineties. However, an Atlantic Coast title remains possible and a huge step toward regaining national credibility.
Georgia: Two losses in their home state have doomed the Bulldogs and raised heat under their head coach’s posterior. Mark Richt desperately needs a divisional title or a BCS bowl bid to save his job.
Miami: The Hurricanes are as unpredictable as their nickname. A loss to a weak Maryland team followed by domination of Ohio State then a gut-wrenching loss at home to Kansas State.
Mississippi State: Two losses in their first two SEC games killed any chance of a conference. The Bulldogs will have to settle for playing spoiler and aiming for another bowl in Florida.
Notre Dame: Two losses in September would destroy hopes for any BCS bowl for any other program except Notre Dame. If the Irish can manage to reel off ten straight victories, someone inside the BCS with an at large spot will welcome the Irish to their bowl game. The trip to Palo Alto on Thanksgiving weekend seems the most likely stumbling block to that scenario.
Ohio State: The suspensions and coaching change inevitably hurt the Buckeyes. They figure to do so in the remaining weeks of the season. Nine wins and a berth to a bowl in the Sunshine State appear as achievable goals despite the chaos.
Pennsylvania State: The drubbing at home by Alabama followed by narrowly escaping defeat at Temple have burst any aspirations at the BCS title game. Speculation about Joe Paterno’s future will increase with every additional loss.
Texas Christian: The Horned Frogs’ dreams of a third consecutive BCS bowl went up in flames before Labor Day, as did any fantasies about a BCS championship. At least TCU will have an easier path to a BCS bowl next season in the Big East conference.
UCLA: The Bruins appeared poised to take advantage of the probation placed on it cross-town rivals. Instead, they continue to wallow in disappointment with two losses in their three non-conference schedule. Rick Neuheisel can cool down his hot seat with a victory over Southern California or a Pacific Twelve South crown. Otherwise, he is staring at imminent unemployment.
West Virginia: A loss at home by more than twenty points would doom anyone’s consideration for status as one of the best teams in the country. If that team plays in the Big East, it further underscores that exclusion.
As for contention in conference championships, little can be said. No one in the Big Ten or in the Big East has played a conference game yet. The Southeastern Conference Eastern Division favorites Florida and South Carolina have each won their initial two conference games; Southern Methodist did as well as predicted by those familiar with the Conference USA’s Western Division. Alabama-Birmingham, Arizona and both SEC members from Mississippi have fallen into 0-2 holes. They appear unlikely to extract themselves and resume contention for their respective conferences. North Carolina, the only ACC member having played two conference matches so far, split them. By the end of October, the pictures of conferences races will clear up tremendously.
COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT SEPTEMBER 2011