Sweet 16: Five alive
By Terry Bowden, Yahoo Sports
September 17, 2007
With one fourth of the regular season now completed, there are five teams that seem to be separating from the pack in college football.
USC, LSU, Oklahoma, WVU and Florida have become my top five football teams most likely to end up in the national championship game. Not only have these teams won, but they have won impressively and against some pretty good competition. Although there is still an awful lot of football to be played, if I had to make an early wager, I would have to bet on two of these five to make it to the Superdome in New Orleans.
For the second consecutive Saturday, my broadcast of the Westwood One Radio Game of the Week included one of the nation's elite teams. Last week I was in Baton Rouge to see LSU embarrass Virginia Tech. This past Saturday, I watched USC do the same to Nebraska in Lincoln. I made sure that I went down to the field during pregame each time so I could get a close look at the athletes going through their warm-up drills and thus have a better "feel" for the respective talent levels. Both weeks, it was no surprise to me which team won the game because there was a significant difference in the level of talent that I saw. Now, I didn't predict that either game would be such a blowout, but make no mistake, the better teams definitely won. I will continue to get down on the sideline before each game that I broadcast, including this week's matchup between Penn State and Michigan. Hopefully I will be able to give you a more accurate evaluation of how these teams stack up.
But I do not think I am being hasty when I say that I don't think I am going to see anybody in the country that looks better "on the hoof" than LSU and Southern California. That being said, let's do a quick look-see at my top five.
1. Southern California – I said before the game that I was eager to see the "personality" of this 2007 version of the Trojans. I believe every team has to establish its own identity and whether they are going to possess the qualities and characteristics of a championship team. To say, at the beginning of the season, that this is the best team in the country just because they had 18 starters back from last year's second-ranked team is a bit presumptuous. I mean those same 18 starters went into Corvallis last year and lost to Oregon State and went into Pasadena and lost to UCLA. They were a fine football team in 2006, but they were not champions. But these Trojans quickly established themselves as serious contenders for the national title by going into a hostile environment against a top-15 team and calmly, methodically beating them to a pulp. USC so brutalized the Nebraska front seven that I almost felt sorry for the four first-year starters on the defensive line. The USC offensive line didn't just open up holes for the Trojan running backs, they opened up canyons. When the night was over, USC had accumulated 313 total rushing yards. The 8.2 yards per carry average was the most ever against a Nebraska team. The Huskers, on the other hand, garnered a meager 31 yards on the ground. Senior quarterback John David Booty did a great job of managing the USC offense and quietly went 19 of 30 for 144 yards and two touchdowns. And, although the final score might appear to indicate this was a closer game than it really was, after trailing 10-7 in the second quarter, the men of Troy exploded for 35 straight points to make it 42-10 before Nebraska added a couple of late touchdown at the end to make it look respectable. Because the victory was on the road, unlike LSU's win over Virginia Tech last week, you have to say that that the Trojans clearly deserve to be in the No. 1 spot. And, you might add that they have a pretty dadgum impressive "personality" too.
2. LSU – The Tigers never took their starting quarterback Matt Flynn or their all-world wide receiver Early Doucet off the bench and still cruised to a 44-0 lead in the third quarter. Maybe they were just resting them up for next weekend's showdown with 17th ranked South Carolina.
3. Oklahoma – I know coach Bob Stoops is all about defense and putting good-looking football players out on the field. But if my memory serves me correctly, when he has played for championships at Oklahoma it has always been about a quarterback – Josh Heupel, Nate Hybl and Jason White. Well, we might need to add Sam Bradford to that list. In three games, he has completed 80 percent of his passes for 823 yards and 11 touchdowns. Oh yeah, they play pretty good defense, too.
4. West Virginia – I know the Mountaineers have quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton on offense. And now they've added 5-6 freshman mighty-mite Noel Devine who had 136 yards on only five carries against Maryland. But, as I said last week, WVU would need to start playing better defense if they were going to take this show-horse to the national championship game. They answered the bell against the Terrapins holding them to 109 yards on the ground and only 14 points.
5. Florida – For all you SEC and Florida State fans who were saying/hoping Tim Tebow would be a flop as a full-time quarterback because he could not throw the ball and was too hyper – unlike Gator great Danny Wuerffel – to be an effective leader, you better guess again. After watching Tebow play in his first "meaningful" game as a starter for Florida against Tennessee, I would say he is everything they said he would be. No, that's not entirely true – he is much, much better than what they said he would be. He is the PERFECT fit in this Urban Meyer offense. I have always felt that when someone found a signal caller for this shotgun-option offense who could run like a true tailback and threaten you downfield with the vertical passing attack like a true quarterback that they would be unstoppable. Well, welcome to the Gator offense. Tennessee got welcomed to it Saturday to the tune of 59 points and 442 yards. The national championship game in New Orleans might just be welcoming them at the end of the year.
Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site.
Updated on Monday, Sep 17, 2007 10:44 am, EDT