Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.
Big-time teams have spent much of the season’s first three weeks playing creampuff opponents, but this sugar diet of Charleston Southerns and Woffords is ending.
The meat and potatoes are about to be served.
That means it’s time to size up the BCS conferences as teams gear up for league games:
Atlantic Coast: Is there a bigger surprise than Miami? The Hurricanes, 2-0 against the spread, are slight favorites Saturday at Virginia Tech in a Coastal Division matchup. I’ll say it: The winner of the Hurricane-Hokie game wins the ACC. A victory is especially huge for Miami, which plays host to Oklahoma the following Saturday. A 4-0 start puts the Hurricanes in the middle of BCS title game consideration. If you’re wondering what we make of the Atlantic Division, it’s not much.
Big East: Is there any doubt that Cincinnati is the team to beat? The Bearcats were picked to finish third in the preseason media poll, but Brian Kelly has fooled them again. As Bearcat coach, he’s a remarkable 17-8-1 against the spread. Preseason favorite Pittsburgh has yet to do anything to distinguish itself and West Virginia looked like a turnover machine at Auburn. South Florida has lost quarterback Matt Grothe. Tony Soprano is going to be paying a visit to Greg Schiano if Schiano can’t quickly turn around Rutgers.
Big Ten: It’s a four-team race between Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Iowa. Forget the rest of the bums. The tiresome Buckeye are probably the team to beat, but must travel to State College and Ann Arbor, which decided to field a team this year. Don’t discount the Hawkeyes, who have been 7-2 against Penn State since 1996. The teams meet Saturday in State College. The Nittany Lions appear to be a fraud, having failed to cover the spread in three games. Iowa and the 10 points look good.
Big 12: Colt McCoy looked sluggish against Texas Tech Saturday and Longhorn officials say he had a touch of influenza. Much is expected of Texas and they have been a disappointment to date, going 0-3 against the spread. Maybe this team can slug its way through the season, but it had better be ready to play against Oklahoma Oct. 17, which will have a healthy Sam Bradford back in the lineup. And the Big 12 North? Not so Obama.
Pacific 10: USC’s loss at Washington muddies the race, but it’s much too early to count out the Trojans. A victory over California on Oct. 3 would put USC back in charge. Arizona State has played a bunch of nobodies and remains an unknown factor, but that ends Saturday when the Sun Devils travel to Georgia. Oregon State traditionally improves as the season progresses, but must face USC in an Oct. 24 game at the L.A. Coliseum. UCLA is 3-0, but does anybody think the Bruins are good? And Oregon? Shaky at best.
Southeastern: Florida’s schedule is nothing short of a joke. There are only three meaningful regular season games: Oct 10 at Louisiana State; Oct. 31 against Georgia at Jacksonville and Nov. 28 against Florida State in Gainesville. The Mississippi States, Vandys and Florida Internationals of the world don’t count in our book. Thus, expect Florida to be in the Southeastern Conference title game against … Alabama. The Crimson Tide has been tested, with a victory against Virginia Tech. Two big games left on Alabama’s schedule: Oct. 10 at Mississippi and Nov. 7 against Louisiana State in Tuscaloosa. One fact we’d like to throw out: Florida has never had an undefeated season.
A couple of pointspreads caught our eye this week. First, Arizona is a slight favorite over Oregon State in Corvallis Saturday night. Perhaps this is the mob game of the year, given that the Wildcats have lost tight end Rob Gronkowski, their best offensive player, and are switching quarterbacks, giving sophomore Nick Foles his first start. Having watched Arizona’s offense struggle mightily against Iowa, this opening line makes absolutely no sense.
Two weeks ago, Washington was riding a 15-game losing streak, the longest in the Division I-A. Then came victories over Idaho and USC and the Huskies are now ranked No. 24, their first ranking since week five of the 2003 season. Granted, Jake Locker is the best quarterback in the Pac-10, but Washington hasn’t experienced success in years, so you know the hangover factor from the big victory over USC is going to loom large. Stanford giving seven points at home seems like a solid bet.
Houston and its high-powered offense has had two weeks to prepare for Texas Tech, which is coming off an emotional national TV loss to Texas. This should be a back-and-forth game, one of the most entertaining of the season. These Cougars are worthy of consideration.