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Halfway home (and we still don’t know where we’re going.)

Taking a look at week six from a more national perspective shows that the fear of a rash of teams going undefeated and causing a mess is probably unheralded. Last week there were 13 unbeaten teams remaining of the 119 in Division 1-A. that list was cut down significantly as Oregon, Auburn, Wake Forest, and Georgia all fell off the pace. Ironically, the league that was maligned as being the weakest "BCS" conference, the Big East, has a full third of the remaining nine unbeaten teams with Rutgers, Louisville, and West Virginia all unscathed. Since, at this moment, only an undefeated team has a legitimate shot of making it to Glendale for the title, Let’s look at the remaining nine and rate their chances at this midway point in the season.

9. Boise State (6-0) – They probably have no chance at all to make it to the title game without a huge rash of upsets and several of the top teams finishing with two losses, but staying the course could land them in the Fiesta bowl. They still can finish unbeaten, but won’t make the championship.

8. Rutgers (5-0) – They’ve been a great story so far, but with Louisville and West Virginia both on the schedule, plus a trip to resurgent Pittsburgh (which is a bad loss against Michigan State from being unbeaten in its own right) will end this dream. They can play spoiler though for the Cardinals and Mountaineers

7. Missouri (6-0) – Here is where it starts to get interesting. They get Oklahoma in Columbia in a few weeks, and Nebraska hasn’t looked great yet. The downside is the Big 12 title game, giving them a likely extra game to play against Texas. Double-digit wins for the season are possible, but they could easily stumble once or twice.

6. Florida (6-0) – This is not a knock against the Gators, as they are a great team. I am simply rating the chances that they go without a loss the rest of the way and right now the SEC is so tough that it will be difficult. Throw in they still have to play a rivalry game at Florida State.

5. USC (5-0) – They have been playing some dangerously close games of late and they still have to face Oregon and California. My money says one of those two will get them.

4. West Virginia (5-0) – They’ve played no one and will not play anyone of note until the Louisville game. Most likely they will be 7-0 going into that game.

3. Michigan (6-0) – Remember, this on the likelihood of teams going undefeated. I put Michigan here because they must finish the season at Ohio State, while Louisville gets West Virginia at home, more in favor of the Cards.

2. Louisville (5-0) – No Michael Bush, no Brian Brohm, no problem. All they have done is crush everyone they have played, and the Miami win is more signature than anything West Virginia has done. The Mountaineers have to come to Louisville too, that gives the edge to the Cards when they get Brohm back.

1. Ohio State (6-0) – They simply fear no one. They went to Austin and Iowa City and ruthlessly killed two very good teams that were jacked up to play them. No one else in the Big Ten aside from Michigan appears ready to step up and challenge them, and before that Michigan game they play the five worst teams in the conference right now.

In the end, I honestly think the Michigan-Ohio State winner will end up facing the Louisville-West Virginia winner. Everyone else just has too many stumbling blocks for now. In that, we essentially have a four-team playoff, with Missouri, USC, and Florida as wild cards hanging around the edge. This could easily change in the next few weeks of course.

In sticking close to home, I think it was made apparent this week that there was even more separation in the Big Ten. Iowa flat out rocked Purdue at home to prove that Ohio State simply may be that good of a team instead of the Hawkeyes being that bad. Iowa was banged up and on paper it looked like Purdue had a shot, but Iowa was simply more physical and dominated the game from start to finish. I spoke with a Purdue fan that went to both the Notre Dame and Iowa games, and he said Iowa was a better team than the Irish by far. If they can get healthy, the Hawkeyes may not be out of it yet with a chance to go to Ann Arbor and redeem themselves in a few weeks.

Purdue probably embarrassed themselves the most, as its defense turned in perhaps its worst performance of the season. Yes, the 35 points to Indiana State was bad, but 21 came off of special teams mistakes and against a 3rd string defense. I would argue the Miami (OH) game was worse, as they have stunk up the joint in every other game so far. Nothing prepared me for Saturday, however, as the front seven aside from Anthony Spencer simply took the day off. The best secondary in the country would get torched under those conditions, let alone Purdue’s developing kiddie corps.

There were signs of life out of IU, and the death knell sounded again for Illinois. The Hoosiers have to be kicking themselves that they let the Southern Illinois and Connecticut game get away from them, as they should be at 5-1 right now staring at a possible bowl bid. Most IU fans have forgotten what it’s like to not end their season with a loss to Purdue, and because of their ineptitude when the schedule was perfect for them, it looks like this year will be the same.

It’s looking more and more like the Big Ten will fall short of it’s bowl obligations, as Minnesota was dealt a critical blow this week in a demoralizing loss that should have been a win. The Gophers were flat out robbed, but more emphasis should be put on their kicker, whose missed extra point in overtime proved to be the difference.

So, at this halfway point in the season, it’s time to look at where the Big Ten stands in my power poll and where each team will likely spend the holidays.

  1. Ohio State – BCS title game – as mentioned earlier, the only major stumbling block is the Wolverines.
  2. Michigan – Rose Bowl – A nice consolation, being the second Big Ten team to go to the BCS. Iowa could pose a threat, but not likely.
  3. Iowa – Capitol One Bowl – Kirk Ferentz just get the job done in Iowa City. If they take care of business the rest of the way, a split with Michigan and Wisconsin will mean a fifth straight New year’s Day game.
  4. Wisconsin – Outback Bowl – The Badgers are quietly starting to roll and with no Ohio State on the schedule, they appear to be in the driver’s seat for fourth place. I fear what their running game will do to Purdue in two weeks.
  5. Purdue – Alamo Bowl – Well, that was just about as ugly of a performance as the Boilers could have had on Saturday, so it has to get better, right? So much so that I think Wisconsin is now a near certain loss, But Penn State and Michigan State are very winnable. A 9-4 finish would be very good for a defense this bad. Saturday is a must win to right the ship, as a loss would likely mean another 4-6 game losing streak, ruining this call.
  6. Penn State – Insight Bowl – The Nittany Lions are up and down this year, but I am putting them here because they have Temple and Illinois left to get the two wins they need, plus Michigan State and Purdue are both winnable insurance games. This week’s surprise win locked things up to get to six wins overall.
  7. Michigan State – Champs Sports Bowl – They need three more wins. Ohio State and Penn State won’t be one of them, but this team is certainly talented enough to somehow pull out 3 of 4 against Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Purdue in that order of difficulty. Mentally though, is a different story, as they could just as easily tank all four of those.
  8. Minnesota – no bowl – I really feel for the Gophers, probably my second favorite Big Ten team behind Purdue. They got robbed in a game they needed to have on Saturday. They’re now 2-4 and 0-3 in the conference, when they are a horrible call against Penn State and some boneheaded decisions against Purdue from being 4-2 and 2-1. I can see them getting three more wins against IU, MSU, and N. Dakota State, but a fourth would come in a big upset.
  9. Indiana – no bowl – What’s this? The Hoosiers are alive? I don’t know what is more sad, the fact they won their first conference road game since 2001 Saturday, or the fact they had not won at Illinois, not exactly a lion’s den, since Lee Corso was coach in 1979. Michigan State and Minnesota may be winnable, but they have to be kicking themselves, as mentioned earlier. They would need an upset of Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan, or Purdue with the above teams to get to 6.
  10. Illinois – no bowl – Just when it looked like things were turning around, the dream of a bowl ended to the Hoosiers. This just shows how inept the Big Ten is after the top 4 or five.
  11. Northwestern – no bowl – This offense is the worst in the conference, being held under 17 points in four out of six games. Only an upset against Purdue this week will revive bowl hopes, and alternatively crush Purdue’s

So it looks like someone else will have to come up with a Motor City bowl bid, because the Big Ten is likely going to be short. Michigan State and Purdue are no guarantees either, as the winner will likely go, where the loser could stay home if something funny happens elsewhere.

As per my national discussion earlier, it’s time for my personal top 25, with some major shakeups this week.

  1. (1) Ohio State
  2. (3) Michigan (Penn State could be tricky this week, stop 4 on the revenge tour)
  3. (5) Florida (very impressive this week, I almost put them #2)
  4. (7) Louisville
  5. (5) USC (they survived, but that is what good teams do)
  6. (8) West Virginia (Play someone for God’s sake!!)
  7. (9) Texas (Best one-loss team)
  8. (11) Notre Dame (if they only had a defense)
  9. (13) Tennessee (1-point loss to Florida at the end from being much higher)
  10. (14) California
  11. (15) Clemson
  12. (17) Georgia Tech
  13. (2) Auburn (can gain respect back this week vs. Florida)
  14. (NR) Arkansas (Now THAT was impressive)
  15. (4) LSU
  16. (10) Oregon
  17. (23) Iowa (boy was I wrong)
  18. (19) Missouri
  19. (18) Boise State
  20. (21) Rutgers (These guys and the two above them are the hardest to rank)
  21. (12) Georgia
  22. (16) Oklahoma
  23. (22) Nebraska (No idea how good they really are)
  24. (NR) Wisconsin
  25. (24) Virginia Tech

Dropped out: #20 Florida State, #25 Wake Forest

Also Considered: Pitt, UCLA, Wake Forest, Penn State

These rankings were the hardest to do by far, as the last five spots are teams that simply do not seem that solid. Hopefully things will look better this coming week. Until Thursday, BOILER UP!