Maybe the voters in the national college football polls don't want to take any chances with the national championship game. It's not that the Georgia Bulldogs aren't a legitimate No. 1. It's that USC is the safer bet.
The Trojans became the new No. 1 in both
The Associated Press
polls earlier this week, supplanting Georgia -- even though the SEC power romped in its opener. Everyone's favorite title-game runner-up, Ohio State, is third in both polls.
There could be another lesson in this switcheroo. Georgia and Ohio State, like many Bowl Championship Series schools, tend to play a nonconference schedule of teams that, let's just say, are not quite at their level -- note the openers against Georgia Southern and Youngstown State, respectively.
USC quarterback Mark Sanchez
But Southern Cal went on the road and whomped on the Atlantic Coast Conference's Virginia Cavaliers, not a national power but a BCS team coming off a good season. (Speaking of the ACC, it doesn't look like it will be a good year in football for that great basketball conference. The conference's big hope, Clemson, took a licking from the Alabama Crimson Tide last week.)
One sweet early season twist to the rankings is that the Buckeyes will meet USC in Los Angeles on Sept. 13 -- consdier it a Rose Bowl in September -- so we'll have some sorting out right away. On Sept. 20, Georgia makes its first trip west of the Mississippi River in 30 years to play Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.
This Saturday, USC is idle; Georgia will host the Central Michigan Chippewas of the Mid-American Conference in Athens. No. 3 Ohio State will likely be inhospitable to Ohio, another MAC team.
This next one's a little more interesting. The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners will host the Cincinnati Bearcats in Norman, with both teams coming off blowout opening victories. The Big 12's Sooners, a 21 1/2-point favorite, will look for a little revenge against a Big East squad, having suffered a 48-28 defeat to West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl last season. No. 5 Florida, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow, will get a visit from "the U" -- the Miami Hurricanes -- in The Swamp in Gainesville. But we don't expect the 'Canes are ready to upset the Gators.
Let's look at some other Top 25 teams' weekend plans. (We have one game on tap Thursday on ESPN when the No. 24 South Carolina Gamecocks travel to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Five to Follow
Make no mistake: For the casual fan, this isn't a great college football weekend. Under the increasingly draconian "lose and you're out" national championship structure, early September is no time to get beat -- and the major schools know it. It was no coincidence that Week 1 saw nearly half of the 69 games involve Division 1-A (right, FBS) teams playing Division 1-AA (ok, FCS) schools.
And you can expect more of the same Saturday as the nation's powerhouses look to tune up -- and stay healthy -- before the start of conference play.
For the hard-core fan, however, Saturday does bring some intriguing matchups while we all wait for next week's USC-Ohio State tilt. Here are a few games to keep on your radar:
No. 15 Brigham Young at Washington, 3:30 p.m. EDT, MSG+.
Mountain West Conference member Utah drew some BCS buster attention with a gutty win at Michigan last week that has pundits calling for them to be 2008's answer to the Hawaii and Boise State teams that crashed major bowls the last two seasons. But conference rival BYU might have something to say about that. The Cougars racked up 563 yards last weekend, dispatching a Northern Iowa team that was a year removed from being the top seed in the FCS playoffs.
Junior Max Hall is continuing the strong quarterback tradition at BYU, which has seen the likes of Ty Detmer and Jim McMahon behind center. For Washington, it's becoming do or die for fourth-year Coach Ty Willingham, who lost at rival Oregon last week. Washington plays perhaps the toughest schedule in the country (next week's opponent? Just Oklahoma), but Willingham is now 6-22 in conference play. He may need a bowl bid of any kind to save his job.
San Diego State at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. EDT, NBC.
Speaking of coaches on the hot seat, remember those 32 1-A teams that played Division 1-AA opponents last week? Guess which one lost. The Aztecs dropped a heartbreaker Saturday to little Cal Poly on a field goal as time expired. But last second or not, San Diego State Head Coach Chuck Long, a former Heisman Trophy runner-up at Iowa and offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, has yet to get it going in his third year. A trip to South Bend, Ind., is probably the last thing he needs. The Fighting Irish open their season a week late, anxious to get the taste of last year's 3-9 finish out of their mouths. Considering that their schedule includes six teams that lost on the season's opening weekend, don't be surprised if Notre Dame's easier slate and national appeal has them knocking on this year's BCS door.
Ole Miss at No. 20 Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC/ESPN2.
The winner here becomes an interesting team to watch. The Rebels followed perhaps their worst coaching hire ever -- the three-year, 10-25 tenure of Ed Orgeron -- with one that looks already like one of the school's best. Longtime Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has taken over in Oxford, Miss., and it appears that he's resurrected an offense that hadn't averaged more than 20.1 points a game in four seasons. Ole Miss lit up Memphis last Saturday for 41 points on only 19 first downs, suggesting a big-play attack is back at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the first time since Eli Manning was winging the pigskin in 2003. The question is: Can the Rebels travel? The team was 1-9 in road games the last two years, and Wake coach Jim Grobe is making a trip to Winston-Salem increasingly less hospitable. The Demon Deacons return home after wasting Baylor last Saturday, 41-13. The ACC didn't have much to crow about last weekend, but beating an SEC up-and-comer will have Deacon fans dreaming of a second BCS bowl in three years (One note: Remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna may put a premium on running -- and protecting -- the football).
No. 8 West Virginia at East Carolina, 4:30 p.m. EDT.
On the surface, this doesn't seem like a great matchup. The Mountaineers have beaten East Carolina the last seven times they've played, and West Virginia comes off an easy 48-21 victory over Villanova that featured quarterback Pat White throwing five touchdown passes. Fans in Morgantown, W.Va., probably didn't mind also seeing former coach Rich Rodriguez lose to Utah in his first game as Michigan coach. But this weekend, the East Carolina Pirates might offer a little more resistance than they have lately. The team is coming off last year's Hawaii Bowl victory over Boise State, and they opened the year with a victory last Saturday over perennial ACC powerhouse Virginia Tech last week, with special teams putting them over the top. East Carolina coach Skip Holtz has quickly turned the program around, and a second-straight win over a BCS team would serve notice that a Pirate romp through its Conference-USA schedule isn't far-fetched. -- Edison Sanon
Stanford at No. 15 Arizona State, 10 p.m. EDT.
Bless the Pac-10's early conference schedule. The Cardinal's 36-28 opening win at home last week vs. Oregon State has led many fans to believe that Coach Jim Harbaugh has brought the glory back to Palo Alto, Calif., where, despite possibly the greatest upset in college football history last year vs. Southern Cal, the Farm faithful haven't seen a bowl bid since 2001. But if Stanford was a stock, it's starting to look like it's priced for perfection. The Cardinal's win vs. the Beavers last week came despite being outgained by 180 yards and with Oregon State fumbling at the 1-yard-line to miss a chance at forcing overtime. Arizona State took a ho-hum approach in its opening win vs. Northern Arizona last Saturday, and one wonders if the Sun Devils are already circling their Sept. 20 date vs. No. 2 Georgia -- and looking past all that comes before that. That isn't necessarily a good idea against a team that is starting to believe it can beat anybody.