Pointing out that
the Volunteers had won almost exactly the way his team had and that the Gators
had been "home eating cheeseburgers," the coach professed confusion.
"That befuddles me," he said.
us Weis will be able to grasp the harsh new reality confronting him and his
team: His guys are out of the hunt for the national title. The Irish needed USC
to keep winning, right up until their matchup in Los Angeles on Nov. 25. Only a
stirring, late-season victory over the undefeated Trojans might have been
enough to propel Notre Dame into the title game.
loss knock the Trojans out of the national championship picture? "To think
that would be a mistake," said coach Pete Carroll, who found much to like
in his first regular-season loss since September 2003. Frequently erratic in
winning their first six games, these youthful Trojans may have found their
identity in defeat. Trailing 33--10 with less than five minutes left in the
third quarter, USC came back strong. Quarterback John David Booty led the team
on three touchdown drives and looked, for the first time, like a worthy heir to
Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
That said, the
Pac-10 squad that would give Ohio State the best game resides in Berkeley.
After dropping its opener, Cal went on a tear, outscoring its next six foes
240--94. A victory over USC on Nov. 18 should ensure the Bears of their first
Rose Bowl berth in almost half a century. For now they're biding their time in
10th place in the BCS, a source of irritation to Tennessee, the team that
rolled them 35--18 way back on Sept. 2. The Vols' BCS ranking? Number 11.
While he may not
sympathize with the Volunteers, Cal coach Jeff Tedford can empathize with them.
In 2004 Texas lobbied its way into an at-large BCS bid at the expense of the
Bears. This year the defending national champs are sitting seventh in the BCS
standings. The Longhorns would love a rematch with an Ohio State team that
humbled them in Austin 24--7 on Sept. 9. But the jinnis inhabiting the BCS
computers will take into account, disapprovingly, that Texas has only one game
left against a ranked opponent ( Texas A&M). Another strike against the
Longhorns: They face the prospect of playing an unranked Missouri or Nebraska
team in the Big 12 title game. if there's a one-loss team playing for the
national title, it damned well better be from the SEC. So goes the thinking in
this proud conference, where the depth and talent make running the table next
one-loss SEC team is most deserving? Tennessee's defeat came by a single point
against the Gators, who were beaten 27--17 by Auburn in a game closer than the
score indicates. Students had already commenced "rolling" Toomer's
Corner with Charmin when defensive back Patrick Lee returned a fumble for a
touchdown with no time on the clock.
A week earlier
the Tigers no-showed, for all practical purposes, for an 11 a.m. kickoff
against Arkansas, which beat them by 17. On the Wednesday before that game
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was asked about the BCS during a teleconference.
Rather than bite his tongue, Tuberville stated the obvious: that without a
playoff it's going to be very tough for an SEC team to get to the national
championship game. In the wake of the Arkansas loss, he was accused, unfairly,
of creating a distraction for his team.
Cries of "War
Eagle!" may yet ring on Dec. 2 in the Georgia Dome, site of the SEC title
game. Yes, the Razorbacks lead the SEC West. But no team in the conference has
a tougher closing stretch. The Hogs must face South Carolina, Tennessee and
LSU. No one would be surprised to see Tuberville and his Tigers in a rematch
with Florida with the conference championship on the line.
Should the Gators
prevail in Atlanta, there's a strong chance they'll jump the Mountaineers. The
computers prefer Florida to West Virginia, whose nonconference opponents have
been Marshall, Eastern Washington, East Carolina and Mississippi State.
"This is the fifth top 50 defense we've faced this season," one Gators
supporter said before the Georgia game. " West Virginia hasn't faced
No Gator would
admit to looking that far into the future. Meyer was too busy obsessing on the
travails of his offense, which for the second straight game failed to score in
the second half. Staying resolutely on message, Caldwell would not directly
address a question about his team's improving national title hopes. Instead, he
concocted a tortured metaphor: "If we work hard and win every game, the
cards will play their own hands."