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October 10, 2011

Monday with Mike: A look at the unbeatens

We're six weeks into the season – the halfway point for more than half of the 120 FBS teams – and there are just 13 unbeaten teams.

Every team in the Big East, MAC, Sun Belt and WAC as well as the independent ranks has at least one loss. Conference USA, the Mountain West and the Pac-12 have just one unbeaten team each. The Big Ten and Big 12 have three unbeaten teams each, followed by the SEC and the ACC with two each.

(As for the other side of the coin, there are just three winless teams: UAB, Florida Atlantic and New Mexico.)

Here's a look at the 13 unbeatens and the likelihood they remain unbeaten.

The teams: Clemson, Georgia Tech
The buzz: They play Oct. 29 in Atlanta, so that's a loss for one of them. And beyond that, it's hard to imagine either of these teams going unbeaten. Tech's run defense isn't that good, and the Yellow Jackets (6-0) are surrendering 24.2 points per game. The lack of a consistent passing attack also hurts; yes, the Jackets can hit the big play, but there is no way QB Tevin Washington can string together completions when he must. As for Clemson (6-0), the Tigers have been surprisingly good, thanks to a high-powered offense overseen by coordinator-on-the-rise Chad Morris. But history is working against the Tigers, who always seem to lose one or two games each season they have no business losing. Plus, they play at Georgia Tech and South Carolina and also have games against North Carolina and Wake Forest remaining. The run defense has had issues, and that could hurt down the line.
Predicted record for Clemson: 10-2
Predicted record for Georgia Tech: 9-3

The teams: Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
The buzz: Illinois plays Michigan and Wisconsin, but the Badgers and Wolverines don't meet – at least not in the regular season. Illinois is one of the nation's most intriguing stories, given that its three best players turned pro a year early following last season. QB Nathan Scheelhaase has made strides as a passer, senior WR A.J. Jenkins has become a big-play guy after not doing much of anything earlier in his career and the defense has some playmakers. Illinois (6-0) has played just once on the road, though, and that was against woeful Indiana. The Illini have to play Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin back-to-back-to-back in late October/early November, with the Penn State game on the road. The Illini also have Ohio State this weekend. Michigan's defense has made big strides, but this remains a team whose success depends on QB Denard Robinson. The Wolverines (6-0) play just their second road game of the season this weekend, against Michigan State. The Spartans handed the Wolverines their first loss last season, and you know "little brother" wants to beat up on "big brother" for the fourth season in a row. Michigan also has to travel to Illinois and Iowa and gets Nebraska and Ohio State to finish out the regular season. Wisconsin (5-0) has been even better than expected with QB Russell Wilson, who has provided incredible balance for the offense. The defense isn't elite, but can anyone in the Big Ten take advantage? The Badgers have a tough two-game road trip late this month with Michigan State and Ohio State, then close out the regular season with a road game against Illinois and a home game against Penn State. The Big Ten title game would follow, likely against either Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska.
Predicted record for Illinois: 10-2
Predicted record for Michigan: 9-3
Predicted record for Wisconsin: 12-0

BIG 12
The teams: Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
The buzz: Kansas State has a solid defense, but it is doing it with mirrors on offense; the passing attack is one of the weakest in the nation. The Wildcats (5-0) have beaten one team (Baylor) that currently has a winning record, though they also own wins over Miami and Missouri. They have played just one road game thus far and play three of their next four on the road, including visits to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State; the one home game in that stretch is against Oklahoma. As for the Sooners (5-0) and Cowboys (5-0), they meet Dec. 3 in what could end up being the de facto Big 12 championship game. Four of Oklahoma State's remaining games are on the road, though the showdown with OU is in Stillwater. OU also has four road games remaining. Its defense looks to be better than Oklahoma State's, which could end up being the difference this season. OU has finished a regular season unbeaten twice under Bob Stoops, in 2000, when it won the national title, and in 2004, when it was mauled in the BCS championship game by USC.
Predicted record for Kansas State: 8-4
Predicted record for Oklahoma: 11-1
Predicted record for Oklahoma State: 11-1

The team: Houston
The buzz: The defense is mediocre, at best, but the offense is explosive and ranks first overall and fifth in scoring. Houston (6-0) had just one Big Six foe on its schedule, and it dispatched UCLA in the season opener. Three of the next four games are against C-USA bottom-feeders (Rice, UAB and Tulane) and the other in that stretch is against an under-.500 Marshall team. Thus, Houston almost certainly will be 10-0 when it heads into the final two weeks of the season – vs. SMU on Nov. 19 and at Tulsa on Nov. 26. SMU is the team that could get the Cougars; the Mustangs are good on offense and solid – especially for C-USA – on defense. If Houston does finish unbeaten, its weak schedule means it will have no shot at the BCS title game, but a BCS bid would be likely.
Predicted record for Houston: 11-1

The team: Boise State
The buzz: In their first season in a new league, the Broncos are seeking their fourth unbeaten record in the past six regular seasons. The Broncos (5-0) have three tough games left – with "tough" being a relative term. They play Air Force on Oct. 22, TCU on Nov. 12 and San Diego State on Nov. 19, with only SDSU on the road. Those three teams have lost a combined six games, and it would be a shock if Boise lost to any of them. The biggest question for Boise: Do they have a shot at playing for the national title if they're unbeaten? The answer, as usual, depends on how many other unbeatens there are.
Predicted record for Boise State: 12-0

The team: Stanford
The buzz: As long as the Cardinal (5-0) have QB Andrew Luck, they're a threat to beat anybody. And they haven't missed former coach Jim Harbaugh yet, though I imagine if he still were in charge, they might've scored 60 on Colorado on Saturday. The defense lost its leader when LB Shayne Skov was injured last month; he will miss the rest of the season. The lack of a true go-to receiver eventually could make a difference, too. And there is some tough sledding to get through, as the schedule definitely is back-loaded; there are games remaining against Washington, USC, Oregon, California and Notre Dame. Yes, it's hard to go against Luck, but this team has a few flaws that eventually are going to hurt.
Predicted record for Stanford: 10-2

The teams: Alabama, LSU
The buzz: This season's "Game of the Century" will occur Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, when the Tide (6-0) play host to the Tigers (6-0). Realistically, unless the Tide or Tigers self-destruct and commit four or five turnovers in a game, that is the only contest either should lose. The winner of that showdown can proceed to New Orleans for the national title game. The home-field advantage could be the tipping point.
Predicted record for Alabama: 12-0
Predicted record for LSU: 11-1

Points aplenty

Kansas scored first Saturday against Oklahoma State, on a 10-yard pass from Jordan Webb to tight end Tim Biere to cap off a 10-play, 80-yard drive that took the first 3:09 of the game.

But by the next time KU scored, Oklahoma State had scored on eight consecutive possessions and was leading 56-7. The carnage ended with a 70-28 Cowboys victory.

"I've never been a part of anything like that," said Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw for 288 yards and five TDs in a little less than two quarters of action. "We scored every time we touched it."

That was the case in the first half, when Oklahoma State scored on all eight possessions. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy pulled most of his starters in the second quarter, after the Cowboys had built a 49-7 lead. Oklahoma State's final first-half TD, which made it 56-7 at halftime, was on a pass from backup quarterback Clint Chelf, who threw two TD passes on the day.

[College Football Pick'em: Sign up and play today]

In all, eight Oklahoma State players scored. Oklahoma State rang up 600 yards of offense, 27 first downs and was 8-of-12 on third-down conversions. The Cowboys did punt four times, all in the second half. They scored TDs on their other 10 possessions.

"We have some work to do on that side of the ball," Kansas coach Turner Gill said. "Or on all sides of the ball, for that matter."

Kansas has played four FBS opponents this season and allowed at least 42 points to all of them (KU is 1-3 in those contests). In those four games, the Jayhawks have allowed 2,360 yards (590.0 yards per game) and 31 TDs. Last season, 18 teams allowed fewer TDs -- for the whole season.

In its past 12 games against FBS foes, Kansas is surrendering 46.5 points per game.

KU's secondary has been egregiously bad this season. The Jayhawks have allowed 16 TD passes, with just one pick, and opposing quarterbacks have completed 73.3 percent of their passes.

The flipside: Kansas' offense has been good. KU is averaging 459.8 yards and 34.6 points per game. The offense has turned it over nine times, which isn't that bad. But the defense has forced a nation's-low two turnovers, leading to a minus-7 turnover margin.

Gill is in his second season, but you have to wonder about his job security. There looks to be just one more potentially winnable game on the schedule, and that's a road game against Iowa State. The Cyclones beat the Jayhawks by 12 last season in Lawrence, Kan. In addition, Kansas has lost 11 in a row on the road.

Grid bits

You want to know why you can't take Tennessee seriously as a SEC East title contender? In their two games against league competition (Florida and Georgia), the Vols have rushed for minus-29 yards. Yes, minus-29. They had minus-20 in losing to Georgia on Saturday and had minus-9 when they lost to Florida on Sept. 17. What has to really turn coach Derek Dooley's stomach is that the next two games are against -- gulp -- LSU and Alabama.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson did his best to keep the Wolverines' game at Northwestern an exciting one. Well, for one half, at least. Robinson ran for 48 yards and threw two TD passes in the first half, but he also tossed three picks and Northwestern led 24-14 at the break. In the second half, Robinson rushed for two TDs and was interception-free as the Wolverines pulled away for a 42-24 win.

[The Wolverine: Hoke happy with victory]

TCU set a Mountain West Conference record with its 19th consecutive league victory. That number should be up to 21 when the Horned Frogs visit Boise State on Nov. 12.

Florida followed up a 38-10 loss to Alabama with a 41-11 loss to LSU. It's the first time since 1971 that the Gators have lost back-to-back games by at least four TDs. And the last time the Gators allowed more than 79 points in back-to-back games was '71, when they gave up 89 in back-to-back losses to Auburn and Georgia. Coincidentally, the Gators' next two games are against Auburn and Georgia. LSU's 41 points were the most surrendered by Florida since allowing the same number to Michigan in the Outback Bowl following the 2007 season.

At one point in its one-sided loss to Oklahoma, Texas faced a fourth-and-49 in the third quarter. Georgia did the Longhorns one better, facing a fourth-and-56 early in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs went from a first-and-10 at Tennessee's 23 to the fourth-and-56 from their 31 thanks to three holding calls and a personal foul. To add insult to injury, Georgia was called for another personal foul on the ensuing punt.

Georgia Tech is 6-0 for the first time since 1966 after muddling past Maryland. Tech has scored on its first drive in every game this season.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington]

From the "I wonder if Mike Leach noticed" dept.: Texas Tech's Adam James caught a TD pass in the Red Raiders' loss to Texas A&M. It was his first TD catch since the opener of the 2009 season, and Saturday was the first time this season he had caught a pass (four receptions for 28 yards). He had two receptions last season.

Like Kansas, Kentucky scored on its first possession Saturday, kicking a field goal after recovering a South Carolina fumble. That field goal was the highlight of UK's day, as it was blasted 56-3 by the Gamecocks. UK managed 96 yards of total offense (it allowed 639) and had as many interceptions as completions (four). In three games against SEC opponents (Florida, LSU and South Carolina), UK has been outscored 137-20 and outgained 1,507 yards to 550.

Notre Dame whipped Air Force 59-33 and it wasn't really that close; the Irish led 59-19 before Air Force scored twice in the final 5:30. The Irish have won four in a row and now are 4-2. They committed five turnovers in each of their first two games but have committed just five since. The Irish easily could be 9-2 heading into their regular-season finale against Stanford, which means the opening losses to USF and Michigan could keep Notre Dame out of the BCS.

Give it up for Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin' Cajuns were picked to finish last in the nine-team Sun Belt Conference, but after beating Troy on Saturday, ULL is in the driver's seat in the league race. The Ragin' Cajuns won at preseason league favorite Florida International last month and the victory against Troy came over a Trojans program that has won or shared five consecutive league titles. ULL is 5-1, with the only loss in the opener at Oklahoma State. ULL's coach is Mark Hudspeth, who is in his first season after serving as Mississippi State's wide receivers coach for two seasons. Before that, he was coach of perennial Division II power North Alabama.

South Alabama beat UT San Antonio 30-27 in double overtime in a game between schools that will be in the FBS ranks next season -- USA in the Sun Belt and UTSA in the WAC. A crowd of 32,886 was in the Alamodome for the festivities.

Going into Saturday's game with Miami (Ohio), Army QB Trent Steelman had completed just six passes in his previous four games and just 11 all season. Steelman was 8-of-8 against the RedHawks, for 124 yards and a TD. But it wasn't enough as Miami got its first win of the season, 35-28.

Arizona State has forced 14 turnovers in its past three games and has forced 18 this season, which is third-most in the nation.

In four career games against East Carolina, Houston QB Case Keenum was 129-of-168 (76.8 percent completion rate) for 1,337 yards and 12 TDs after going 30-of-37 for 304 yards and three TDs in Saturday's 56-3 beatdown of the Pirates.

The most unbelievable finish this week came in a FCS game, with Howard beating host Florida A&M 29-28. Howard scored all of its points in the fourth quarter, including three scores in the final 1:27 -- two TDs and a field goal on the final play of the game. The field goal came after FAMU fumbled while trying to run out the clock in the final 15 seconds.

For the first time this season, there were no FBS-FCS matchups this past week.

The first BCS standings of the season come out Sunday.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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