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August 23, 2008
Roundtable: Time to pick a BCS title game matchup
At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.
The Rivals.com preseason rankings were a collaborative effort. Who do you think will be in the title game?
The Trojans' defense will be tremendous, they have the potential to be explosive on offense and they get Ohio State, Oregon, Arizona State, California and Notre Dame at home. The Trojans have gotten close to other championships since winning it all in 2004, and this season I think everything falls into place.
Mizzou might seem like more of a stretch. But don't forget that the Tigers were ranked No. 1 before falling in the Big 12 Championship Game last season. Quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin lead a dynamic offense, and the defense - which got better as the season progressed in '07 - has 10 players with starting experience returning.
The schedule is favorable, with the Tigers playing Illinois at St. Louis in the opener, open dates the week before playing at Nebraska and Kansas in Kansas City, Mo., and playing at Texas the week after the Longhorns face Oklahoma.
Yeah, Mizzou will have to win the Big 12 championship – possibly against Oklahoma – but now they have the experience of playing in a title game. And this season, the conference championship game is in Kansas City.
Yes, I know all about the Bulldogs' schedule – at South Carolina, at Arizona State, at LSU, at Auburn, vs. Florida in Jacksonville and Tennessee and Alabama in Athens. The issues along the offensive line are well-documented. And I understand that the receiving corps needs to step up. Still, despite that mother lode of questions, I think Georgia is national title game timber.
From one through 85, this is the best roster in the nation. And as long as Mark Richt is strolling the sideline at Sanford Stadium, Georgia will have an edge over most every team in the nation from a coaching standpoint. Plus, this is an agitated bunch after it felt slighted last season when it was excluded from the BCS' biggest party.
USC is primed to get back to the title game for the first time since the 2005 season. That's an eternity for Pete Carroll, who will be motivated by that BCS title-game drought. And the Trojans' schedule is every bit as easy as Georgia's is difficult. Check this out: All of USC's tough Pac-10 foes (Arizona State, Oregon and Cal) visit the Coliseum. And the most challenging non-conference tiffs (Ohio State and Notre Dame) also take place in L.A. I dare you to find a scary road game. You can't, so don't try.
Personnel-wise, USC's defense will have few peers, which will allow the offense to grow and develop into its usual formidable force.
Fans, players and coaches don't like the offseason. But, hey, we sportswriters have it rough, too. I've been off and on way too many bandwagons this summer. After coming up with scenarios for Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State and even Texas Tech to reach the championship game, I'm going to settle on Missouri-USC.
I soured on USC over the past couple of weeks after the Mark Sanchez injury news. Now that it looks as if that won't be an issue, I'm a believer again.
The Trojans' defense will be dominant, and it's not much of stretch to think Sanchez can be a better quarterback than John David Booty. The tailbacks - led by Joe McKnight - will only get better, and the wide receivers won't be any worse than they were last season. Games against Ohio State, Arizona State, Oregon and Cal are at home. Though the Trojans must visit three teams that upset them in recent years – Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA – I expect USC to sweep those three teams and head straight to Miami (where they won their first BCS title).
Missouri is my wild card. It's easy to forget the Tigers were No. 1 in the BCS standings last year going into the Big 12 title game. The defense should continue to improve in the offense-minded Big 12, while Chase Daniel will keep the Tigers scoring in bunches. The opener against Illinois and a road trip to Texas are worrisome, but Missouri can win both. If the Tigers meet up with Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, I bet the Tigers won't let the opportunity slip by again.
While the 1-120 rankings were a collaborative effort, the team we put on top – USC – is the team I thought belonged on top.
Yes, USC has some issues to sort out, most notably finding a go-to receiver. But there is a ton of talent on the team, Pete Carroll is a big-game coach and the schedule is favorable. If the Trojans beat Ohio State on Sept. 13, they deserve to be flogged if they don't finish the season unbeaten.
As for the team that will face the Trojans in Miami for the title, I looked most closely at Florida, Missouri, Ohio State (yes, I think a rematch is possible), Oklahoma and West Virginia.
I don't think WVU has the defense to get to Miami. I think there will be a backlash against Ohio State if it has one loss. I'm not sold on Oklahoma's back seven on defense. I still question Missouri's big-game capabilities. That left me with Florida.
While the Gators have issues at defensive tackle – issues that could keep them from winning a division title, much less a national title – I think Florida coaches will find a way to mask the deficiencies. Plus, I think Florida has the easiest schedule in the SEC, though "easy" is a relative term in the SEC.
The toughest road game is against Tennessee, a team the Gators beat by 39 last season. There's also a game against LSU, but it's in Gainesville. Plus, are LSU's quarterbacks really that good? Finally, there's the annual game with Georgia in Jacksonville. I think the Bulldogs will be a bit beaten down by then, enabling Florida to win for the 16th time in the past 19 games in that rivalry. There's no game against Alabama or Auburn, nor any truly threatening non-conference game because Florida State and Miami are far off what they used to be.
Thus, it'll be Florida-USC in front of what should be a pro-Gators crowd in Miami for the national title.
Fans tired of seeing Ohio State lose the last two championship games probably won't find my predicted matchup any more compelling, but I'm going with a rematch of USC's 55-19 blowout of Oklahoma that ended the 2004 season.
I'm taking a chance that USC's talent and home-field advantage will make up for Ohio State's edge in experience when those two meet Sept. 13. USC has a much more favorable Pac-10 schedule this season, with Oregon, California and Arizona State having to play in L.A. If USC beats Ohio State, the only question is whether USC can avoid stumbling in a game it ought to win. The Trojans slipped up at Oregon State and UCLA two years ago and must visit both places this year. I'm betting history doesn't repeat itself in this case.
While it's tempting to pick a Southeastern Conference team to fill the other spot in the championship game, I'm guessing all those teams will knock one another out of title contention. Florida and Georgia are the best teams in the SEC, but I'm not sold on Florida's defense and I'm guessing Georgia won't be able to overcome a brutal schedule.
Oklahoma looks outstanding on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and the Sooners have a much more manageable schedule than Georgia. The Sooners should be favored in every game they play this season, though trips to Washington, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State - plus the Red River Shootout - could cause trouble.
Missouri may have more overall talent than Oklahoma, but I can't pick the Tigers to win the Big 12 after seeing them lose to Oklahoma twice last year.
That leaves us with a USC-Oklahoma matchup. Considering the way USC and Oklahoma recently have fared in bowls, this game might not be much of a contest if it actually takes place. We can only hope the rematch is better than that 55-19 fiasco.