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Sunday, September 17, 2006

And then there were eight ...

After "Separation Saturday," there are only eight programs in this writer's eyes that are looking to a potential National Championship in January. It may be September, but here at CFBN, we are already looking to the title game. So, here is some analysis on the contenders:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Jim Tressel (Grade: A)
Quarterback: Troy Smith (Grade: A)
Top Talent: Ted Ginn, WR (Grade: A)
Eliminated: Texas
Dangers: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State
Title Chances: Very High
They have the best offense in the country, and they are developing the best defense in the country. Jim Tressel is the best at what he does, and with Troy Smith, Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez and company, his job is just getting easier. They will face a very one-dimensional Iowa team and a depleted Penn State. Their only concerns lie in the state of Michigan. The Spartans have shown that they can put points up with the best of them behind quarterback Drew Stanton, but the lack of depth and versatility will keep Michigan State from pulling off the upset. And that leaves the Buckeyes with one ... and that one will determine which team is going to the title game.
Predicted Finish: 12-0

2. USC Trojans
Head Coach: Pete Carroll (Grade: A)
Quarterback: J. D. Booty (Grade: B+)
Top Talent: D. Jarrett, WR (Grade: A)
Eliminated: Nebraska
Dangers: California, Oregon, Notre Dame
Title Chances: High
So the Pac-10 isn't as competitive as the other conferences, but it still can make this less sure for the Trojans than in years past. California was pitiful in their opener at Tennessee, but they can improve as the season progresses and give the Trojans a game. Meanwhile, Oregon looked pretty strong against Oklahoma. But the real test will come in their second to last game against Charlie Weis and the boys from South Bend. The epic from last year will push the Irish to play at USC's level, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Notre Dame walk out of the L.A. Coliseum having taken down USC.
Predicted Finish: 11-1

3. West Virginia Mountaineers
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez (Grade: B)
Quarterback: Pat White (Grade: B)
Top Talent: Steve Slaton, HB (Grade: A-)
Eliminated: Maryland
Dangers: Louisville, Pittsburgh
Title Chances: High
It's all about the schedule. With a cupcake schedule, Pat White and Steve Slaton look capable of running the table in the Big East, but they will need to play great against Pittsburgh, and especially great against Louisville. I give the Mountaineers a loss this season because their secondary is more than susceptible to a good passing quarterback. Louisville's Brian Brohm is a prime example of such, as is Pitt's Tyler Palko. Take your pick, one of them takes down West Virginia.
Predicted Finish: 11-1

4. Louisville Cardinals
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (Grade: A-)
Quarterback: Brian Brohm (Grade: A-)
Top Talent: G. Stripling, HB (Grade: B-)
Eliminated: Miami
Dangers: Pittsburgh, West Virginia
Title Chances: Moderate
Dangerous. Very Dangerous. I think the game against Miami was an eye-opener for the rest of the college football world, and the message was simple: Louisville is deadly. Brian Brohm is a legitimate Heisman quarterback, and George Stripling is a xerox of Michael Bush. They will handle Pittsburgh with ease, but will have some difficulty catching up with West Virginia's backs.
Predicted Finish: 11-1

5. Auburn Tigers
Head Coach: T. Tuberville (Grade: B+)
Quarterback: Brandon Cox (Grade: B-)
Top Talent: Kenny Irons, HB (Grade: B+)
Eliminated: LSU
Dangers: Florida, Georgia
Title Chances: Moderate
Welcome to the hubris of the SEC. Auburn is a solid team that would run away with practically any other conference, but the SEC is just too deep. Look for either Florida or Georgia to sink the Tigers at some point in the season and for an SEC Championship loss. I'm not going to say who is going to deal the lethal blows, but in a conference featuring Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, along with Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina, it is just inevitable.
Predicted Finish: 11-2

6. Michigan Wolverines
Head Coach: Lloyd Carr (Grade: B)
Quarterback: Chad Henne (Grade: C+)
Top Talent: Leon Hart, HB (Grade: B)
Eliminated: Notre Dame
Dangers: Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
Title Chances: Low
Anyone who has to face this year's Ohio State team has a low chance of seeing an undefeated season. Lloyd Carr's boys looked fantastic against Notre Dame in the 47-21 win in South Bend, but don't lose sight of what Michigan is coming off of. One win will not carry them into January, and in order to keep their dreams alive, they need Chad Henne to continue to play like he did yesterday.
Predicted Finish: 11-1

7. Florida Gators
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (Grade: A-)
Quarterback: Chris Leak (Grade: B+)
Top Talent: Percy Harvin, WR (Grade: C+)
Eliminated: Tennessee
Dangers: Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, LSU
Title Chances: Low
See the fate of Auburn and just up the chances of losing. Not only are the Gators a weaker team than Auburn, they face a tougher schedule, including matches against Auburn, Florida State, Georgia and LSU following the victory over the Volunteers. Ouch! Urban will get another taste of why coaching Florida isn't quite the same as coaching Utah.
Predicted Finish: 11-2

8. Georgia Bulldogs
Head Coach: Mark Richt (Grade: C)
Quarterback: M. Stafford (Grade: C+)
Top Talent: Danny Ware, HB (Grade: C+)
Eliminated: South Carolina
Dangers: Auburn, Florida, Tennessee
Title Chances: Very Low
Let's face it, they are the fifth-best team in the SEC and are just waiting to get knocked from the title race. Matthew Stafford is too young and too inexperienced to lead the Bulldogs to a title, while Mark Richt is not a good enough coach to outduel Tommy Tuberville, Urban Meyer or Phillip Fulmer. See you in a nice non-BCS match-up.
Predicted Finish: 9-3

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