5 Thoughts - The Sleeper To Watch Out For
Cincinnati QB Tony Pike
Cincinnati QB Tony Pike
Posted Sep 21, 2009

It's not going to be Florida vs. Texas for the national title. It's never that easy. Why it's all there for Cincinnati (yes, Cincinnati) to play for the BCS Championship, the resurgence of Oklahoma, the coach on the hottest seat, and more in the latest 5 Thoughts.

5 Thoughts - Sept. 20

- 5 Thoughts Week 1 (What to do with BYU) 
- Week 2 (The problem with the polls, and the new star QBs)

1. Enough safe and sane, it's time for dumb and dangerous.

By Pete Fiutak

You're not going to buy this, but we're going to sell it anyway.

Cincinnati will end up playing Florida for the national championship. Yes, in football.

In 2007, right about this time (actually, it was on September 29th), we made the call that West Virginia was going to play for the national title. It seemed crazy at the time considering the Mountaineers had just lost to South Florida, but when looking at how the first few weeks of the season had been wacky, and with the remaining schedules ahead for all the top contenders, it seemed like a long shot that wasn't so long. As it turned out, we were this close to being right. The Mountaineers would've played in the BCS Championship game against Ohio State (and a two loss LSU, who would end up winning the whole thing, would've been left out), but Rich Rodriguez's club gagged at home to a mediocre Pitt team in the regular season finale. Now, fast forward to 2009 and take a look at what's happening, and you'll see why it's not so insane to think that Brian Kelly's loaded team could end up in Pasadena.

First, you have to be sold on the Bearcats. You might not have seen them play yet this year, and you've probably dismissed them on name recognition alone, but Kelly has put together a tough, battle-tested team that doesn't make mistakes and has been better than it gets credit for. His team has won 24 games over the last two years plus the first three games of this season, highlighted by a run to the Orange Bowl last season after winning the Big East title. His 11-3 squad ended up losing to Virginia Tech, while the two other losses came at Oklahoma (no shame there) and against Connecticut in a strange 40-16 blowout that went from being a tight battle to a laugher in a heartbeat thanks to a slew of UC fumbles. But this year's team, at least as it appears so far, is too tight, too experienced, and too good to let that happen again.

And then there's the schedule. After beating Oregon State last week in Corvallis, snapping OSU's 26-game home streak against non-conference teams that went back to 1996, the toughest remaining road game for the team that's currently fourth in the nation in scoring, sixth in offense, second in tackles for loss, and eighth in sacks is an ironic date at Pitt to end the regular season. The Panthers are good enough to end the national title dreams of the Big East for the second time in three years, but before that, UC has to play at South Florida without its star QB, Matt Grothe, and it has to go to Miami University and Syracuse. That's it. Louisville, Connecticut, West Virginia and Illinois all have to come to Cincinnati, and those are all extremely winnable games if the Bearcats can maintain the high level they're currently at.

But for the Big East to achieve its dream, several other major dominoes have to fall. USC and Ohio State losing were big. Penn State doesn't appear to be good enough on the offensive line and in the running game to not get tagged by Ohio State, at Illinois, at Michigan, or at Michigan State. Oklahoma could certainly beat Texas. The Longhorns, who haven't exactly looked like the world-beaters of last year, also have to play at Missouri, at Oklahoma State, and (don't laugh) at Texas A&M to go along with a home date against Kansas. California is California, it'll brain-cramp somewhere along the way in spectacular fashion, if it doesn't get knocked out of the national title picture by USC, the stars in the ACC will start picking each other off soon, and the SEC won't get two teams into the BCS Championship.

Does anything there sound too far-fetched? Of course, this could all end in a hiccup if Fresno State and Ryan Mathews don't make a slew of mistakes and pull off the road upset this weekend, but it's mid-September and the season has already taken several nutty turns. It's time to think longview at what might happen if everything breaks the right way. When you can't decide on the favorites, go for the longshot. 

2. They're back (and they never really left)

By Richard Cirminiello

I know it's early and a full recovery doesn't come from routs of Idaho State and Tulsa, but I'm beginning to watch Oklahoma with a raised level of intrigue.

Just about everyone loses a game it shouldn't at some point. How well that team responds to adversity, however, is what separates the average program from the elite one. The Sooners are an elite program, which is why you shouldn't sleep on them simply because they haven't been tested since the opening day loss to BYU in Dallas.

The 45-0 whitewash of the Golden Hurricane wasn't just any ordinary game in Norman. A statement was made, even if most of the country was tone-deaf at the time. Maybe Sam Bradford returns soon, but if not, Landry Jones is beginning to look as if he's ready for the rigors of the Big 12 conference. Confidence is no longer a factor after the redshirt freshman threw a school-record six touchdown passes, three to Ryan Broyles, and generally looked like a worthy successor to the Heisman winner. Plus, he's getting all kinds of time, a sign that the rebuilt offensive line is starting to gel.

As good as the offense has been, the defense has been better. I'm growing to really appreciate this group. Others should fear it. It hasn't allowed a point in the last two games, taking over the nation's lead in run defense, scoring defense, and tackles for loss. The front seven, which includes DT Gerald McCoy, DE Jeremy Beal, and linebackers Ryan Reynolds, Travis Lewis, and Austin Box have just been blowing up offensive lines over the past couple of weeks, a trend that figures to continue.

Oklahoma gets a week off before putting its quiet revival to the test in a trip to resurgent Miami. If the Sooners can stay hot when the schedule gets tougher, brace yourself. The program with the dirt on it a few weeks ago is going to be right back in the national title hunt.

3. The true hot seat belongs to ...

By Matt Zemek

Let's make sure the right coaches are getting ripped again this week.

Ralph Friedgen should be tops on the list, not Pete Carroll. For the second straight season, Maryland has fallen to Middle Tennessee State. (Give due recognition to what the Blue Raiders do under Rick Stockstill.) Sure, other bigger games were taking place on Saturday, but keeping tabs on hierarchies of deficient coaches demands a little digging and discipline. Friedgen is first, with Carroll and Jim Tressel--makers of mistakes, but not serial talent-squanderers--in the back of the line.

Al Groh snatched a 37-34 defeat from the jaws of a 34-17 victory. There's a true paycheck-stealer in our midst. Focus on him before someone such as Charlie Weis.

Former Mark Richt assistant Neil Callaway is a very disappointing 1-2 in his third season at UAB. A loss to Troy is understandable, but week two's slip-up against Southern Methodist is worse than anything a Tressel or a Carroll has ever coughed up.

And over on the banks of the old Raritan, the choppers are getting chopped down, as a Rutgers football program that has invested an enormous amount of money into the nuclear arms race for college sports cash (and prestige) is seeing Greg Schiano's project sputter. The Scarlet Knights won on Saturday, but only by eight in a foggy and groggy outing against the school named after CFN's own editor and publisher (FIU, of course).

Friedgen. Groh. Callaway. Schiano. If you really want to criticize the coaches that merit criticism for their body of work, focus on them first. This doesn't mean Tressel or Carroll should get off scot-free, mind you; it only means that they should be less severely savaged.

Coaching criticism needs to be calibrated, not eliminated--that's a clean and clear takeaway from week three... hopefully, it's the kind of reminder that won't need to be repeated in future Septembers.

4. Another year, another USC stumble

By Michael Bradley

The curious case of the USC Trojans continues to mystify folks who can't quite understand how a team that can win a huge game on the road one week can look so horrible the next. Coach Pete Carroll took complete blame for the loss afterward, and well he should, since he is the one who has created a culture fascinated by the bright lights but unable to handle the daily chores that ensure greatness. ‘SC appeared unprepared to fight for 60 minutes on Saturday in Seattle, especially after scoring twice so quickly. Maybe the Trojans thought things would be easy after that. It's hard to tell. Even if they did, they weren't helped by a coaching staff that made boneheaded decisions like running the ball at the end of the first half with no timeouts remaining, a decision that resulted in an attempted field goal's being kicked after time expired. In a college football world that punishes losses by those hoping to win national titles, especially if they are of the same disappointing ilk as those that occurred for the past three years, the Trojans are as good as cooked in the national discussion.

All that's left for them is to try to win the Pac-10 and then destroy whatever Big Ten team trundles out to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. These days, that's not much of a consolation prize for a team that has national title aspirations. After another uninspiring, overconfident performance, that's all the Trojans have.

Maybe Carroll should stop bringing Bill Withers in to sing for his team and start asking his players to treat each game the same way. Hollywood is nice, but championships are better. It's hard to kill Carroll for losing one game a year, not after everything he's accomplished. But losing a game it shouldn't ever come close to dropping, and doing it repeatedly, is grounds for harsh criticism. Carroll has some thinking to do about the way he wants to do business within his program. Otherwise, his Trojans will continue to be great in prime time and lousy off-Broadway.

5. Alright Cal ... your table is available

By Richard Cirminiello

This is your year, Cal. If you don't capitalize now, you may never get back to Pasadena.

1958. A good year for Wham-O's Hula Hoop and an even better year for Pete Elliott's Bears, which played in the Rose Bowl, the school's last team to do so. Jeff Tedford has, er, a golden opportunity to get the program back after more than a half-century dry spell. After just three weeks, everything is pointing in that direction. Cal is 3-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country, having survived a tricky trip to Minnesota. Kevin Riley is finally playing up to his potential at quarterback, Jahvid Best is healthy and Heisman-worthy, and the defense is as talented as it's had in the Jeff Tedford era. Meanwhile, the rest of the Pac-10 is down. USC is ripe for the picking and must travel to Berkeley in two weeks. Oregon isn't the team many thought it would be back in August. Everyone else is at least a rung below the Bears on the league ladder.

The opening to a BCS bowl game and that long-awaited Pac-10 championship is about as wide as a redwood for Cal. The Bears have got to seize the opportunity while it exists, or else they'll live to regret it. USC is wounded, but you know that program will not stay down for very long.