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October 17, 2011

Monday with Mike: Projecting the BCS games

For all the angst that surrounds the first release of the BCS standings, remember that just twice has the team in the top spot in the initial release gone on to win the national title - Florida State in 1999 and USC in 2004.

The last time a team ranked first in the initial standings even advanced to the title game was Ohio State in 2007. Thus, history is working against LSU, which was No. 1 Sunday when the first BCS standings of the season were released.

The teams at No. 1 in the first standings in each of the past three seasons did make BCS bowls at least - Texas in 2008, Florida in 2009 and Oklahoma last season.

So how is this season going to play out? Here's a guess as to who will play in the five BCS games.

Title game, Jan. 9: Alabama-Wisconsin. This looks a lot like the 2009 Alabama team - which, coincidentally, was No. 2 in the first BCS standings that season (and behind another SEC team at that). The Tide have a dominating defense, a stud tailback who is a Heisman contender and a first-year starter at quarterback who avoids mistakes. As for Wisconsin, despite having a nation's-high six teams in the BCS standings, the Big Ten doesn't look as strong as the Big 12, which means the Badgers have an easier road to an unbeaten season. This week's game at Michigan State has taken on a lot more importance, given the Spartans' strong performance on defense in a victory over previously unbeaten Michigan. The game with Wisconsin is in East Lansing, too. But the differences between Michigan and Wisconsin are vast offensively, with the biggest being that Badgers QB Russell Wilson operates behind a big, physical line and has two stud tailbacks with whom to work.

Rose Bowl, Jan. 2: Nebraska-Oregon. Oregon is the pick here to win the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 champ heads to Pasadena unless it's in the title game. On the other side, if Wisconsin indeed goes unbeaten and is in the title game, chances are good that bowl organizers are going to want to keep the Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in play. So, outside of Wisconsin, is there a Big Ten team that is going to have at least 10 wins? At this point, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State have one loss apiece. Of that quintet, Illinois and Penn State are in the Leaders Division along with Wisconsin; the other three are in the Legends, which means the Legends champ in this scenario will be coming off a loss to the Badgers in the league title game. Still, Nebraska is the pick. The Huskers in the Rose Bowl in their first season in the league? The entire state of Nebraska would be willing to make the trek to Pasadena to watch.

[ Related: Huguenin: Breaking down the BCS standings ]

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3: LSU-Oklahoma State. The Sugar Bowl folks will snap up LSU, which will be playing in New Orleans - just six days earlier than it wants to. The Sugar has the second pick among at-large teams, and if the Fiesta takes an unbeaten Boise State squad (more on that in a minute), there will be numerous possibilities for the Sugar Bowl folks. Oklahoma State would be an intriguing choice. The high-powered Cowboys against the strong defense of the Tigers would make for a natural storyline. And given that Oklahoma State never has played in a BCS game, tickets would be at a premium, considering this basically would be a LSU home game.

Orange Bowl, Jan. 4: Virginia Tech-West Virginia. The Orange Bowl is contractually obligated to take the ACC champ if that team isn't in the title game. In addition, the Orange Bowl this season gets the last pick among the at-large teams. Thus, this matchup. WVU looks to be head and shoulders above everybody else in the Big East, which looks to be as down as ever - and that's saying a lot. Virginia Tech looks like the team to beat in the ACC's Coastal Division; the thought here is that with an extra four days to prepare for Georgia Tech's option attack - the game is on a Thursday - the Hokies win that game. That almost certainly would mean a rematch with Clemson in the league title game. Clemson already has a two-game lead on everyone in the Atlantic Division except for Wake Forest, but the Tigers get the Demon Deacons at home. While the Tigers are undefeated, they are going to lose at least once in the regular season - then fall to Virginia Tech in the league championship game.

Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 5: Boise State-Oklahoma. Boise looks to have the easiest path to an unbeaten season, but the Broncos need everybody else to have at least one loss to have a shot at a spot in the title game. That's not going to happen. That means bowl organizers will put on a rematch of the classic Fiesta Bowl following the 2006 season, when Boise stunned Oklahoma in overtime. The Fiesta is contractually obligated to take the Big 12 champ if the league titlist isn't in the national title game. A tough schedule is going to get the Sooners, who still will have enough to beat rival Oklahoma State in what should be an intense "Bedlam" game.


Tough times in Mississippi

The two Mississippi teams in the SEC are a combined 0-7 in league play, with Mississippi State at 0-4 and Ole Miss at 0-3.

The Bulldogs still have Alabama and Arkansas left on the schedule, while Ole Miss still has Arkansas, Auburn and LSU. Both also have Kentucky, and the Egg Bowl looms, as well, which would seem to mean a 2-6 league mark is the best either can hope for.

Expectations were much higher at Mississippi State than at Ole Miss, but that is not going to help Rebels coach Houston Nutt, who looks to be on his way out.

As for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, he led the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record last season. That was a cause for celebration for Mississippi State people - and a reason Mullen should've actively sought another job. Mississippi State is not going to be an SEC West contender unless at least two coaches at Alabama, Auburn and LSU are clueless. And if Arkansas has an able coach, as well, that makes it even tougher for the Bulldogs - and the Rebels. With Texas A&M entering the league, that will make things even tougher for the two Mississippi schools, who also would be below the Aggies in the pecking order.

Ole Miss never has played in the SEC championship game, while Mississippi State has been there once, in 1998. That season, Alabama was coached by Mike DuBose and LSU by Gerry DiNardo; in addition, that was the season Auburn fired Terry Bowden in midseason.

[Rivals.com experts: What we learned in Week 7]


Grid bits
Oklahoma senior WR Ryan Broyles became the NCAA's leading career receiver in the Sooners' victory over Kansas. He had 13 receptions for 217 yards and two TDs against the Jayhawks, giving him 326 career catches. Former Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield had the record with 316 receptions (set from 2001-04); Stubblefield now is the receivers coach at Central Michigan. Broyles also has a shot at the career receptions yardage record. Former Nevada WR Trevor Insley has the record with 5,005. Broyles has 4,244, meaning he needs to average 108.7 yards in the Sooners' remaining seven games (we're assuming OU goes to a bowl) to tie the record.

South Carolina TB Marcus Lattimore will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered in the Gamecocks' win at Mississippi State. He is the second stud SEC tailback to be lost for the season, joining Arkansas' Knile Davis, who was injured in August. Lattimore's injury is going to be too much for the Gamecocks to overcome and makes Georgia the new favorite in the SEC East. South Carolina is off this weekend and it seems likely that true freshman Brandon Wilds will start at tailback Oct. 29 when the Gamecocks play at Tennessee. You can also expect to see a lot more of Bruce Ellington, the former Gamecocks basketball player who has seen increased playing time in the past few games. Kenny Miles was supposed to be the backup tailback, but he is injured and Gamecockcentral.com has reported that he has a torn tendon in his wrist.

Boise State's first conference game as a member of the Mountain West went quite well, thank you. The Broncos rolled up a school-record 742 yards of offense in a 63-13 rout of Colorado State. Why, it's as if the Broncos never left the WAC!

The first-year coach having the best season has to be Louisiana-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth, who had been wide receivers coach at Mississippi State. ULL improved to 6-1 with a 30-10 victory over North Texas; this is ULL's best start since 1970, which is the last time the Ragin' Cajuns played in the postseason. The school never has been to a bowl while a Division I member, and its last winning season was in 1995.

Baylor QB Robert Griffin threw for a school-record 430 yards against Texas A&M, becoming the third quarterback this season - joining Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (438) and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson (510) - to set a school single-game record against the Aggies. But unlike Weeden and Wilson, Griffin was on the losing side. A&M's Ryan Tannehill threw for 415 yards and six TDs as the Aggies romped 55-28. Baylor and A&M first played in 1899 and the "Battle of the Brazos" has been played annually since 1945, but this seems likely to be the final game between the two for a while as A&M prepares to move to the SEC. Baylor hasn't won in College Station since 1984, going 0-12-1 since.

Maybe this passing thing is overrated. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller was 1-of-4 for 17 yards - that completion went for a TD - in the Buckeyes' 17-7 victory over Illinois. Ohio State managed just 228 yards of offense, but held the Illini to 285 and forced three turnovers while being turnover-free itself.

Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards in the Cowboys' 38-26 win at Texas. The Longhorns' Fozzy Whittaker then returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards. It's the first time back-to-back kickoffs have been returned for TDs since 2008, when Colorado's Josh Smith and Colorado State's John Mosure turned the trick in the Buffs' 38-17 victory. Smith now is a wide receiver at UCLA. It was the second game in a row in which Whittaker took a kickoff back for a score; the NCAA record is four games in a row by Tulsa's Ashlan Davis in 2004.

A crowd of 60,055 showed up for the Arizona State-Oregon game at the Ducks' Autzen Stadium. That was the largest crowd in Autzen history.

Florida Atlantic also set a school record for attendance, with 29,103 on hand for the first game at FAU's 30,000-seat, $70 million on-campus stadium. Alas, FAU fell 20-0 to Western Kentucky. The Owls had just 121 yards of total offense.

Offense certainly wasn't a problem in the Clemson-Maryland game. The teams combined for 1,044 yards and 101 points in Clemson's 56-45 victory. The Tigers rallied from an 18-point third-quarter deficit. The teams combined for 56 second-half points.

Give it up for coach Ron English at Eastern Michigan. The Eagles beat host Central Michigan 35-28, with the winning TD coming on a 30-yard run by QB Alex Gillett with 50 seconds left. EMU improved to 4-3 - and that is huge for the Eagles. They hadn't won as many as four games in a season since 2007 and haven't won more than four since 1995.

Florida has scored just 27 points in its past three games, all losses to SEC West foes; that's the lowest three-game total since 1988, when the Gators managed just 12 points in losses to Vanderbilt, Auburn and Georgia. That Florida offense was all about Emmitt Smith, and Smith missed those games with an injury. This is the second season in a row Florida has gone 0-3 against SEC West teams, and the Gators now have lost seven in a row to West opponents after Saturday's 17-6 loss at Auburn.

Northern Illinois rushed for 494 yards in its surprisingly easy 51-22 victory over Western Michigan; that's the third-highest total for a team this season. What's more, the Huskies held the Broncos to 6 rushing yards, which means NIU had a 488-yard rushing advantage. NIU QB Chandler Harnish ran for 229 yards and passed for another 203, becoming just the 10th player in FBS history to rush and pass for 200 yards in the same game. NIU had 697 yards of offense, which is the ninth-highest team total this season.

Hawaii suffered a tough loss in its quest to win the WAC, falling 28-27 at San Jose State on Friday night. It marked the first time San Jose State had won back-to-back league games since 2008. The game also was noteworthy because each team committed six turnovers.

Having some fun with numbers: Florida State improved to 17-0 all-time against Duke. ... Navy has lost four in a row, its longest losing streak since 2002, which was then-coach Paul Johnson's first season. ... New Mexico has lost 18 in a row on the road after getting whipped by Nevada, and fellow Mountain West member UNLV has lost 13 in a row on the road after getting routed by Wyoming. ... Wisconsin's 59-7 win over Indiana means the Badgers have outscored the Hoosiers 142-27 in the past two seasons. Wisconsin was a 40-point favorite over IU, the largest spread this season. ... USC has won eight in a row over California, holding the Golden Bears to 79 points in those eight games. ... Ohio State now has won in each of its past nine visits to Illinois. ... UAB became the final FBS team to throw a TD pass this season; the Blazers tossed two in their loss at Tulsa. ... Memphis has lost 22 of its past 23 games against FBS opponents. ... Georgia now has won 16 of its past 17 against Vanderbilt. ... Oregon has won 20 in a row at home overall and 15 in a row at Autzen Stadium in league play. Arizona State, meanwhile, now has lost 16 in a row to top-10 opponents.

For the second week in a row - and the second time this season - there were no FBS-FCS matchups this past weekend.

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

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