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October 16, 2008
Roundtable: Who plays for the BCS Title?
Previous roundtablesAt the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in college football.
Oct. 9: Which game will have most impact?
Oct. 2: Questions about top contenders
We're at the season's midway point; what teams do you think will play in the national title game?
After looking at all the top-ranked teams and the strength of their remaining schedules, there are two teams that I believe have the best opportunity to run the table – Penn State and BYU. But I don't think BYU gets a shot at the title. Instead, I think it will be Penn State against USC, which was fortunate enough to get its one loss early in the season.
This could be a great year for senior citizens. John McCain could be president, and Joe Paterno and Mack Brown could square off for the national championship. Retirees would be screaming "in your face." And the title game is in Miami. What could be more perfect? Even though Penn State has to travel to Columbus, Ohio, to play Ohio State, the Nittany Lions have the greatest chance to finish undefeated. QB Daryll Clark is playing well, the defense is typically solid and the special teams have been outstanding. And Penn State doesn't have a conference championship game. Although four ranked opponents and a potential Big 12 Championship Game remain for Texas, QB Colt McCoy is having a tremendous year, and an impressive victory over Oklahoma showed the Longhorns may be able to handle that grind.
How about this for a college football classic – Texas vs. Penn State. They haven't met since the Nittany Lions took a 38-15 victory in the Fiesta Bowl following the 1996 season. Texas is rolling, showing flash and dash on offense. The real story: Coordinator Will Muschamp has the defense playing with aggression and passion. The only truly scary game left is a trip to Lubbock to play Texas Tech on Nov. 1. Penn State may not be one of the best teams in the nation. Honestly, the Nittany Lions may not be one of the eight best teams. Doesn't matter. They are unbeaten, thanks largely to a killer offense. If Penn State wins at Ohio State on Oct. 25, the Nittany Lions will cruise to a perfect record and likely BCS title-game berth in what could be a grand send-off for JoePa.
History shows us it's ridiculous to make national championship predictions in October, so don't work yourself into a frenzy over this (I'm thinking of you, SEC fans): I'm taking Penn State and Texas in the title game. The Nittany Lions are the most likely "Big Six" team to finish the season unbeaten even with Ohio State and Michigan State left on the schedule. Penn State is the most complete team in the country, placing in the top 10 nationally in total offense, total defense, scoring offense and scoring defense. I'm picking Texas as potentially the best one-loss team out there. The Longhorns haven't been great against the pass, but it didn't cost them against Oklahoma. And the teams that have given Texas the most trouble lately, Kansas State and Texas A&M, won't be a factor this season.
I think the only "Big Six" team with a legit shot at finishing unbeaten is Penn State; if the Nittany Lions win at Ohio State next week, they will be in the title game. But I don't think they beat the Buckeyes. Thus, my prediction for the title game is the same one I made at the beginning of the season: Florida vs. USC. I think Florida wins out and gets to play for it all in its home state. As for USC, the Trojans will be ranked high enough in the human polls to make it to Miami if they win out. The question: Will the Pac-10's rampant mediocrity this season hurt USC in the computer polls? It will hurt some, but I think USC still will finish ahead of a one-loss Big 12 champ and face the Gators.
The four most likely options to play in the national title game are the SEC champ, the Big 12 winner, Penn State and USC. I'm guessing Penn State will fall out of contention by losing at Ohio State on Oct. 25. I'm also banking on the idea that a one-loss champion from the SEC or Big 12 will finish higher in the BCS standings than USC, even if the Trojans win out. The SEC and Big 12 are that much better than the Pac-10 this season. So which teams from the SEC and Big 12 will end up squaring off? I like Texas' chances in the Big 12. It wouldn't surprise me if the Longhorns lose at least once while dealing with a schedule that includes upcoming games with Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. But I do think they'll win the Big 12 title with a 12-1 record, which should be good enough to earn one of the spots in the championship game. In the SEC, I'm guessing Alabama loses to LSU during Nick Saban's return to Baton Rouge. I also think Florida will beat Georgia and win the East. That sets up a Florida matchup with either LSU or Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. I like Florida's chances of winning at the Georgia Dome and earning a trip to Miami.