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Monday, October 20, 2008
On The Mark: Sizing up conference races

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Conference Races

The first BCS standings were released Sunday and, as expected, Texas, Alabama and Penn State grabbed the top three spots.

But if two of those three teams are going to reach the Jan. 8 BCS Championship Game in Miami, they'll first have to win conference titles. And there's still plenty of football left to be played over the final seven weeks of the regular season.

Here's a close look at the races in each of the six BCS conferences:

ACC

ACC Atlantic Division
How it stands: Four teams -- Florida State, Boston College, Maryland and Wake Forest -- are 2-1 in conference play with five ACC games to play.
Favorite: Florida State. The No. 25 Seminoles are playing defense as well as any team in the league, and their offense is much-improved in offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's second season. The Seminoles host Virginia Tech on Saturday and also play Clemson and Boston College at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Dark horse: Maryland. The Terrapins have a five-game winning streak against ranked opponents after beating Wake Forest 26-0 on Saturday. Oddly enough, Maryland is 4-8 against unranked foes the past two seasons. Three of Maryland's final five ACC games are at home.
On the Mark pick: Florida State

Coastal Division
How it stands: Three teams -- Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Virginia -- have only one loss in ACC play. North Carolina is close behind at 1-2 in conference play.
Favorite: Georgia Tech. Did anyone think Paul Johnson would be this successful in his first season at Georgia Tech? Quarterback Josh Nesbitt is running the triple-spread option offense to perfection, and Johnson inherited one of the league's best defenses. The No. 18 Yellow Jackets play three of their last four ACC games at home, starting with Saturday's game against Virginia.
Dark horse: Virginia. Left for dead after a 1-3 start, the Cavaliers have won three games in a row, including a come-from-behind, 16-13 victory over North Carolina in overtime Saturday. Virginia plays three of its last five ACC games on the road: at Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
On the Mark pick: Georgia Tech

Conference champion: Florida State

Big 12

Big 12 North Division
How it stands: Kansas is the only Big 12 North team with a winning record in conference play. Four teams -- Missouri, Kansas State, Nebraska and Colorado -- are 1-2 against Big 12 foes.
Favorite: Kansas. The No. 23 Jayhawks had won three games in a row before losing at Oklahoma 45-31 on Saturday. Missouri has lost two games in a row after it climbed to No. 3 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. The division title might again be decided when Kansas and No. 15 Missouri play at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 29.
Dark horse: Nebraska. Kansas and Missouri still seem to be head and shoulders above the rest of the division's teams. The Cornhuskers have lost three of their past four games, but play Baylor, Kansas and Colorado at home.
On the Mark pick: Missouri

South Division
How it stands: Three teams -- Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech -- are 3-0 in Big 12 play. Oklahoma is close behind at 2-1 against conference foes.
Favorite: Texas. The No. 1 Longhorns have already beaten No. 4 Oklahoma and Missouri, and host No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday. Texas' biggest remaining hurdle is a Nov. 1 road game at No. 8 Texas Tech.
Dark horse: Oklahoma. The Longhorns would have to lose twice for the Sooners to win the division, but Oklahoma will be a heavy favorite in its next three games. The Sooners close the season with a home game against Texas Tech and a road game at Oklahoma State.
On the Mark pick: Texas

Conference champion: Texas

Big East

Big East How it stands: Big East play has just started, but No. 17 Pittsburgh and West Virginia have a leg up on the competition by winning their first two games against conference foes.
Favorite: Pittsburgh. After losing their Aug. 30 opener against Bowling Green 27-17, the Panthers have won five games in a row. A 26-21 victory at South Florida was a big step in winning their first Big East title under coach Dave Wannstedt.
Dark horse: West Virginia. The Mountaineers have looked rather mediocre under new coach Bill Stewart, but they beat Rutgers and Syracuse to open Big East play. West Virginia plays Cincinnati and No. 16 South Florida at home and plays at Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh.
On the Mark pick: Pittsburgh

Big Ten

Big Ten How it stands: It looks to be a two-team race between No. 3 Penn State and No. 9 Ohio State; they play in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. Michigan State is 3-1 after losing to Ohio State 45-7 on Saturday, and No. 22 Northwestern and No. 24 Minnesota are two of the biggest surprises in the country.
Favorite: Penn State. The Nittany Lions have rolled most of their competition, behind the stellar play of quarterback Daryll Clark and tailback Evan Royster. Penn State proved it could play from behind in Saturday's 46-17 win over Michigan. After playing at Ohio State, Penn State plays a road game at Iowa and then hosts Indiana and Michigan State.
Dark horse: Minnesota. Is it time to take the Golden Gophers seriously? They're on their way to the biggest turnaround in college football history, with a 6-1 record. They lost to Ohio State 34-21, but don't play Penn State. Three of Minnesota's final five games are at home.
On the Mark pick: Penn State

Pac-10

Pac-10 How it stands: No. 5 Southern California once again seems to be in the driver's seat in the Pac-10 race. But four other teams -- Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State and California -- have only one loss apiece against Pac-10 foes as they reach the midway point of conference play.
Favorite: USC. After losing to Oregon State 27-21 on Sept. 25, the Trojans have blasted Oregon, Arizona State and Washington State by a combined score of 141-10. USC plays at Arizona on Saturday, and then plays winless Washington and California at home. The Trojans close the Pac-10 season with road games at Stanford and rival UCLA.
Dark horse: Arizona. The Wildcats went a long way toward gaining respectability with a 42-27 upset of Cal on Saturday night. Quarterback Willie Tuitama has thrown 15 touchdowns with only three interceptions, and freshman Keola Antolin ran very well against the Bears. Arizona hosts USC on Saturday, then plays road games at Washington State and Oregon before hosting Oregon State and Arizona State.
On the Mark pick: USC

SEC

SEC East Division
How it stands: Georgia and Florida once again seem to be on a collision course toward their Nov. 1 game in Jacksonville, Fla. Each team is 3-1 against conference foes, after the No. 7 Bulldogs lost to Alabama 41-30 and the No. 10 Gators lost to Ole Miss 31-30.
Favorite: Florida. The Gators dominated No. 13 LSU 51-21 at the Swamp on Oct. 11 and then took a week off to rest. Florida's offense is finally hitting its stride with a healthy Percy Harvin. Freshmen Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps have vastly improved the running game. Florida has an easier road than Georgia: The Gators host Kentucky on Saturday and play Vanderbilt and South Carolina to close SEC play.
Dark horse: Georgia. The Bulldogs seem close to putting everything together, but injuries and self-inflicted mistakes might prevent them from becoming the team many people thought they could be. Georgia plays at LSU on Saturday, then travels to Jacksonville to face the Gators. Georgia still plays road games at Kentucky and Auburn, too.
On the Mark pick: Florida

West Division
How it stands: No. 2 Alabama is the SEC's only unbeaten team with a 7-0 record. Defending national champion LSU is 5-1 after losing at Florida. The Crimson Tide play at LSU on Nov. 8 in coach Nick Saban's first trip to Baton Rouge, La., as Alabama's coach.
Favorite: Alabama. The Crimson Tide appear to be the SEC's most complete team and have big advantages over most opponents on both lines. Alabama has to play better in the second half of games, though, after struggling to close out victories in each of its past three games. The Crimson Tide play road games at Tennessee and LSU and plays Mississippi State and Auburn at home.
Dark horse: LSU. If the Tigers can get more consistent play at quarterback, they'll have a chance to beat the Crimson Tide at home. LSU plays each of its next five games at home: against Georgia, Tulane, Alabama, Troy and Ole Miss. The Tigers close the regular season with a Nov. 28 game at Arkansas.
On the Mark pick: Alabama

Conference champion: Alabama



WEEK: Preseason | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

On The Mark: Precision passers

Colt McCoy McCoy

1. Colt McCoy, Texas
What McCoy did in a 56-31 win over Missouri -- completing 29 of 32 passes for 337 yards with two touchdowns -- is tough to do against air (which pretty much describes the Tigers defense).

2. Chris Turner, Maryland
Turner, whose dad was the original drummer for the heavy-metal band RATT, loves big games. He threw for 321 yards in a 26-0 upset of Wake Forest.

3. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech
Harrell had another huge game, completing 44 of 56 passes for 450 yards with three touchdowns in a 43-25 win at Texas A&M.

4. Chase Clement, Rice
Clement, another Texas quarterback, threw for 444 yards and six touchdowns in a 45-40 win over Southern Mississippi.

5. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
The sophomore set an Oklahoma record with 468 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 45-31 victory over Kansas.

Off The Mark: Defensive embarrassments

UTEP

1. UTEP
The Miners allowed 791 yards of offense in a 77-35 loss to Tulsa, including 321 rushing yards. The teams combined for eight touchdowns -- in the first quarter.

2. Washington State
The Cougars have allowed 66, 63, 66 and 69 points in four of their Pac-10 losses.

3. San Diego State
The Aztecs allowed a school-record 70 points to New Mexico on Saturday night.

4. Indiana
The Hoosiers have allowed 40 points or more in four of their past five games after losing to Illinois 55-13.

5. Texas A&M
A 12th man wouldn't have helped the Aggies against Texas Tech, which gained 561 yards.

On The Mark: Ground-churning tailbacks

Shonn Greene Greene

1. Shonn Greene, Iowa
Is Greene the most unheralded player in the country? He ran for 217 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-16 rout of Wisconsin.

2. Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
The redshirt sophomore got back on track in a 24-14 win over Vanderbilt, running 23 times for 172 yards with one touchdown.

3. Dennis Kennedy, Akron
The senior ran for 277 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 14 seconds to go in a 42-35 win at Eastern Michigan.

4. Chris Wells, Ohio State
His return to health helped the Buckeyes return to the top 10. Wells ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-7 rout at Michigan State.

5. Evan Royster, Penn State
Royster helped lead Penn State's comeback in a 46-17 win over Michigan, running 18 times for 174 yards with one touchdown.

Off The Mark: Coaches on the hot seat

Greg Robinson Robinson

1. Greg Robinson, Syracuse
The Orange's record fell to 1-6 (0-6 versus FBS foes) after a 45-13 loss at South Florida on Saturday.

2. Tommy West, Memphis
The Tigers' record fell to 1-3 in Conference USA play after a 30-10 loss at East Carolina.

3. Mark Snyder, Marshall
The Thundering Herd fell to 3-4 after losing 23-21 at UAB on Saturday.

4. Chuck Long, San Diego State
It appears the Aztecs have quit on their coach after losing to New Mexico 70-7.

5. Tyrone Willingham, Washington
The Huskies are 0-6 after losing to Oregon State 34-13 on Saturday.

On The Mark: Big-play receivers

Dez Bryant Bryant

1. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
Bryant caught a career-high 11 passes for 212 yards with two touchdowns in a 34-6 blowout of Baylor.

2. AJ Green, Georgia
The Bulldogs' sensational freshman caught seven passes for 132 yards with one touchdown against Vanderbilt.

3. Jarett Dillard, Rice
Clement's favorite target caught seven passes for 141 yards with three touchdowns against Southern Miss.

4. Brennan Marion, Tulsa
The senior caught six passes for 233 yards, averaging 38.8 yards per catch, with three touchdowns in a 77-35 victory over UTEP.

5. Randall Cobb, Kentucky
The freshman caught two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, 15 seconds of a 21-20 victory over Arkansas.

Off The Mark: Bowl-killing defeats

Stanford

1. Stanford
UCLA's Kevin Craft threw the winning touchdown with 10 seconds left to beat the Cardinal 23-20, dropping Stanford's record to 4-4. The Cardinal will have to beat Washington State and either Oregon, USC or California to become bowl eligible.

2. Clemson
Interim coach Dabo Swinney lost his first game, 21-17 to Georgia Tech, dropping the Tigers' record to 3-4. Clemson will have to win three of its last five games to play in the postseason.

3. Wisconsin
The Badgers lost their fourth game in a row, 38-16 at Iowa, dropping their record in Big Ten games to 0-4. Wisconsin is 3-4 overall with five games to play.

4. Arkansas
The Razorbacks blew a 20-7 lead in the final five minutes at Kentucky, and their 21-20 loss probably ended any hopes of a bowl game in coach Bobby Petrino's first season.

5. New Mexico State
The Aggies' chances of getting to their first bowl game since 1960 were dealt a blow with a 33-14 loss at San Jose State.