Commentary

Early poll differences worth a closer look

Originally Published: September 13, 2007
By Chris Fowler | Special to ESPN.com

I switched No. 1 teams on my AP ballot this week. I was one of 20 voters to do so. LSU appears to be a complete, comprehensive team that has already accomplished something impressive this season. I wasn't sure how Matt Flynn would play early and didn't know how quickly the playmaking of Craig Davis and Dwayne Bowe could be replaced. I have seen both LSU beatdowns so far in person and came away very impressed with the offensive options. Need I say anything about the defense?

Reading one of the many hunks of spam I receive weekly, I was amused to hear that ex-Clemson defensive lineman and Harris Poll voter Brentson Buckner was not swayed by what he called the "hype" of LSU served up by the "College GameDay" gang. He is sticking with USC. Great, Brentson! Please keep me informed as to your voting patterns. But I don't think there was any enthusiastic hyping of anybody on our set. Kirk sticks with USC. I'm giving LSU the nod for now. It's early.

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Nothing against USC. I'll get an up-close peek at the '07 Men of Troy when they meet Nebraska on Saturday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I am eager to see how they handle their first test. If you don't give the Huskers a chance, consider that the "experts" do (the "experts" being the dedicated men and women who set the lines in Las Vegas).

And now, because the numerous polls out there -- AP, Coaches, Harris, Grantland Rice, Masters, ESPN.com Power 16 and more -- don't quite seem to be enough, the "experts" have come up with a ranking of their own. I am not going to link to the Oddsmakers' Top 25, but you can probably find it the way you find all things on the Net.

It's illuminating because it shows how Vegas perceives the relative strength of the teams. In other words, a team would be favored on a neutral field over all others ranked below it.

The top of the "experts" poll mirrors most others: 1. USC, 2. LSU and 3. Oklahoma.

Now, it gets slightly interesting: 4. Texas and 5. West Virginia. The Horns would be a slight favorite over the Mountaineers, I assume.

Next, it gets a bit more intriguing: 6. UCLA followed by 7. Nebraska. That's right. Vegas rates the Bruins and Cornhuskers above Florida, Cal, Louisville and Wisconsin.

Really, fellas? Are you saying your formulas point to Herbie Husker taking down The Mighty Gators on a neutral rug? I know folks who might want a piece of that.

Wisconsin is the team Vegas believes is the most overrated by humans. The "experts" put the Badgers at No. 14, down seven spots from the AP and Coaches.

Dennis Erickson
Mike Moore/Icon SMIDennis Erickson and the Sun Devils are starting to get some attention.

Arizona State is the team most underrated. Vegas rates Dennis Erickson's crew at No. 17, while the humans don't rate them. I have ASU at No. 25.

By the way, I had to drop Hawaii out of there this week. You can't need OT to escape Louisiana Tech and maintain a ranking in Week 3.

Oh, and before I move on, a note to Wisconsin fans who seem to believe that fan misbehavior during the Penn State-Wisconsin game we visited a few years ago has turned us cold to Madison. A Badgers fan I ran into during an eco-friendly reception thrown by The Home Depot on Capitol Hill this week said the home folk were under the impression we wouldn't be back. Like many pieces of information repeated on the Hill, this is totally without foundation. "GameDay" will return to Mad-town -- just maybe as early as next week, when Iowa comes calling.

Red vs. Blue

Louisville versus Lexington. Redbirds versus Big Blue. Saturday's latest edition of this underrated rivalry is among the weekend's most intriguing games. Louisville QB Brian Brohm brings all the national hype and the Cards carry the national ranking. But Andre' Woodson is a big-time quarterback and Kentucky has a chance.

Despite 3,515 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2006, Woodson is still in Brohm's shadow. But he just might be the first QB taken in the April draft after scouts get a look at his skills in the individual workouts. Woodson is an amazing deep-ball thrower, while Brohm is more consistently accurate on short throws.

Andre Woodson
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeAndre Woodson and Kentucky have Louisville in their sights.

When they collided on a high school field six years ago, Brohm's Trinity team shut out Woodson's North Hardin club 44-0. Brohm is 5-0 against Woodson as a starter in high school and college with a combined score of 219-60. They are not buddies. They don't have that much in common. But they are certainly respectful.

This time, it will be much more compelling. Woodson has come light years since the arrival of quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders. Sanders told me that Woodson has improved his vision immensely. He quickly spots defenders, not seeing "just flashes of color" downfield, as many QBs do. Woodson's release could be a little quicker, but it's not slow.

Sanders told me that it's a "huge concern" that Woodson not give in to human nature and try to narrow the focus of Saturday's game to him versus Brohm. Of course, Woodson wants to prove something, as any good QB would. As JaMarcus Russell wanted to outshine Brady Quinn in the Sugar Bowl. But Sanders knows the dangers of making this thing a personal duel. He also knows that Kentucky would be delighted to win the game on the ground, where they have been able to make some hay since opponents have backed off to defend Woodson's deep stuff.

I will be eager to see if the Cards' defensive vulnerability continues. Elvis Dumervil and Amobi Okoye are sorely missed up front. The 'Ville's D-line protected the back seven from too much exposure last year. The Cards will have to vastly improve in that area if they plan to run the table.

Red-Faced Orange

With the so-called middle of the Big East (USF, Cincinnati) accelerating to stay in the slipstream of conference heavyweights West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers, the current state of Syracuse football sticks out like a forehead zit.

Get this stat: The Big East has won 28 of its past 30 nonconference games. That's impressive. Sure, it includes a bunch of softies. But it also includes a 5-0 bowl record last season. Oh, and the only two losses in the past 30 nonleague games? They belong to Syracuse. It's not a huge problem for the league, but still.

Greg Robinson
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThings aren't looking up for Greg Robinson and the Orange.

Big East coaches won't say it on the record, but they shake their heads at how a program with as much long-term tradition as any in the conference (and more than most) has gotten so out of step with the league's forward momentum. Beware: The Big East is the only league I can recall to jettison a program for not pulling its weight. Not that Syracuse will taste Temple's fate, of course.

Syracuse has tried to market itself as "New York's Team." It's an effort to lessen the foothold that Rutgers has gained across the Hudson River. Many in Manhattan now view the Scarlet Knights as "their" college team. That tweaks a few folks on the river's western banks, but hey, with Rutgers on the radar and "Jersey Boys" still the hottest ticket on Broadway, the 201 is not short on respect in the post-"Sopranos" era. Other than alums of this distinguished school, there are not many in "The City" flying 'Cuse colors these days. New York loves a winner, folks. If they want to follow struggling teams, well, that's what the Jets and Giants are for.

Back to the rough start for the university of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Donovan McNabb, et al.

At Iowa on Saturday, the Orange emerged from the pink locker room and stumbled to exactly 1 yard of total offense in the first half. They didn't move the chains for the first time until midway through the third quarter! The offense was seemingly so eager to get off the field that they produced almost as many false-start penalties (four) as total first downs (five)! When the ugliness was over, Syracuse had completed a total of seven passes and generated 103 total yards.

True, the opening home beatdown from Washington no longer seems as embarrassing with further proof that U-Dub has turned it around. But unless coach Greg Robinson's crew can beat visiting Illinois on Saturday, wins look hard to find. For the 'Cuse, there are no gimmes in the Big East, because they are the gimme.

Illinois, which has won exactly one road game in four years and lost at home to the Orange last year, is almost a two-touchdown favorite in the Dome on Saturday. Ouch.

But, please, for the love of Jordan Tirico, go get 'em Orange. ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico's second-grade son is a passionate and informed fan of his dad's alma mater. He knows his stuff. Maybe he'll follow his dad's footsteps. Then again, maybe he'll aim a little higher than sportscasting. It's been a real tough two weeks for Jordan. You see, he's also a fanatic for the hometown Wolverines.

Fat But Fit

The suffocating heat and humidity on Saturday in the South was almost beyond belief. On the "GameDay" set in Baton Rouge, with the sun beating down through our translucent greenhouse roof and the TV lights powered up, I just about tapped out. Whole garments were sacrificed to the trash can after my post-show stripping in the back of our bus. It was not pretty. But no, there was no one else present. OK, enough of my whining.

Jorvorskie Lane
AP Photo/Paul ZoellerJorvorskie Lane (11) and the Aggies survived the elements and Fresno State on Sept. 8.

The point is, I have no idea how humans played football games during daytime conditions. As I was still trying to get my core temperature down to double digits, I watched the Texas A&M triple-overtime attrition war with Fresno State. As emergency medical people attended to no less than 376 heat-suffering fans, the Ags and Dogs sweated through a punishing marathon.

At 271 pounds, you wouldn't peg tailback Jorvorskie Lane as the guy to tirelessly soldier on while those around him wilted. But there was big ole No. 11 (and the choice of number does not have a slimming visual effect, by the way) with his XXXL jersey hanging out, but not his tongue. The Aggies handed the ball to Lane 10 times in the three OT periods, and he hammered for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion against an exhausted Fresno line. Coach Pat Hill and his whole team knew what was coming, but they were far too weary to stop it.

Lane may look like an overgrown and out-of-shape back, but in fact he's very fit. Strength coaches marvel at it. If he can stay strong in the steam-bath conditions last week at 271, he's got my admiration.

The War On Fat (And Tradition)

What's the world coming to when fans of Iowa's Hawkeyes cannot fuel their fervor for the annual Cy-Hawk Trophy tussle with the hated Iowa State Cyclones by devouring as much locally grown corn as possible? Yes, the students' annual corn-on-the-cob eating contest has been cancelled. Iowa's vice president for student services, Phillip Jones, explains that the contest promotes gluttony and collides with initiatives to curtail obesity. According to the FDA, a cob of corn contains about 150 calories and 31 grams of fat, if it's not lathered up with a bunch of butter. That doesn't seem too bad.

Still, Jones probably prefers that students limit their pregame tailgate menu to celery sticks and rice cakes, washed down with a nice glass of water.

No word on whether Iowa's bratwurst eating contest, which was a hit last year, will be permitted.

Chris Fowler is the host of ESPN's "College GameDay." Kick off each Saturday with "College GameDay" at 10 a.m. ET to get the latest news on college football.

Chris Fowler

College Football
Since 1989, Chris Fowler has been ESPN's primary college football and men's college basketball studio host. He's anchored College GameDay, the network's award-winning Saturday morning college football preview show, since 1990.