For Argument's Sake

Updated: September 21, 2004, 4:26 PM ET

From upset specials to the latest rumors to dark-horse national title contenders, Ivan Maisel and Gene Wojciechowski resume their weekly arguments and go head-to-head to talk about the hottest topics in college football.

What non-top 15-team is your flyer pick to somehow win a national championship?
As tempted as I am take Virginia, my favorite dark horse for 2004, this question calls for taking a real leap, a flier that borders on fantasy. The Cavaliers are genuine enough that they don't qualify, in my book.

However, there is a team with the requisite talent, a favorable schedule and an unassuming profile that fits this category as if it were tailored. Purdue has the best returning offense in the Big Ten, returning from a team that went 9-4 with two ovetime losses and a one-point loss in regulation. This team has learned how to play the tough games in the most difficult way possible.

The offensive line is experienced. Quarterback Kyle Orton has started 25 games over three seasons and has gone through enough tough situations that he won't be fazed by anything. The defense is young, yes, but there is talent there.

The schedule starts slowly -- the first opponents did not have winning records last season. The Boilermakers get Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State at home. Their only difficult road trip in the league is Iowa. Schedule bonus: Purdue doesn't play Minnesota, period.

Long shot? The very definition. But it's time for the Boilers' most unheralded star to reach the national stage. Joe Tiller has taken Purdue to a bowl game in all seven of his seasons in West Lafayette.
If it wasn't opening its season at LSU, or if it wasn't playing the other 2003 co-national champ (USC) later in the year, I'd say Oregon State.

The Beavers have a senior quarterback (Derek Anderson), a solid offensive line, and an experienced defense with a handful guys who will eventually play on Sundays. They also play in a league without a conference championship game, and they get Cal, Washington State, big, bad USC, and Oregon at home. But beat LSU and USC in the same season? Hard to put my arms around that possibility.

I also looked at Auburn, which gets LSU and Georgia at home (and spread far enough apart to make a difference -- LSU in September, UGA in November), and has the best running back combo in college football (Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown).

In fact, there's a lot to like about the Tigers, including their wide receivers, the potential of their defensive line, and a friendlier non-conference schedule (Louisiana-Monroe and The Citadel in 2004 vs. USC and Georgia Tech in 2003). But that SEC Championship stops me from punching that Auburn lottery ticket.

Which leaves. . . Minnesota.

I know -- no Asad Abdul-Khaliq at quarterback, no reason to feel good about a Golden Gophers defense that gave up 30 or more points five times in its last seven games, no national championship since 1960. But 1960 was also the same season the Gophers weren't ranked in a single preseason poll, so there's a precedent for another Minnesota miracle.

Michigan and Ohio State are the Big Ten faves, but neither program is without its share of question marks. Plus, one of them is going to lose a game, thanks to the annual season-ending matchup (this time at Columbus).

Minnesota doesn't play the Buckeyes this season, or the best offensive team in the league (and maybe the country), Purdue. It also gets Penn State and Iowa at home. That's good. But it goes on back-to-back road trips to Michigan and Michigan State in October, and travels to Madtown in November. That's bad. But it lost those two games to the Michigan schools a season ago by a combined nine points and were up, 28-7, on the Wolverines before the infamous fourth-quarter collapse. The Gophs also beat the Badgers in '03. That's good.

You want a flyer, you're getting one with Minnesota. The Gophers are tracking up, winning four games in 2001, eight in 2002, and 10 in 2003. They've got an Auburn-like running game with Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, which means something in the Big Ten, and a quality offensive line. The defense is iffy, but I'm taking a leap of faith there.
Now that an independent commission and a grand jury have found fault with the "culture"' of the Colorado athletic department, isn't it time for heads to roll?
Gary Barnett has been investigated six ways to Saturday, by commissions, grand juries, recruiting moms and dads, newspapers and the cast of CSI: Boulder, and nobody found a thing. He shouldn't be fired.

But someone should be, just for allowing Colorado to become the subject of scorn and ridicule for the last seven months. Someone in an official capacity should take responsibility for what occurred. Barnett has consistently made the point that the recruits and student-athletes who got themselves in these situations are the ones who should be held responsible. Well, sure.

The independent commission that investigated the athletic department decried the poor communiciation of university policy. That points to athletic director Dick Tharp, who seemed to be at the nexus of a lot of the communication snafus. Whatever happened to The Buck Stops Here?

Tharp remained quiet throughout the controversy, as instructed by university president Betsy Hoffman. He remained quiet before the controversy, judging by the lack of direction in the program. He should be the fall guy.
Absolutely, and the first one to make its way down the bowling alley should be the noggin of CU athletic director Dick Tharp.

This isn't vigilante justice. There have been two investigations into the CU football program and the findings have been anything but reassuring. Everyone involved -- the school regents, president, private foundation, AD, and head coach -- have been criticized in the reports. But in the end, this is Tharp's athletic department and thus, Tharp's responsibility.

Does anyone really think CU can recover from this "ordeal," as coach Gary Barnett prefers to call the scandal, without new leadership? And forget about sending a message, how about setting an example? Bring in an athletic director with a mandate and, more importantly, a vision. Tharp doesn't have one.
This week's Upset Special is. . . ?
Turns out there's a reason that South Carolina plays the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey at every home game. That's the last year the Gamecocks had a winning record. By the same standard, Vanderbilt ought to play 1982: A Space Odyssey. That season is old enough to drink.

Vandy is home for an SEC opener against South Carolina. Commodores coach Bobby Johnson rolled the dice with his young players over the last two years, and that plan should pay off this season. Twenty-one players have started at least 11 games, and nine players have started for two seasons.

Quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Jovan Haye are both juniors and two-year starters, and the kind of leaders who could be the start of something big. That start will begin Saturday against the Gamecocks.

If you don't believe that upset will happen, watch Akron at Penn State. Zips quarterback Charlie Frye is a talented passer (3,549 yards, 22 touchdowns, nine picks) in a new system under coach J.D. Brookhart. Penn State is supposed to be better, and probably will be. But I'll believe it when I see it.
Memphis over Ole Miss.

These are difficult days at Ole Miss, where the school still mourns the loss of three students killed in a fraternity house fire last Friday. In fact, a moment of silence is planned before the start of Saturday's game in Oxford.

I hope I'm wrong on this one, especially given the circumstances, but I think the oddsmakers made the wrong team the favorite.

Memphis beat Ole Miss, 44-34, a season ago at home, and returns all 11 starters on offense, including the nation's leader in all-purpose yardage (D'Angelo Williams), a senior-laden offensive line, and a quarterback (Danny Wimprine) smart enough to get the ball to his many playmakers (by the way, the NFL hates when I use that word). That's why I like the matchups against an Ole Miss defense that returns only four starters and has a young defensive line.

And nothing against new Ole Miss quarterback Micheal Spurlock (by the way, Memphis also has an inside linebacker named Michael Spurlock), but there are better ways to start to the post-Eli Era than to face a Joe Lee Dunn-coached defense. Unlike the great Manning, Spurlock can run the ball. But I still like Memphis' defense, especially it's secondary, to make things difficult for Spurlock.