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Who Can Challenge USC? These Three.

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  • Who Can Challenge USC? These Three.

    Texas, Virginia Tech, Ohio State appear title-worthy

    By Craig James
    ESPN Insider

    I have to credit my ABC partner John Saunders, who said on Saturday that Virginia Tech is the second best team in the country. I shot back "No way, Texas is!" But I've since tried to absorb what John said and came up with this: USC is the best team and should be No. 1. And there are three other teams capable of winning the national championship.

    One at a time please ...

    I was one of those guys who said in first few weeks that Oregon was a team with a legitimate shot at beating USC. I announced Oregon at Houston in early September and felt like the Ducks were a threat, especially at home. Yet this past Saturday morning, in filling out my in-house prediction sheet, I went with USC to win big. When it's all said and done, who can score enough points to keep up with Matt Leinart and friends? The Trojans' offense just demolished the spirit of Oregon and will do the same to most of their opponents. It's frustrating as a player to stand on the sidelines and watch your defense give up another big play to the opponent. USC foes find themselves standing almost in awe of the potency of Leinart and company.
    Ultimate strength: Offense -- It's suffocating and demoralizing
    Weakness: Defense -- But coaching will overcome the lack of experienced players

    I put Texas at No. 2 based on its really impressive win in Columbus, Ohio, over the Buckeyes. UT looks like a different team this year. In what respect? UT showed a lot of poise and bounce-back in Columbus, something it hasn't had in big tilts of late. The Longhorns' defense is the real deal, maybe not so much in terms of individual stars as much as a unit that plays together. The Horns defensive line is huge and wears down the offensive line late in the game. And the ability for the unit to rotate fresh players in was a plus, too. Vince Young is an extremely talented player who now has back-to-back big time come-from-behind wins under his belt (Rose Bowl and Ohio State). That confidence will propel his team through the tough conference games when Texas seems to falter a time or two. Example: Last year at Kansas.
    Ultimate strength: Defense -- It held the ship together in Columbus
    Weakness: Nothing in particular, unless Young can't throw when he's forced to

    Virginia Tech
    When the season started, I was one of those who doubted VT. Not its defense, but Marcus Vick. I'm still not sure Vick can carry this team. But I'm also not sure he'll ever have to. The Hokies have stifled their opponents. Team speed and power is evident when you watch them play. And we've all watched for years how the special teams makes plays, too. VT might be the most balanced team in the country. All three units look good. But it's the defense and special teams that get my vote. Speaking of votes, here's how I have changed my stance on Tech: My preseason vote had it at nine, then eight, then six, to four and now at three.
    Ultimate strength: Defense -- It's loaded with speed
    Weakness: Still not sure Vick can carry team if needed

    Ohio State
    Yes, they've lost a game. But it was to the No. 2 team in the country and it was a last-minute loss. The Buckeyes offense couldn't convert enough opportunities into touchdowns. Great kicker -- but six is better than three. OSU was rotating quarterbacks in that contest, but I do not believe that caused the Buckeyes to lose that game. Yet, now that they've settled on Troy Smith, this "team" might be getting better. And when it comes to defense, whew! Speed, speed and more speed. And their linebackers will find those carrying leather. Although the Big Ten is down, the Buckeyes aren't.
    Ultimate strength: Defense -- sound familiar?
    Weakness: Like Texas, can OSU throw it if it has to?

    Now, having said all the above, the beauty of college football is that although I think USC is unbeatable, the Trojans have to travel to play the Sun Devils of Arizona State this weekend. And who knows what might happen.

    Random Thoughts
    • Who stole the mojo/speed from the Louisville football team? South Florida was faster and made the Cardinals look average. And to think my other ABC partner, Aaron Taylor, thought UL would play for the national championship.
    • Congrats to Minnesota for not giving up. The Gophers hung in there with Purdue when the momentum was clearly on the other side. How many times have we seen UM not hang in there? Laurence Maroney is now on my Heisman watch list. Dang, that dude is good.

    • Best offense in the country might be Michigan State's. QB Drew Stanton is hot and will tear up Michigan this weekend. No doubt in my mind that the Spartans are the No. 2 team in the Big Ten.

    • How 'bout Chris Leak and that new Urban Meyer offense? Leak and his group look good and have taken quickly to what was supposed to be a complex offense. Maybe Meyer is worth all the moolah.

    • I have to tip my hat to Mike Shula down in Alabama. Shula was questioned time and again by the old timers, who always seemed to forget the Tide was dealing with NCAA restrictions. Now Shula has a QB in Brodie Croyle and a defense that will keep them in any game they play. Might this be Cinderella's home?

    • There are some goofy folks talkin' smack about the job security of Arkansas' Houston Nutt. Who are you going to replace him with? Nutt is a good coach and will win. The grass isn't always greener in the other pasture.

    • This kid named Sam Keller is tearin' it up out west. Arizona State will have the national platform this weekend with USC to show him off. I could see a 40-point game by both teams in this one.

    • Congratulations to Barry Alvarez. What a nice win for his Badgers over Michigan. Did you notice how calm and confident Alvarez looked in the closing minutes of the game? I did, and I'm sure his team felt his confidence, too. And again, running back Brian Calhoun is good.

    • It used to be the big three for the Heisman: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Vincent Young. Now, I've got Laurence Maroney on the list with Brian Calhoun lingering in the shadows. Both players have the ability to make plays when nothing is there.
    You're being fucking dramatic. You own a TV and an air mattress. That's not exactly what I'd call "a lot to lose."

  • #2
    Before Monday night, I would have had LSU on that list. "F" that.
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