4. CARL EDWARDS
Hometown: Columbia, MO
No. 99 Aflac Ford
Crew Chief: Bob Osborne
Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry
Carl Edwards had the competition seeing red in 2008, both figuratively and literally, as his red Office Depot machine led the series in victories and came up just short of a championship. 2009 brings Aflac on board full-time and a new bright green and black paint scheme. Let me tell you something—that scheme is sharp. I was able to spot it from blocks away in busy downtown Manhattan.
Cousin Carl, Bob Osborne, and the entire No. 99 team should once again be a serious title threat in the new season, and I would not be surprised, in the least, if they brought home Jack Roush’s third championship in seven years.
Edwards runs well at pretty much every track (although he is still gaining his footing on the road courses). If there is one thing holding the former substitute teacher back, it would be his tendency to go overboard, at times, behind the wheel.
Yes, you have to be aggressive to win (see Kansas in September) but not at the expense of tearing up equipment and costing your team a good finish. Occasional antics aside, most fans adore Edwards and his victory back flips, so a championship by this team would be highly popular.
3. JEFF GORDON
Hometown: Vallejo, CA
No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Chevy
Crew Chief: Steve Letarte
Owner: Rick Hendrick
The fact that the famed DuPont No. 24 did not reach victory lane—for the first time since 1993—and did not seriously contend for a championship, pretty much sent fans, the media, and the garage into crisis lockdown mode. Was it the end of the dynasty that had ruled the sport for nearly 15 years?
I don’t think the situation is that dire? Gordon, at age 37 (not very old, although it seems like he is old when it appears that he has been around forever), is still one of the top NASCAR drivers.
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Gordon and Letarte put together a strong season in 2007, and if it weren’t for Jimmie Johnson’s Chase domination, would have brought home a fifth title for Gordon. They had a strong grasp on the COT from the very beginning, although getting it to handle well and run fast on the large tracks proved to be their downfall in 2008.
However, during the Chase, there were signs that the team had turned the corner and is capable of contending in 2009. It’s now been over seven years since Gordon’s last championship, and there are whispers that Gordon’s focus is on his life outside of racing—not the job at hand.
That may be the case but let me tell you something—this guy still has the fire in his belly to win and the talent and team to do so.
2. JIMMIE JOHNSON
Hometown: El Cajon, CA
No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevy
Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
Owner: Rick Hendrick
The last three seasons, I have not picked Jimmie Johnson as my preseason Cup champion. We see where that has gotten us, as Johnson enters 2009 looking to win an unprecedented fourth straight championship in NASCAR’s elite division.
Everyone wants to know how they are consistently so good, but I think the answer is quite simple—a smart and talented driver, an even smarter crew chief, and a group of team-oriented support people who work together with astounding chemistry.
Oh yeah, the Hendrick equipment is top-notch as well, and Lady Luck seems to be a big No. 48 fan (although I think Lady Luck runs out for the Lowe’s bunch during the 2009 Chase at some point in time).
Obviously, Johnson should once again be in the thick of the championship battle when the Chase rolls around. This team is awfully quiet for the first 26 races compared to some others, but when the time comes to race for a title, they are more prepared than anyone else.
Give credit to Knaus. I think he has figured out that his team is solid enough to “back in” to the Chase even with a few poor finishes, so he spends much more time making sure his cars are difficult to contend with at those ten race tracks where the championship is decided.
That’s not to say that they slack off during February-September, but they realize much more is at stake in September-November.
1. KYLE BUSCH
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV
No. 18 M&M’s/Mars/Interstate Batteries Toyota
Crew Chief: Steve Addington
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Love or hate him, Kyle Busch burst onto the scene in 2008 and polarized the sport like no one since the days of Dale Earnhardt. He ruffled feathers with numerous drivers, but at the same time, won multiple races in not one, not two, but three series.
Rowdy took home eight of the 26 pre-Chase races on the Cup side and jumped out to a huge lead in the points standings, which of course evaporated when the final 10 events commenced.
While we all figured Kyle would still contend for the title when the points were reset at New Hampshire, I don’t think any of us expected the myriad of problems that the team faced in the early stages of the championship run—the 10th place points finish or being shut out of victory lane down the stretch.
While the Chase was a nightmare for the No. 18 team, I think it may have been the best thing that could have ever happened to the talented, but nevertheless raw and immature, Kyle Busch, entering 2009.
Adversity tends to bring out the best in people, and after the disaster of last fall, Wild Thing will be hungrier than ever. This young man is a special talent who has just begun to realize his immense potential during his first season with the Gibbs organization.
Busch has a fire in his eyes like few others; not only does he want to beat the competition, he wants to obliterate it. And, I’ve never seen someone feed off so much negative energy from the crowd before.
A year older and months removed from a series of crushing defeats, I truly believe Kyle “Wild Thing/Shrub/Rowdy” Busch is ready to take the next step and become one of the youngest Sprint Cup champions in history.
5. MATT KENSETH
Hometown: Cambridge, WI
No. 17 DeWalt Tools/USG Sheetrock/R&L Carriers/Carhartt Ford
Crew Chief: Drew Blickensderfer
Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry
2008 was an uncharacteristic year by Matt Kenseth standards. Yes, he quietly put together a solid season, as usual, but the No. 17 team failed to find victory lane and was never really a threat for the championship.
Maybe I cursed them by picking the team to win it all last January. Kenseth will be paired with his third crew chief in three years when Speedweeks commence, as Drew Blickensderfer comes over from the Roush Nationwide program.
I look for Kenseth to rebound in 2009, even as many people are starting to write him off prematurely. A return to victory lane and contention during the Chase are certainly in the cards.
Blickensderfer turned around Carl Edwards’ struggling Nationwide program at the midpoint of the 2008 season, and has worked well with Kenseth in that series the year before.
He is clearly ready to lead an elite Sprint Cup team, something Chip Bolin did not have much success with after taking over for Robbie Reiser one year ago (although to defend Bolin, the guy didn’t have much crew chief experience entering the role as Blickensderfer does).
6. DALE EARNHARDT JR.
Hometown: Kannapolis, NC
No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP Energy Drink/National Guard Chevy
Crew Chief: Tony Eury Jr.
Owner: Rick Hendrick
Junior’s first season at Hendrick Motorsports had its ups and downs, but for the most part, it did not live up to the expectations placed on him when moving to the sport’s premier operation.
The first half of the season was largely successful, if you leave out the fact their only win came as the result of smart pit strategy.
But as the Chase approached, the team started to fizzle and faded to 12th when the final 10 races rolled around in the fall months.
This will be a defining year for Earnhardt Jr. If he doesn’t come out and challenge for the championship, his detractors that are often heard screaming the word “overrated” will have even more reason to criticize him, while even his most diehard fans may be forced to question his place amongst the sport’s elite.
I think he will come out and put forth a better overall effort in 2009, but winning the championship will still be a stretch. Cousin Tony Eury Jr.’s strategy on top of the pit box has long been chastised, and he could be what is holding the double 8 back. Don’t forget, he has three pretty good teammates to beat out as well.
7. GREG BIFFLE
Hometown: Vancouver, WA
No. 16 3M Ford
Crew Chief: Greg Erwin
Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry
After a couple of mediocre years by Biffle standards, he and the No. 16 team came out and put forth a strong showing in 2008, coming home third in points with two victories. Greg is certainly one of the sport’s brightest stars, and he is competitive at almost every track.
Like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, his chances at winning a championship are starting to evaporate as his age advances, so I am sure Greg Erwin and everyone else on the No. 16 team will do everything in their power to put Biffle in a position to win the title at Homestead.
As long as Biffle makes the Chase, he has to be considered a threat to win the championship. With half the final 10 races being on his long-time bread and butter, the cookie cutter 1.5 and 2 milers, and another two at tracks he won at in 2008 (New Hampshire and Dover), this team has the capability of dethroning Jimmie Johnson.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened, but I have them ranked a little lower this year just due to the fact I see teams like the 17, 18, and 88, which struggled in the Chase a year ago, coming out more prepared for those crucial races in 2009.
8. MARK MARTIN
Hometown: Batesville, AR
No. 5 Kellogg’s/Carquest/Cheez-It Chevy
Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson
Owner: Rick Hendrick
As much as I respect Mark Martin for the person and racer he is, his indecision when it comes to retirement has pretty much been a frustration to me and many others. But nevertheless, we do get to enjoy Mark for at least one more full-time campaign aimed at winning that elusive Sprint Cup.
Can the sentimental pick pull it off? That’s debatable, but Mark should be a threat week in and week out in 2009, and find victory lane for the first time since 2005.
While Martin will be the only full-time driver past the half century mark this season, that won’t be a disadvantage. He is in better shape than some of the guys half his age.
What will be a problem will be the No. 5 team. They are very good, but not as good as the 24 or 48. I’m sure Rick Hendrick will put a lot of effort into giving Mark the chance at winning the championship, but this team has not been a serious threat for the title in years.
Even Kyle Busch was simply a mid-pack Chase driver in this car, and Casey Mears barely finished in the top 20.
9. DAVID RAGAN
Hometown: Unadilla, GA
#6 UPS Ford
Crew Chief: Jimmy Fennig
Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry
David Ragan did not disappoint me in 2008 by living up to my proclamation that he would be the series’ most improved driver. So I fully expect he and the 6 team to take the next step, find victory lane, and qualify for the Chase in the new season. The expectations have most definitely been elevated for Ragan in 2009, as one doesn’t have to look any further than the fact that UPS decided to sponsor him over everyone else that was available.
Putting the weight of the world on the shoulders of a 23-year old could be the recipe for disaster, but if anyone can handle the added pressure, it would be the calm and collected Ragan. And if he starts to stray because of the added responsibility, he will have Jack Roush, his senior teammates, and crew chief Jimmy Fennig there for support. Fennig turned Kurt Busch into a champion and could have won one or two with Mark Martin. His veteran leadership and guidance of a man young enough to be his son has the chance to produce huge dividends in the new year.
10. JEFF BURTON
Hometown: South Boston, VA
#31 Caterpillar Chevy
Crew Chief: Scott Miller
Owner: Richard Childress
Jeff Burton is a great February to August racer, qualifying for the Chase easily the past three seasons. But when the final ten events have rolled around, he and his team have not asserted themselves as serious championship contenders. Burton realizes the clock is ticking on his chances to win a title, and even they appear to be a long shot considering the fact that the last time a driver over 40 won the title was Dale Jarrett a decade ago.
That being said, this is still a quality team that will qualify for the Chase and find victory lane at least once or twice. I am sure Caterpillar feels fortunate to be associated with a winning team for the first time since they sponsored Jeff’s older brother. He will not disappoint. Jeff is certainly a sentimental favorite to win it all (along with a driver who I have yet to preview), but the entire RCR team has a tall mountain to climb in overcoming the Hendrick, Roush, and Gibbs powerhouses.
11. KEVIN HARVICK
Hometown: Bakersfield, CA
#29 Shell Pennzoil/Reese’s Chevy
Crew Chief: Todd Berrier
Owner: Richard Childress
Harvick, once the immature brat, has set a modern-era record by finishing 80 races in a row, a sign that he has matured into a dependable driver who will not take any unnecessary risks to chance a good points day. But while Harvick is always around at the checkered flag, that has yet to produce any Sprint Cup championships, or even serious contention for one. Will that change in 2009? I don’t think so, but look for Kevin Harvick to make another run at the Chase and find victory lane for the first time since the 2007 Daytona 500.
I think there are two big factors holding back Harvick, Burton, and RCR from taking that step from Chase participant to championship contender. One was alluded to by Burton this week, saying that the RCR teams need more speed and horsepower to compete with Roush/Hendrick/Gibbs and end their 15-year championship drought. The other has to be the lack of consistency. The 29 and 31 may have very few DNFs, but they will go weeks at a time without as much as a top 10. That can’t happen if you want to win a championship.
12. KURT BUSCH
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV
#2 Miller Lite Dodge
Crew Chief: Pat Tryson
Owner: Roger Penske
It wouldn’t be my annual season preview without a surprise pick to make the Chase. Frankly, Kurt Busch, the 2 team, and entire Penske organization are more capable than what they showed in 2008. You can blame Dodge all you want, but Roger Penske won’t accept running a second-rate team, and if the Blue Deuce doesn’t come out firing in 2009, I am sure some changes will be made to the team’s structure.
Kurt Busch is still one of the best wheelmen in the garage, although he got shuffled out of the picture by his brother and own struggles a year ago. I think he, and his long-time crew chief Pat Tryson, have something to prove to the NASCAR world. This team won’t bring home their first championship, but I look for a rebound in their performance this season. Look for them to be strong at the typical Busch favorites such as Pocono and Bristol, and sneak into the Chase. Also look for them to get back to victory lane, which they only reached in 2008 because of pure luck.
13. MARTIN TRUEX JR.
Hometown: Mayetta, NJ
No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy
Crew Chief: Kevin Manion
Owner: Teresa Earnhardt/Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates
After qualifying for the Chase in his second year, Truex’s third year at the Cup level did not live up to expectations. Many people believed he would take the next step, win multiple races, and contend for a title, even without the presence of teammate and good pal Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Instead, Truex fell to 15th in points, and never tasted victory lane. Grudgingly, he resigned with DEI/EGR for at least one more season, although you have to believe if the performance does not improve, he will take Bass Pro elsewhere.
Martin would have been in Chase contention right down to the wire in Richmond if it were not for a huge points penalty handed down at Daytona in July. The Truex/Manion combination clearly works well, and I look for them to bounce back and win a couple races in 2009.
Qualifying for the Chase will be difficult, but it is not out of the question. Aside from no longer being at the mercy of Teresa Earnhardt and Max Siegel’s questionable decision-making, the merger with Ganassi will not really impact this team, but Truex should enjoy the working partnership with Juan Pablo Montoya.
14. JAMIE McMURRAY
Hometown: Joplin, MO
No. 26 Crown Royal/Irwin Tools Ford
Crew Chief: Donnie Wingo
Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry
Entering his fourth season at Roush-Fenway, the pressure is certainly on Jamie McMurray to take the next step and contend on a weekly basis. While Kenseth, Biffle, and Edwards win races and contend for the championship, McMurray is great some weeks and off others.
If the performance doesn’t improve in 2009, especially with the drivers available at Jack Roush’s fingertips from his development pool, McMurray will likely be out of a job.
But even with that grim reality, Jamie is set up to succeed this season. He will be reunited with Donnie Wingo, who was his crew chief for the three years he spent at Ganassi; seasons that finished in 13th, 11th, and 12th places.
Plus, McMurray became much more consistent down the stretch in 2008 with Larry Carter as crew chief, finishing third in each of the final three races. Look for Jamie Mac and Wingo to hit on all cylinders in ‘09, and do not be surprised if they are in the Chase.
15. DENNY HAMLIN
Hometown: Chesterfield, VA
No. 11 FedEx Toyota
Crew Chief: Mike Ford
Owner: Joe Gibbs
After finishing third in points his rookie season, Denny Hamlin has followed that up with two very good seasons, but inconsistency has doomed him to the back half of the Chase each time.
When he came out of the gate so strong in 2006, I figured that he had the makings of a future Cup champion, but now I am not so sure. Hamlin and the 11 team have seemed to level off, and played third fiddle to both the 18 and 20 last season.
Seeing how Tony Stewart gone and Kyle Busch still just 23, Hamlin is now the veteran by default at JGR, believe it or not. With that comes the extra responsibility of being a leader on and off the track, and I just do not see those qualities in Hamlin.
Denny is never the one to blame when something goes wrong. It’s always someone else’s fought. My assessment may be harsh, but I still wouldn’t be surprised to see the 11 sneak into the Chase once again. There are probably 20 teams capable of making it in 2009, but Hamlin was not one of the lucky 12 to be selected by me.
16. CLINT BOWYER
Hometown: Emporia, KS
No. 33 Cheerios/Betty Crocker/BB&T Chevy
Crew Chief: Shane Wilson
Owner: Richard Childress
All was fine and dandy in Clint Bowyer’s world the past two years. He picked up a Nationwide title, won his first Cup race, piloted the Jack Daniel’s car, qualified for the Chase two years in a row, and had familiar relationships with an absolute hottie.
Fast forward to 2009, and Richard Childress has exiled his youngest Cup driver to the new fourth team, being sponsored by General Mills.
Bowyer will still have the great equipment he has been accustomed to receiving the past few seasons, but making the Chase for a third year in a row will be difficult. He will be working with an entirely new set of people, including crew chief Shane Wilson, without testing to get used to one another.
And I don’t care if you are Childress, Hendrick, Roush, or whoever, adding a new team to an existing operation and being immediately successful is not an easy task. Especially when you have to qualify on time for the first five races.
17. KASEY KAHNE
Hometown: Enumclaw, WA
No. 9 Budweiser Dodge
Crew Chief: Kenny Francis
Owner: George Gillett/Richard Petty/Ray Evernham
I’m going to start calling Kahne the Enumclaw Enigma. 23rd in points in 2005, 8th in ‘06, 19th in ‘07, and 14th last season. As was the case for much of 2008, Kasey and the 9 team can’t make up their minds if they want to be an elite team or simply a good one. There is a lot of potential here, but for some reason, they cannot get over that proverbial hump and into the sport’s top echelon.
I think the main issues with the nine bunch are a lack of consistency, even at their best tracks, lack of continuity (changing owners every 15 minutes cannot be good for team morale), and the fact that they often struggle at any track that isn’t a 1.5 mile tri-oval. Kahne is marketable and talented, but the GEM team (and Dodge horsepower in general) may be holding him back.
The addition of Richard Petty to the ownership team will not have an impact on Kahne’s on-track performance, but maybe the King can give the team a pep talk every now and then.
18. JUAN PABLO MONTOYA
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
No. 42 Target/Wrigley Chevy
Crew Chief: Brian Pattie
Owner: Teresa Earnhardt/Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates
JPM’s sophomore season in stock cars was a major disappointment, as the Colombian finished 25th in points. A driver of his caliber should not be back in the land of David Gilliland and Paul Menard in the final standings. But Dodge teams as a whole struggled in 2008, and it has to be a relief for Montoya to be moving to a Chevy operation. Let’s face it, EGR is not Hendrick or Childress, but they should still give Juan Pablo the chance to succeed.
While 2008 was an uphill battle, the 42 team started to show signs of life during the Chase, just as the communication between Pattie and Montoya was beginning to gel. The finishes may not have been there, but you have to remember he had a shot of winning the event at Texas.
I look for this team to be a pleasant surprise at the intermediate tracks in 2009, and of course, JPM will rule the road. If other areas of their program can pick up, Montoya may be able to finish higher than 18th.
19. CASEY MEARS
Hometown: Bakersfield, CA
No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevy
Crew Chief: Gil Martin
Owner: Richard Childress
Casey Mears had great opportunities at both Ganassi and Hendrick, but failed to deliver for the most part. Somehow, he has earned himself a third chance in a prime seat, which I guess is the benefit of being young, good-looking, and sponsor savvy. He will be paired up with a team and crew chief that has made the Chase the past two seasons with Clint Bowyer, which for someone trying to prove themselves, could be a major asset.
I believe one of Mears’ problems at Hendrick was constantly living in the shadow of Gordon, Johnson, Busch, and later Earnhardt Jr. While Burton, Harvick, and Bowyer are all great wheelmen, none of them are really headline grabbers. Maybe this will allow Casey to relax, focus, and deliver.
I’ve never been high on Casey’s driving ability, but with a strong team surrounding him and the need to perform as strong as it has ever been, he could sneak up on people and challenge for a Chase berth in 2009.
20. TONY STEWART
Hometown: Columbus, IN
No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy
Crew Chief: Darian Grubb
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas
The last time an owner/driver won a race? Ricky Rudd at Martinsville in fall 1998. In today’s NASCAR, serving in this dual role, and being highly effective at both, is next to impossible. Sure, Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip run teams, but their on-track results leave a lot to be desired (but this was also the case before they became owner/drivers). If anyone is going to bring success back to this dying breed, it is going to be Tony Stewart.
Stewart is a man of many projects: owning Eldora, owning teams in World of Outlaws, Midgets, and Sprint Cup, and driving in Cup to top it off. He obviously has the ability to put in the hours necessary to run a successful Cup team, but that’s not to say he is going to immediately be a Chase driver out of the gate.
While this team will receive help from Hendrick and is essentially Gene Haas’ team from a year ago, there will be tons of new people and cars that must be put in place. This will be a year of adjustment for Stewart off the track, and a year of growth for SHR on it.
Don’t be discouraged if Tony slips to 15th or 20th in the standings making this difficult move in 2009, because I think we will see that 14 team running towards the front on a weekly basis a year from now.
In closing, some late-breaking, but good news: Aric Almirola will run a third full-time entry for EGR (the third team was up in the air as of last week, after everyone spent the entire holiday season figuring EGR would run four full-time entries) while the team will field a fourth car at Daytona. My prediction for the driver? Mike Wallace.
by Hollis Warren… Well, the BCS managed to screw it up again (with an assist to the Big 12’s division tiebreaker), a week earlier than usual! I will mention I have no allegiance to Texas or Oklahoma, aside from the fact I picked OU to win the national championship this year, but the Longhorns were screwed.
The fact that OU leaped over them by beating a good OK State team by 20, while Texas beat a terrible A&M squad by 40, is wrong. Style points mean everything. How is that truly determining who is the best team when all is said and done in January?
The cases for and against Oklahoma and Texas are similar, down to one fact: OU beat Texas Tech at home 65-21, while Texas lost in Lubbock on a last second touchdown 39-33. I guess it doesn’t matter that Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field? It only matters when you play the other top teams in your respective conference, and when you lose. Lose late in the year, and you are screwed. Texas had a gauntlet run in October before an easier November, while Oklahoma’s last two games were against top 15 squads. Obviously, all of this trouble could have been avoided if the Big 12 had a more sufficient three-way tiebreaker for division races. Or as most people have been contending for years, major college football needs a playoff.
Continuing with the bowl system is about one thing and one thing only: money. Just because FBS forms an eight or 16 team playoff tournament would not have to mean the end of those tradition-rich games.
The Rose Bowl, or Orange Bowl, or Sugar Bowl could still be the home of the national championship game at the conclusion of the playoff. Athletic directors and the NCAA claim that the additional three or four games would be strenuous on the student athlete, but in big-time college football, when was the last time student and athlete were used simultaneously?
Sadly, a majority of these players wouldn’t be in college without football, and just because they are there now doesn’t mean they will do something worthwhile for their post-football lives while there.
These kids are exploited if you ask me. They deserve a playoff to determine a true national champion. Let it be decided on the field, not on the hard drive. And if the big wigs are TRULY concerned about the additional games being a burden to the players who actually care about their education (i.e. Myron Rolle), they would work to eliminate a couple games from the schedule. What’s the point of these BCS schools playing three cupcake non-conference games and one half-decent opponent besides money?
Is Oklahoma truly improving as a football team facing off against Tennessee-Chattanooga? Or Florida against the Citadel? Of course, college ADs and presidents would never go for such a move, because that would mean less dough in their athletic program and university’s pockets.
Just like the current financial crisis in this country, the greed of the powerful few has ruined the fun for everyone else. The powers of college football need to forget about the bottom line for once and do what is best for the game. And there are several professional leagues that could use that same advice.
I’m sure holding a 16-team playoff, where the best teams in the country play No. 2, 3, or 4 times in December/January, would generate more revenue than the bowls anyways.
Moving on, it’s championship Saturday, meaning this is the final college football preview of the season. Barring the onset of extreme laziness as Christmas approaches, I will probably do a preview of the BCS games and other major bowls in mid-December.
Louisville at Rutgers, 7:30 (ESPN)
MAC Championship: Ball State vs. Buffalo in Detroit, 8 (ESPN 2)
Pittsburgh at Connecticut, 12 (ESPN)
Conference USA Championship: East Carolina at Tulsa, 12 (ESPN 2)
Army vs. Navy in Philadelphia, 12 (CBS)
ACC Championship: Boston College vs. Virginia Tech in Tampa, 1 (ABC)
Washington at California, 3 (FSN)
SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Florida in Atlanta, 4 (CBS)
USC at UCLA, 4:30 (ABC)
Big 12 Championship: Missouri vs. Oklahoma in Kansas City, 8 (ABC)
Arizona State at Arizona, 8 (ESPN)
South Florida at West Virginia, 8 (ESPN 2)
Cincinnati at Hawaii, 11:30 (ESPN 2)
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Alabama vs. Florida
Florida seems to be a popular pick in this game. After all, they have the rare combination of a prolific offense and punishing defense, and are not afraid to flaunt it on the way to out-of-this-world blowout wins against competitive programs. But people seem to forget that Alabama ran the table in the SEC (while not as strong this year) out of nowhere.
Nick Saban’s teams have a knack for being very physical, and he even went as far as to call this a “blue collar team” a few weeks back. That may be worthy of a Lee Corso “uh-oh” for a Florida offense which is built heavily on finesse. Granted, I hate Florida more than any team in college football (even more than Notre Dame), and Urban Meyer more than any coach (even more than Charlie Weis).
But I’d rather have Nick Saban leading my team in a do-or-die game, and I expect him to assert the upper hand over Urban Meyer from the sidelines on Saturday. The Gators are a great team, no doubt, but I think Saban’s coaching, combined with the Bama run game and Bama defense, lead the Tide to a close victory and Miami for the national championship.
Final score: Alabama 30 Florida 27.
Missouri vs. Oklahoma
In their somewhat brief existence, these Big 12 title games have often produced upset winners. Past Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Missouri teams can all attest that a win over a lesser opponent to get to the national championship game is easier said than done. Will Oklahoma fall prey against Missouri on Saturday night? I don’t think so.
Granted, Mizzou has Chase Daniel and can score with the Sooners’ machine, but I am sure OU’s defense will manage a stop or two on defense. Matching that will be asking a lot for a Missouri unit which has struggled all year against the Big 12’s high-octane offenses.
While I’m sure the Tigers would love to get revenge on a team that squashed their national title aspirations in 2007, more important here is bowl positioning. Due to the Big 12 South’s strength, a Tiger loss likely sends them to the league’s fourth bowl tie-in instead of the BCS (should they pull the upset).
Granted, the Holiday or Alamo Bowl is nothing to sneeze at, but for a Missouri team that had high hopes three months ago, that would be a major letdown.
Boston College vs. Virginia Tech
After all that trouble, we have a rematch of last season’s ACC title game, although there will be no Matty Ice this time around. The big reason these teams are going to Tampa is simple: coaching. Jeff Jagodzinski lost Ryan, his star quarterback, and pretty much the rest of the offense. But his defense has been one of the best in the conference all season, helping the team to a 9-3 record.
Frank Beamer has done a magnificent job in his two decades at Tech, but this might have been his best season yet. Sure, they are 8-4, but the Hokies have overcome injuries, inexperience, and poor quarterback play (at times), to hold on to their title as the class of the ACC Coastal.
Like the rest of the ACC season to this point, I really don’t know what to expect. Either of these teams could walk away the winner, but using the old adage that it is difficult to beat the same team twice in a season, look for the Hokies to remain ACC Champions for another year.
USC at UCLA
I see where USC will resume the old tradition of the road team wearing their home jersey in this crosstown rivalry, making it one of the few times all year you’ll see no white jerseys on the field. The NCAA isn’t happy about it, but those guys always have their panties in a bunch over something.
USC wins the Pac 10 and probably goes to the Rose Bowl for an enticing matchup with Penn State if they can defeat their rivals. But two years ago in Westwood, the Bruins upset the Trojans and ended their hopes of a national title.
Rick Neuheisel’s inaugural season may have been a struggle, but with this essentially being UCLA’s bowl game, they will put everything on the line.
UCLA’s offense has been downright horrible at times, and against a strong SC defense, they better hope their defense actually shows up to keep this game interesting. They had no trouble stopping the Washington teams, but when it came to the talented squads in the league, the Bruins were often giving up 30 points a game.
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
Ball State vs. Buffalo
Ball State may not be headed for the BCS, but a MAC Championship and opportunity to finish 14-0 are incentive enough to keep playing hard. There are even talks of a Boise State-Ball State bowl matchup, to truly determine who is the best of the non-BCS teams who were not invited to the BCS.
Even though the MAC’s three bowl bids will likely go to Ball State, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan, the 7-5 Bulls figure to make their first ever bowl appearance. BCS athletic directors, are you paying attention? Turner Gill can coach.
I’m sure many of you read the story about how the 1958 team was invited to the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, but due to segregation and the fact that Buffalo had two black players, the team voted to turn down the invitation. There wouldn’t be a better way to honor that team a half century later than upsetting the Cardinals and winning the MAC.
Army vs. Navy
The US Military and Naval Academies may not be known for football so much anymore, but this is still a great rivalry that touches more Americans than any other. I’m sure most of us who have not served this country at least know or knew someone who did. And their sacrifices are greatly appreciated.
I don’t care how bad Army’s team is or the fact that Navy gets to a bowl thanks mainly to an easy schedule, this game deserves to be watched. Where else will you find guys who will be teammates 364 days out of the year, yet hate each other with a passion on the 365th?
East Carolina at Tulsa
It seems like eons ago that both ECU and Tulsa had BCS aspirations. With the Pirates at 8-4 and the Golden Hurricane 10-2, the winner will have to settle for a trip to Memphis and the Liberty Bowl. The teams did not meet during the regular season, so it is difficult to predict what we should see.
But I do know that Tulsa likes to win games by putting up a massive number of points, while East Carolina relies on a strong defense. Houston’s high-powered offense was able to put 41 on the Pirates, but I think Tulsa will be hard pressed to do the same. If they can put that many points up, ECU is in trouble.
Arkansas State at Troy
This will be the unofficial Sun Belt championship game. If Troy wins, they go to New Orleans as outright conference champions. If Arkansas State wins, it at least forces a two-way tie (Louisiana-Lafayette could make it a three-way tie with a win over Middle Tennessee), and the Red Wolves probably head for the New Orleans Bowl.
In years past, losing the Sun Belt would be a death sentence for a team, but with the SEC and Big 12 short bowl-eligible teams, the league could end up looking at two or three bowl bids (it is interesting to note that for the first time, the league has an agreement with the Independence, Papa John’s, and St. Petersburg Bowls to step in should another league not have enough eligible teams).
Cincinnati at Hawaii
Even though they will be the Big East’s representative in the BCS, many people have not gotten to see the Bearcats in 2008. If you are in that boat, stay up late after the Big 12 title game and watch this one from sunny, warm Honolulu (be jealous).
I’m sure the Bearcats will treat this as their fun-in-the-sun bowl game, because they will want to show everyone they are no fluke when New Year’s Day rolls around. It will be all business.
The Warriors haven’t fallen as badly as I thought they would when June Jones left for SMU and Colt Brennan graduated, as they finished in a three-way tie for second in the WAC (for what that’s worth) at 7-5.
by Hollis Warren… I know I am a little early this week, but with tomorrow being the last day of the workweek for yours truly, and travel to follow tomorrow night, now seems like a good time to post my college football preview for the upcoming weekend.
It’s Rivalry Weekend folks! So grab a turkey leg, tell your significant other to go Christmas shopping, block out any annoying relatives, and sit back and enjoy some college pigskin. Oh, and be sure to enjoy the trainwreck that the BCS is sure to become between now and Dec. 6.
Navy at Northern Illinois, 7 (ESPN Classic)
Western Michigan at Ball State, 7 (ESPN 2)
Texas A&M at Texas, 8 (ESPN)
West Virginia at Pittsburgh, 12 (ABC)
Ohio at Miami (OH), 12:30 (ESPN U)
UTEP at East Carolina, 1 (CBS College)
LSU at Arkansas, 2:30 (CBS)
Bowling Green at Toledo, 3:30 (ESPN Classic)
Colorado at Nebraska, 3:30 (ABC)
Fresno State at Boise State, 6 (ESPN 2)
UCLA at Arizona State, 9:30 (ESPN 2)
Georgia Tech at Georgia, 12 (CBS)
Virginia at Virginia Tech, 12 (ESPN)
South Carolina at Clemson, 12 (ESPN 2)
Kansas vs. Missouri in Kansas City, 12:30 (FSN)
Auburn at Alabama, 3:30 (CBS)
Baylor at Texas Tech, 3:30 (Versus)
Florida at Florida State, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN 2)
Maryland at Boston College, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN 2)
Houston at Rice, 3:30 (CBS College)
North Carolina at Duke, 3:30 (ESPN U)
Kentucky at Tennessee, 6:30 (ESPN 2)
Oregon at Oregon State, 7 (Versus)
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest, 7 (ESPN U)
Notre Dame at USC, 8 (ESPN)
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, 8 (ABC)
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Texas A&M at Texas
Well, it looks as if Texas is the lucky Big 12 South team to enter the final weekend of the regular season the highest in the BCS standings, with the Horns, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma all tied at 6-1 in league play.
Seemingly, if they win this game and beat Missouri in the Big 12 Championship, you have to like their chances to be a participant in the BCS Title Game. IF they win this game.
I know what you are saying: The Aggies are 4-7. But they have beaten superior Texas teams the past two years. Anything can happen in these big rivalry games, and I cannot stress that enough. However, I expect Texas and Colt McCoy to come through against an awful A&M defense and end their losing streak in the Lone Star Showdown.
If Texas does struggle, you have to wonder if an impressive OU victory would catapult them over the Longhorns in the BCS.
West Virginia at Pittsburgh
Bill Stewart might be the head coach now as Rich Rodriguez tries to get Michigan back on the right track, but a lot of the players who watched a terrible Pitt team defeat the Mountaineers in Morgantown and end their shot at a national title a year ago are still with the program. That should add even more spice to this bitter rivalry between schools that are just 78 miles apart.
This year’s game features WVU trying to keep their faint Big East title hopes alive. They’ll need to win this one, beat South Florida next week, and hope Syracuse finds it in themselves to pull a second major upset in a row at Cincinnati.
Pitt, meanwhile, is playing primarily for bowl positioning, and of course, to knock off their hated rivals once again.
Virginia at Virginia Tech
Believe it or not, both ACC divisional races are pretty simple entering this weekend. If Tech wins this game, they go to Tampa. If they lose, Georgia Tech represents the Coastal in the championship game.
I would be worried about the offense if I was a Hokies fan entering a rivalry game that will determine if UVA is bowl eligible or not. They put up exactly one touchdown on Duke this past weekend. Virginia was even worse, managing just a field goal at home versus Clemson.
But you can always count on Frank Beamer’s defense and special teams to make a game-changing play, and I expect that will happen to swing momentum in the Hokies’ favor at some point this Saturday.
Watch out for the Wahoos, however. As I said, they still need that sixth win, and they haven’t defeated their cross-state rivals since 2003.
Georgia Tech at Georgia
Georgia Tech’s fate as far as playing for a conference championship is out of their control, so they just need to go out there and focus on their rivals from Athens. Based on what I saw from the Yellow Jackets’ offense against Miami, they have a real shot to upset the Dawgs, even on the road.
It will be a hostile environment, so Josh Nesbitt just has to focus on making his reads. He was shaky at certain points on Thursday night but ultimately led his team to a resounding victory.
Georgia has had a week off to recover from the SEC grind, and with no title game on the horizon, should be fully focused on extending their winning streak in the Clean, Old Fashioned Hate Rivalry to eight games.
Auburn at Alabama
The Crimson Tide have not won the Iron Bowl since 2001, but they are an overwhelming favorite to end that losing streak on Saturday.
Nick Saban’s team can smell the showdown with Florida in Atlanta next weekend, with a slot in the national title game on the line. But they cannot overlook the business at hand in Tuscaloosa, or that SEC Championship Game may become a whole lot less important for the Tide when they roll in there at 11-1.
Auburn has been beset with problems all year, especially on offense. Tommy Tuberville needs a huge upset win just to get this team to bowl eligibility and get the critics off his back, who have been on him over the new spread offense that failed miserably this season.
The Iron Bowl is always a close, defensive battle, and even with an apparent mismatch on the horizon, look for Auburn to play Alabama tough for four quarters and make them earn that 12-0 record.
Florida at Florida State
The UF-FSU rivalry has lost some luster in recent years, especially as the Seminoles have fallen into mediocrity. In 2008, there have been signs that the future is once again bright in Tallahassee, as the team sits 8-3 on the cusp of an ACC championship game (and a fumble going into the end zone and campus fight away from potentially being 10-1).
What better way to say “We’re back!” than upsetting the Gators and hurting their hopes of making it to Miami in early January?
It won’t be easy, seeing how Florida has been absolutely giving it to their opponents since losing to Ole Miss, winning those seven games by an average score of 53-12—and they played both LSU and Georgia during that stretch.
It would be in Florida’s best interest for the Seminoles to give them a game on Saturday, because I know for a fact Bama will in Atlanta. I don’t think FSU wins, but they will keep it close for at least three quarters.
Not to shamelessly promote the Seminoles’ noticeable gains as a program this season, but wait until 2009, folks. I have a feeling people will be championing this rivalry once again.
Maryland at Boston College
As is the case over in the Coastal, the ACC Atlantic race is pretty simple. If BC defeats Maryland, they are the Atlantic champions. Florida State, meanwhile, will be the world’s biggest Terps fans on Saturday, because they would take the division if Maryland happens to win in Chestnut Hill.
Chris Crane suffered a broken collarbone against Wake, so his absence may be helpful to the Seminoles’ hopes. Backup QB Dominique Davis did lead the Eagles to the winning score but had two fumbles returned for six.
Then again, the Terps looked horrible in all facets of the game against Florida State and may still be icing themselves after all the hard hits they took in that contest.
I know who I will be rooting for as a Noles fan, although I don’t see a clear favorite.
Oregon at Oregon State
They don’t get to celebrate their football program too often in Corvallis, but if the Beavers can upend the loathed Ducks on Saturday night, they will find themselves in the Rose Bowl for the first time in over four decades.
Easier said than done, because Oregon is 8-3 (6-2 in the Pac-10) and features a strong, balanced, spread-based offensive attack. For the most part, Oregon State’s defense has been a strong point in 2008, so it will be intriguing to see how they are able to handle dual-threat QB Jeremiah Masoli.
Boise State should be very interested in this game, assuming they defeat Fresno State to move to 12-0. If Oregon State wins the Pac-10, USC will surely get an at-large berth and squash any hopes the Broncos might have had of getting a second BCS berth for a mid-major.
If the Beavers falter, I think Boise State has to get thrown into the picture for the final at-large (it’s safe to say Utah, an SEC team, and a Big 12 team will all get at-larges into the BCS).
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma took it to Texas Tech, making a case to the pollsters that they deserve a chance at the Big 12 title and potentially a national championship. It still wasn’t enough to leapfrog Texas, so they are either going to: a. need Texas A&M to make Texas look pedestrian, or b. beat the living snot out of their intrastate rivals in the Bedlam Game.
I’m not sure either of those scenarios will evolve, so the Sooners just need to go out and play their game and not worry about the BCS situation.
The offense is basically unstoppable, and I was impressed with the defense against Tech (at least I was until the game became so much of a stinker that I turned over to FSU-Maryland). They will be challenged by the Zac Robinson/Dez Bryant-led offensive attack for the Pokes, so buckle your seatbelts for another high-scoring Big 12 contest.
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH
It’s rivalry weekend. Every game deserves to be watched!
by Hollis Warren… With the President-elect making a call for the formation of a playoff system and ESPN locking up BCS rights through 2014, the talk of scrapping the current system seems to be intensifying as they do each and every year at this time.
While I’d love for an 8- or 16-team playoff to develop, we have an unofficial four-team showdown this year. The title game in Miami is shaping up to be Big 12 champion vs. SEC champion (assuming Missouri doesn’t win the Big 12 championship game). Texas Tech-Oklahoma on Saturday night will go a long way in determining the Big 12’s representation in that game, whether it be one of those teams or Texas. Florida and Alabama are already scheduled to duel in what should be a memorable SEC championship game in two weeks. Also on the horizon this weekend is the final week of Big 10 play, with the yearly rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State and Illinois-Northwestern on tap. We also have two of the big in-state Pac-10 rivalries with Washington-Washington State in a battle for the right not to finish the season at 0-9 in the Pac 10, and The Game between Stanford and Cal. BYU and Utah renew acquaintances as well as the Utes look to solidify their BCS chances.
Ball State at Central Michigan, 7 (ESPN 2)
Miami (FL) at Georgia Tech, 7:30 (ESPN)
Fresno State at San Jose State, 9:30 (ESPN 2)
Michigan at Ohio State, 12 (ABC)
West Virginia at Louisville, 12 (ESPN)
Indiana at Purdue, 12 (ESPN 2)
Syracuse at Notre Dame, 2:30 (NBC)
Washington at Washington State, 3 (FSN)
Boston College at Wake Forest, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN 2)
Michigan State at Penn State, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN 2)
Stanford at California, 3:30 (ABC)
Ole Miss at LSU, 3:30 (CBS)
Air Force at TCU, 3:30 (Versus)
Marshall at Rice, 3:30 (CBS College)
Illinois at Northwestern, 3:30 (BTN)
Cal Poly at Wisconsin, 3:30 (BTN)
Duke at Virginia Tech, 5:30 (ESPN U)
Iowa at Minnesota, 7 (BTN)
Oregon State at Arizona, 7 (Versus)
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 7:15 (ESPN 2)
Florida State at Maryland, 7:45 (ESPN)
Texas Tech at Oklahoma, 8 (ABC)
UNLV at San Diego State, 8 (CBS College)
Connecticut at South Florida, 8 (ESPN)
GAMES OF THE WEEK:
Texas Tech at Oklahoma
This one could be for all the marbles in the Big 12, folks. If TTU wins, they should lock up an undefeated regular season considering how they play Baylor next week, and would stand a win over Mizzou in the Big 12 title game away from a chance at a national championship. If OU wins as I expect, it will throw the conference into disarray. The Sooners, Red Raiders, and Longhorns would all likely finish with one loss (assuming Oklahoma wins the Bedlam Game against OK State next week), and the Big 12 would award the division crown to the highest placed team in the BCS standings at the end of Week 14. The question then becomes whether OU leapfrogs Texas in the standings or not, seeing as how they would have beat a Tech team that Texas lost to. We’ll have to wait and see, but there is a major game to be played in Norman on Saturday night. This one, as most Big 12 contests are, will be focused on the respective offenses, and quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Graham Harrell. We’ve seen 56-20, 39-33, and 45-35 contests in previous Big 12 heavyweight battles this year, but this game may surpass those. The Sooners are averaging 47 points the last three weeks…in the first half alone!
Michigan at Ohio State
It’s rare that this rivalry is played where one squad is not even in bowl contention, but with Michigan suffering through the worst season in program history, that is what we are facing for this Saturday. But if you ask me, Michigan-Ohio State is the best thing going in terms of college football rivalries, and thus deserves your attention if both teams are 11-0 (as was the case in ‘06) or 0-11. The Wolverines and Rich Rodriguez can atone for their first ever 8-loss campaign with a win at the Horseshoe, which would end the Buckeyes’ chances at the Rose Bowl before Penn State ever had the opportunity to do so against Michigan State later in the day.
Michigan State at Penn State
It’s quite simple for JoePa and the Nittany Lions: win this game, and you are Big 10 champions with a likely destination of the Rose Bowl. Lose, and things get interesting. Michigan State would then take the conference crown if Michigan upset Ohio State, while if Ohio State managed to win that game, the Buckeyes would head to Pasadena. Obviously, a lot is on the line in the Big 10’s final weekend of competition in 2008 (I can’t wait until this league starts playing on Thanksgiving weekend in 2010). Penn State will focus on stopping Javon Ringer, and when teams, such as Ohio State, have been able to do that, Michigan State is clearly beatable. Nothing against Brian Hoyer, because he has done a fantastic job as well, but the Spartans live and die by #23.
BYU at Utah
I’ve been raving about the Mountain West all year, but they screwed up big time in putting one of their biggest games of the year on The Mtn., a network you cannot get nationally except on DirecTV. Therefore, most of us are going to miss out on a great, underappreciated rivalry and Utah’s effort to lock up an undefeated season and a likely trip to the BCS. The Utes have a playmaker in QB Brian Johnson, but they live and die by a staunch defense. BYU has one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, but remember what TCU did to Max Hall and company? They held them to 7 points. If Utah can repeat that feat, they will have no problem finishing 12-0.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Lost in the ACC insanity is the fact that the Big East is wide open as well. These two and West Virginia all have one loss, with Rutgers and UConn not far behind. A lot will be decided these next two weeks based on the outcome of Pitt-Cincy and the Backyard Brawl on Black Friday. You still have to like the Pat White-led Mountaineers, but both the Panthers and Bearcats are tough teams to defeat. Dave Wannstedt’s first few years on the job have been less than what was expected, and I think it is crucial for him to at least have Pitt in a position to win the conference championship at the end of next Friday. They have been hot, and I look for the #20 Panthers to narrowly defeat the #19 Bearcats.
Miami (FL) at Georgia Tech
The Canes are all of a sudden in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal, but a loss will send them right back into the pack with about four other teams, including Georgia Tech. It may not appear as if it is the case, but this mess will all be sorted out in the next two weekends of football. If Miami hopes to make their first ACC Championship game, they will have to win on the road in a hostile environment at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Are Robert Marve and company up for the challenge? Miami is young, but they have really come together nicely the past month or so after losing to Florida State. I am intrigued to see how their fast defense handles the Tech triple option, something they do not see very often. I still like Georgia Tech in this game, but in the ACC, you never know.
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH:
Florida State at Maryland
While Miami and Georgia Tech fight it out for first in the Coastal, Maryland and Florida State do so in the Atlantic. Losing to BC at home had to be deflating for the ‘Noles, and now they have to face a Maryland defense that really put a clamp on North Carolina. It’s quite simple for the Terps: win the next two weeks against FSU and at BC, and they go to Tampa. As for FSU, they need to win this one and get a bunch of help.
Boston College at Wake Forest
Along with Florida State and Maryland, BC and Wake also have an excellent shot of winning the division crown. From what I saw of the BC-FSU game, Chris Crane has grown into a reliable leader for the Eagles, and should give them a chance at going back to the conference championship for the second year in a row. I don’t know what is going on in Winston-Salem, but the Deacons have come back to the pack in 2008, with losses in three of their last five.
Oregon State at Arizona
The Beavers are one step closer to Pasadena after defeating Cal at home last week, but this Saturday will be a real test. USC struggled mightily in Tucson a few weeks back, so Oregon State will have their work cut out if they hope to head into one of the biggest Civil War games in quite some time. Arizona, meanwhile, is coming off one of those old-school Pac 10 shootouts, losing 55-45 in Autzen Stadium a week ago. I don’t think this one will see 100 points, but Arizona’s defense is obviously vulnerable.
Ball State at Central Michigan
The Cardinals’ chances of making the BCS are pretty much zero, but they still have a MAC title and undefeated season to play for. The Chippewas have matched Ball State blow for blow in conference play this year, as both enter at a perfect 6-0. However, CMU stands at 8-2 thanks to losses against Georgia and Purdue. This will be an exciting mid-week game tomorrow night, and I urge you to tune in.
Ole Miss at LSU
It’s a light week in the SEC, highlighted by this game. A lot of people do not realize that Ole Miss-LSU once was an intense rivalry, based mainly on the two programs’ dominance of the SEC in the 50s and 60s. Obviously, both have gone through some rough periods since, but LSU has reemerged over the past decade. With Houston Nutt now heading up the show in Oxford, you have to believe the Rebels will follow suit and place some new life into this feud.
Washington at Washington State
Now I know what you are saying: the Apple Cup rivals are a combined 1-19, and that one win was against FCS “powerhouse” Portland State. But these two teams might be so bad that they actually put on a good game. Each will probably play their best game of 2008, and at least build some momentum heading into next season after a year of embarrassing defeats. At least we shouldn’t expect any 66-3 or 69-0 drubbings in what may be a matchup of two of the worst Pac 10 teams in history.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Troy
I think this is the first time all year we have featured a Sun Belt Conference game in this spot, but the Ragin’ Cajuns and Trojans enter this one tied atop the league. The winner will find themselves headed to the New Orleans Bowl as league champion, while second place is not guaranteed an automatic bowl berth. Troy has to be pretty upset after blowing a 31-3 lead at LSU, and I look for them to come out fired up ready to prove the first three quarters last Saturday night were no fluke.
by Hollis Warren… I’ll be honest, there really isn’t a marquee game this upcoming week. And there aren’t many more that I would even consider intriguing.
Rare for mid-November, I know.
The situation is so bleak that College GameDay is going to Tallahassee…for a game between two mid-pack MEAC teams (the MEAC is one of the worst conferences in FCS).
While you stomach Week 12, keep your head up for brighter times ahead.
Next weekend, we’ll have Texas Tech-Oklahoma, Michigan-Ohio State (which would be a big game even if both were entering at 0-11), and Utah-BYU.
Then, Thanksgiving weekend we’ll see our typical onslaught of bitter rivalries, followed by conference championship games on the first weekend of December.
Rest up this Saturday for the next three, folks.
Ball State at Miami (OH), 7 (ESPN 2)
Central Michigan at Northern Illinois, 8 (ESPN 2)
Buffalo at Akron, 7 (ESPN U)
Virginia Tech at Miami (FL), 7:30 (ESPN)
Wyoming at UNLV, 9 (CBS College)
Cincinnati at Louisville, 8 (ESPN 2)
Notre Dame vs. Navy in Baltimore, 12 (CBS)
Ohio State at Illinois, 12 (ESPN)
Northwestern at Michigan, 12 (ESPN 2)
Indiana at Penn State, 12 (BTN)
Purdue at Iowa, 12 (BTN)
Texas at Kansas, 12:30 (FSN)
North Carolina at Maryland, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN)
Minnesota at Wisconsin, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN)
California at Oregon State, 3:30 (ABC)
South Carolina at Florida, 3:30 (CBS)
Wake Forest at NC State, 3:30 (ESPN U)
BYU at Air Force, 3:30 (CBS College)
Missouri at Iowa State, 6:30 (FSN)
Connecticut at Syracuse, 7 (ESPN U)
USC at Stanford, 7 (Versus)
Mississippi State at Alabama, 7:45 (ESPN)
Boston College at Florida State, 8 (ABC)
Oklahoma State at Colorado, 8 (ABC)
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 8 (ESPN 2)
Tulsa at Houston, 8 (CBS College)
UCLA at Washington, 10:15 (FSN)
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Virginia Tech at Miami (FL)
While this won’t be a battle of Top 25 teams, as we have seen so many times when these teams were members of the Big East and perennial powers of their current conference, the ACC, this should still be a riveting game tomorrow night.
The Hokies and Canes are tied with North Carolina for first in the ACC Coastal, and I think it is safe to say the loser here can kiss their chances of winning a conference title goodbye.
Va. Tech finally put it all together last Thursday against Maryland, and they will benefit from the diminished homefield advantage that Dolphin Stadium provides compared to the old Orange Bowl.
Miami, meanwhile, has been hot, winning four in a row. It appears as if Randy Shannon is getting this program back on the right track, although he could use a division title in just his second year.
I like Virginia Tech in this game. They have been laying low all year, but I believe they are ready to jump out of the bushes and bite some people. The talent level isn’t what it has been in the past, but as long as Beamer Ball is in play, watch out for the Hokies.
South Carolina at Florida
It’s always going to be a thrill when the Ol’ Ball Coach is in the Swamp, even when he is on the other sideline. He will go up against the equally asshole-ish Urban Meyer, who apparently read the Spurrier book on running up the score on helpless opponents.
Anyways, the Gators have nothing to play for SEC-wise until the conference title game on Dec. 6 in Atlanta against ‘Bama. But with three blowout wins in a row, Florida does have itself right back in the center of the national title picture.
Following this game, they have FCS opponent The Citadel and a dangerous finale against Florida State over Thanksgiving.
But they cannot overlook the Gamecocks.
Tim Tebow has put himself right back in the center of the Heisman talk, yet remember SC’s defense is one of the nation’s best. Five total touchdowns may not be feasible this week, as it was against Vandy.
South Carolina took the Gators to the wire during their national title season two years ago and beat them in Columbia in 2005, but the way Florida is rolling, don’t expect the same luck this weekend.
North Carolina at Maryland
In the craziness that is the 2008 ACC football season, UNC leads the Coastal Division, while Maryland sits a half game back in the Atlantic.
The Terps have the chance to take the race into their own hands over the next two weeks with impact home games against the Heels and Florida State, before closing in Boston.
On the other hand, once this game is in the books, the difficult part of the North Carolina schedule is in the past. Sure, UNC is a big rival of both NC State and Duke, but the way they have played in their first nine games, I have a hard time seeing the Tarheels losing to either of those squads.
The Heels appear to be improving from week to week as well, judging by the fact they stomped Georgia Tech a week ago.
Maryland definitely will provide a difficult challenge, but they need to show up and play like they did against Cal and Wake, not how they did against Middle Tennessee and Virginia.
California at Oregon State
Unbeknownst to most is the fact that if the Beavers win out, they will be the Pac 10’s representative in the Rose Bowl by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker over USC (who figured that Sept. 25 loss would come back to bite USC in a way that would lock them out of the BCS?).
The last time Oregon State University was represented in the Rose Bowl, the year was 1965, Lyndon Johnson was president, and the Beatles were all the rage.
But first things first, OSU must “come together” and beat three tough teams in Cal, Arizona, and Civil War rival Oregon.
The Bears played USC tough last week but could not generate enough offense to win. Oregon State also possesses a solid defense, which could make it tough on whomever starts at QB for Jeff Tedford.
Cal’s defense did a solid job of slowing down the Trojans’ multiple weapons, and will once again have their hands full with freshman RB Jacquizz Rogers, his brother James, and an Oregon State passing game that has found its legs behind QB Lyle Moevao and star receiver Sammie Stroughter.
USC at Stanford
We all remember last year: A 1-3 Stanford team that eventually ends up 4-8 goes into the Coliseum, scores a last minute TD, and upsets the No. 2 team in the land.
I’m sure the Trojans still relive that loss every day, but now is their chance to put it in the vault forever.
Look for them to come out fired up, but as they have already proven in 2008, struggling on the road is a definite possibility (the loss at Oregon State, only beating Arizona by 7).
Stanford seems to have taken that monumental upset from last year and run with it, as Jim Harbaugh’s squad stands on the cusp of bowl eligibility.
The Cardinal have not been to a bowl since 2001, folks. Of course, they will have to either do the unthinkable again this Saturday, or beat Cal in another in-state rivalry.
Stanford is a tough cookie, and will give USC fits, but I don’t see history repeating itself in this instance.
Other games to keep an eye on
Notre Dame vs. Navy
The Middies finally ended their four decade-long losing streak in this series last season in South Bend, but let’s face it, even Duke and Stanford played the Irish tough in 2007.
Let’s see if Navy can go out there and beat what is now a halfway decent Notre Dame squad.
With the Irish falling fast at 5-4, Jabba the Weis will take over playcalling this Saturday. That could be a good thing for Jimmy Clausen and Co., but they very well may lose again to Navy if they cannot slow down the triple option effectively.
Texas at Kansas
With Penn State’s loss in Iowa City, Texas is now back up to numero tres in the BCS rankings.
It’s possible that the Horns could play in the national title game without even battling for the conference championship, assuming Texas Tech loses in the conference title game after beating Oklahoma next week.
If Tech loses to OU, the highest ranked team in the BCS standings, likely Texas, would represent the Big 12 South in the conference championship as the result of winning a three-way tiebreaker.
But Texas cannot be dreaming up BCS and conference championship possibilities in their head against a dangerous Kansas team.
Georgia at Auburn
This is the seventh-most played rivalry in college football history, and the game usually has SEC title implications on the line to go along with bragging rights.
But there won’t be a conference title on the line in 2008, with Auburn still needing a win over either Georgia or ‘Bama to become bowl eligible, and the Bulldogs already eliminated from SEC East contention by Florida.
But you never know what will happen in big-time rivalry games, especially down in SEC country. Tommy Tuberville’s job may be on the line, so look for Auburn to be ready.
BYU at Air Force
Before having the opportunity to ruin their bitter rival’s chances at a BCS berth next week, BYU must take care of business in Colorado Springs against an Air Force squad that doesn’t get the same attention as the Cougars, Utes, or TCU, but is 5-1 in conference play nevertheless.
Before the MWC season closes next Saturday (a week early for some reason), let me say that I wish this conference would get a TV deal with ESPN so those without Versus or CBS College Sports could see its brand of football.
If the teams keep up the great level of play, I don’t know how the MWC will be denied an automatic BCS berth.
Arizona at Oregon
The Wildcats are bowl eligible for the first time in a decade, thanks to a win over the Pac 10’s resident high school team, Washington State (although the win probably shouldn’t count seeing how the final was only 59-28. Haha.).
Judging by some of the teams in the bottom half of the conference, six wins should be enough to lock up a postseason appearance, but this is a team hungry for more after 10 years of futility.
But trips to Autzen Stadium are never a picnic.
Boston College at Florida State
I’ve had the opportunity to watch most of my Seminoles’ games since they entered into ACC play, and let me say this: I have not seen the team play this well in years.
Not to gloat, but with a majority of the playmakers returning next season, this team could be the Penn State of 2009.
But first things first, as FSU still has aspirations of playing in the ACC Championship.
BC is not getting the attention they were during the Matt Ryan Sweepstakes last year, but this team plays sound defense. After shutting out Notre Dame, let’s see how they handle Christian Ponder and the FSU offense.
by Hollis Warren… This is turning into one of the stranger Silly Seasons I can recall. Of course, Silly Season is one of the more youthful NASCAR traditions, so I have a greater recollection of each and every one. When the term really burst onto the scene in the mid-’90s, Silly Season practically coincided with the offseason.
Most deals for new sponsors and drivers were reached between Atlanta in early November and Speedweeks in mid-February, with a little time off to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s in between.
Over time, it has evolved into almost a year-round tradition, and 2009 deals were being talked about as early as March, when Cheerios announced they would not return to Petty Enterprises.
However, the 2009 Silly Season has been intriguing. We had the typical blockbuster deals that stole headlines during the late spring and summer months (i.e. Martin to Hendrick, Tony Stewart leaving Gibbs, Cheerios to RCR, etc.), but the sponsorship and driver contracts reserved for some of the lesser known teams, which usually come during the fall, have been noticeably absent.
Obviously, the economic situation is scaring a lot of potential partners away from sponsoring a team. When the stock market tanks the way it did in October indicating a bear market, it is probably pretty difficult to justify spending $20+ million on a car going around in circles to shareholders. As a result, we may be in for a blast from the past: a Silly Season that goes well into the new year.
This is going to be a situation that bares close observation. It appears as if the powers of the sport (JGR, RCR, Hendrick, and Roush-Fenway) are all set for the new season. Most of the second-tier teams (Penske, GEM, Red Bull) are getting there as well.
Where it really gets interesting is the so-called third tier teams, who in addition to having to find sponsors in a difficult market, are having to explain to them why they are performing so poorly. Desperation to keep racing may be starting to set in, as rumors of several mergers have surfaced.
Regardless, how these teams fare in the acquisition and/or sponsorship hunt will determine exactly how many cars run full-time in 2009 (hint: it will definitely be less than 43). Just for the heck of it, here is what I see when I look into my imaginary crystal ball for the teams on the fringe. Listed first, however, are the teams who are squared away on the driver and sponsor front:
Mark Martin (Kellogg’s/Carquest/Cheez-It)
Jeff Gordon (DuPont/Pepsi)
Jimmie Johnson (Lowe’s)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard)
David Ragan (UPS)
Greg Biffle (3M)
Matt Kenseth (DeWalt Tools/USG/Carhartt/R&L Carriers)
Jamie McMurray (Crown Royal/Irwin Tools)
Carl Edwards (Aflac)
Richard Childress Racing:
Casey Mears (Jack Daniel’s)
Kevin Harvick (Shell/Pennzoil)
Jeff Burton (Caterpillar)
Clint Bowyer (Cheerios/Betty Crocker)
Joe Gibbs Racing:
Denny Hamlin (FedEx)
Kyle Busch (M&Ms/Mars/Interstate Batteries)
Joey Logano (Home Depot)
Kurt Busch (Miller Lite)
David Stremme (Alltel)
Sam Hornish Jr. (Mobil 1)
Tony Stewart (Old Spice/Office Depot)
Ryan Newman (US Army/DirecTV?/Burger King?)
(Note on Newman: I read on another blog somewhere (unfortunately I forget which blog it was) that a picture of Stewart and Newman’s 2009 die-casts showed DirecTV and Burger King stickers on the B post)
Kasey Kahne (Budweiser)
Reed Sorenson (TBA)
Elliott Sadler (Best Buy/Stanley Tools/Siemens)
(Note on Sorenson: I don’t think GEM will have trouble piecing together sponsorship for the 10 car in 2009 like they did in 2008)
Red Bull Racing:
Scott Speed (Red Bull)
Brian Vickers (Red Bull)
Michael Waltrip Racing:
David Reutimann (Aaron’s)
Marcos Ambrose (Little Debbie/Clorox/Kingsford)*technical alliance with MWR through JTG-Daugherty Racing
Michael Waltrip (NAPA)
Furniture Row Racing:
Joe Nemechek (Furniture Row)
Now the teams with uncertain futures:
This is a sad situation. David Zucker and Boston Ventures were brought in as part-owners to take this team back to prominence, and they cannot even sell the Petty name or the 2000 series champion to obtain sponsorship for 2009.
Marathon Oil will likely be back with whoever drives the second car, while Kyle Petty takes Wells Fargo somewhere else after an apparent falling out with the new ownership. Talks of a merger with either Ganassi or TEI persist, but I think this team will tough it out as an independent entity at least for one more season. They just need to do a better job selling the association with the King.
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
Chip Ganassi obviously has no idea of what he is doing when it comes to his NASCAR teams. Either that, or he is just too busy taking care of his other racing enterprises. Texaco ends their long-standing sponsorship in NASCAR at the end of the year, leaving Target to sponsor one car and Wrigley for half on another.
You’d think Ganassi and Sabates could pull something together for half a season with a Hispanic-friendly sponsor on JPM’s car, with a yet-to-be-named driver in the 41 (Allmendinger has to be the favorite, but don’t count out Mayfield or Yeley just yet). As for a merger, there may be talks right now, but I fail to see anything materializing. Chip is a demanding fella after all.
Doug Yates has to consider it a coup to land Paul Menard and his daddy’s deep pockets, but sponsorship has still been hard to come by for Gilliland and Kvapil. Gilliland’s stupidity in the closing laps at Texas last week was the latest in a long line of evidence that shows he does not belong in Cup, but if anybody doesn’t return, it would be the unsigned Kvapil.
Still, I think Yates will be able to use this season’s successes to pull in just enough money to run three full-time outfits in 2009.
Dale Earnhardt Inc.
On the day Teresa dies, I am sure Dale Sr. will greet her at the gates of Heaven with the one-finger salute he gave so many drivers in his days as a driver. She has royally screwed up her late husband’s biggest dream. Junior is gone, Mark Martin was there (albeit for only a year) and is leaving, and Truex won’t be far behind.
Right now, they have one fully sponsored car with Truex and three blank ones, which is a problem. I’d think Almirola would be an easy sell because he is young and Hispanic-American, but apparently people are not that high on him.
Losing Menard’s money hurts, and Smith has yet to show much. TEI is struggling to hang on, and will probably be lucky to field two fully sponsored machines in 2009. Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fans have always cherished the team he built for his son, but now that Dale Jr. has moved to Hendrick and Teresa has successfully run the place into the ground, I’m sure they won’t mind if the team merges with Ganassi or someone else.
But pulling off a deal will be difficult, and I do not see it happening, at least yet.
Hall of Fame Racing
Surprisingly, this team is apparently not fully sponsored for 2009. I thought Texas Instruments was locked in for another year. Their performance indicates finding additional backing will be tough, and with the way the car has ran with everyone from J.J. Yeley to Joey Logano and Ken Schrader, I’m not sure of too many drivers who will be desperate enough to head there. This team may be on the chopping block before the end of ‘09.
The Wood Brothers
I’ll echo what I said about Petty Enterprises: this is sad. A technical alliance with JTG went awry, and a year later, the team is losing longtime sponsor Little Debbie and a potential future driver in Marcos Ambrose. The Air Force may also not be returning. Motorcraft apparently will be back, but with Ford making budget cuts to their racing programs, I find them being able to foot the bill for a full season unlikely.
Driver-wise, Elliott is supposed to be retiring for good, but is now leaving the door open to run a few races with the team in ‘09. Jon Wood is simply over his head in Sprint Cup. I wonder if Scott Riggs and State Water Heaters would come as a package deal to the 21 team? State and Motorcraft would likely be enough to run a tightly budgeted full-time effort next season.
If something doesn’t come together in a hurry, we may not be seeing one of the series’ longest standing supporters at the track every week in 2009. What a freaking shame.
Bill Davis Racing
Caterpillar sponsored this team through thick and thin, including a 2002 win in the Daytona 500 with Ward Burton. Now, they will be leaving to sponsor his younger brother at RCR.
Dave Blaney is not yet re-signed, and a lot of what happens will depend on not only sponsorship, but also if Davis is able to sell the team as has been speculated. There was rumors of a GEM/BDR merger, with a four-car outfit under the Toyota banner, but nothing has evolved yet. If that were to happen, I could see Allmendinger sliding into the 22 car, or whatever number it would become.
Davis is planning on running four truck teams in 2009, but I think he may have to sell out to someone else if he wants to stick around on the Cup side.
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