Surprise Contenders Seek to Crash BCS

Matt Matsumura

The 2007-2008 college football season has finally arrived in full swing. The season officially started about a month ago, but cupcakes aside, Division 1-A heavyweights have played few meaningful games. Not counting the Michigan, Louisville and Wisconsin debacles, Sun Belt and 1-AA opponents usually don’t play on an even field with BCS contenders. The end of September means the beginning of the conference schedule, and therefore competitive play.

After early-season slaughters of traditional powerhouses turned sacrificial lambs known as Miami, Nebraska, Virginia Tech and Tennessee (twice), every college football fan in the country knows about the six biggest contenders for the BCS Championship. LSU, USC, Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia and California have emerged as the clear favorites to challenge for a spot in the big game. None of the six register as much of a surprise, as talent and tradition would indicate. But just behind the top six, and eternally talented Texas and Ohio State, lie several upstart programs and big questions. The darling of the group is Rutgers, whose football program experienced a shocking revival under Super-Coach Greg Schiano last year. Not to disappoint, the Scarlet Knights return with Heisman hopeful RB Ray Rice and a much-improved QB Mike Teel to make a very competitive bid for the Big East’s BCS slot this season. Here’s a closer look at Rutgers and the other surprise contenders:

No. 10 Rutgers (4-0)

QB Mike Teel leads the country in passing efficiency. Not Louisville’s Brian Brohm, Hawaii’s Colt Brennan or Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, but the oft-maligned backfield-mate of RB Ray Rice. Sure, Rutgers hasn’t played college football’s best (Buffalo, Navy, Norfolk State), but the Scarlet Knights came into the season with an improved passing attack that features Teel and WR Tiquan Underwood. Underwood has already tallied 500 receiving yards. Rice is picking up where he left off from last year, with 431 yards and eight touchdowns thus far. Like last year, the Knights are playing solid defense. Team New Jersey won’t face a serious challenge until they play the Bulls from South Florida on October 18th. The Big East title will be on the line the week after when Rutgers hosts West Virginia. With the exception of a dangerous game at Louisville’s Papa John’s Stadium, the Knights play their biggest foes at home. Rutgers has the talent and schedule to complete the miracle.

Projected Finish: 12-0, Big East Champion

No. 11 Oregon (4-0)

QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart have lit the West Coast on fire. Dixon is completing 68 percent of his passes for 932 yards and 11 touchdowns. The dual-threat also has 291 yards rushing with four touchdowns. His option partner Stewart has 503 yards and four touchdowns on just 65 carries. Not surprisingly, the Ducks are averaging over 48 points per contest and have topped 50 in their past two. There is no question that the uniform-challenged fowl can put up points, but can they stop anyone? Oregon’s defense allowed 31 points to Jim Harbaugh’s slinging Stanford Cardinals in the first half. If Michigan’s defense were faster than airport security, RB Mike Hart would have tallied at least 200 yards to keep the game competitive against the Oregon sieve. Oregon will outscore most of their opponents, but not everyone in the talented Pac-10.

Projected Finish: 11-1, Co-Pac-10 Champions

No. 12 Boston College (4-0)

Former Head Coach Tom O’Brien left Chestnut Hill on bad terms, basically telling the country that he did all he could for the Eagles and that greener pastures lay ahead of him at North Carolina State. Well, here we are and BC is 4-0 including a resounding win over O’Brien’s 1-3 Wolfpack. New offensive coordinator Steve Logan opened up the Eagle attack that features possible first-rounder QB Matt Ryan. The 6’5″ 220 pound senior commands a downfield attack with a cannon arm. Boston College recorded their first impressive victory when they dispatched Georgia Tech in Atlanta 24-10, shutting down All-American candidate RB Tashard Choice. Three more conference wins may be enough to land them in the ACC Championship game.

Projected Finish: 10-2

No. 14 Kentucky (4-0)

Andre’ Woodson is a steady quarterback who rarely ever throws interceptions. Fortunately, Woodson’s streak of avoidance has taken a back seat to the impressive start of the Wildcats. Kentucky started the bluegrass party with a classic win over in-state rival Louisville in Lexington and followed with an even more impressive thrashing of the Darren McFaddens in Fayetteville. The Wildcats can do more than just sling it with the blue-chipper Woodson, as RB Rafael Little has established a formidable ground attack. Kentucky is worlds better under the tutelage of Rich Brooks, but this is still the SEC. Fortunately, Kentucky gets both LSU and Florida at home, but they are still LSU and Florida.

Projected Finish: 9-3