KEVIN CARTER: 4 UNBEATENS GOOD FOR COLLEGE GAME
By KEVIN CARTER
ESPNU Sports Analyst
We still have four undefeated teams at the top of the BCS rankings, and I'm hoping they will remain that way. Having four major-conference teams finish unbeaten would validate the system that's going to replace the current BCS, and would dictate the need for playoffs.
If it happens this year someone obviously is going to be left out in the cold. Only two of those teams are going to make it to the national championship game. The blame will be put on the computer rankings or whatever, but right now the system is a little unfair.
If Kansas State runs the table they deserve a chance, but Big 12 teams are at a big disadvantage because there's no conference championship game. The same is true for Notre Dame, if the Irish win out.
Having said that, I think the chances are slim to none that those two teams plus Alabama and Oregon will all finish undefeated. Every week in the studio at ESPNU we look at the list of unbeaten teams, and it's dwindling. College football is played with so much emotion that even for the great teams it's tough to beat every single opponent.
This year, I'd be naive to think it will all work out with four unbeatens still standing at the end, but I can hope.
Now on to this week's outlook for those top four teams:
N0. 1 ALABAMA AT NO. 5 LSU
I think LSU is on the warpath back to relevance. They had the early stumble against Florida, but Zach Mettenberger's steady progress gives them the quarterback they need to make that offense go. He's making the throws that Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee couldn't make in the national championship game a year ago.
Since then LSU has strived to become multi-dimensional, and not just a running team. LSU knew it had to go that route after what A.J. McCarron did to them in the BCS championship. He was surgical, and he still is, and I think he'll be the difference in this game. Even if you don't like Alabama you have to be a fan of the way McCarron is playing, getting this deep into the season without throwing a single interception.
I don't think either team is going to dominate the line of scrimmage, and play-calling will be a big factor. But in the end I think McCarron is still the obstacle that LSU can't overcome, even at home.
NO. 24 OKLAHOMA STATE AT NO. 2 KANSAS STATE
Bill Snyder really has Kansas State playing together. Their opponents aren't on the same page nearly as much and Kansas State knows that if they stick together the other team eventually will make mistakes that turn the game.
I played in two Pro Bowls, and it was amazing to look around and see all that talent, but I've always said I wouldn't trade my Super Bowl-winning team with the Rams for any of those Pro Bowl teams. A true team is better than a band of all-stars, and that's what Snyder has at K State.
They've been killing people and I think it will be no different this weekend. Collin Klein understands the spread offense and how to exploit defenses that can't account for a running quarterback. Following in the footsteps of Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, he's part of this generation that's revolutionizing the quarterback position in college football. And there aren't a lot of powerful defenses in the Big 12 that can stop him.
NO. 4 OREGON AT NO. 17 USC
To have any chance to get back in the BCS picture USC has to beat Oregon, but I don't see it happening. USC can match up with skill players, but the problem is their defensive front is smaller and inexperienced.
Many people think Oregon just has a lot of skill players, and it's their scheme that makes their offensive attack work. But up front, on both sides of the ball, Oregon has really recruited well. They went out and found guys with the size and strength of traditional USC linemen.
Oregon recognized that need after getting beaten by Auburn and LSU in the last two years. The biggest difference in those games was up front, and Oregon has recruited for exactly that. In this game Oregon will have a big advantage in the trenches, and I'm hard-pressed to see USC scoring much, because you can't score when your offense is on the sidelines.
PITTSBURGH AT NO. 3 NOTRE DAME
Coming off Notre Dame's big victory at Oklahoma, this is one of those set-up games where they could stumble. Ray Graham has been a good weapon running and catching the ball for Pitt, but they've been up and down and just don't have enough to stop Notre Dame.
The Irish have won the same way all season. Everett Golson and Tommy Rees are a solid 1-2 punch that rotates at quarterback, and although the speculation was whether they could score they did just that against Oklahoma. And with their defense they don't need many points.
Football is about your formula against someone else's formula, and right now Pitt doesn't have the equation to measure up against a team that's building confidence as it accumulates wins.
HEISMAN RACE IS DOWN TO TWO
You can talk about intangibles, and maybe make a case that Notre Dame's Manti Te'o is in the Heisman race with his great defense. But to me there are two main candidates left -- Collin Klein and A.J. McCarron.
These are two quarterbacks with very different playing styles. Klein runs the spread, and although he's had only one 300-yard passing game he's throwing for 200 yards every week while also running for close to 100. McCarron, as I said before, has been absolutely surgical this season.
They've made the Heisman ballot a short list.
Until a couple of weeks ago I was certain the trophy would go to Geno Smith. But with back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State it's as if the blueprint now exists on how to beat him.
When your formula comes up short and you lose confidence the team must help you bounce back and regain your stride. But West Virginia has almost melted down, and the coaches haven't done a whole lot to help Smith. They haven't simplified that game plan and made things easier for him, so I wouldn't put all the blame on Geno.
How I see some of the other individual awards:
Dick Butkus award for best linebacker, and the Lombardi award for best LB or lineman: These have to go to Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. They produce game-changing plays, and those are what separate you as a defensive player. Whoever wins the Butkus award, I think the Lombardi has to go the other, so neither one gets left out.
Fred Biletnikoff award for best receiver: There are so many good candidates across the country. But two at USC might have an edge, because Robert Woods just broke the Trojans record for career catches, and Marqise Lee set a Pac-12 record for most yards in a single game.
Jim Thorpe award for defensive backs: I really like Mississippi's Jonathan Banks. His team had a rough game against Alabama, but he played well. He's still playing lights out, and his one-on-one coverage shows he's NFL-ready right now.