Time to look back the first half of the season

Editor's Note: Sitting here at the midpoint of the 2005 season, Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde talked about everything from their preseason predictions to this year's biggest surprises to handing out some midseason awards.

Ivan: My first question: Can you spell Posluszny?

Pat: No I cannot. But I can spell Paterno. We've had 40 years of practice. It's very relevant again.

Ivan: It's P-O-S-L-U-S-Z-N-Y. Pronounced: Con-lan, or Ar-ring-ton. Are they the biggest surprise? Probably not.

Pat: I don't know. I think they might be. They had losing records four of last five years. They had reason for optimism. But the jury was way out on Michael Robinson. The freshmen looked good, but they were still freshmen.

The one thing they haven't done is go play in a legitimate snake pit. Their only road win is against Northwestern. But what they've done at home is really impressive. The old-time Penn State rocking atmosphere is definitely back.

Ivan: Are they good enough to win the Big Ten?

Pat: They have to go to Ann Arbor. Is Michigan in the tank? Penn State has got to go to Michigan State. They get Wisconsin at home. It's awfully tough to beat Penn State in State College at this point. And it's not like Penn State has to go to Tuscaloosa and Austin to be undefeated. Penn State doesn't even play Iowa.

Ivan: I like Penn State a lot, but I haven't written off anyone in the league with one loss yet.

Pat: Speaking of Ohio State and Iowa, how did we do with our preseason Big Ten hierarchy?

Ivan: I was hoping you had forgotten that.

Pat: At least we weren't alone in saying it was a Ohio State-Michigan-Iowa-Purdue.

Ivan: I will pat us on the back for casting doubt upon Purdue. But keep in mind, we're all guilty of seeing what happens early and assuming that's how it's going to be. Once again, Iowa, after a slow start, is creeping along. At this time last season, no one took them seriously, either.

Maybe Ferentz has that whole NFL mentality, where you play four games and then you start your season.

Pat: Too bad -- the BCS counts those four.

Ivan: If you're talking surprise, wouldn't you say 2-3 Oklahoma is a bigger surprise than 6-0 Penn State?

Pat: For them to be completely off the radar before September, and then lose by 33 to their old whipping boy Mack, absolutely.

Ivan: What did we miss there?

Pat: I think we took for granted Stoops' reloading capacity. Maybe we underestimated the impact of the losses on the offensive line and we all thought Rhett Bomar would be more advanced.

Ivan: Actually, I thought Paul Thompson would be the guy at quarterback, precisely because of what we saw Saturday: a young guy overwhelmed and not ready. What concerns me is that it looks like Stoops took for granted his reloading capacity.

Pat: Maybe his confidence in his program is such that he minimized some of the issues they had.

So how about those overhyped, overlooked lads in South Bend?

Ivan: Can you be overhyped and overlooked at the same time?

Pat: At Notre Dame, you can always be overhyped.

Ivan: I'm still, if not skeptical, semi-skeptical. Is there a word for that?

Pat: You got one foot on the bandwagon.

Ivan: And the other is scraping on the curb, torn and bleeding. Oh, before I forget: Can you spell Samardzija?

Pat: Great season for ethnic names.

Ivan: We're going to get into this more in depth later in the week, but the thought of the Irish secondary against that Trojan offense gives me great pause.

Pat: Why, because they haven't caught up with any receivers since 1996?

Ivan: It's been clear the last two years that speed in the secondary against the Trojans is a substantial issue.

Pat: This year, Notre Dame has played and beaten three teams that have flat-out underachieved: Pittsburgh, Michigan, Purdue. The Irish did beat them all on the road when people thought those teams were legit.

Ivan: I don't know. I think I'm going to pounce on that whole idea, that there's a little too much sand in that concrete foundation. And that will be the end of my construction metaphors. Speaking of surprises, what about Alabama? How strong is that foundation?

Pat: That's another team that hasn't tested itself on the road.

Ivan: And won't until Auburn. One thing we missed is how favorably the schedule sets up for them.

Pat: Penn State, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Alabama: all have played a lot of home games.

Ivan: Which means what down the stretch?

Pat: A loss down the stretch that folks don't foresee.

Ivan: In Alabama's case, there are two schools of thought. One, the stars will line up, this defense is as good as the 1992 defense, and people will underestimate them all the way. Back here on Planet Earth, I think the depth issue will be too great to overcome, and I think Alabama fans understand that.

Pat: They can see it is bouncing back well, but it is not all the way back.

Ivan: In the SEC East, Georgia is one loss to Florida away from not being in control, but it sure feels like that race is all but over.

Pat: We need to keep that door open. As good as Mark Richt as been against Tennessee -- he's 3-0 in Knoxville -- he has struggled against Florida.

Ivan: I was really impressed with the way their offensive line handled the Vol defensive front. So let's get back to surprises. What about Texas Tech?

Pat: I don't think they're capable of beating Texas in Austin next week.

Ivan: I don't think they're capable of beating Texas in Lubbock.

Pat: Back to Notre Dame, sort of. Do you see any chinks in USC's armor?

Ivan: I see a lot of chinks. I'm just not convinced they're big enough to run that offense aground. I think Notre Dame could pull the upset. But by and large, I think Pete Carroll has done a great job of hiding the problems in his defense, and making adjustments as games go along. It's a little simplistic, but I think it's easy to forget he's a hell of a defensive coach.

Pat: Between personnel losses and injuries, there's been a lot to overcome. If I'm not mistaken, they have still won every game by double digits. There have been a few squeamish moments, but it's not like they had to make a game-winning drive. Which do you think is their toughest game remaining?

Ivan: Notre Dame will be tough, but I think UCLA. I think the Bruins are very good. Those guys remember that last year, when UCLA wasn't very good, they played USC to the final drive. That comeback Saturday night against Cal in fourth quarter ...

Pat: ... said a lot.

Ivan: That's the kind of game that can really boost you. Their schedule sets up well.

Pat: They get Arizona State at home and they skip Oregon.

Ivan: I've been very bullish on UCLA. The constant belittling of the Pac-10 bored me for awhile. Now it's really beginning to annoy me.

Pat: Take off your Stanford sweatshirt. One thing about UCLA: they haven't left Southern California all year. Their only road game was at San Diego State. That's my caveat. Is Washington State good enough to beat them in Pullman? Other than that, there's Stanford and Arizona left on road games.

Ivan: Maybe there's a story in this whole schedule thing.

Pat: Yeah, How to Ride the Schedule to 5-0.

Ivan: With the 12-game schedule returning for good next season, and everyone trying to add another home game, that should exacerbate the whole issue.

Pat: We haven't gotten to the ACC at all.

Ivan: Is there anybody other than Virginia Tech?

Pat: Yeah, sure. I was a major Florida State doubter going into season. Nothing I saw against Miami changed my mind. Since then, my hat's off to Drew Weatherford. He has really progressed and the defense is sensational.

Ivan: I've talked to coaches who lost to the 'Noles and came away very impressed with defense, but saying the offense was not of championship caliber. But what Weatherford did against Wake in the fourth quarter was impressive. Wake's a pretty good team.

Pat: He doesn't have to be Superman.

Ivan: All he has to be is the ol' Jay Barker, speaking of Alabama. As a sophomore, Barker was 4-for-18 against Miami in the Sugar Bowl when Alabama won the 1992 national championship.

So, you see Virginia Tech and Florida State in the ACC Championship Game?

Pat: Tech looks great, but they have a couple of land mines in their schedule, Boston College and Miami.

Ivan: At least those games are at home. I think the Hokies have to watch out for Maryland. Typical Ralph Friedgen team, getting better each week.

Pat: I have been very impressed with Marcus Vick. He's making great throws. He's much more of a pocket guy than his brother.

Ivan: The Hokies have a great defense and an up-and-coming offense. What's not to like?

Pat: Plus the usual special teams.

Ivan: So, we love USC. We love Texas. We love Virginia Tech. That's one love too many.

Pat: We have a love triangle. And those turn out messy.

Ivan: If you look down the road, the best games on Dec. 3 will be Virginia Tech-Florida State and Georgia-Alabama, if we assume that Alabama wins the SEC West.

Pat: After watching LSU's giveback to Tennessee, I'll stick with Alabama.

Ivan: But we can't forget the other game on Dec. 3, for a berth in the BCS: UConn-Louisville. I will say this, UConn may not be ready for BCS prime time, but they're coming. I think Randy Edsall is a very good coach. His team is young, and yet they are 4-1.

Pat: And Louisville will beat them by 35 points. I agree with everything you said about UConn. Louisville completely ruined their season against South Florida. They will never win that goodwill back. But what they did against North Carolina (69-14) shows how much talent they have. They have the most productive defensive player in the nation in Elvis Dumervil.

Ivan: And now, drum roll please, your coach of the half-year, which is better than your half-coach of the year:

Pat: I would have said Charlie Weis of Notre Dame last week, but Joe Paterno, gee ... I'll say Paterno, as much for what he's not doing as what he's doing. One thing I heard in Happy Valley is that he's keeping his hands off the play-calling and letting Galen Hall do it.

Ivan: Maybe Galen Hall is the coach of the half-year.

Pat: Get your Frank Broyles Award (best assistant coach) list ready.

Ivan: We all feared that Joe would be too stubborn to make the staff changes he needed to make. And yet the guy that really helps him is another older coach, an ex-Paterno player who's been around the block several times. And Hall revitalizes the whole deal.

My guys would be Paterno and Shula. I think Paterno has one more quality win than Shula at this point.

Player of the Half-Year?

Pat: Until proven otherwise, it's a Trojan of your favorite persuasion. I'll go with Bush because Leinart already has the hardware. White is coming up hard on the outside.

Ivan: Your Kentucky roots are showing. My Player of the Half-Year gets into the whole issue of Most Outstanding Player vs. Most Valuable Player. The MOP is Leinart. The MVP is Vince Young. That said, Leinart is simply more efficient. I would pick him. It's a lot of fun to watch Texas and what Young means to them.

Pat: Not just from the standpoint of physical skill. His immense confidence is permeating through that team.

What do you think of instant replay? It's largely been a non-factor. It's probably helped.

Ivan: I think it's comical to watch officials on questionable calls. They walk up to the line of scrimmage like they all have leg cramps. Coaches have complained to me that the officials are willing to let the eye in the sky make the decision instead of making it themselves. We can only hope that once everybody gets used to this that everyone will pick up the pace again.

Game of the Half-Year? The best I've seen is Texas-Ohio State. The best atmosphere was Alabama-Florida.

Pat: The best game and the best atmosphere I saw was Tennessee at LSU. That was an incredibly emotional place, given the greater context around it. That brings us to our luckless friends at Tulane.

Ivan: We're not supposed to root, but it would be great to see them squeeze out four more wins and get to a bowl game.

Pat: They would be a great thing for a team that's had to carry an unprecedented burden.

Ivan: So I'll see you in South Bend?

Pat: Yep. We find out how seriously to take Notre Dame.

Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde are senior writers at ESPN.com. Ivan can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com and Pat can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.