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Thursday, November 7
Updated: November 8, 10:32 AM ET
Miami has tough, but not impossible, road ahead

By Chris Fowler
Special to

Wow, after Shakeup Saturday sliced the unbeaten clubs in half, what can happen next?

I never thought that Notre Dame, Georgia, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State would arrive on BCS Selection Sunday perfect. I just didn't think they'd all get upset the same day. . .by the same margin (seven). . .when three were at home and the fourth on neutral turf!

Some scrap of sanity was restored to the BCS title race. But there's still a good chance for chaos, if you root for that sort of thing.

Now, the four survivors hit the road this week. All are favorites, trying to dodge upset traps against opponents that loom as dangerous. Bowling Green takes a suspect defense to 6-3 Northern Illinois, which beat Wake Forest, almost won at Wisconsin and has reeled off five straight. As for the others. . .

Unbeaten with toughest road to Tempe
Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops and Oklahoma have the toughest road to Tempe.
Oklahoma. The Sooners are still five wins away, almost half a season. They'll be solid favorites in all five, but road games at Texas A&M and Oklahoma State are not easy. OU is the only unbeaten contender facing a conference title game. The north contender the Sooners least want to see in Houston December 7th: Kansas State. But the ever-confident Bob Stoops has a great feeling about how his guys will handle the weekly challenges.

The smoothest road to Tempe
Ohio State. The Buckeyes' faithful may cringe. Sure, Purdue is pesky and stubborn. The Boilers' five losses are by a total of 22 points. But this is not Drew Brees and the crew that stunned the Bucks two years ago on the way to Pasadena. The closest thing to a Purdue quality win is a slim verdict over the Minnesota team OSU just pummeled. Sure, a few sweaty palms might be warranted for a West Lafayette trip. Ohio State's offense has not yet clicked in three road games.

But the biggest hurdle remains That Team From Up North. Yep, Meeechigan comes calling, with a Big Blue-print for spoiling Ohio State perfection. See 1995 and 1996. Hey, it's not at all an easy three-step journey to the Fiesta Frolic, but you can bet that Oklahoma and Miami would gladly swap remaining schedules with OSU.

The middle road
Miami. Tennessee may be wounded. . .may have been blown out at home twice. . .may have needed six overtimes and a field goal gack to survive a visit by mediocre Arkansas. . .may be out of the SEC race. . .may not be the most cohesive bunch right now. . .but it will not be a pushover.

Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech both possess the running game brawn to trouble Miami and good enough defenses to hang in to the end. Thanks to Thursday night special, the Panthers won't have to play in the midday Miami steam, a normally big home field edge. That's a break. But I can't see the 'Canes losing either game.

Best positioned team with a loss
Texas. Do the Longhorns really want another crack at Oklahoma? A Red River rematch is possible, if Ohio State and Miami lose. Texas will likely stay ahead of Washington State in the BCS standings, unless Wazzu whacks Oregon, Washington, and UCLA so thoroughly that the pollsters jump them over the 'Horns. The Cougars also need victim USC to win out, helping them in the "Quality Win" category.

Tempe longshots
Georgia, Notre Dame and Iowa need lots of continued chaos. Hey, it's possible. Longshots come through sometimes. The Bulldogs' trap is at Auburn. Georgia Tech won't be a walkover either.

Notre Dame has two walkovers. Wait, maybe we can't label Rutgers that anymore. But the Irish are two blowouts away from securing a likely BCS at-large bid. A win at USC would seal it. The Rose Bowl could have a tough choice if Ohio State is in Tempe: an 11-1 Iowa, Big Ten co-champs or Notre Dame.

The Rose Bowl is not obligated to take a Big Ten team. Notre Dame has plenty of ties to Pasadena, even though they have not played there since Rockne's crew in 1925. Ty Willingham won the Rose Bowl, of course, at Stanford. While at Arizona State, athletic director Kevin White was part of a Rose Bowl committee.

Still, I cannot see the Granddaddy turning away a team unbeaten in the conference it has been in business with for decades. The Rose Bowl types were thrown for a loop with Miami and Nebraska crashing the festivities last season. A return to the normalcy of Big Ten-Pac-10 would be comfy, even if it meant passing on Notre Dame. Plus, it would be a second L.A. trip in a month for the Irish, somewhat lessening the thrill. Just my opinion.

Vote switch
Ken Dorsey
Just because Miami dropped to No. 2 in the poll doesn't mean the 'Canes have to stay there.
Go ahead, Miami fans: rip into me for dropping the Hurricanes to second on my AP ballot this week.

In the locker room of my gym today, I had to listen to some guy crying about me "disrespecting his 'Canes." Uh, "his" 'Canes? I doubt he's ever set foot in Miami. Grab a cold shower, chief. Seems some of the Hurricane players view the drop behind Oklahoma in the AP as the height of disrespect, too. Maybe it'll provide a much-needed spark. Miami fans should thank the pollsters.

I don't feel the need to defend the switch, but I will anyway. It seems to interest some folks.

  • First, it's not just an overreaction to the Rutgers scare. Miami needed a low snap and a barely wide field goal to beat Florida State. The 'Canes did not play near their potential against West Virginia in a 17-point win. If a Rutgers interception return for a touchdown had not been called back Saturday, Miami would have been in a two touchdown hole. Who knows what happens then? In that same span, Oklahoma has hammered Texas, Iowa State and Colorado.

  • Second, Miami's almost three-season win-streak is no reason to automatically place them first. Only this season's wins matter to me, not last year's title or 2000's BCS snubbing. And, by the way, OU is not exactly an upstart: the Sooners are 34-2 since 2000!

  • Third, the vote is not irreversible. Miami will need to play near its potential to handle Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. If they do pick it up, they might find themselves again Number One in both polls.

    Larry Coker's right, by the way. He doesn't have to apologize for 25-point wins. And an ugly win always beats a loss. Miami wins out, they don't have to sweat, according to our BCS formula authority, Brad Edwards. The loss by the Hokies did not help, though. A twice-beaten Virginia Tech would provide Miami no quality win bonus. A loss by Washington State really helps Miami, by robbing Ohio State of its quality win bonus. That's about enough talk of polls and formulas, thank you.

    Big Ten troubles
    Let's talk about a head coach's firing, player suspensions, a domestic stabbing, an arrest for alleged drunk driving and evading police, another for alleged possession of a small amount of marijuana, one quarterback with a broken hand from a frat fight and another in rehab.

    Just another week in the Big Ten.

    If you toss in officials' continued blown calls and strong, public criticism by the league's coaching dean, it's been a pretty sad stretch.

    Then there's the shooting death of Ohio State receiver Chris Vance's brother in Florida, after he allegedly shot another man. Thankfully, football provided a way for Chris to avoid following a similarly doomed path.

    The Big Ten takes pride in holding itself to a higher standard. In some ways, it's justified. We don't read stories every week about NCAA investigators lurking around Big Ten campuses. Well, not lurking around the football complexes, anyway. Graduation rates are comparatively respectable.

    But the almost daily off-field bad news is sobering stuff for the league's image. It's getting harder to hold the moral high ground.

    Michigan State meltdown
    The Spartans are not the first talented team to under-achieve, implode and quit. But they are the worst example of that I have witnessed in 15 years covering college football.

    How can a group of players display so little pride on four straight Saturdays? Well, when one captain is in rehab and another has been charged with three misdemeanors and a felony after being pulled over by police, then booted from the team, there would seem to be a leadership void.

    I wish Jeff Smoker well in his struggle with addiction. Dawan Moss is by all accounts a dedicated hard working player. But they were obviously not the leaders Michigan State needed.

    I feel sorry for the few Spartans who do seem to still care. Playing college football is not easy. Much of it is not fun. When you take the field each week, hoping to experience some emotional payoff for all the hard work and instead are surrounded by guys who just want the season to end, well, it has to (stink).

    Firing Bobby Williams was the easiest call possible. He so obviously lost the team weeks ago, and didn't even bother to deny it when asked after the latest embarrassment. That sealed his fate.

    It seems like a long time ago, but it's been just six weeks since the Spartans had Notre Dame beaten on the season's most spectacular catch by Charlie Rogers. The next minute, a couple DBs fell down and the game was lost.

    If they'd held on to that game, who knows? But the total collapse (151 points surrendered in the last four games) is inexcusable. The next Michigan State head coach faces quite a challenge.

    Urban Meyer of Bowling Green would be very interested. He's not taking calls now, but he will. Any program should consider Oklahoma's Mike Stoops seriously. His defensive expertise is obvious. He'd bring a much needed hard-ass approach, but his players seem to love playing for him. The turnaround at Oklahoma, from embarrassing underachievement to a national title in two years rivals the challenge ahead at East Lansing.

    The most talked about guy on the wish list is Steve Mariucci. But the 49ers are headed for the playoffs and the time table could be a problem. If State could somehow convince Mariucci to leave behind the hassles of the Niners, it'd be a coup.

    If not, I've got an idea: hire Mooch's best bud, Tom Izzo. Sure. He can recruit, teach, motivate with discipline, and he once played a little football in the Upper Peninsula long ago. Let him coach two sports. He can let his hoops assistants handle the early season trips to Maui and Alaska, and take over full time after the football season.

    Then again, I like Tom too much to wish the football job on him. Michigan State needs more than a new football coach. It needs a new roster.

    Finally. . .
    Please don't ask me who I'm voting for in the Heisman race. If I knew, I would not tell you. But I don't. The ballot is due in a few weeks and I have no idea which three names will be on it. Is anybody among the 900-plus voters locked in on a final three?

    GameDay returns to Rocky Top Saturday. Hope you'll join us there.

    Chris Fowler is host of ESPN College GameDay

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