- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

On a weekend when so many teams ruined their national title hopes, it’s worth pointing out the programs that did exactly what they were supposed to and kept fine starts rolling.

It’s easy to mention Cal, which ground out a victory at highly regarded Oregon. Or Wisconsin, a 37-34 winner over feisty Michigan State.

But looking beyond the near-upsets and shockers, a late-night result on the opposite coast probably went unnoticed. Cincinnati’s latest rout — a 52-23 pummeling at San Diego State — is just another hint the Bearcats’ football fortunes are vastly different than in the past.

For the last nine months, about everything possible that could have gone in Cincinnati’s favor has done just that. The school hired bright Brian Kelly, who won national titles at Division II Grand Valley State and revitalized Central Michigan, and brought him in before the bowl game last year to replace Michigan State-bound Mark Dantonio.

Experts chortled when Kelly installed a wide-open offense with personnel recruited for a more conservative approach. But with Wake Forest refugee Ben Mauk (last seen getting Wally Pipped by Riley Skinner a year ago) under center, the Bearcats are 5-0 for the first time since 1954 and in better shape than Big East brethren Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia.

Commentators suggesting Cincinnati will be this year’s Boise State do not comprehend the inherent advantages of BCS conference membership. But the Bearcats could yet be this year’s Wake Forest — a team that doesn’t kill itself, forces opponents into errors and rises to the top of a badly overhyped league.

After all, West Virginia was rendered mortal when one of its two stars was injured. Louisville probably will need to put out at least one more APB for its defense this season. And Rutgers, while a nice bunch, was overrated at No. 10 going into Saturday’s loss to Maryland.

Cincinnati, Connecticut (with a Downy-soft schedule) and South Florida are the conference’s remaining unbeatens. While Jim Leavitt’s Bulls are legit, there’s no reason the Bearcats can’t crash the BCS if they continue to play so efficiently.

Who needs rankings?

Half of the top 10 fell by the wayside this week, and some teams should be kicking themselves more than others.

West Virginia’s loss at South Florida can be written off for both medical (Pat White’s injury) and competitive (the Bulls are a superb bunch) reasons. Texas was overrated despite struggling earlier in the month (though that’s no excuse for getting run by the Purple Prince’s Posse), and Rutgers rose into the top 10 by virtue of others losing around them. Florida, of course, can be forgiven for losing by a field goal to Auburn.

But Oklahoma should be ashamed of itself for allowing Colorado to erase a 24-7 lead in the second half. Of all of the upsets over the weekend, the Buffaloes’ escape is easily the most jarring. The Sooners were a legitimate national title contender before their stunning meltdown in Boulder. They’ll need some help and no slip-ups the rest of the way to climb back into things.

Gameballs

Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson had his streak of 325 consecutive passes without an interception snapped but still threw for 301 yards and five touchdowns against Florida Atlantic. Big Blue Nation doesn’t usually worry about football past mid-October, but the polished Woodson looks like he’ll remain in the Heisman Trophy race for some time.

Props to Indiana for beating up on struggling Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. The Hoosiers are 4-1 under interim coach Bill Lynch and are two victories from all but locking up their first bowl berth since 1993.

Cal wideout DeSean Jackson re-inserted himself into the national discussion. Eleven catches, 161 yards and two scores against Oregon will do that.

And in case you haven’t heard, Illinois freshman and District native Arrelious Benn is above average. Benn returned a kickoff to the house and later caught a touchdown pass as the Illini upended Penn State.

and gassers

Notre Dame. Just because. That’s 0-5 and counting, and UCLA, Boston College and Southern Cal won’t make things any better.

Like a farmer’s prized hen, Clemson is a near lock to lay a giant egg or two over the course of a season. The Tigers fell 13-3 at Georgia Tech, and they probably have another albatross in them before the season’s out. Hint: It could come Oct. 27 in College Park.

And finally, Dennis Franchione is out of his gig as a newsletter publisher. It’s a tough racket, as Coach Fran found out. Guess what’s tougher? Making sure he isn’t out of his job as Texas A&M;’s coach at the end of the season. At least his $1,200-per-sucker practice reports for Aggie boosters will give him some media experience if he ever goes looking for TV work.

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