North Carolina - Blessed with a schedule that looks more favorable by the day, the Tar Heels have cracked the rankings for the first time since 2001. But quarterback T.J. Yates is likely out until November, and the victories over Rutgers, Miami and Connecticut aren’t likely to appreciate in value. North Carolina is a legitimate bowl team, maybe even an eight- or nine-win team, but the Tar Heels shouldn’t be ranked. Just not yet.
California - This won’t last very long, but the Golden Bears really should be back in the polls. Their only loss came in a game that kicked off at 9 a.m. Pacific time (not Cal’s fault) the day after the team flew across the country (definitely Cal’s fault). The opening-week victory over Michigan State looks even better now, and any game against Maryland exists in a vortex without rationality. Cal belongs in the Top 25.
PLOT WORTH WATCHING
Irish eyes smiling? - It’s time to make a few things clear. Notre Dame has not defeated a team currently sporting a winning record, has not won outside South Bend, Ind., and faces a much tamer schedule than last year other than a season-ending trip to Southern California. But if the Irish can poach a victory at North Carolina on Saturday, they’ll probably prematurely vault into the rankings.
HEISMAN QUICK SIX
A look at the contenders for the Heisman Trophy (last week’s rank in parentheses):
1. QB Chase Daniel, Missouri (1): Another efficient week in the books for the Tigers’ star as Missouri remains in the top five.
2. QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2): With the preliminary proceedings out of the way, the slick gunslinger will have a good chunk of his Heisman candidacy sealed in the Red River Shootout.
3. QB Colt McCoy, Texas (3): See Bradford, Sam.
4. QB Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (NR): Just as a clarification, this is a Heisman Trophy list and not a Big 12 player of the year breakdown.
5. QB Max Hall, Brigham Young (4): A relatively tame day against Utah State notwithstanding, Hall might be the best quarterback outside the Big 12.
6. QB Mark Sanchez, Southern California (NR): Still plenty of time to make up for a so-so outing at Oregon State two weeks ago.
Six suggested games to devour during an afternoon on the couch:
Texas vs. Oklahoma, Noon, Chs. 7, 2: The showdown at the Texas State Fair used to be an annual chance to expose Longhorns coach Mack Brown’s deficiencies. This year, though, it could be a classic.
South Carolina at Kentucky, 12:30: The winner keeps rolling toward a bowl berth. The loser finds itself entrenched near the bottom of the SEC East with the Great Pumpkin.
Michigan State at Northwestern, 3:30, ESPN2: Both teams have rough stretches looming later in the season, so the chance to stay on track for a New Year’s Day bowl is at stake.
Oklahoma State at Missouri, 8, ESPN2: Mike Gundy’s Cowboys are 5-0 and scoring almost at will. That should change with a visit to a nouveau national power in the heartland.
Penn State at Wisconsin, 8, ESPN: It doesn’t matter if JoePa is coaching from the sideline, the press box or an old folks’ home - the Nittany Lions are a good bet to send the Badgers into irrelevance for the rest of the year.
LSU at Florida, 8, Chs. 9, 13: The Tigers have some wiggle room and might need it; it’s tough to figure out how their hosts at the Swamp lost to Ole Miss two weeks ago.
FIVE FEARLESS FORECASTS
Five predictions for the coming weekend:
1. Auburn’s offense will rebound. Even with offensive coordinator Tony Franklin dismissed earlier this week, the Tigers will do fine against woeful Arkansas. Then come games against West Virginia, Ole Miss and Tennessee-Martin, meaning someone will get “credit” for Auburn’s schedule getting softer.
2. Nebraska’s upside is 7-5: And that’s being generous after consecutive home losses. It’s clear Bo Pelini has plenty of work left to do, and it will become even more obvious when the Cornhuskers are steamrolled at Texas Tech.
3. Pittsburgh will be exposed soon enough: The Panthers have a bye, but they are somehow ranked again despite not owning a margin of victory of more than 11 points over anyone. The win at South Florida was nice, but it should take more for pollsters to hop back on the Pitt bandwagon.
4. Ball State will be 10-0 early next month: The Cardinals aren’t dropping out of the rankings any time soon. Their next four opponents own a combined seven victories. Don’t expect quarterback Nate Davis to preside over a loss in that span.
5. No coach needs a win more than Phil Fulmer: And he’s not going to get it, not with a mid-afternoon trip between the hedges at Georgia. A loss would leave the Volunteers at 2-4, and plenty of fans would rightfully expect more for the salary Fulmer is drawing.
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