- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

And then there were three. A wild September has reduced the preseason pool of legitimate title contenders to Florida, Alabama and Texas.

Pay no attention to the polls; there is no No. 4. It certainly isn’t LSU, a team that needed a goal-line stand to beat SEC fodder Mississippi State 30-26.

But the Tigers lost only style points over the weekend. That’s more than you can say for former top-10 denizens Mississippi, Penn State, Cal and Miami. At least the Hurricanes lost to a ranked team on the road in a monsoon. The chumps formerly known as Nos. 4-5-6 all fell to unranked double-digit underdogs, joining Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and USC to double the September body count among top-10 teams.

Though Oregon’s merciless 42-3 bludgeoning of Cal was a definite stunner, nobody should be overly surprised that the Rebels and Nittany Lions tumbled from unbeaten status. Even before Ole Miss was exposed in a 16-10 loss to a pedestrian South Carolina bunch, the Rebels were the runaway favorites to be 2009’s flop special.

Ole Miss has given us a couple of Mannings, William Faulkner and KFC’s logo. Other than that, the program hasn’t been relevant since the 1960s, not much of a shock for a school that still chooses to fly the Confederate flag nearly 150 years after emancipation. The Rebels still aren’t ready for the 20th century, much less the top five.

And Iowa’s 21-10 victory over Penn State marks the seventh win for the Hawkeyes in their past eight meetings with the Nittany Lions. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz owns Joe Paterno.

The upshot is that aside from the Big Three, the rest of college football already has proved itself unworthy of BCS title-game consideration. Thanks, but a playoff isn’t needed to sort out which one-loss team merits re-entry into the BCS conversation, not when teams like USC lose to unranked rabble like Washington and current top-10 teams like Virginia Tech have already been buried by a member of the Big Three.

Though nothing this season is progressing according to the script, the obvious title-game scenario has the winner of the SEC championship game (presumably Florida vs. Alabama) meeting Texas at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 7. With Florida’s Tim Tebow scrambled over the weekend by Kentucky, keep an eye on the two October games most likely to alter that scenario: Florida at LSU (Oct. 10) and Texas vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 17).

Game balls and gassers

This week’s game ball goes to Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen. After playing sparingly over the first three quarters with a nasty case of turf toe, the junior quarterback limped onto the field with the Irish trailing Purdue 21-17 with 3:41 remaining and proceeded to lead Notre Dame on a 12-play, game-winning drive. On the drive, Clausen went 7-for-9 passing for 71 yards, connecting with tight end Kyle Rudolph on fourth-and-goal with just 25 seconds left.

Candidates for wind sprints abound, but Miami tight end Jimmy Graham and Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead were outstandingly atrocious. A former basketball player with the Hurricanes, Graham dropped two huge passes in Virginia Tech territory after the Hurricanes scored on their opening possession of the third quarter to trim the Hokies’ lead to 21-7, got a quick defensive stop and were driving to cement the momentum shift. Hammer Hands Graham should have stuck to hoops.

Once a Heisman dark horse, Snead did a poor impersonation of a high school quarterback in the Rebels’ loss at South Carolina, completing only seven of 21 passes and handing the Gamecocks a game-defining fumble and short field in the third quarter.

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