BOZICH | Monday Muse: Louisville's playoff path; The End for Cha - WDRB 41 Louisville News

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BOZICH | Monday Muse: Louisville's playoff path; The End for Charlie Strong? Cubs win?

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Rick Bozich hands out early season report cards for the local college football teams. Rick Bozich hands out early season report cards for the local college football teams.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- No game this week -- at least not for Louisville.

Big game this week -- at least for Kentucky, when Vanderbilt visits Commonwealth Stadium Saturday. The path to six wins always goes through the Commodores.

Big challenge this week -- at least for Indiana which could help Louisville by toppling second-ranked Ohio State (smile, as a 29-point underdog) Saturday in Columbus.

Big moment this week -- at least for Western Kentucky which needs to win at Louisiana Tech Thursday night if the Hilltoppers intend to repeat in Conference USA.

Big transition here into the Grade A prime beef of the Monday Muse.

1. WHAT DOES LOUISVILLE NEED?

When Week Five of the college football season kicked off, there were 25 unbeaten teams remaining. We were guaranteed to lose at least three because of match ups of unbeatens.

We lost more than three. We lost nine, including Louisville, which finished one play short of toppling Clemson. (Insert grumbling about decision-making, breakdowns and the officiating here.)

Now Bobby Petrino's team needs to deliver seven more victories and hope there are many more crazy weekends. As I noted in my post-game column, three one-loss teams have competed in the playoffs the last two seasons. Finishing unbeaten is a noble but unlikely goal.

What are the chances the 16 unbeatens will stumble?

Let's take a look:

ACC

Clemson (5-0): Best chances to lose: The Sagarin ratings say the Tigers will be at least a two-touchdown favorite in every game except their Oct. 29 trip to Florida State or the ACC title game. Maybe the Seminoles will wake up. Forecast: Won't matter. Tigers have the head-to-head win over Louisville making them one of three teams at the head of the national pack with Ohio State and Alabama.

Miami (4-0): Best chances to lose: The Hurricanes face three straight ranked opponents -- Florida State and North Carolina at home and then a trip to Virginia Tech. They won't make it to 7-0. Forecast: Hurricanes are certainly better and have an outstanding quarterback in Brad Kaaya. But Georgia fans will warn you that Mark Richt usually loses one game when you least expect it.

AAC

Houston (5-0): Best chances to lose: Six of the Cougars' final seven opponents have winning records, but Louisville (Nov. 17) will likely have to do the deed. Beating an unbeaten Houston would be better for the Cards' credentials. Forecast: Cards will have nobody to blame but themselves if they don't overtake Houston.

BIG TEN

Michigan (5-0): Best chances to lose: at Michigan State, at Iowa, at Ohio State -- or the Big Ten title game. Forecast: If the Wolverines win 'em all except the Ohio State game, they'll have a similar one-loss argument to Louisville's.

Nebraska (5-0): Best chances to lose: At Wisconsin, at Ohio State, at Iowa -- or Big Ten title game. Forecast: Cornhuskers are certainly improved, but Sagarin has them underdogs against the Badgers and Buckeyes.

Maryland (4-0): Best chances to lose: Should happen soon, maybe at Penn State Saturday or at Michigan or Nebraska. Forecast: No reason to worry about the Terps yet.

Ohio State (5-0): Best chances to lose: Road games with Wisconsin or Michigan State, the rivalry game with Michigan or Big Ten title game. Forecast: For my money, the Buckeyes are the most talented team in the country, but going 13-0 is never easy.

BIG 12

Baylor (5-0): Best chances to lose: The only two ranked teams remaining on the Bears' schedule are Oklahoma and West Virginia, teams Baylor plays on the road. Could happen. Forecast: The national storyline has been the Big 12 could be excluded from the playoff, especially with the absence of a conference title game.

West Virginia (4-0): Best chances to lose: At Oklahoma State or home games with Oklahoma and Baylor; Forecast: Sagarin says the Mountaineers are only the sixth best team in the Big 12.

MAC

Western Michigan (5-0): Best chances to lose: I am impressed by WMU as much as anybody, but no playoff chance here.

MOUNTAIN WEST

Air Force (4-0): Best chances to lose: The Falcons could make it to their final game unbeaten, but then they get Boise State. Forecast: A fun story, but conference affiliation works against the Falcons, who rank 57th in Sagarin predictor.

Boise State (4-0): Best chances to lose: The Broncos will be favored by more than a touchdown against everybody except BYU and Air Force. Forecast: Nice sleeper pick. Only two of Boise's final eight opponents have winning records.

PAC-12

Washington (5-0): Best chances to lose: Sagarin ranks the Huskies at least eight points better than every remaining opponent. Circle that Oct. 29 trip to Utah. Forecast: This is the team Louisville needs to stumble because if the Huskies don't lose they're right there with Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson.

SEC

Alabama (5-0): Best chances to lose: At Arkansas, at Tennessee, at LSU, SEC title game. Could happen. Forecast: They can't hold the playoffs without Nick Saban. I wouldn't count on overtaking Bama.

Texas A&M (5-0): Best chances to lose: at home with Tennessee Saturday or Alabama in Oct. 22. Forecast: Not worth worrying about until the Aggies win the next two.

Tennessee (5-0): Best chances to lose: Any time the Vols play if you've been paying attention, but if they get by A&M and Alabama in their next two games, beware. Forecast: The Vols will have to beat Bama once -- in either the regular season or the SEC title game.

2. LOUISVILLE REPORT CARD

Sizzling offense. Solid defense. Heisman Trophy front-runner at quarterback. Sports Illustrated cover. Two College GameDay appearances. Solid ground game. Record-setting victory over Florida State. 

What more could you want?

One more play against Clemson.

My pre-season pick: 10-2.

Revised pick: 10-2.

GRADE: A-minus

3. KENTUCKY REPORT CARD

Nice win against South Carolina. Improved defense against Alabama. Intriguing back-up quarterback play. Solid collection of running backs. 

What more could you want?

Not blowing a king-sized lead against Southern Miss and not getting overwhelmed the way Bill Curry usually got overwhelmed at Florida.

My Pre-Season pick: 6-6

Revised pick: 5-7.

GRADE: C

4. INDIANA REPORT CARD

A legitimate Big Ten defense. Emerging star in receiver Nick Westbrook. Nice replacement for Nate Sudfeld in quarterback Richard Lagow. Talented freshman defender in Marcelino Ball. Beating Michigan State for the first time in a decade.

What more could you want?

Not throwing the ball to Wake Forest five times and losing at home to the Wake Forest.

My pre-season pick: 6-6.

My revised pick: 6-6.

GRADE: B

5. WESTERN KENTUCKY REPORT CARD

Dynamite receiver tandem in Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris. Solid replacement for Brandon Doughty in quarterback Mike White. Play-making defense fortified by Louisville transfers Keith Brown and Nick Dawson-Brents.

What more could you want?

Hanging on to a one touchdown lead in the final 62 seconds and not losing to Vanderbilt in overtime at home.

My pre-season pick: 8-4.

Revised pick: 7-5.

GRADE: B

6. CHARLIE'S NEXT (LAST?) MOVE

When Texas opened the season by defeating Notre Dame, the national narrative was that coach Charlie Strong and the Longhorns had turned the corner in their push for national relevance. 

The crowd roared. The players carried Strong off the field. The national television crowd dissolved with shots of pure joy.

Today this Texas season is looking more like Louisville's 2011 season or the Longhorns' 2015 season. Maybe worse. Strong (2-2) faces Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game that he won last season and the suggestion is that he'd better win it again. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated wrote that Strong is "very close," to being  fired.

Why? Because Texas has lost consecutive games and the Longhorns have allowed 47 or more points three times. Texas ranks 116th nationally in scoring defense and 105th in passing defense.

What is Strong's reaction?

It's the same reaction he showed in 2011 at Louisville and 2015 at Texas -- man overboard. 

When Louisville struggled offensively in 2011, he demoted offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who left the program before the season ended. Ditto for last season. He stripped Shawn Watson of his play-calling responsibilities, starting Watson on a path that led him to Indiana in a job as a quality control assistant coach.

This one is different. This was a move on defense, Strong's calling card. He has reportedly demoted one of his best friends, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, a Texas alum. Strong will direct the defense.

Is this a move that will fix Texas?

It’d better be.

7. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO …

Those poor pre-season polls. Critics have argued for years polls posted in May, June, July and August are silly. The first month of this season has provided more evidence the wise course would be no polls until, say, Oct. 3.

It's only taken five weeks for 40 percent of the pre-season Top 25 -- that's 10 teams -- to disappear from the rankings.

Let's go to the videotape.

LSU from 5th pre-season to 28th. The problem: Couldn't score. Fired Les Miles.

Notre Dame from 10th to receiving no votes. The problem: Couldn't defend. Fired defensive coordinator.

Michigan State from 12th to 36th. The problem: Six points against Wisconsin, 21 against Indiana. No wonder Sparty ranks 105th in scoring offense.

TCU from 13th to 32nd. The problem: The Horned Frogs have allowed 41 or more three times and were lucky to win one of them.

UCLA from 16th to 27th. The problem: The Bruins leading rusher has less than 200 yards.

Iowa from 17th to receiving no votes. The problem: The Hawkeyes rank worse than Kentucky or Tulane in total offense, wobbling to less than 342 yards per game.

Georgia from 18th to 29th. The problem: They need work -- and prayers -- on how to defend the Hail Mary.

USC from 20th to receiving no votes. The problem: The Trojans averaged less than 15 points in their three defeats. Marcus Allen is not walking through that door.

Oklahoma State from 21st to 31st. The problem: Losing to Central Michigan with the nation's 104th rushing offense is never a good plan.

Oregon from 24th to receiving no votes. The problem: Tackle somebody. The Ducks don't rank in the Top 100 in rushing defense or passing yards allowed.

8. MAKE ROOM FOR …

Disappointment for one program means opportunity for another. Who are the 10 schools that have taken the spots of the teams that were overrated?

I'm glad you asked.

Texas A&M from 27th to 8th. The Why: The Red Zone defense have been nearly flawless, ranking third in the nation.

Miami from 26th to 10th. The Why: Scoring 47 points per game is a good formula.

Wisconsin from 32nd to 11th. The Why: Don't try to run on the Badgers. Five teams have tried -- and are averaging barely 90 yards per game.

Nebraska from 37th to 12th. The Why: Third down is a money down and the Cornhuskers rank fifth converting them.

Arkansas from 35th to 16th. The Why: Credit the schedule-maker. The Razorbacks have played just one league game -- and lost it big.

Boise State from 30th to 19th. The Broncos are known for offense, but check the rushing defense -- fifth in America.

Colorado from receiving no votes to 21st. The Why: Buffaloes have averaged nearly 6.5 yards per snap.

West Virginia from receiving no votes to 22nd. The Why: Dana Holgorsen got the job because he was sold as a play-caller. The Mountaineers rank in the Top 20 in total and passing offense.

Utah from 28th to 24th. The Why: There's nothing like a good kick -- and the Utes are first in punting.

Virginia Tech from receiving no votes to 25th. The Why: The Hokies rank in the Top 10 nationally in three important defensive measures: total defense, passing efficiency and third-down conversions.

9. BASEBALL FORECAST

The baseball post-season begins this week with the wild card games and division playoffs. Time for predictions. I'll keep this simple.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Orioles over Blue Jays -- O's are hot, winning seven of their last 10.

Rangers over Orioles -- The O's aren’t that hot.

Red Sox over Indians -- Too many Cleveland pitching injuries.

Red Sox over Rangers -- Better bats. Better bullpen. Better story with Big Papi's farewell.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Giants over Mets -- It’s an 'Even' year.

Cubs over Giants -- It's the Cubs' year.

Dodgers over Nats -- No Strasburg, no Ramos, no Nats.

Cubs over Dodgers -- Even trying to do it 'For Vin (Scully)' won't help Los Angeles. A higher power is at work this season.

WORLD SERIES

Cubs over Red Sox -- They were the best team in April, May, June, July, August, September and October.

Yes, I really said it -- and I really mean it.

10. POLL RESULTS

What's your prediction for Louisville's game at Clemson?

Cards by 4 or more -- 70 percent.

Clemson by 4 or more -- 16.3 percent.

Cards by 3 or less -- 8.2 percent.

Clemson by 3 or less -- 5.5 percent.

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