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September 24, 2006

Perception is a glut of perfection

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Ohio State and Rutgers are both 4-0.

There. That's probably the last time Ohio State and Rutgers will be mentioned in the same sentence this college football season, in which perfection and perception is as different as being unbeaten and being untested.

We're one-third of the way through the season, and 19 of the 119 teams in Division I have yet to lose, which seems to indicate that staying unbeaten requires a really strong program.

Or a really weak schedule.

The fourth week of the season underscored that Ohio State, Michigan, Auburn, Florida, Southern California, West Virginia and perhaps Louisville are indeed legitimate contenders in the national championship hunt.

However, it also raised doubts about whether most of the remaining undefeated teams will even be contenders to win their conference championships. Seriously, it's doubtful even the most passionate Georgia fan can be confident that the Bulldogs will win the SEC East after they had to come from behind to defeat winless Colorado 14-13.

Colorado had scored just 23 points in its first three games, which included a loss to Division I-AA Montana State, and ranked 115th nationally in total offense. Still, Georgia needed a Joe Cox touchdown pass in the final minute to escape with a win at Sanford Stadium, no less.

"We dodged a big bullet, like dodging a big bazooka," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game.

Actually, Georgia remains one of the more legitimate unbeaten teams. At least the Bulldogs have victories over a Big 12 team (Colorado) and an SEC team (South Carolina). Most of the unbeaten teams have played schedules inferior to Georgia's.

For example, Purdue's 27-21 victory over 2-2 Minnesota on Saturday was its most impressive win of the year. The Boilermakers have not beaten a team with a winning record. Their previous three opponents Division I-AA Indiana State, Miami (Ohio) and Ball State are a combined 1-11.

Undefeated, unimpressive
Here's a list of unbeaten Division I college football teams which have benefited from sub-par competition.
Purdue: Defeated *Indiana State (0-4), Miami, Ohio (0-4), Ball State (1-3), Minnesota (2-2)
Texas A&M: Defeated *The Citadel (0-3); Louisiana-Lafayette (1-2); Army (2-2); Louisiana Tech (1-2)
Rutgers: Defeated North Carolina (1-3), Illinois (1-3), Ohio (2-2), *Howard (0-3)
Virginia Tech: Defeated *Northeastern (1-3), North Carolina (1-3), Duke (0-3), Cincinnati (1-3)
Wake Forest: Defeated Syracuse (2-2), Duke (0-3), Connecticut (2-1), Ole Miss (1-3)
Houston: Defeated Rice (0-4); Tulane (1-2); * Grambling (0-3); Oklahoma State (3-1)
Missouri: Defeated * Murray State (1-3), Ole Miss (1-3), New Mexico (2-2), Ohio (2-2)
Boise State: Defeated *Sacramento State (0-3); Oregon State (2-1); Wyoming (1-3), Hawaii (1-2)
Iowa: Defeated *Montana (2-1), Syracuse (2-2); Iowa State (2-2); Illinois (1-3)
West Virginia: Defeated Marshall (1-3), *Eastern Washington (1-3); Maryland (3-1); East Carolina (1-3)

* denotes Division I-AA opponent

But let's not pick on Purdue, at least the Boilermakers are unranked.

Virginia Tech is ranked No. 11, but has climbed that high on the strength of a successful history and a weak schedule.

The Hokies' four opponents this season Division I-AA Northeastern, North Carolina, Duke and Cincinnati - have a combined record of 3-12. Their next five games, beginning with 3-1 Georgia Tech, are much stronger. That stretch will determine whether Virginia Tech is truly one of the nation's top teams.

"We are what we are and I'm not sure we're going to have any easy games," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said after the Hokies' 29-13 win over Cincinnati on Saturday. "We just have to continue to work and grind."

The same goes for resurgent Missouri, which appears to have become a factor in the Big 12 North after getting off to a 4-0 start.

However, there has to be a measure of uncertainty about how good the Tigers truly are considering their victories are over Murray State, Ole Miss, New Mexico and Ohio, which have collectively managed six victories.

Of course, the Tigers aren't apologizing for any of those wins, not even Saturday's sloppy 31-6 win over Ohio in which Missouri was penalized 10 times and lost two of three fumbles.

"I tell my players, 'You enjoy winning,' " Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said following Saturday's 31-6 victory over Ohio. "Penalties are all discipline and focus, that's all that is and we can correct those things.

"We'll just have to work harder on becoming a better team tomorrow."

That's because Missouri, and a lot of other unbeaten teams, eventually will have to play better opponents.



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