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October 16, 2013

Direct Kick: Halfway through college football season

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Wow, it’s hard to believe that we are halfway through the college football season and the talk of bowl eligible teams has started.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at who in the current Top 25 has the best chance of winning a national title, who is a darkhorse and who has no hope at all.

The Contenders

Alabama: The current No. 1 team in the nation will be looking for a three-peat and I wouldn’t bet against the Crimson Tide. So far the ‘Bama hasn’t done anything to make me believe they won’t be right there on Jan. 6 at the Vizio BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl.

Still, the Tide plays in the SEC, still the best football conference in country, so you never know if they will still be undefeated when the SEC title game is over. ‘Bama has faced two ranked opponents so far and beat them both (a 49-42 shootout over No. 6 Texas A & M and a 25-0 shutout of then-No 21 Ole Miss. But outside of those two teams they really haven’t faced a tough opponent, beating Virginia Tech, Colorado State, Georgia State and Kentucky.

They still have two ranked teams on their schedule: a Nov. 9 date with No. 9 LSU and the season finale at No. 24 Auburn. I could see them falling to LSU, but a trap game might be the Oct. 26 game against Tennessee.

Oregon: The No. 2 Ducks are once again in the thick of a national title chase, but will they fall short once again?

Probably.

The thing is they have been beating opponents with ease, but outside of No. 16 Washington, they haven’t played any other ranked team so far this season. And they only have two other ranked teams on their schedule: No. 9 UCLA and No. 13 Stanford. Of course those games are back-to-back Oct. 26 and Nov. 7, so I can see at least one loss coming for the Ducks.

Clemson: Will this be the year Taj Boyd leads the Tigers to the national title, or will Daboo Sweeny’s team come up short once again?

I like what I have seen so far from the Tigers, but like Oregon, they really haven’t played anybody. They beat then-No. 5 Georgia to open the season, 38-35, and will face No. 5 Florida State this Saturday. After that they won’t see another ranked team until the season finale at No. 11 South Carolina.

Should the Tigers get past the Seminoles Saturday, I think they will probably run the table and finish unbeaten and have a really good shot at playing for a national title. But they can’t overlook Maryland, the team they play right after Florida State.

Ohio State: Of the current unbeatens the Buckeyes have the best shot at finishing that way, having no ranked teams on their remaining schedule. But that doesn’t mean they have easy games left.

Iowa and Penn State should provide some competition, as will Michigan in the season finale, which this year will be played at The Big House. The Buckeyes only played two ranked teams so far: Wisconsin and Northwestern, back-to-back, and won  both teams, but they were tough battles.

Should Ohio State run the table it would be hard to keep them out of the national title game.

Dark Horse

Florida State: I know they are unbeaten but I’m just not buying into the Seminoles just yet. Get back to me after Saturday’s game with Clemson.

LSU, Texas A & M and South Carolina: All three SEC teams are ranked in the Top 11, all three have one loss, and to stay in contention, they will have to remain with only one loss. LSU could do that, but they have to beat Alabama and A & M. Texas A & M would have to beat LSU and Missouri, while South Carolina would have to defeat Clemson, Missouri and Florida.

UCLA, Miami (FL), Louisville: All three are unbeaten but I don’t see them being in the mix for a national title.

Pretenders

Baylor, Stanford, Missouri, Georgia, Texas Tech: All will suffer a loss or two down the stretch and not even be considered come Selection Sunday.

Missouri has been a surprise this season but they have three games remaining against Top 25 teams: No. 22 Florida and No. 11 South Carolina, which are back-to-back, then the season finale against No. 7 Texas A & M. And they have to play Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss. The Vols are much improved, the Rebels were ranked at one time, and Kentucky is, well, that should be a win for the Tigers.

My guess for the national championship at this point: Alabama vs. Clemson. But it’s still early, and that could (and probably will) change within the next few weeks.

That’s why I love college football.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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