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National Titles, Conference Champions, and Game Day Beverages

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It's BlogPoll roundtable discussion time again and this week's questions have been posed by Maize n Brew Dave. As we say in the legal field, to wit:

1. It's only the third week of the season and we've already seen some highly ranked favorites drop out of national championship contention. Preseason favorite Cal dropped to #21 after a loss and a pair of underwhelming victories. Who's your pick as the next national championship contender to take a fall?

Assuming that Notre Dame no longer qualifies as a national championship contender---an assumption I am not prepared to make, at least as long as the Fighting Irish have a winning record and the adulation of the fawning mainstream sports media---I believe the schedule points me in the direction of the Buckeyes.

No, it isn't just because Ohio State is the Auburn of the Midwest.

Louisville and West Virginia will not be challenged until the Mountaineers' and the Cardinals' November 2 showdown. Virginia Tech should not be tested before the Hokies travel to Chestnut Hill on October 12. Florida faces L.S.U. and Auburn on consecutive Saturdays in early October, while U.S.C. hosts Arizona State on October 14.

Ere the present month is out, though, Ohio State will have to travel to Iowa. I'm not at all sure that the Buckeyes are getting out of Hawkeye country with an unblemished record.

2. By that same token, there are several schools hanging around without a loss that all of a sudden look like surprise contenders. There are also a few one loss teams with a legit shot at getting back into it. Looking at the rankings, who's the team no one's talking about with the best shot at crashing the party?

While Texas unquestionably can get back into it if the Longhorns run the table and get a little help, the Oregon Ducks rather clearly stand atop the ranks of the dark horse national title contenders.

Just promise me that, if you receive a bid to the national championship game, you'll ditch the Atari uniform numerals.

Yes, I know all about the blown officiating call, the subsequent unseemly whining, and the crackpot conspiracy theories, but, if anything, all that mitigates in the Ducks' favor.

Most national championship teams need a little luck along the way, a good break on their behalf to salvage the season and give observers an inkling that perhaps something magical is going on here and the would-be contender is, indeed, experiencing a charmed season.

It could be a chip-shot field goal missed by Florida State or a 93-yard touchdown pass to beat Florida. It could be a fifth down at Missouri or a pass kicked into the air in the end zone at Missouri. It could be Vince Young turning on the burners against Oklahoma State or it could be Clint Stoerner fumbling the ball away while running out the clock.

Of course, beating Michigan more than twice in 13 tries helps, too. (Photograph from E.S.P.N.)

Come January, we may look back on Oregon's lucky break against Oklahoma as that sort of fortunate moment. The Ducks have looked quite good so far and an undefeated squad from Eugene would finish ahead of an undefeated squad from Blacksburg, Louisville, or Morgantown because of the strength of Oregon's schedule; Mike Bellotti's team already has gotten the better of non-conference opponents Fresno State and Oklahoma, with road games at Arizona State, Cal, Southern California, and Oregon State remaining. If the Ducks go undefeated, they will deserve---and get---a shot at the national championship.

3. Every team has their quicksand away game. You know. That place you should win but somehow find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or at least scare the $*%^ out of you every year. Did you know that over the last 21 years Kentucky hasn't won once in Knoxville? Where is your team's yearly sandtrap?

Jacksonville (like Atlanta) is a neutral site, but Doug is right . . . the answer is Florida and it isn't close to not being Florida.

The Bulldogs already won in Columbia and the Red and Black have a winning record at Auburn. After going 2-14 against the Gators (and often losing to U.F. teams Georgia should have beaten) over the last 16 seasons, though, there is no doubt that the Classic City Canines' sand trap game lies by the water hazard of the St. John's River.

All right, so you beat my team every year. You still dress like Cher.

By the way . . . next fall will mark the 30th anniversary of the last time Kentucky beat Georgia in Athens, so Tennessee can go on with its bad self on that whole bit about the 21 years.

4. Now that you've looked into the darkest place in your football soul, free Escalades aside, turn and look into your crystal ball. Conference play is either just starting or a single game in. Based on what you've seen so far, give the order of finish in your conference, and if you've got a Conference Championship game tell us who the winner will be. Independents must predict the remainder of their schedule. The results of your predictions will be held against you at the end of the season.

I already made a conference championship prediction, but, since I'm being called upon to do it a second time, here goes:

S.E.C. East:

  1. Florida
  2. Georgia
  3. Tennessee
  4. South Carolina
  5. Kentucky
  6. Vanderbilt
S.E.C. West:
  1. Auburn
  2. Louisiana State
  3. Alabama
  4. Arkansas
  5. Ole Miss
  6. Mississippi State
I'll be shocked if any S.E.C. weblogger answers that part of the question any differently. I expect the Tigers to get the better of the Gators beneath the Dome in December.

Of course, I thought Florida would win the Eastern Division last year, too. . . .

5. In keeping with the spirit of Maize n Brew, name your beverage of choice on game days and why. It need not be alcoholic, as there are some of us who choose not to imbibe on game day. Further, it need not be limited to a single brand/type/category. If you enjoy drinking PBR and Kraft Turkey Gravy at the same time (which I have personally witnessed), please, elaborate. Finally, if you should feel so inclined, and this is not a requirement, add an anecdote involving said beverage choice.

It is well known that I do not drink alcohol before football games, so, while I am chock full of anecdotes, I doubt whether I have any that will satisfy Dave's request.

I tend to drink soft drinks during the day and sports drinks during the evening on football Saturdays, in order to keep myself alert in the early going and to replenish my energy over the long haul. On those rare occasions when a particular flavor of sports drink coincides in color with the uniforms worn by Georgia's opponent, I have been known to down large quantities of the corresponding fluid as part of feasting on the flesh of the enemy.

This is about as far out of hand as my pregame preparations get.

Since Dave took the time to ask, though, I'll throw his questions (particularly the last one) open for the good of the order. What do you think?

Go 'Dawgs!