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October 27, 2006

Experts' view: The key to the seven unbeatens

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Seven is a nice number of undefeated teams to have at this point in the season, especially if you like alliteration.

Think of the possibilities. The Super Seven. The Sizzling Seven. The Sensational Seven. Seventh Heaven.

With a dearth of marvelous matchups on this weekend's schedule, we decided to ask our experts who cover the Superior Seven two simple questions:

What's the main reason their teams are undefeated at this point?

What is the main obstacle standing in the way of them finishing that way?

The Super Seven
No. 1 Ohio State (8-0)
Kevin Noon of BuckeyeGrove.com talks about the Buckeyes:
Main reason unbeaten: "The obvious answer is Troy Smith. He makes everything look so easy, and he has so many weapons. He has another clip week in and week out for his Heisman reel. But I'd be remiss not to talk about the defense, too. It lost nine players to graduation or early entry to the NFL Draft, and it's tied for the lead in the nation in scoring defense. It leads the conference in turnover margin at plus-11. It has 15 interceptions. So it's easy to see why they're still undefeated and rolling toward the Nov. 18 game against Michigan."

Main obstacle: "Michigan. Ohio State has been relatively healthy, or the injuries have been minor nicks and scrapes. Ted Ginn Jr.has had a toe injury, but he should continue to play through it. Ohio State has proven through what people said was the down part of their schedule that they can keep their focus. They've scored 35 or more points in four consecutive games. But come Nov. 18 they'll take on another team that's extremely talented, and you don't know what will happen."

No. 2 Michigan (8-0)
Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com talks about Michigan:
Main reason unbeaten: "Defense, no question. The run defense is No. 1 in the country. That will keep you in a lot of games. They also force teams to abandon the run early because of the play of front seven. They've set the tempo in every game. There are some first-round NFL picks up there. They've been dominant."

Main obstacle: "Ohio State. Michigan won't lose any of the next three. If Chad Henne had an injury, they'd be in dire straits. Otherwise, they just need to keep healthy - and the schedule (before the Ohio State game) will allow them to do that. Mike Hart leads the nation in carries, but hopefully he won't after the next three games. Michigan is No. 1 in the country in time of possession, they're controlling the ball, and that keeps the defense off the field. The offense and defense are working in harmony.

"Mario (Manningham, the sophomore wide receiver) will be back soon, too. He's already running. We expect him back before the Ohio State, maybe see some game action before that to get ready."

No. 3 USC (6-0)
Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com talks about the Trojans:
Main reason unbeaten: "Pete Carroll and his recruiting. You think about the amount of people that they've lost and it's pretty staggering. But they've beaten a pretty good Arkansas team, and a pretty good Nebraska team and won four Pac-10 games. You have to have really quality athletes behind the superstars that you lost. All of those highly ranked recruiting classes are paying off right now."

Main obstacle: "There definitely are some tough games. I think it's the growing pains. They've won, but they haven't won convincingly like people expected. You don't need to blow people out, but you need to look better. It's OK to win ugly, and just winning is important. All the streaks regular season, Pac-10, home, road are still going, whether they win by one or by 50. To play better it's really a matter of getting some of those young guys flowing with the system. I think they were calling plays and running the system like they still had Reggie (Bush) and Matt (Leinart) and all of those guys. But during the bye weeks I think they've been trying to get back to basics, and they'll be poised to make a stretch run and continue all of those winning streaks."

No. 4 West Virginia (7-0)
Big East producer Dallas Jackson talks about the Mountaineers:
Main reason unbeaten: "Their defense has played better than people expected. Last year they gave up only 17 points per game, and they've given up fewer than that this year. They play a 3-3-5 defense which can give up yards between the 20s but does not allow teams to get into the end zone. It's a bend-but-don't-break defense. On offense, the run game has been dominant as expected. To be quite honest, they've played a soft schedule - which is always good when you have a good defense and dominant running game."

Main obstacle: "Slowing down a team with a real offense. When they play teams with good offenses like Louisville, Rutgers and Pitt, they might run into trouble."

No. 6 Louisville (7-0)
Howie Lindsey of CardinalSports.com talks about Louisville:
Main reason unbeaten: "Bobby Petrino has to be one of the candidates for coach of the year because he's had one Heisman Trophy contender out for a portion of the season and one for the whole season. The defense has picked up the slack by allowing 12.6 points per game and holding opponents to a low percentage in the red zone. Louisville's offense has soldiered on with a running back by committee with Kolby Smith, George Stripling, Anthony Allen and Brock Bolen making up for Michael Bush. Louisville's offense has supreme confidence that their scheme can score on anyone. It's the scheme that allows Bush to run for 24 touchdowns and Brian Brohm to put up numbers. They have confidence that the scheme can score 40 on everybody."

Main obstacle: "Three of Louisville's next four opponents are in or near the top 25. They have back-to-back dates with undefeated teams with West Virginia and on the road against Rutgers. Beyond that then they go to USF, which is a tough game, and then Pitt. They're next four games are much tougher than their previous four."

No. 15 Boise State (8-0)
Stanley Brewster of BroncoBlue.com talks about Boise State:
Main reason unbeaten: "Certainly their schedule helps. They don't have the strongest schedule in the country. Ian Johnson has certainly been a surprise. As far as Jared Zabransky goes, him having a better year has a lot to do with it. Having a back like Johnson helps. (The coaching staff) knew what they had in Johnson after he played a little last year. He had three talented seniors in front of him (as a freshman)."

Main obstacle: "The next game. I think they're all landmines. They have a bull's-eye on their backs. Everyone wants to knock them off. Fresno State is coming into town as a wounded animal. They're looking to save their season."

No. 16 Rutgers (7-0)
John Otterstedt of ScarletNation.com talks about Rutgers:
Main reason unbeaten: "Going into the season no one expected the Rutgers defense to be as good as it has been. Everyone expected them to score with Brian Leonard and Clark Harris and Ray Rice. With an undersized defense relying on speed rather than brawn, no one knew what to expect. The speed has helped them surpass anything they could have expected. As for Rice, he had a superb freshman year. They might not have expected the numbers because they expected Brian Leonard to have more carries, but no one is surprised."

Main obstacle: "There's two obstacles: Louisville and West Virginia. Rutgers hasn't played anyone at that level yet this season. And it's been a while since they've beaten someone at that level. The program is not at a level where they can overlook anyone. If they overlook Connecticut this week, they could lose. The other obstacle is the amount of attention they are receiving. Players are spending more time being interviewed than ever before. If they can keep their heads on straight, there's no telling what could happen."

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