Texas' easy road, Bill Snyder's Houdini act, Navy's rise and more
I'm pleased to report the Mailbag audience met
But forget the postseason for a minute. Unfortunately, this particular season has become increasingly aggravating for those of us who relish the sport's regular season. It's hard to say with a straight face that "every week matters" when the pollsters inexplicably drop Oregon six spots behind USC a week after the Ducks clobbered the Trojans. Or that "the season is a playoff" when Kansas State has a clearer path to the BCS right now than Boise State.
This year's national title race has been, to put it bluntly -- boring. Something feels missing, in spite of the fact six undefeated teams remain in play at such a late point in the year. That something: "big games." Florida and Alabama remain on course for an epic season-ending showdown, but to this point each has played just one conference foe (LSU) currently ranked in the BCS Top 25. The Tide, to their credit, also played Virginia Tech. However, two weeks from now, during what should be the season's "stretch run," the Gators will host Florida International, while Alabama will play Chattanooga. Yawn.
Yet those two have nothing on Texas.
It's true. Due to a strange confluence of events, the Longhorns -- despite playing in one of the nation's perceived "power conferences" -- could wind up reaching the BCS Championship Game with one of the weakest schedules of any recent participant. In the latest Sagarin ratings, Texas' schedule strength ranks 52nd nationally. And unlike Alabama (No. 25) and Florida (No. 42), which will benefit from playing each other, Texas' schedule likely won't look any stronger come season's end. Using
Only one team has made the BCS title game toting a Sagarin schedule rating outside the top 40: Ohio State (53rd) in 2007. As you may recall, that team was criticized all season for "not playing anyone" and decried by many as undeserving of its spot. The main reason you're not hearing that about Texas is because the 'Horns aren't coming off a 41-14 title-game butt-whipping the year before, as the Buckeyes were that season. On the contrary, Texas went 12-1 in a very tough conference last year, brought back a Heisman runner-up quarterback and has mostly dominated its opposition as predicted. Personally, I have more confidence in Texas right now than Florida or Alabama. After a slow start,
But I'm willing to admit I might be reading too much into a blowout of UCF.
Obviously, the 'Horns have no control over the strength of their conference. It's not their fault annual archrival Oklahoma is enduring its worst season in a decade; that divisional foes Texas Tech and Oklahoma State both lost to Houston; that Nebraska suddenly has a defense but no offense; or that Kansas and Missouri have returned to their pre-2007 state. They do, however, control their other four opponents -- Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP and UCF. In fairness, Wyoming was an 11th-hour replacement for Arkansas, which postponed the second half of a home-and-home that began last season. Still, it's a shame Texas' potential 2009 title season won't feature a defining moment like
Here's what's particularly interesting, though: You may have noticed the 'Horns are ranked just fifth by the BCS computers (as opposed to second in the Harris and coaches polls). As of today, Texas' schedule strength is actually
Lest we get ahead of ourselves, I asked Palm to project the remaining undefeated teams' final computer standings based on their remaining opponents' schedules. "Texas would come out on top," he said, followed by Cincinnati and TCU. While the Bearcats (whose schedule currently ranks 67th) will benefit from remaining games against No. 12 Pittsburgh and No. 25 West Virginia, the Horned Frogs' score will suffer from season-ending games against No. 80 Wyoming and No. 117 New Mexico.
As a result, few will have reason to complain about the 'Horns' anticipated ascension should they win out. But barring a dramatic Thanksgiving-night escape at Texas A&M, theirs could go down as the most unmemorable 13-0 regular season imaginable. At least under the Mandel Plan, they'd face one more worthy adversary.
There's certainly truth to that assessment of Weis. While he purportedly reevaluated his role after the 2007 season and tried to become more of a true head coach, his most noted attribute remains that of an offensive tactician, and we've yet to see proof of his overall leadership. But that doesn't change the larger point I was making about why Notre Dame, regardless of its coach, may never return to the level of Florida or Alabama.
Nobody disputes that Weis is a great offensive coach who's recruited some mega-talented offensive players. But college football is a different sport than it was in the Irish's heyday. For one thing, you don't have to be a brand-name school, nor necessarily recruit SuperPrep All-Americas, to field a powerful offense. Just look at Cincinnati. Or Houston. When Notre Dame plays Connecticut in two weeks, I highly doubt Weis' team will exceed the 711 yards the Bearcats gained against the Huskies last weekend. Likewise, if Notre Dame played Oklahoma State next week, it wouldn't necessarily score more points than the Cougars' 45. As those schools and others like them have shown, all a coach needs is the right quarterback and a few great athletes to fit his system.
Weis has done just that with guys like
The last time the Irish won a national title, in 1988, most college offenses were still run-based attacks that defenses could counter simply by being more physical. Today's offenses are built on speed, not brawn, and the best defenses are even faster. Like I said Monday, it's not that Notre Dame can't attract top-flight defensive players (see
Snyder has certainly made me look like an idiot.
Obviously, these are not yet the
In a four-team scenario, I have no problem with that. Theoretically, it could happen this year if the voters decided the Florida-Alabama loser should not fall out of the top four, but it would be counterproductive if the Gators and Tide immediately played a rematch in one of the semifinal bowls. In fact, we might invoke a selection committee to avoid just such situations.
Incidentally, a little update: Assuming that wouldn't happen, your updated plus-one bowl matchups (with Iowa now out of the picture) are No. 1 Florida/Alabama vs. No. 4 Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. And hey, if the Bearcats lose at some point, there could be room for Boise State as well.
Good question. Under our selection rules, only the No. 1 team would remain in its host bowl. The No. 2 team (in this case USC) would move to a different bowl where the No. 3 team does not have a geographic advantage. If the Rose Bowl objects, we will politely remind it that under the current system, it would lose both teams.
I can't speak for other fans and journalists, but I'll confess to regrettably overlooking the service academies at times. The Navy story, in particular, is remarkable. The Midshipmen are in the midst of their greatest run of success since the 1950s. As we've all seen by now,
From that first game against Ohio State, you could see what a special talent he had in quarterback
Meanwhile, it's good to see Air Force back to its winning ways under
First of all, while I don't doubt Boise has trouble landing marquee opponents, I wouldn't take that Benson quote at face value. As you may have read, the WAC has gone into full-on spin mode in hopes of placing the Broncos in a BCS bowl this year. The conference has even hired a p.r. firm to help elicit sympathy. So the timing of his "turned down by 10 teams for 2011" spiel seems highly suspicious. First of all, just a few months ago, Virginia Tech agreed to face the Broncos in Washington D.C.
That said, I can imagine it's incredibly frustrating for Boise State to deal with its unwanted BCS ceiling, for all the reasons Mike mentioned. Going independent is not a viable option. Its best bet is either to hold out hope for a Mountain West invite (which may happen if the conference falls short in its current attempt to become an automatic qualifier) or, essentially, become like the Gonzaga of football. The Broncos are building a level of national respect that belies their conference affiliation. Whether or not Boise earns a BCS berth this year (and I think it's still possible), Petersen's team is going to be in an even better position next year when it returns all but two starters AND plays both Virginia Tech and Oregon State in its nonconference schedule.
Depending on how they finish out this season, it's not inconceivable the Broncos would enter 2009 as a preseason top five team with realistic hopes of a national-title bid. As TCU is showing right now, that last poll barrier is coming ever closer to falling.
Bingo. I am forever haunted by
Only one entity determines when these games are held: television. And sadly, yes, that tradition is almost entirely dead. To me, the devaluation of New Year's Day has been the single biggest negative by-product of the BCS. It started when ABC took control of the four major bowls in 1998 and, since it couldn't air them all on the same day, moved one to Jan. 2 and the title game to Jan. 3 or 4.
When the BCS added a fifth bowl and Fox took over in 2006, the network spread out the games even further, in part to work around its weekend NFL broadcasts but also to add buildup to the stand-alone title game. In the meantime, ESPN began exerting its influence on the rest of the bowl lineup. For one, it's created several of the newer, third-tier bowls (PapaJohns.com, St. Petersburg, etc.) that have helped increase the total from 22 to 34 over the past decade. Needing windows to show them, it started moving a couple (GMAC, International) into that extended period before the title game (now there are eight). But most of all, it has enabled some of the higher-profile games on their air (Chick-fil-A, Capital One, Outback, etc.) to generate larger payouts and exposure than two more traditional New Year's games (the Gator and Cotton).
Whatever sanctity still remained of Jan. 1 officially went down the toilet last year when the Gator Bowl -- relegated to third choice of ACC teams and fourth choice of Big 12 teams -- selected 7-5 Clemson to face 8-4 Nebraska, and the Cotton Bowl moved to Jan. 2. This year, there are as many games being played Jan. 2 (five) as Jan. 1, though that's primarily due to the fact the 2nd is a Saturday. Next year you'll see a real change. With ESPN regaining the BCS rights, the Gator Bowl moving from CBS to ESPN and the new Dallas Football Classic potentially entering the mix, I've heard from knowledgeable sources that the network plans to treat the morning and afternoon of Jan. 1 as one big lead-in to the Rose Bowl, showing overlapping games on its various channels. The good news is, there will be more New Year's Day football. The bad news is, more mediocre teams will get to claim they played in January bowls.
OK -- so not
So Bucky is a business major, eh? Who knew?
But wait -- I thought you weren't allowed to speak in that costume? Would have to be a very quiet elevator ride. Don't worry: I'll read to you.