New reality in SEC means new reality for all of college football
On Sunday morning, SEC fans awoke to a new, unexpected reality. For the first time since November 1, 2008, neither Alabama nor Florida is the No. 1 team in the country. For the first time since September 20 of that year, neither team sits atop its respective division, having been replaced by LSU in the West and South Carolina in the East.
The defending champion Crimson Tide, the nation's undisputed No. 1 team as of Friday, now sits No. 8 in the polls and No. 3 in their own division. The offensively-challenged Gators remain in second despite two losses, a pretty telling sign of how far the East has fallen behind the West.
As has been proven repeatedly in recent years, one loss doesn't usually disqualify the SEC champ from the BCS Championship Game. 'Bama, despite its 35-21 loss in Columbia on Saturday, still has ample time to climb back into the top two. If we've leaned anything about college football, it's that nearly all the other major-conference champs will eventually sustain a loss as well. As Football Outsiders
At this point, however, there are two things about which we're much less certain. For one, is Alabama a title-contender that merely stubbed its toe on the road against a top 20 team, or a team whose weaknesses are only now being exposed? It may well be the latter.
The problem with early-season college football is that we're reading a whole lot into results against teams whose rankings are still largely based on what they did the year before. In hindsight, Alabama's 24-3 win over then No. 18 Penn State on Sept. 11 didn't tell us a darn thing; the Nittany Lions are now 3-3, with the Big Ten's worst offense. Similarly, the Tide's 31-6 gem against then No. 7 Florida just a week ago came against a Gators offense ranked 96th nationally. Alabama's signature victory to date is a 24-20 comeback at Arkansas, in which its rebuilt defense showed the first signs of cracks.
Saturday, South Carolina turned those cracks into craters. While quarterback
Perhaps six weeks from now Alabama's performance Saturday will seem like an aberration, but there was nothing fluky about South Carolina's physical superiority. This was a far more decisive result than past SEC/BCS champs' slip-ups. Florida's 2008 team lost to Ole Miss when
Alabama flat-out got beat. Apparently even
Of course, all of this might be irrelevant if No. 7 Auburn (6-0) or No. 9 LSU (6-0) runs the table. If either does, it'll be playing in Glendale. But does anyone really believe that will happen? Three of Auburn's four wins against BCS foes have come by three points, including Saturday night's 37-34 escape against Kentucky, in which every one of quarterback
More plausible is the possibility that someone -- Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn -- will go into the SEC Championship Game with a chance to finish 12-1, which in almost any year would assure it a spot in the Even Bigger Game -- and a shot at the league's fifth straight national championship.
Which brings us to that second question: Does this year's SEC deserve the benefit of the doubt?
Only the most staunch SEC apologist (and there are millions of them) would argue that the league isn't "down" this year. In recent years one could legitimately argue that the conference's eighth- or ninth-place team would finish third in a league like the Big Ten, but this year the SEC sports at least five mediocre-to-bad teams (Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss). The Pac-10, which has seven teams ranked in the top 40 of CollegeBCS.com's simulated BCS standings, is a deeper league.
But the SEC does have five teams (Auburn, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas) ranked in the top 12 of the latest AP poll, and while some may slip a little, it's a good bet all five will stay in or around the top 20 all year. Come December, voters won't be analyzing "depth" -- they'll be drooling over the fact that whichever team hoists the trophy in Atlanta will have beaten five ranked teams.
If the Pac-10, Big Ten and Big 12 produce two undefeated champions between them, the SEC's BCS reign will end. Undefeated TCU or Utah would likely get the nod, too. (Boise State
I'm just no longer as confident that team will be Alabama.
Seeing as I devoted the entire lead of
Remember, LSU's one-of-a-kind coach originally earned the nickname Mad Hatter not because of his recent time-management woes, but because of his extreme penchant for risk-taking. Unlike most of his generally conservative peers, Miles seems either immune or oblivious to the fear of failure -- perhaps because his gambles always seem to pay off.
The fake field-goal call against Florida was a stroke of genius, though you would think the Gators might have been more prepared for it. Miles has run the play before (most notably at South Carolina in 2007), and was he really going to try a 53-yard field goal?
Even then, it took another bout of good fortune (doesn't it always?) for Miles' miracle to pay off. No one could possibly look at the replay and tell for sure whether holder
Of course, nowhere in the rules does it say that an angel should hover over Miles' hat at all times, either.
In her postgame interview,
A lot of coaches (or their SIDs) must have been watching Nebraska's 48-13 rout of Kansas State last Thursday, because the Huskers inexplicably jumped over TCU for the No. 4 spot in the coaches' poll. (They're No. 5 in AP.) They, like the rest of us, watched quarterback
"I think Taylor and [
As the game was going on, Twitter was abuzz with fans wondering whether Martinez may in fact be faster than touted Michigan counterpart
Much of the luster over that long-anticipated grudge-fest (due partially to Nebraska's Big 12 title loss to Texas, partially to ill feelings over the conference realignment madness) has vanished with Texas plummeting out of the national rankings. However,
The difference between Michigan and Nebraska, of course, is that the Huskers have a dominant defense to boot, and one that figures to cause major problems for Texas' struggling offense. While Martinez stole the show against K-State, the Huskers have another breakout newcomer, juco linebacker
Something tells me this will be the first of several changes to the projected title-game matchup over the next several weeks, because, as mentioned earlier, it's hard to imagine the current leaders all making it through unscathed. Oregon will have a particularly tough time running the table in the Pac-10. But I'm not ready to start betting on anyone else yet, either.
One interesting note: A Big Ten-Pac-10 title matchup like the one above would change the rest of the lineup considerably. The Rose Bowl would obviously replace one of the two with a Big Ten or Pac-10 team. (I went with Sparty, but it could just as easily be Iowa or Stanford.) If an SEC team makes the title game, however, a spot could open up in the Sugar or Orange bowls for undefeated TCU or Utah.
The Beavers went on the road and knocked off No. 9 Arizona on Saturday. Their two losses have both come to top five teams (Boise State and TCU). There are really 24 teams that have done better?
Much like Oregon State, the Gators' two losses have both come to top 10 teams. Unlike Oregon State, Florida's best win was against ... Kentucky? Out you go, fellas.
• Utah trailed Iowa State 14-10 at the start of the second quarter Saturday. By halftime the Utes led 41-14. They wound up winning 68-27 against a team that beat Texas Tech the week before, and, in doing so, amassed one of the most remarkable stats I've seen. Between total offense (593 yards), kick returns (168), punt returns (156) and interception returns (109), Utah ball-handlers amassed a combined 1,026 yards. Naturally, the Utes dropped a spot in the AP poll.
• Meanwhile, fellow Mountain West (for now) power TCU beat Wyoming, 45-0, to notch back-to-back shutouts for the first time in 55 years. As mentioned earlier, the Horned Frogs dropped a spot in the coaches' poll.
• If the Florida State-Miami game is a measuring stick for the two rebuilding rivals' progress, fourth-year 'Canes coach
• The Big Ten loves its co-champions, but this year could be particularly awkward because undefeated Ohio State and Michigan State don't play each other. (The Rose Bowl tiebreaker is highest BCS ranking, though it might not matter.) The Spartans (6-0) showed ideal balance in their 34-17 win over Michigan, running 49 times for 249 yards while quarterback
• Oregon's 43-23 win at Washington State wasn't all rosy. Punt returner
• Oregon State's win at Arizona came with a price, too. Star receiver
• Texas Tech earned a dubious distinction Saturday: For the second straight week, its opponent (this time Baylor) returned an onside kick for a touchdown. This one, a surprise attempt in the first quarter, came when Tech's entire kick unit had a
• To those who wondered whether
• Oklahoma State sophomore receiver
• When does Boise State work on all the trick plays it pulls out in big games? In its other games. The first play I saw upon turning on the Broncos' 57-14 rout of Toledo was a wicked fake punt in which
• You have to admire N.C. State quarterback
• Rutgers may have found its quarterback of the future -- and it's not two-year starter
• Despite having lost its top quarterback, running back and receiver to ACL injuries -- and despite having lost to Toledo -- Purdue (3-2) went on the road and knocked off 5-0 Northwestern, 20-17, behind redshirt freshman quarterback
• UCLA continues to be the nation's most baffling team. After averaging 322 rushing yards in consecutive wins over Houston, Texas and Washington State, the Bruins (3-3) went to Berkeley and ran for ... 26 yards in a 35-7 loss to Cal.
• Navy quarterback
• In two crucial battles to avoid finishing No. 120, 0-4 New Mexico State edged 0-5 New Mexico 16-14, while 0-4 Florida International topped 0-4 Western Kentucky 28-21. Now if only we could have a New Mexico-WKU "plus one."
• Pity Wyoming. The Cowboys, 2-4, have lost to then fifth-ranked Texas (34-7), third-ranked Boise State (51-6) and fifth-ranked TCU (45-0) as well as now No. 23 Air Force (20-14). What's up next? No. 11 Utah comes to Laramie.
Brewster was livid that Wisconsin went for two following a touchdown to go up 25 points (41-16) with 6:39 remaining. Cameras captured a heated exchange between the two at midfield afterward ("I probably shouldn't say [what he said]," said Bielema), but Brewster didn't stop there, launching a tirade against Bielema in his postgame press conference.
"I thought it was a poor decision for a head football coach," said Brewster. "He'll have to live with it. It was wrong. Everybody in here knows it and everybody in college football knows it. It was wrong."
Easy there, Timmy. Admittedly, Bielema's call seemed unnecessary (he used "the chart" as his excuse), and sportsmanship sticklers would undoubtedly call it classless. Personally, I'm not a fan of running-up-the-score whiners. Wisconsin wasn't playing an FCS team, or even a MAC team. This was a Big Ten game between longstanding rivals. You don't get to invoke the mercy rule.
The fact is, Brewster has more important things to worry about than a meaningless two-point conversion. Perhaps he was trying to divert attention from the fact that his team is 1-5. Maybe he was peeved over his impending pink slip. Really, all he did was add self-inflicted ammo to the perception that the Gophers are weaklings.