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Pelini's temper, Heisman integrity, BCS spots and the good ole SEC

Nebraska hired Bo Pelini to bring pride back to its sullen program, and three years in, he's right on the cusp. The Huskers came within a second of winning the Big 12 last season, and will likely get another title shot next month. They'll be an immediate contender upon joining the Big Ten.

But viewers around the country who tuned into Saturday night's Nebraska-Texas A&M game saw a different side of Bo -- so angry and demonic looking on the sideline you worried he just might pull a Woody Hayes. He's a man who's clearly taken control of the Huskers' program, but could he jeopardize it due to his own lack of self-control?

Violence in the Heartland: The Bo Pelini Story. How much longer is the national media going to ignore the serious anger and violence bubble growing in Lincoln? His behavior Saturday in College Station was deplorable. But while many might find his behavior surprising, it's actually very familiar for those who watch Nebraska regularly.-- Jeff, Denver

Did you get to see the full Nebraska-A&M game? I thought there were several questionable calls against the Huskers, but my question to you: Is Bo Pelini the reason calls seem to go against Nebraska? Is it that he cannot get his team to maintain discipline, or that he constantly goes after the refs?-- Eli Becker, Ogallala, Neb.

Pelini is hardly the only "hot-headed" coach in football. Just watch Mike Stoops during an Arizona game. Mark Mangino and the since-ousted Jim Leavitt at USF were much the same way. But I'm not sure I ever saw any of them so relentlessly, repeatedly harangue an official the way Pelini did. If this were basketball, he would have been T'd up and ejected by halftime. And of course there's the now-infamous clip of Pelini delivering an expletive-filled rant to quarterback Taylor Martinez's face. Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman was embarrassed enough by his conduct to express his disapproval to the media. Pelini apologized Monday, saying, "I always believe it's OK to disagree with a call. It's not OK to make it personal. At times during that game ... I let it get personal."

To be clear, the officiating was horrendous in that game, though it's not the reason Nebraska lost. It would be unfair to Texas A&M not to give credit to its stupendous defensive effort. But there were a lot of horrendous calls, most notably the roughing-the-passer flag that set up the Aggies' go-ahead field goal. Huskers fans have since deluged me with a YouTube clip of a Texas A&M defensive linemen doing some very unethical things under the pile (for which only Nebraska's player was penalized when he retaliated) and all sorts of stats showing the vast disparity between the number of flags thrown against the Huskers versus their opponents this season. The fix is in, they say, from the vengeful Big 12.

I don't do conspiracy theories, especially one as illogical as this. While I recognize that Dan Beebe might not be the world's biggest Nebraska fan anymore, but he wouldn't try to cost his league a chance at a second BCS berth and the extra $6 million that comes with it (all of which the league gets to keep due to Nebraska's exit penalty). I do, however, concede that referees are humans who can be influenced by their feelings toward certain other humans. So I ask you, if you're a ref, and you've spent the entire night being verbally accosted by a coach, do you think that would motivate you to keep your flag in you pocket or do the exact opposite?

Pelini only hurts himself and his team with his antics, and hopefully the attention his display garnered Saturday night will serve as a wake-up call. Nebraska prides itself as a classy program with the nation's classiest fans, and moments like those don't fit with that image. Most importantly, however, if we've learned anything from the ousters of Mangino, Leavitt and Mike Leach last year, it's that it only takes one cross-the-line incident by a coach to bring down everything he's worked for. Pelini came too close for comfort Saturday night.

Given that the Heisman is supposed to go to "the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity," how is LaMichael James still in the running? Shouldn't his domestic violence incident rule him out? And even if nothing is proven about Cam Newton (other than buying an obviously fenced laptop), is the thick smoke around him not sufficient to rule him out, as well? To me, the clear-cut front-runners should be Kellen Moore and Andrew Luck.-- Jimbo, Columbia, Mo.

That's a slippery slope you're heading down. First of all, if the Heisman wants to reward "integrity," then they should tell their voters that. The phrase Jimbo references appears nowhere in the instructions I and other voters were mailed last week, and the only place I could find it was under the "Heisman Trust" tab at the top of their Web site, under a subheading entitled "Mission." Secondly, how would you recommend the voters go about determining what constitutes "integrity?" Newton, for instance, is associated with some pretty seedy allegations, but he's yet to be suspended, and in his free time he mentors kids. Who am I to say whether he does or doesn't pursue his excellence with integrity?

As for LaMichael James -- this one gets me steaming mad. The minute the Eugene police announced last February it had arrested the star for, among other things, "strangulation," his reputation was shot. Countless times, I've read some variation of the distortion that he "choked his girlfriend" or "beat up his girlfriend." While I would never condone violence against women, James' case was the definition of "there's more to the story." I'd recommend to anyone who actually cares about the details to go back and read the sentencing memorandum from his case, which includes the police report from that night. (His charges were significantly reduced.) He also made the Pac-10's All-Academic Team last week. So is he lacking "integrity," too?

Long story short, unless a guy is ruled ineligible, or convicted of a serious crime, I'm going to stick to evaluating their football talents, not their character.

If an unranked Big East champion gets trounced again in a BCS game (like Pittsburgh did in 2004 by Utah), how likely is it that the BCS adds a condition that all conference champions must be ranked in the top 10 (or something similar)? With the rise of non-AQ teams in recent years, and the possibility that more qualified one-loss teams like Stanford get left out, the rule just seems ripe for an amendment.-- Ken Devine, Centerville, Ohio

I'd like to see some sort of amendment myself (though top 10 seems a bit high), but that would require the commissioners to voluntarily agree to something that could directly harm their own league. The six automatic-qualifier conferences and Notre Dame created the BCS, and therefore they set the rules. What incentive do they have to enact a rule that, if it affected their conference, would cost it $20-plus million in a given year? There's always the chance when the new contract comes up in four years that the commissioners could vote to take away someone's automatic bid, but I can't see them blindly agreeing to something that could affect any of them.

One alternative concept I've heard bandied about is the elimination of automatic berths altogether. The idea being, the bowls could still choose to continue their partnerships with the respective conferences (Big Ten and Pac-10 with the Rose Bowl, SEC with the Sugar Bowl, etc.), but they would not be obligated to take a champion from another league if there's an at-large team they like better. It's not like the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 or SEC have to worry about getting their teams into the BCS; this way they'd still get the berths but the bowls would have more freedom in their selections (i.e., the Fiesta Bowl wouldn't get stuck with an 8-4 Big East champ this season.) However, that idea is nowhere near coming to fruition yet.

Looking at your column on Saturday, I felt you were trying to tell the voters how to vote on LSU. That was a tough game. This is the SEC.-- Lee Odom, Alexandria, La.

You need to take the blinders off, Mandel. If LSU hasn't looked dominant enough for you, maybe you ought to consider the competition. There isn't a conference in the country as deep as the SEC, particularly the SEC West. Sorry, but a seven-point win over Ole Miss is still more impressive than dropping 80 points on Indiana.-- Danny Scott, Humnoke, Ark.

In sifting through the inbox Monday, it seemed LSU fans were none too pleased with my mini-rant in Saturday's Snap Judgments that the Tigers "have no business sitting ahead of more dominant one-loss teams like Stanford and Wisconsin in the polls." (On Sunday, they fell behind Wisconsin but not Stanford.) I'd like to take this opportunity to provide some context.

This was written minutes after the LSU-Ole Miss game ended, and it was less a reaction to LSU -- who, as I wrote, deserves ample credit for going 10-1, especially with five ranked teams in its own division -- than it was to CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who I believe to be the best game analyst in the biz but who counters it with his over-the-top shilling for the SEC. Speaking of Ole Miss, he said something to the effect of "You just don't see 4-6 teams like this in other conferences." This nearly made me pull a Pelini on my television. The Rebels lost to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. They lost 52-14 the week before to then-3-6 Tennessee. They are 79th in the Sagarin ratings, right between two of those Boise State opponents SEC fans love to mock, Toledo and Idaho. I'm sorry, but if LSU was truly the fifth-best team in the country, it would destroy Ole Miss.

You can throw all the schedule-strength numbers you want at me, but if LSU and Stanford play on a neutral field, I'm taking the team with Andrew Luck as its quarterback over the team with Jordan Jefferson. And I'm not alone. Sagarin's Predictor ratings suggest the Cardinal would win by 12 on a neutral field. Mike Seba, a senior oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, told me the spread would be Stanford by about 2.5 points. We mean no disrespect to LSU. We just think Stanford (and Wisconsin) is better.

Stewart, I'm wondering who gets the at-large BCS bid if the following three things happen: Alabama beats Auburn, Arkansas beats LSU, and then Auburn beats South Carolina. Auburn likely misses out on the national championship and goes to the Sugar Bowl. But then who gets the SEC at-large bid? You'd have three 10-2 teams in Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU.-- Jerel, Tucson, Ariz.

First of all, the Orange Bowl would be thrilled with this scenario. It would finally get a team that will sell the place out. I'm inclined to say Alabama, because it would be coming off a huge Iron Bowl victory, its fans would be stoked and the Tide would be ranked squarely in the Top 10. But you never know. Arkansas hasn't played there since 1987 and would bring the entire state, and LSU brings a crowd wherever it goes. Head-to-head isn't always a deciding factor.

A surprising team in the second half of the season, BYU has won their last four and scored 55, 49 and 40 in their last three. Could BYU beat the Utes this week and show the Pac-10 who should really be in their conference? And could they make it to the Vegas Bowl for the sixth straight year?-- Shane Hale, Las Vegas

It's been nice to see the Cougars get their act together, though let's keep it in perspective. Those wins, which improved their record from 2-5 to 6-5, have come against 3-9 Wyoming, 2-9 UNLV, 3-9 Colorado State and 1-10 New Mexico. (Say what you want about the Big East, but its bottom four teams are nowhere near as horrific as the Mountain West's, which hurts its AQ cause.) Utah (9-2), which got its own act together last week at San Diego State, will present much stiffer competition.

But of course BYU can pull off the upset. That's the nature of their rivalry. It's usually close regardless of the record. Obviously, if TCU doesn't make the BCS, it will get the Las Vegas berth. If not, however, BYU could very well get it by finishing 7-5. As I wrote in my Bowl Projections, that bowl is hot after Notre Dame since it probably won't have a Pac-10 team, and if it gets the Irish, it's not going to stage an ND-Utah rematch. I'm sure it would love to pit the current and future independents. Having said that, a 6-6 BYU team would land no higher than the Armed Forces Bowl, which has fourth choice, and even then I believe that game will take at-large Army (which is making its first bowl appearance in 14 years) and let the Cougars slide to the New Mexico Bowl.

Stewart, I'm curious, how is it that perennial powerhouse Stanford out of the Pac-10 should leap LSU in the BCS rankings since both records are the same and LSU plays in the SEC which is superior in terms of athletes top to bottom, recruiting, coaching, BCS wins, strength of schedule? Help me understand this because your column certainly doesn't.-- Mingo, Baton Rouge

C'mon, Gary. Since when did you start using the pseudonym "Mingo?"

Thanks for giving the Aggies a bit of credit, and while they haven't been great in recent years, they have beaten both Oklahoma and Nebraska in the past three weeks. However, the polls still have OU and Nebraska ranked ahead of A&M. Is Kyle Field viewed as that large of a home field advantage or is there a lack of respect for the Aggies nationwide?-- Matthew, San Antonio

It's because A&M has three losses while the others only have two. Pollsters don't generally rank a two-loss team over a one-loss team, a three-loss team over a two-loss team, though they sometimes make exceptions. Alabama, 9-2, is currently ahead of both 10-1 Oklahoma State and 10-1 Michigan State, presumably because the Tide started significantly higher than both and/or the voters trust them more due to their past success. It's not the most sensible explanation, but it's true. Texas A&M started 3-3 and has since won five straight and risen into and up the polls, but not enough to pass two 9-2 teams they beat.

The Oklahoma-A&M situation is particularly tricky because it could directly affect the Big 12 South race. If the Sooners beat the Cowboys this weekend and the Aggies beat Texas, it will force a three-way tie for first that would be decided by the BCS standings. Oklahoma (currently 13th) would presumably win that tie, but I could see where fans of A&M (currently 17th) feel their team should be ranked higher than the Sooners due to their more recent head-to-head win. However, when you consider that Oklahoma went 4-0 against a non-conference schedule that included Florida State, Air Force and Cincinnati, while A&M lost its only significant non-conference game (to Arkansas), the Sooners deserve to stay ahead. And Oklahoma State beat the Aggies.

I love the way you think Wisconsin and Stanford is a better team than LSU. Are yofreaking kidding me!!!Please put Stanford or Wisconsin in the SEC and put LSU in the weak PAC 10 or the BID 10,LSU would play for the bcs title every year.We know that you writers from SI has never liked LSU.Let me explain...Its called being ENVIOUS toward a dominant program like LSU and the best conference bar none in the country.You have lost your mind!!!Please put stanford and wisconsin in the sec.They would lose 3 games every year.Your really a moron!!!-- jeremy, mississippi

And a happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

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