Rash of undefeated teams could cause BCS crisis; more Mailbag
Every year, people start freaking out about the possibility of some end-of-season BCS nightmare pretty much as soon as the games begin. My response is usually the same: Get back to me in early November.
Based on what we've seen so far this season, however, I'm making an exception. You have every right to start panicking/salivating about an excess of undefeated teams -- because I am, too.
This is as top-heavy a season as I can remember. Oklahoma, LSU and Alabama are probably the most talented and complete teams we've seen since Florida's 2008 title team. That doesn't mean they're immune to upsets, especially if they suffer injuries between now and season's end. But as of today, it's a safe bet that either or both the Nov. 5 LSU-Alabama winner and the Dec. 3 Oklahoma-Oklahoma State winner will finish undefeated.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is quite clearly the class of the Big Ten, even with two other undefeated teams (Michigan and Illinois) in its conference. Andrew Luck is such a machine that Stanford is realistically looking at a two-game season (Nov. 12 vs. Oregon and Nov. 26 vs. Notre Dame). And we know Boise State will be in the mix, too. I'm not yet ready to go to the bank on Clemson going 13-0, mainly because the ACC is proving to be much deeper than I expected, so I'll leave the Tigers out of this discussion for now.
We had one season like this before, when five teams finished undefeated in 2009, but there was a pretty clear separation in perception between Alabama/Texas and Cincinnati/TCU/Boise State. The Oklahoma/USC/Auburn situation in '04 was far more controversial because there was a perfectly valid argument that the SEC champion Tigers were every bit as deserving, if not more so, than the Sooners and Trojans. If a similar scenario unfolds this season, I don't think there will be much debate over the two most worthy teams. The SEC and Big 12 champs will have completed far more rigorous schedules than Wisconsin, Stanford or Boise State. But two undefeated major-conference teams getting left out would cause the biggest BCS firestorm to date.
To this point, no individual season has caused any real impetus for major BCS change. The political and financial motives behind the BCS generally trump the on-field results. However, if you're among the many rooting for change, the above scenario is pretty much your dream come true. The two leagues that have been most adamantly opposed to a plus-one are the Big Ten and Pac-12. So imagine if
And now that I've pushed aside 12 years of reasoned caution on all things BCS, here's guessing one of the aforementioned teams gets upset this weekend.
Obviously, TCU's losses have a direct impact on Boise because they devalue what was supposed to be the Broncos' biggest conference game. The Horned Frogs are no longer ranked and might not be come Nov. 12. As for the "guilt by association" thing: Call me naive, but I think we're past that at this point. Save for a few loons here and there, most college football fans and voters generally recognize at this point that Boise can play with anyone. They've even come to acknowledge that there's more to the Broncos than Kellen Moore. The Broncos currently have the
Boise's problem is the same as always: schedule. It doesn't play nearly the same quality opponents as the teams ranked above it, which means it needs all the teams above it to lose. As I just wrote, I don't see that happening this year. The fact that there could be so many undefeated major-conference teams bears far more relevance to the Broncos' national title hopes than does Utah's inability to hold on to the ball.
I assume you're insinuating that this year's Texas team is not on the same level as the teams OU crushed in 2000 (63-14) and 2003 (65-13), en route to the BCS title game. I wouldn't dispute that. Still, this was exactly what the Sooners needed to quiet the Alabama-LSU talk for a week. It was a complete performance by a veteran team that knows exactly what it needs to do in every situation.
At this point, we're basically numb to the exploits of Landry Jones and his receivers. For me, the takeaway was how elite this Oklahoma defense is -- easily its best since at least '03. Young Texas quarterbacks or not, notching eight sacks and three defensive touchdowns is quite a feat. From Travis Lewis to Ronnell Lewis to Frank Alexander to Jamell Fleming, that defense is loaded with playmakers. Combine OU's clinic against its archrival on a neutral field with its gutty 23-13 win in an incredibly hostile atmosphere in Tallahassee and it's hard to dispute this team is championship material.
But if Oklahoma and Alabama met on a neutral field today, the Tide would still be my pick.
Thanks for the welcome. To be honest, it's hard to believe I still lived in New York just a week ago. My wife and I have fully immersed ourselves in suburban living. We drive our Prius to the supermarket and actually buy more groceries than we can carry. We have two -- two! -- bathrooms. And I'm writing this column from a Starbucks, where I actually had my choice of open tables. I've been sitting here for two hours and have yet to see a homeless guy use the bathroom. It really is a different world.
As for football ... I'm really looking forward to covering more Stanford games now that I live 20 minutes from its stadium. I think the Cardinal are really great.
I was surprised how many people wrote in this week in defense of the controversial taunting rule that cost LSU punter Brad Wing his touchdown. To be clear, I'm not "pro-taunting." I support sportsmanship as much as the next guy. But I do wonder whether I somehow missed the great taunting epidemic that infiltrated college football in recent years to the point where it necessitated such an extreme penalty. The infamous Miami Cotton Bowl charade was 20 years ago. I can't remember a college football Saturday in the last five years where I thought to myself:
The part about the punter not knowing the rule was a joke, but still, I hardly think he's the villain in this. Put yourself in his shoes. You're a punter. This is the first and probably last time you will experience the thrill of running into an end zone in front of 90,000 screaming fans. Not only that, but you're outrunning an entire defense full of four- and five-star athletes. You turn and see the last two of those defenders failing to reach you. At that exact moment, no, I would not expect Wing to think to himself: "I better not say or do anything inflammatory right now or the refs may blow this play dead right here at the eight-yard-line." If that makes me a taunting enabler, so be it.
You can certainly question the timing of Stoops' dismissal, but I have absolutely no problem with the decision. Stoops took the program to three mid-level bowl games in eight seasons, getting crushed in the last two. I don't think it's unreasonable for Arizona fans to expect the Wildcats to contend for a BCS berth at least once in an eight-year span, especially with USC down. They never came close, and now they're back at the bottom of the Pac-12 (albeit in part due to a rash of injuries). Also, don't discount the role Stoops' maniacal sideline antics played in his demise. They've always made a certain contingent of Arizona fans uncomfortable, but it was hard to complain when things were going well. When you're 1-5, that's another story.
When Arizona fires a coach less than a year after winning 10 games and producing a No. 1 draft pick, as Ole Miss did to David Cutcliffe, then it will merit consideration for a syndrome.
Oregon, you say? Is that the team with the wacky play-cards and the cool-kids uniforms? I've heard a little about them. I'll go up to Eugene this weekend and investigate. In the meantime...
Penn State is starting to remind me a little bit of last year's LSU team, minus the crazy endings. It seems inconceivable that a team can keep winning with such horrendous quarterback play (a highlight from Saturday: Matt McGloin driving the Nittany Lions 90 yards only to throw a pick in the end zone), but it can if the other team can't score, either. Props to defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. I don't how he keeps doing this every year without losing his mind.
It's not realistic to think Penn State will be as dominant defensively every week as it was against Iowa, but no one's going to march up and down the field on the Nittany Lions, either. Even Alabama stud Trent Richardson had to work hard for his 111 yards. But 10 wins would require beating two of the following three: 6-0 Illinois, 5-1 Nebraska and 5-0 Wisconsin. There's also a road game at Ohio State that could well be decided by a 3-2 score. Nine wins seems like a more realistic ceiling, but the defense will have to keep playing out of its mind.
This may come as a shock, but I didn't run into a great deal of crazy-stalker admirers during my bachelor days -- but yes, that's pretty much the perfect analogy.
Missouri is a fine school, one that's produced some very good journalists -- and Jon Hamm. Gary Pinkel has done a remarkable job with the football program, winning at least 10 games in three of the past four seasons. But Missouri fits the SEC about as well as Stephen Garcia would a dry county. The SEC is about 90,000 seat stadiums and rabid fan bases. A ranked Mizzou team had 13,000 empty seats at its opener. The SEC is about fourth-generation Alabama and Ole Miss alums in khakis and sun dresses. Mizzou is in the Midwest, where the folks like their hoodies. The SEC is about parking your RV at the other team's stadium five days before the game. Columbia is a 16-hour drive from Gainesville. And no disrespect to Pinkel, but those 10-win seasons came in part thanks to being a member of the now-defunct Big 12 North. In the SEC Missouri would likely join the West, with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU. Enjoy the BBVA Compass Bowl.
And yet, there are apparently a bunch of powerful people in the state of Missouri who think this is a wonderful idea. Or, as one anonymous school official told the AP: "That's what's left," now that it's abundantly clear the Big Ten isn't interested. That was a regrettable thing to say without being guaranteed the votes from the SEC. And while many at the school are surely loving the attention Missouri is getting right now from making the Big 12 wait indefinitely on a decision, the Big 12 won't prosper or suffer either way. Its future was ensured the day Texas and Oklahoma agreed to sign over their grants of rights.
I don't think we've reached restraining-order territory yet, but I wonder how many times Missouri has had to ask, "So you'll call me, right?"
You're in luck: I'll be writing an entire column from the ASU-Oregon game this weekend.
I make no promises beyond that.