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Oklahoma's BCS title-game odds better than Alabama's; more mail

As Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley said after Saturday's Nebraska game, last week was "a week unprecedented in college football history." With hindsight, I admit I didn't fully grasp the enormity of the story or the level of emotion it would stir in readers until after I'd already written the first couple Joe Paterno-related pieces. I struggled to find a tone that lent insight and perspective while still being sensitive to the victims of the horrific crimes at the center of the story. As I soon learned, many people are so angry about this tragedy that they don't want to read anything that isn't also loud and angry.

In a typical week I receive 300-400 e-mails to sort through for the Mailbag. By last Friday I already had nearly 1,000. Of those I read, many were incredibly heartfelt and thought-provoking. Others just wanted Paterno drawn and quartered and called me a bunch of expletives for having the audacity to write anything less inflammatory. As I've said since the day the story broke, this is far more complicated and nuanced than CBS News and others would have you believe. There are 1,000 questions to be asked, not just about Paterno or Mike McQueary, but about bumbling Pennsylvania law-enforcement officials, oblivious Second Mile executives and anyone else who could have put a stop to Jerry Sandusky but failed. And the only people truly qualified to answer them are the subjects themselves.

So while I appreciate all your e-mails (even the mean ones), I don't think the Mailbag -- a generally lighthearted column featuring questions that only require a few paragraphs to answer -- is an appropriate forum for Penn State-related queries. We'll be sticking to football this week, where most of your questions also center around one particular topic: Le BCS.

If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State (which isn't that unlikely), would it get the voter support to rise to No. 2 in the BCS, or is a LSU vs. Alabama/Oregon nearly certain if Oklahoma State loses?-- James, Arlington, Va.

In the immediate wake of Saturday's Stanford and Boise State losses, I didn't lend much credence to the Oklahoma possibility, presumably for the same reason most of you haven't: That Texas Tech loss was a deal-breaker, right? When I called CollegeBCS.com's Jerry Palm on Sunday to gauge what chance if any he felt Oregon had of eventually jumping Alabama (short answer: none), he surprised me a bit by saying "I think if you see any voter movement, it would be for Oklahoma. ... If Oklahoma wins on that last day, beating the No. 2 team in the country, I don't think people will care that they lost to Texas Tech. I think they'll care they haven't played LSU." After looking into it some more, I believe Palm is right. I also believe the 11-1 Sooners would in fact be more deserving than the 11-1 Tide.

For one thing, Oklahoma would immediately distinguish itself from Alabama in one important way: While the Tide had a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country at home and lost, OU would have beaten the No. 2 team on the road. But it goes further than that. Oklahoma would have the better overall résumé. Based on the current BCS standings, it would boast road or neutral-site wins over No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 13 Kansas State, No. 22 Baylor, No. 23 Texas and No. 25 Florida State. Alabama would have a home win over No. 6 Arkansas, road wins over No. 21 Penn State and No. 24 Auburn ... and that's it. Oklahoma benefits from the Big 12's round-robin schedule; Alabama, if it fails to reach the SEC championship game, misses the chance to play No. 12 South Carolina or No. 14 Georgia.

Now, do I actually believe Oklahoma is a better team than Alabama? I do not. And a major reason for that is the Texas Tech game. National championship-caliber teams don't generally lose to teams that might not even make a bowl. But are we supposed to judge teams based on one game or 12 games? I believe the latter, and I think most would agree. We assume Alabama has faced a tougher grind than Oklahoma because we're so conditioned to accept SEC supremacy. It's actually quite the opposite. According to Sagarin, the Sooners have played the nation's sixth-toughest schedule, Alabama the 20th. And that disparity will grow after the Tide play Georgia Southern this week.

Having said all that, let's not forget that in its past two games Oklahoma has lost its best running back (Dom Whaley) and its best player (Ryan Broyles). The Sooners might not make it out of Waco this week, much less knock off the No. 2 team in the country.

Just a question: How is Oklahoma's résumé more impressive than Arkansas'? The only team the Razorbacks have lost to is No. 3 Alabama, where OU lost to a horrible Texas Tech program. Is it because of the all important preseason poll that had the Sooners at No. 1?-- Jamie Smith, Vilonia, Ark.

The preseason No. 1 ranking is certainly a factor. If Oklahoma had started the year No. 13 it probably wouldn't even be in this discussion. It's unfortunate, but true. But I'd say much the same thing about the Oklahoma-Arkansas comparison as I did OU-Alabama. The Razorbacks have a chance to add a game-changing victory over No. 1 LSU to their résumé, but they got blown out by Alabama and have just two wins over current BCS Top 25 teams (South Carolina and Auburn). Both the Razorbacks and Sooners played No. 30 Texas A&M. Beating the Aggies was Arkansas' third-best win to date; by season's end the A&M win might not even crack the Sooners' top five.

And because of the SEC's unique divisional tiebreaker, Arkansas has almost no chance of reaching the SEC championship game (it would need to beat LSU, move ahead of both LSU and Alabama in the BCS standings but hope LSU somehow remained between it and Alabama). Voters have long placed importance on teams winning a conference championship. Unless either gets that opportunity, I don't see how Alabama or Arkansas would be in a different situation than Georgia in 2007, which voters had a chance to move up to No. 2 in the final poll but did not in large part because the Dawgs did not even win their division.

As I did Sunday, I'd like to take a moment now to stop and recognize that Oklahoma State is still undefeated, has been absolutely dominant and has given us no reason to think it will fail to win its last two games. All this other speculation just gives us a way to pass the time before Bedlam.

I am a TCU alum, and couldn't be more proud of our Frogs last Saturday. We knew it was going to be a rebuilding year, and after early losses to Baylor and SMU, a Boise upset was all we were hoping for (totally not still bitter from Fiesta Bowl 2010). Looking at the rankings and BCS rules, is it crazy to think that if TCU wins out and takes the Mountain West championship, the Frogs might sneak into that coveted BCS non-AQ spot?-- Andy Donovan, Houston

It's absolutely not crazy. The rules state that the highest-ranked non-AQ champ is guaranteed a berth if it finishes in the Top 12 OR finishes in the Top 16 and is above the lowest-rated AQ champ. TCU is currently 19th and above all Big East teams. It need only beat 3-6 Colorado State and 2-7 UNLV (almost definite), move up three spots in three weeks (nearly definite) and hope Houston loses a game (entirely possible with the Cougars' toughest conference games still ahead). But watch out for 9-1 Southern Miss, currently sitting just one spot behind the Horned Frogs at No. 20 and with a chance to possibly face 12-0 Houston in the Conference USA championship game. Were the Eagles to win out under that scenario, they would probably leapfrog TCU, which should hope that Southern Miss somehow loses to 2-8 UAB or 2-8 Memphis, or that Houston loses to 7-3 Tulsa, giving the Eagles a less glamorous final opponent.

Either way, a BCS bowl is currently one Houston loss away from hosting either a team that lost to SMU and Baylor (TCU) or another that lost to Marshall (Southern Miss). Reason No. 257 to get rid of AQ and non-AQ bids (a scenario that's picking up steam) and just let the bowls take the best available teams.

Let us talk about Notre Dame's long shot BCS aspirations. You go first.-- Ed, Chicago

They ended four weeks ago. You go.

How on earth do you have Michigan State projected as 'Big Ten No. 4' and playing in the Insight Bowl? The Spartans are currently atop the Legends Division with Indiana and Northwestern to play, and by all means have their own destiny at hand in going to the Big Ten Championship game.-- Jon, Greenville, S.C.

Big Ten fans are about to learn what ACC, SEC and Big 12 fans learned long ago: Reaching the league championship game can actually hurt a team's bowl fortunes. Bowls desire teams and fan bases that come in with momentum and enthusiasm and won't view the bowl they reach as a letdown. Michigan State could well win the conference and head to Pasadena, but if it reaches Indianapolis and loses to Wisconsin (as I'm projecting), its fans would be disappointed and the Spartans would have three losses.

Meanwhile, it's possible the winner of this week's Nebraska-Michigan game will finish 10-2, but not go to the title game. And even if the Wolverines lose to the Huksers but beat Ohio State, they'll be 9-3 and their fans will be elated. It's no secret Michigan and Nebraska are bigger draws -- both for fan travel and television -- than Michigan State. Therefore, provided neither moves up to the BCS, I all but guarantee the Capital One and Outback bowls would select them before the Spartans.

And that's how on earth I got there.

You're a moron for thinking UM will be the No. 2 Big Ten team. And MSU at No. 4? Good God man, get a clue!-- Dan, Chicago

Normally I'd insert some snarky retort here, but this is a learning process for Big Ten fans. It will probably take a year or two to get used to the championship game and how it impacts bowl selection. I'm patient.

Is Derek Dooley's job safe? Tennessee has looked awful. I know Dooley hasn't had a long time to build the team, but 0-6 in SEC play has to be unacceptable at Tennessee.-- John, Kennesaw, Ga.

I believe it's safe for this year, though all bets are off if the Vols lose to both Vandy and Kentucky. The administration and most fans realize the main reason Dooley is in this predicament to begin with is because the school went through coaching changes in consecutive offseasons, and going through a third in four years would probably not help the cause. Lane Kiffin's disastrous rush-job recruiting class in 2009 (which saw mass attrition) and sudden exit weeks before Signing Day in 2010 (which cost the Vols several potential commits) left an indisputable void that's going to take Dooley time to fill. And injuries to quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter doomed him this season.

That said, Dooley hasn't done much to make anyone believe he's the right guy to lead Tennessee for the long haul. Kiffin's abrupt departure sent former AD Mike Hamilton on a mad-dash coaching search that ended with Dooley, but only after Will Muschamp, Troy Calhoun, Kyle Whittingham and David Cutcliffe turned down the job. Dooley was 17-20 at Louisiana Tech, and he's now 10-13 in Knoxville. The Vols have gotten progressively less competitive. And there's no eloquent way to put it, but ... he's just a weird dude. The former lawyer often speaks in a language only discernible to him. That plays well when you're winning, but not so much when you're 0-6. He deserves more time, but he won't go into next season with overwhelming fan support, which usually means a team is simply delaying the inevitable.

Stewart, why no Heisman love for Collin Klein? He might not have the gaudiest numbers, but just ask any team K-State has played (save for OU, second half) what he can do. It's not like the opposing defenses have to be rocket scientists to figure out what's happening, but they still can't stop him. Maybe not this year, but keep an eye on him next year, because I think he'll have the numbers then.-- Phil, Spearville, Kan.

If the Heisman were an actual Most Valuable Player Award, Klein would be in the discussion. He is Kansas State. He's accounted for 69 percent of the Wildcats' total offense (2,513 yards) and 76 percent of their touchdowns (34). He already has more rushing touchdowns (24) than Tim Tebow had in his 2007 Heisman season and is just two shy of the FBS record for quarterbacks. Suffice it to say, 8-2 K-State would not be contending for a BCS bowl without him.

However, precisely because of dual-threat standouts like Tebow and Cam Newton, it's hard to win a Heisman Eric Crouch-style anymore. Voters expect quarterbacks to both run and pass, and Klein has thrown for just 1,504 yards while competing 58.9 percent of his throws. He also managed just 150 total yards against Oklahoma, the best defensive team he's faced. So while I admire what he's done, it's hard to reasonably say he's in the discussion for "most outstanding player." As Phil said, maybe next year.

What is it with your antipathy toward Michigan State? Fourth place in the Big Ten? Two spots behind Michigan, who they beat? Is your position based on the fact we've beaten your beloved Mildcats the last three years? Get real, Stewart! (I think the 'burbs have softened your brain!)-- Greg Finley, Vancouver, Wash.

I don't think you're giving me proper credit for moving them up from No. 6 the week before.

Navy beat SMU on Saturday to get to 4-6. If the Midshipmen win on Saturday against San Jose State, they'd get to 5-6 going into their last game against Army (3-7). Since that game is now played so late (Dec. 10), would they have any chance of a bowl game if they beat Army and finish 6-6 or would the bowl games be set by then?-- Jonny, Stronsville, Ohio

Navy has a guaranteed spot in the Military Bowl if it's eligible, so if it beats SJSU, that game will have to hold that spot open until after the Army-Navy game. This same thing happened two years ago when the Washington D.C. bowl had a deal with Army, which was 5-6 going into the Navy game. UCLA accepted a conditional bid to what was then the EagleBank Bowl, but had to wait an extra week to find out if the spot would actually be available.

Is it possible that the PAC-12 title game could actually cost the league a bowl-eligible team? If a 6-6 team from the South goes in and loses the game wouldn't it then be ineligible for a bowl at 6-7?-- John, Spokane, Wash.

Yes. This scenario also happened a few years ago in the MAC, when Miami of Ohio went 6-6, played in the conference championship game and lost. A league could apply for a waiver from the NCAA but isn't likely to get it unless there's a shortage of eligible teams, which this year there's not.

By the way, that's far from the Pac-12's worst-case scenario. If Arizona State, Utah and UCLA all lose their last two games, the Bruins would represent the South at 5-7.

um, Michigan State beat Michigan ... why would you put U of M in the Capital One bowl against Georgia instead of MSU???????????????-- David Milak, Livingston, Montana

Just to be clear, I don't actually get to place the teams in the bowls. These are just predictions.

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