In the 13 years of the BCS, there have been only five occasions when we were reasonably certain the correct two teams played in the championship game. This isn't shaping up to be the sixth.
There were controversies that were unavoidable (USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all going undefeated in 2004), unacceptable (Nebraska getting in after losing its last game of the 2001 season 62-36), unexplainable (Florida State getting in a year earlier despite losing to No. 3 Miami, which itself lost to No. 4 Washington) and uncomfortable (the three-way, Big 12 South puzzle of 2008).
This year looks like it's shaping up to be a mix of both unavoidable and uncomfortable.
Stewart, how could a potential Alabama victory over LSU at a neutral site trump a LSU win AT Alabama? Isn't it time we put a clause in the BCS formula that HEAVILY weighs conference championships? If you can't win your conference, you should NOT be allowed to play in the national championship game.-- Chris, Katy, Texas
Why is everybody discounting the possibility of Oklahoma State playing in the title game? Right now it's No. 2 in the computer polls and, while I have no idea what the computers will say in two weeks, isn't there a chance it could leapfrog Alabama if anti-rematch sentiment pulls them closer in the human polls?-- Corey, Nashville
The BCS commissioners considered adding just such a clause after the aforementioned 2001 Nebraska situation. They didn't, in part because not all conferences determine their champions the same way (some have title games, some don't), but also because they didn't want to rule out the very plausible possibility that the best two teams in a given year might play in the same conference. I've felt that way about LSU and Alabama since late September, and I feel the same way today. If the goal is to pit the two best teams in the country at the end of the season, conference affiliation or a previous meeting really shouldn't trump that.
However, as I've said many times, there's a difference between "best" and "most deserving." No one could argue that LSU, probably even at 12-1, would be one of the two most deserving. But is Alabama the other? Before last weekend I felt fairly certain someone else would assume that title, even writing last week about Oklahoma's potentially superior resume. But then the Sooners lost to Baylor. Oklahoma State, the team OU would have needed to beat for its signature win, lost to Iowa State. Oregon went down too. It may now be that the Tide are both the second-best and second-most deserving, conference title be damned.
Outside of the SEC Three, the only other legitimate contender remains Oklahoma State, which will move back up to No. 3 next week if LSU beats No. 3 Arkansas. (The lesson here: If you're going to lose, lose the same week everyone else does.) The computers love the Cowboys, ranking them second behind LSU. Their resume (provided they beat Oklahoma) will not include a win over a team ranked as highly as Arkansas, but will include more wins over current BCS Top 25 teams (four) than Alabama (three).
Yet as much as the public may loathe the idea of a championship game rematch or a team reaching the game without winning its conference, at some point common sense comes into play. I've defended Oklahoma State's defense in the past, but c'mon -- it's not remotely the same caliber as Alabama's. If Iowa State can run right over the Cowboys, as it did in overtime last week, imagine what the Tide's or Tigers' running backs would do. I find a hard time believing the voters will elevate Oklahoma State with the image of Brandon Weeden throwing that dagger pick so fresh in their minds, but let's see what happens if Oklahoma State throttles Oklahoma. It could make for a heated -- and uncomfortable -- 11th-hour debate.
Is Urban Meyer going to come to Columbus to save us or not?-- Buckeye Nation, Columbus, Ohio
It sure looks that way. But as you know, Meyer has a thing for changing his mind, sometimes more than once. I'd wait for the actual news conference to be sure (and even then maybe wait a few days).
Can Urban Meyer realistically win in the Big Ten with Ohio State? It is usually Ohio State, head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten, but the Rich Rodriguez experiment didn't go well at Michigan.-- Carson, Phoenix
As I wrote about Rodriguez's hiring by Arizona, oftentimes the "fit" supersedes a coach's actual abilities. Rodriguez proved to be an awful cultural fit at Michigan, which, when combined with the difficult circumstances he walked into and his own poor decisions, snowballed as the losses piled up. Meyer will have no such problem at Ohio State. You couldn't ask for a much better fit than a guy that grew up in Ohio rooting for the Buckeyes, worked as an assistant there and claims former Ohio State coach Earl Bruce as a close friend and one of his biggest influences. He'll be walking into a program with plenty of talent (including a young quarterback, Braxton Miller, with much the same skill set as his past quarterback standouts) and a fan base hungry to get back on the right track. Barring major NCAA sanctions, he'll face none of the obstacles that hindered Rodriguez.
As for "duplicating his results" from Florida -- that raises an interesting question. No one would dispute Meyer is an excellent coach, having won big at three different schools and capturing two national championships. He'll win Big Ten titles. But with both his and Ohio State's histories, the expectation for Meyer will be national titles. He's therefore the perfect guy to test the growing sentiment that Midwest teams can no longer keep up with their warm-weather counterparts. I'm sure Meyer's connections will help lure some Florida recruits north, but for the most part, his core will still be Ohio kids. Are there enough elite athletes in that state for him to run his preferred style of offense, which is so reliant on speedy skill players? Can he produce a stacked defensive line like the ones he had at Florida? If nothing else, it will be a marked departure from Tresselball.
Stewart, up to this point LSU's dominance has been second-to-none, yet it has no Heisman contender. I would like to know your perspective on this. Can you remember a time that a national championship contender didn't have a player at least in the top 10 of the Heisman race?-- Derek, Baton Rouge
It doesn't happen often, but interestingly, the last two times it did were also the last two times LSU won a BCS championship (2003 and '07). Like this team, those were built around dominant defenses, not flashy offenses. All had mostly game-managers at quarterback and tailbacks by committee, and those are virtually the only positions that win Heismans. The voters showed two years ago they're capable of taking seriously an otherworldly defensive player like Ndamukong Suh, who finished fourth, and Tyrann Mathieu seemed to be getting serious buzz early this season before his suspension and before it became apparent that Morris Claiborne, not Mathieu, is LSU's best cornerback. Perhaps Claiborne could make an 11th-hour Charles Woodson push with some game-changing interceptions against Arkansas and/or Georgia, but as quarterbacks continue to get more accurate and pass more often, it's becoming harder for guys at any other position to win the thing.
Stew, Can you remember a bigger individual award snub than Brad Wing being excluded from the Ray Guy finalists?-- Zach, Baton Rouge, La.
No disrespect to the three finalists -- but that's absolute blasphemy. I propose we Occupy the Ray Guy Award Ceremony.
Stewart, I've enjoyed reading your college football articles in the past, but this one might be the best you've ever written. The revised Mandel Plan makes so much sense that the BCS, NCAA and whoever else is interested would be silly to not implement it as soon as possible. The only question now is how do you get in the room with all the powers to make this happen?-- Pat, Mitchell, S.D.
Stewart, your various iterations of the Mandel Plan have converted me from a playoff proponent. And this one is even better. I still don't like the BCS. It has eviscerated the bowls. They are all meaningless and not fun to watch any more. This could revitalize many of them.-- Doug, Cartersville, Ga.
You may think I just cherry-picked two e-mails that happen to be particularly flattering of me, but I assure you, that's not the case. The new Mandel Plan was a smashing hit with most readers, much to my delight, reinforcing my belief that the Mailbag draws the smartest audience in college football.
The one very valid criticism is that the elimination of AQ berths could be a death knell to non-AQ teams, what with no more guaranteed access to the major bowls. Mind you, that's not the bowls' problem. They're job is to produce the most compelling matchups possible, sell tickets and garner television viewers, and the brand-name programs tend to do that. Also, I'd argue this only improves those teams' chances of actually playing for a national title. TCU finished in the top four and would have qualified for a semifinal each of the past two seasons. That's one of the great mischaracterizations of the BCS: It's not the system keeping those teams out of the title game, it's the voters.
Dude, your plan is way too complicated. I got tired of reading it after the third point. Whatever the solution, it first and foremost needs to be SIMPLE.-- Brian Ewalt, Columbia, S.C.
Just giving equal time to the dissenting viewpoint.
Stewart, seemingly every year, we continue to see title-contending teams lose their chance at a championship due to the lack of a reliable kicker. This year alone, Alabama, Oregon, Boise State and Oklahoma State have all lost games they easily could have won had kickers made very makable field goals. Why can't upper-echelon programs recruit and develop quality kickers?-- Justin Busbey, Columbus, Ohio
It's an excellent point. I wrote last January about how coaches and recruiting services so grossly devalue the importance of kickers. One of the analysts I spoke to even said: Why are you writing about kickers? It's because of exactly what we saw the past couple of weeks. I'd be quite the contrarian if I were a coach compiling a recruiting class. My top three priorities would be: 1) Quarterback, 2) Offensive and defensive line and 3) Kicker. They're that important.
There are other factors beyond recruiting. Kickers get almost no individual coaching once they get to campus. Go to a typical football practice and you'll see the kickers and punters practicing by themselves on a side field while the rest of the team goes through drills. About the only thing they can do is get experience, and sometimes that's hard to come by. Oregon, by nature of its explosive offense, doesn't kick a whole lot of field goals. Alejandro Maldonado, the Ducks sophomore who attempted the ill-fated, last-second 37-yarder against USC, had 10 career attempts going in. Maldonado was rated the 24th-best kicker in the country two years ago by Rivals.com. Maybe Chip Kelly could have signed one less track-speed running back and gone harder after No. 23.
Stewart, many people are saying Penn State should follow in the footsteps of Miami and self-impose a bowl ban. It would seem to me that the players would be punished for the horrendous acts done by a former coach and nothing that they did. What are your thoughts on them going to a bowl game?
-- Garret, Sacramento, Calif.
There's no reason whatsoever for Penn State to ban itself from a bowl game, first and foremost because this scandal has nothing to do with on-field football. There are going to be ample penalties issued to parties accused of wrongdoing, but they're going to be issued by judges, the federal government, and a former FBI director, among others. Where applicable, they're going to involve far more serious penalties (like jail time) than an NCAA bowl ban.
I read Mark Emmert's tersely worded letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson informing him of an "inquiry" into the school's institutional control. I'm guessing this was done for appearance sake. The president of the NCAA doesn't have the latitude to investigate a school (and the NCAA was adamant this is not yet an actual enforcement case), and surely he realizes what a slippery slope he'd be navigating if he did. His letter basically says that the NCAA can define anything it wants to as "unethical conduct." Does that mean Missouri will be appearing before the Committee on Infractions for Gary Pinkel's DWI? Should it issue similar inquiries to any school that has too many player arrests? The NCAA busts coaches for sneaking recruits into barbecues or lying on a compliance form. Higher authorities can handle a possible cover-up of child molestation allegations.
How much longer do you think Florida State fans will have to tolerate Jimbo Fisher? I hated his hiring and will love his firing. Are there any chances that Florida State's athletic director will find a clue and hire Mike Leach?
-- Brian Fry, Austin, Texas
Wow, that changed in a hurry. All I heard for nine months was how Fisher was the savior. In the meantime, I'll add Florida State to the list of schools someone has connected Leach to, which, at this point, is around 105.
Stewart, consensus preseason No. 1 Oklahoma is out of the title race not due to crippling injuries, but because the defense failed to show up against both Texas Tech and Baylor. Stoops won his only national title with defense first, offense second. But ever since Mike Stoops walked away and K-State put a licking on OU in the 2003 Big 12 title game, the Sooners have been all offense and have nothing to show for it despite numerous preseason predictions of greatness. Will Bob go back to Mike now? Will he at least do SOMETHING to address what is obviously the weak link in the program?
-- Stephen, Wichita, Kan.
I know Bob would love to have Mike back, but he's also got tremendous loyalty to Brent Venables, who's been on his staff since Day 1. Perhaps in Bob's ideal world, Venables would finally get a head coaching gig this offseason and he could bring back Mike as a replacement (assuming OU can afford him). But I can't see him pushing out Venables to bring in his brother. He has too much respect for Venables, and frankly so do I. While I don't disagree that Stoops has largely failed to return to the level of defensive dominance he enjoyed under Mike, I'm not sure that's even possible in today's Big 12.
Ironically, it was Stoops' first Mike Leach-coordinated offense in 1999 that helped bring about the conference's current identity, which can best be described as a week-in, week-out video game. One week you're facing Robert Griffin III, the next week Brandon Weeden, the next Seth Doege. Four of the top eight leaders in pass attempts -- Doege, Weeden, Landry Jones and Ryan Tannehill -- reside in the Big 12. OU has plenty of talent on defense and in fact ranks second in the league in total defense, yet that's good for only 62nd nationally. Even the best defense is going to give up a ton of yards facing those offenses every week. But OU plays the same wide-open, up-tempo style as those other teams, and it's hard to win a shootout week after week. You need a defense that simply doesn't give up big plays, and there's only a few of those in the entire country.
We readers still miss the Mailbag Crush -- the selection process, getting to know her ... everything. I suppose you probably quit eating turkey on Thanksgiving, too. You probably eat tofu with a side of whole-grain stuffing. Shame on you.
-- Lyndon, Martinsville, Indiana
Never. Andy Staples would never let me get away with it. But if you find yourself with an abundance of free time this holiday weekend, use your cable's on-demand system to catch up on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes. Kaitlin Olson has been on fire this season. And for that we can all be thankful.
Have a great holiday, everybody.