Sunday's release of the first BCS standings was bittersweet indeed. Just two years from now, this 14-year-old ritual will be no more. What ever will we do when we no longer have to spend Sundays waiting for a television network to tell us the results of a mathematically bankrupt formula that doesn't truly matter for another seven weeks? Must ... have ... a pecking order.
And this year, we even have a full-blown pseudo-controversy. The first BCS standings mirror the polls in declaring Alabama (6-0), the national leader in every major defensive category, as the No. 1 team. But -- gasp! -- AP and USA Today No. 2 Oregon (6-0), which is outscoring opponents by an average of 52-20, currently ranks at No. 3. Furthermore, the Ducks are only three-thousandths of a point ahead of BCS No. 4 Kansas State.
Looking at each team's schedule, the explanation for the standings is obvious: The BCS computers have discounted the Ducks' competition. And in comparison to the schools ranked behind them, Alabama, which the computers list third, and Oregon, which the computers list sixth, have played barely anyone yet.
Cue: Writers and TV types making tired nerd jokes about the computer programmers who clearly have no business inserting their nerdness into a football discussion. In reality, the computers are simply doing what the proposed playoff selection committee will purportedly do in 2014: weigh the strength of each contender's schedule.
The highpoint of Alabama's slate remains its season-opening rout of Michigan (4-2), which did not crack the first BCS standings. Or perhaps it was the win over its Week 2 opponent, Western Kentucky, which now holds a record of 5-1. 'Bama's first three SEC foes (Arkansas, Ole Miss and Missouri) are a combined 10-11. And that's a certifiable gauntlet compared to Oregon's first six opponents, which combined for seven votes in this week's AP poll (Washington 6, Arizona 1).
If it were possible to somehow clear voters' brains of all preseason perceptions and recent history, and if those voters were to then sit down and rank teams based solely on their résumés to date, two other unbeatens, Florida and Notre Dame, would in fact rank ahead of Alabama and Oregon. Two more, Kansas State and Oregon State, would come in ahead of the Ducks.
On Saturday, the 6-0 Gators, which in an unusual scheduling quirk will wrap up conference play before Election Day, improved to 5-0 in the SEC with a 31-17 win at Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp's team previously notched road victories over 5-1 Texas A&M (No. 18 in the BCS) and 3-3 Tennessee in addition to a 14-6 home win over No. 6 LSU (5-1). And if that's not enough, Florida hosts BCS No. 7 South Carolina (6-1) this Saturday.
The schedule has been similarly demanding for 6-0 Notre Dame, which, with a dramatic 20-13 overtime win against Stanford, now boasts four wins over opponents with winning records. Amazingly, the Irish's second-ranked scoring defense has not allowed an offensive touchdown since Sept. 8, though Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor may disagree. And Notre Dame's slate only gets more daunting: Road meetings with BCS No. 9 Oklahoma (4-1) and No. 10 USC (5-1) loom before the end of year.
As for Kansas State, the Wildcats currently sit alone in first place atop this year's toughest conference (seven of the 10 Big 12 teams currently appear in the BCS standings), and their Sept. 22 win at Oklahoma looks even more impressive following the Sooners' Red River beatdown of Texas. Next week's trip to Morgantown lost some luster after West Virginia's blowout loss at Texas Tech, but a victory would give the Wildcats two wins over current top-15 foes -- two more than either Alabama or Oregon can count.
The BCS standings pose an age-old question: Style or substance? A playoff selection committee operating like the NCAA basketball committee would look at schools' current résumés and downgrade the Tide and Ducks, just like the BCS computers did. But we're still living in the poll era, where blowouts seem to matter much more than the level of competition, and it's hard to argue with 'Bama and Oregon's dominance. The Tide went to Columbia Saturday and, in a haze of rain and slosh, rushed for 362 yards while limiting the Tigers (now 0-4 in the SEC) to 126 total yards. It's what we've come to expect from a juggernaut that has now held 19 of its past 20 opponents to 14 points or fewer. Oregon's defense is not quite as stingy, but it's pretty darn good. Coordinator Nick Aliotti's group ranks 15th nationally in yards per play (4.55), which is more than formidable enough to complement Oregon's machine-like attack.
The Tide and Ducks do face tougher competition soon. Thursday, Oregon visits 5-1 Arizona State, which barely missed the Top 25 this week. The real heavy lifting comes in November, however, when Chip Kelly and Co. have games against BCS No. 9 USC, No. 20 Stanford (4-2) and No. 8 Oregon State (5-0). If they get through all that, they'll likely partake in a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch with either Arizona State or USC.
Meanwhile, Alabama visits Tennessee this week, followed by an intriguing three-week swing: Oct. 27 against Mississippi State, which should be 7-0 by kickoff, Nov. 3 at LSU and Nov. 10 against Texas A&M. And if the Tide win the SEC West, they'll undoubtedly play another top-10 team in Atlanta. That opponent could very well be Florida, a matchup that -- if the Tide, Gators and Ducks all remain undefeated -- should render any BCS controversy moot anyway.
Still, in an ideal world, we would all just wait until everybody has completed their full schedules before determining which teams have the best cases to play for the title. And the good news is, in two years, none of this will be an issue -- except on ESPN's new Sunday night program: "Selection Committee Countdown."
There apparently is a kryptonite for Heisman darling Geno Smith: wind. At least, that's the case according to his coach. With then-No. 5 West Virginia trailing Texas Tech 35-7 at halftime, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen cited the "40 mile per hour wind" in Lubbock as an explanation for his team's poor play during an interview with ABC's Quint Kessenich. Holgorsen used the same excuse at the conclusion of West Virginia's humbling 49-14 defeat, telling reporters, "Geno let the wind affect him."
For his part, Smith said: "The wind didn't bother me. Anyone who says that obviously doesn't know football."
Considering Texas Tech counterpart Seth Doege threw for 499 yards and six touchdowns, let's give due credit to the Red Raiders' defense for holding the previously unflappable Smith well below his previous production. The Mountaineers quarterback went 29-of-55 for 275 yards and just one first-quarter score. It didn't help that top receiver Stedman Bailey missed the second half with an ankle injury, but by that point, the game was already seemingly out of reach.
"He's the most accurate quarterback we've seen in a long time," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said of Smith Sunday a day after improving his career record against top-five opponents to 6-2. "We tried to press their outside receivers, make them throw deep and take our chances. He overthrew four or five people and we were able to get them off the field."
Equally important, said Tuberville, was slowing West Virginia's rushing attack. The Mountaineers ran for 192 yards the week before against Texas, proving an antidote to the Longhorns' pass rush. Holgorsen again went to the ground often against Tech, but this time his stable of backs managed a mere 3.7 yards per carry.
The defensive clinic is as a milestone of sorts for Tuberville's program. A year after finishing 5-7 and ranking 114th in the nation in total defense, Tuberville changed coordinators for the third time in three seasons by hiring former North Carolina coordinator Art Kaufman. Under Kaufman's watch, the Red Raiders have improved to hold the No. 4 ranking, which may be a bit misleading because of their soft early schedule -- but then, it's hard to argue with shutting down Smith and the Mountaineers.
"Yesterday was a huge turning point for us," said Tuberville. "Here at Texas Tech there'd been no [emphasis] on defense the past 10, 11 years. It's been tough changing that mentality. Coach [Mike] Leach wanted to outscore people. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's not me."
Last year, an injury-depleted defense caused Tech to lose its final four games after knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma. On Saturday, starting cornerback Cornelius Douglas went down with a knee bruise in the first quarter, but juco transfer Bruce Jones stepped in for him seamlessly. Junior Tre Porter, who missed those last four games of 2011, helped lock down Mountaineers star Tavon Austin.
The No. 18 Red Raiders (5-1) are far from a finished product, and they were whipped by Oklahoma, 41-20, only a week earlier. But coming off a dominant performance against West Virginia, Tuberville's team is in dramatically better shape than it was after last year's top-five upset.
Mack Brown has won 78 percent of his games at Texas. He has won one national championship and played for another. He finished nine consecutive seasons with double-digit win totals at one point, and, at some places, would have earned his own statue outside his team's stadium.
But Brown has a penchant for doing the one thing most likely to alienate a fan base: He has routinely been crushed by the Longhorns' archrival.
Oklahoma's 63-21 Red River beatdown of Texas Saturday was just the latest indignity in a series that has seen Bob Stoops' squads beat Brown's teams by scores of 63-14 (2000), 65-13 (2003) and 55-17 (2011), respectively. Mind you, the 2000 and '03 Sooners went on to play for the national championship, and last year's squad was ranked No. 3 at the time of the game. This Oklahoma team is clearly much improved since its turnover-laden Sept. 22 home loss to Kansas State -- in particular, Mike Stoops' defense is starting to resemble the early-2000s Mike Stoops' defenses -- but it still sits at just No. 10 in the AP Poll.
"It's just unacceptable for Texas to lose like that to Oklahoma, much less anybody, especially two years in a row," said Brown, who fell to 5-9 against the Sooners. But that prompts a larger question: What is he going to do about it?
Following the early 2000s routs, the promise of young quarterbacks Chris Simms and Vince Young gave 'Horns fans hope for the future (though they were certainly ticked). And indeed, from 2000-04, when Oklahoma won five straight in the series, Texas lost just two regular-season games post-Red River. Last year's result could be chalked up to a young team still rebounding from the disastrous 5-7 campaign of 2010, but that transition has now hit a wall.
Brown's hot hire two years ago, touted young defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, currently oversees one of the worst defenses in the FBS. Texas, which has developed a mysterious aversion to tackling, has allowed 13 touchdowns of 20 yards or longer in Diaz's last eight games. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was brought in to beef up the 'Horns' rushing attack. They currently rank 43rd in country in that department.
Perhaps Texas will rekindle one of Brown's old traditions and embark on a late-season hot streak. But if not, what should he do? This isn't an emergency situation on par with Gene Chizik's predicament at Auburn, but Brown, at age 61 and making more than $5 million a year, won't likely be afforded a second chance to reinvent his program. It's too soon to declare Brown on the "hot seat," but it's a more plausible scenario than it's ever been before.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. OregonRose: Michigan vs. USCFiesta: Kansas State vs. Notre DameSugar: South Carolina vs. OklahomaOrange: Florida State vs. Louisville
Michigan (4-2) now looks like the leading candidate to represent the Big Ten in Pasadena. The Wolverines apparently have a pretty good defense (No. 10 nationally) when facing opponents other than Alabama, and they blanked Illinois 45-0 Saturday.
The Big 12 and SEC are all but assured to place two teams in the BCS, but good luck guessing which ones get the at-large spots. I'm still not convinced LSU makes it through with fewer than three losses, thereby making the Sugar Bowl a likely landing spot for the SEC East champion or runner-up. There, that team will face Oklahoma ... or West Virginia ...or TCU ... or ...
• Saturday night's Texas A&M-Louisiana Tech game was every bit a classic late-night WAC shootout -- only an SEC team was involved. In the last two minutes alone, Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel ran for a seemingly game-clinching 72-yard touchdown, Bulldogs receiver Quinton Patton answered with a 62-yard score and Louisiana Tech recovered an onside kick and scored again with 38 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 59-57. Tech only succumbed after failing to convert its ensuing two-point conversion and its second onside kick attempt.
Louisiana Tech -- which started the game in a 27-0 hole -- was as good as advertised offensively, with Patton catching a staggering 21 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns. But the star of the night was A&M redshirt freshman Manziel, who broke his own SEC record with 576 total yards and now leads the SEC in rushing at 112.7 yards per game. He crushed the Bulldogs' BCS dreams. Our own Holly Anderson was there to chronicle the four-and-a-half hour affair.
• Where has Les Miles been hiding Jeremy Hill? The LSU freshman running back had netted a combined three carries over the Tigers' last three games before breaking open a defensive stalemate with South Carolina, as he rushed for 124 yards on 17 carries, including a backbreaking 50-yard touchdown with 5:03 remaining. "That was Death Valley," Miles said after LSU's 23-21 victory. "That was the place where opponents' dreams come to die -- and it was spectacular."
• Are you ready for more cowbell? With its 41-31 win over Tennessee, Mississippi State (6-0) moved one step closer to carrying an undefeated record into Tuscaloosa Oct. 27. (The Bulldogs face Middle Tennessee this week). Quarterback Tyler Russell (23-of-37 for 291 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) continues to show dramatic improvement. Meanwhile, Vols coach Derek Dooley -- who coached from the press box following midweek hip surgery -- fell to 4-15 in SEC games.
• In its continuing effort to win the SEC with the least possible passing contribution from quarterback Jeff Driskel, Florida turned to ... Jeff Driskel. The sophomore rushed 11 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-17 win at Vanderbilt, breaking a school record for quarterbacks previously held by Tim Tebow. "We kept running really the same play, and they didn't really make adjustments," said Driskel, who did most of his damage on zone read plays.
• Another running quarterback, Kansas State's Collin Klein, has a chance to ascend to the top of the Heisman race if he can outplay Geno Smith this week in Morgantown. In a tough road game Saturday at Iowa State (4-2), Klein carried 25 times for 105 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 187 yards in a 27-21 win. It marked his seventh career game with at least three rushing scores.
• Another week, another In-N-Out run for Oregon State, which is now 5-0 for the first time since 1939. Playing without injured quarterback Sean Mannion, the Beavers scored as many touchdowns (six) as BYU's previously stingy defense had allowed in its first six games combined. Mannion's replacement, Cody Vaz, went 20-of-32 for 332 yards, three touchdowns and no picks with some help from the tandem of Brandin Cooks (eight catches, 173 yards) and Markus Wheaton (two touchdowns).
• Meanwhile, USC's passing game continued to deal with unexpected struggles. In a 24-14 win at Washington, Matt Barkley was just 10-of-20 for 167 yards, and star wideouts Robert Woods and Marqise Lee were held below 10 combined catches for the first time this season. "I continue to remind myself there is one goal and that is to win the game," said Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, whose team improved to 5-1. "Are the numbers what we're used to? No. But we won."
• Ohio State's star-studded defense got all it could handle Saturday from ... Indiana. The Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) survived the Hoosiers (2-4, 0-3), 52-49, but not before three fourth-quarter touchdowns helped Indiana nearly rally from a 45-27 deficit. "We're not very good in certain areas right now, and spread offenses right now are really exposing us," said coach Urban Meyer. His own spread quarterback, Braxton Miller, tallied another 149 rushing yards.
• It's nice to see Monteé Ball back to being Monteé Ball. Wisconsin's star running back, who ran for 1,923 yards last season to earn an invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony, exploded for a career-high 247 yards on 29 carries in Saturday's 38-14 win at Purdue. He was averaging just 4.0 yards per carry entering the game. Suddenly, the Badgers (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) are back to being runaway favorites to represent the Leaders Division in Indianapolis. In fact, no other eligible team has a conference win.
• The last remaining undefeated team in ACC play is Maryland, of course. Freshman phenom Stefon Diggs returned the opening kickoff 100 yards and caught four passes for 89 yards in a 27-20 win at struggling Virginia (2-5). The Terps (4-2, 2-0), which went 1-11 in Randy Edsall's first season, could conceivably become bowl-eligible within the next three weeks. After a visit from 4-2 NC State, they face 1-5 Boston College and 2-4 Georgia Tech.
• For a while Saturday, it looked like Duke (5-2, 2-1 ACC) would wrap up its first bowl eligibility in 18 years. The Blue Devils raced to a 20-0 first-half lead at Virginia Tech -- before the Hokies turned around and scored the final 41 points. "Our bubble feels burst," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. "It hurts today. It hurts a lot." Rival North Carolina (5-2) comes to town next week. Torrid Tar Heels running back Gio Bernard rolled off 177 yards in an 18-14 win over Miami (4-3).
• Big East frontrunners Louisville (6-0), Rutgers (6-0) and Cincinnati (5-0) all kept their perfect records intact Saturday. Unfortunately it's going to be another couple of weeks before one of the three faces each other (Cincinnati at Louisville Oct. 26). Then there's Temple (3-2), which is now 2-0 in the conference after beating Connecticut in overtime. The Owls, which rejoined the league this year after seven years in exile, last won more than two Big East games in 1997.
• Minnesota coach Jerry Kill was released from a local hospital Sunday after suffering a seizure following Saturday's loss to Northwestern. The school said in a statement that Kill, who has a history of seizures, is "in excellent health."
• Ole Miss (4-3) ended a 16-game SEC losing streak Saturday with a 41-20 win over reeling Auburn (1-5). Just two years ago, Auburn went 14-0, while Ole Miss went 4-8.
• Tulane (1-5) ended a 15-game losing streak in dramatic fashion. It beat SMU (2-4), 27-26, on a 16-yard Ryan Griffin touchdown pass with 35 seconds left.
• Tulsa (6-1) has quietly emerged as the class of Conference USA. It moved to 4-0 in league play with a 33-11 win over UTEP (1-6) last Thursday.
• Meanwhile, last year's Conference USA champion, Southern Miss, has inexplicably sunk from 12-2 to 0-6. Saturday, it fell 38-31 in double overtime to UCF (4-2).
When Dri Archer completed the 40-yard dash during winter conditioning, he turned around to see several frenzied teammates running toward him. "They were going crazy," said Archer. "I was like, 'What [time] did I run?'"
He had run a 4.21.
Earlier this season, Sports Illustrated declared Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas the fastest man in college football. But Thomas may have competition from an unlikely locale: Kent State. A fourth-year junior, Archer currently leads the nation in all-purpose yardage (229.2 yards per game) and kick returns (47.7 yards per return), ranks fifth in scoring (12 points per game) and has been the catalyst behind the 5-1 Golden Flashes' best start since 1973.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound native of Laurel, Fla., can beat you in four ways. He's a running back (104.2 rushing yards per game), receiver (16 catches for 225 yards), return man (three kick returns for touchdowns) and, in Saturday's 31-17 win at Army, a quarterback: He threw a 24-yard halfback pass to quarterback Spencer Keith for a touchdown.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Archer said of his first career pass. "The whole defense just ran with me, I saw [Keith] get open and I threw it up there."
Kent State followers say Archer is the fastest player they've seen since Gerald Tinker, a gold medalist on the U.S. 4-x-100 relay team at the 1972 Olympics, suited up at receiver for the Flashes in 1973. That Don James-coached team, which included future NFL Hall of Famer Jack Lambert and current Missouri coach Gary Pinkel (teammate Nick Saban graduated a year earlier), went 9-2. Kent State has enjoyed just five winning seasons since then, the last of which came in 2001.
Under second-year coach Darrell Hazell, the Flashes have won their first three MAC games, including a 47-45 win over Ball State Sept. 29 in which Archer -- who missed last season with academic issues -- notched 330 all-purpose yards, the most of any FBS player this season. That's roughly half his entire total (666) as a sophomore in 2010.
So what's changed?
"I got faster," he said. Indeed: Prior to this offseason, Archer's fastest 40 time was a paltry 4.33.
This week's video section is dedicated to the great Beano Cook, who passed away last week at the age of 81. We can only imagine him watching Saturday's goal-line stand at the end of Not-re Dame's dramatic victory and exclaiming: "Unbelievable!"
Mini-previews for three of Week 8's big games:
• LSU at Texas A&M, Saturday (Noon ET): LSU is pretty close to unbeatable in night games at home, but how will it fare in a contest at about 11 a.m. local time in College Station, Texas? Johnny Manziel isn't likely to put up 576 yards against Barkevious Mingo and Co., but Zach Mettenberger may need to throw for more than 148 yards for the Tigers.
• South Carolina at Florida, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): After Saturday's loss at LSU, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier wondered whether quarterback Connor Shaw had taken a hit to the head because "some of his decision making was a little off." He'll need Shaw thinking clearly against another ferocious defensive line.
• Kansas State at West Virginia, Saturday (7 p.m. ET): Ready to write off Geno Smith and the Mountaineers? Not wise. Sure, West Virginia's defense can't defend the pass, but Bill Snyder's teams don't generally throw 50 times a game. The Mountaineers rank 20th in the nation in rushing defense (3.3 yards per carry).