Tuesday October 13th, 2009

College football may not have a playoff, but it does have a bracket. I first advanced my BCS title game bracket theory on Sept. 11 in the From Scrimmage blog to console a grammarian USC fan who couldn't understand why I had jumped Alabama over the Trojans following the Crimson Tide's opening-week win over Virginia Tech. On Monday, colleague Stewart Mandel (with an assist from the great Dave Curtis of The Sporting News) discussed the bracket again in his College Football Overtime column.

Today, we'll take a closer look at the bracket itself. On one side stands the SEC Elite Region. It's occupied by Alabama and Florida, the only two teams that appear capable of beating everyone else in the country. In other words, the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and non-BCS teams occupy the other side, which, for our purposes here, we'll call the Everyone Else Region. This could change, but only if Florida or Alabama happens to lose two games between now and the SEC title game. Judging by the remaining schedules for both teams, that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Everyone Else region features a few of the stereotypes we've come to expect from that other bracket-obsessed sport. There's a mid-major like Memphis that, thanks to a horrible conference and a few good nonconference wins, has inserted itself into the national title conversation in the past few years (Boise State). There's a conference like the Big Ten that plays a boring style and always wonders why it doesn't get more respect (the Big Ten). There's a nationally renowned, perennially overrated program like Duke that falls flat when faced with a truly elite opponent (Notre Dame). There's a program like North Carolina that often suffers head-scratching losses early and then gets hot with postseason play around the corner (USC). Shoot, there's even a Bracket Buster game (TCU at BYU) coming up on Oct. 24. Where's Andy Glockner when you need him?

This may not seem fair to Texas, USC, or the other non-SEC title contenders, but this setup probably is preferable to the following nightmare scenario. What if Alabama loses a squeaker to LSU and doesn't get to face Florida in the SEC title game? It's entirely possible pollsters would endorse SEC-on-SEC action in Pasadena if the Crimson Tide annihilate the rest of their opponents -- especially if the next-best option is a Virginia Tech team the Tide already throttled.

So just make like it's March and embrace the bracket. This could be fun. When you watch Texas-Oklahoma on Saturday, don't look at it as a matchup between the Longhorns and a team fighting to save its season. Think of it as a second-round matchup between a No. 1 seed and a No. 8 seed that should have been a lot better during the regular season.

Who knows? Maybe this idea will catch on. A bracketed tournament to pick a national champion? What a concept.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1Florida Gators
Last Week: 1
The Gators lead the nation in total defense (202.6 yards a game) and scoring defense (6.4 points a game). Arkansas should test Florida's D on Saturday, but remember, in a visit to another elite defense (Alabama), the Razorbacks scored only seven.
Last game: Beat LSU, 13-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Arkansas
 
2Alabama Crimson Tide
Last Week: 3
Many are unfairly maligning the Crimson Tide's offense after the Ole Miss win. The Rebels' defense played its heart out Saturday. Fortunately for Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy and his teammates, they get a chance to prove themselves against another fairly stout outfit when Eric Norwood and South Carolina come to Tuscaloosa.
Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 22-3
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina
 
3Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 2
Some in the Lone Star State might be upset that the Longhorns fell a spot. Don't be. Your team trailed at the half at home to a Colorado team that got housed by Toledo. Texas probably should have fallen farther, and the Longhorns will suffer a precipitous drop if they don't beat Oklahoma. If they keep winning, they need not worry about being ranked below Alabama and Florida. Remember, the Longhorns are on the other side of the bracket.
Last game: Beat Colorado, 38-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Oklahoma in Dallas
 
4Virginia Tech Hokies
Last Week: 7
The Hokies' Sept. 5 loss to Alabama carries far less weight with the Crimson Tide crushing everything in their path, and their narrow escape from Nebraska looks better in light of the Cornhuskers' win at Missouri last week. If the offense keeps clicking as it has the past few weeks, Virginia Tech belongs in the national title discussion.
Last game: Beat Boston College, 48-14
Next game: Saturday at Georgia Tech
 
5Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Week: 5
The Bearcats face their toughest Big East test Thursday, and the odds might not be in their favor. Road favorites have had terrible luck in Thursday games the past few years, and Nebraska may have sapped all of October's mojo last week at Missouri. Of course, Cincinnati could make its own luck by continuing to play stifling defense and by using its precision passing attack to frustrate South Florida's defense.
Last game: Beat Miami (Ohio), 37-13
Next game: Thursday at South Florida
 
6USC Trojans
Last Week: 8
Quarterback Matt Barkley is healthy, and the Trojans should have receiver Ronald Johnson back when they head to South Bend this week. That's good news, considering they'll face a pass defense that ranks No. 110 in the nation (263.6 yards a game).
Last game: Beat Cal, 30-3
Next game: Saturday at Notre Dame
 
7Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 9
The Buckeyes have played lights-out since losing to USC, but because of that head-to-head loss, Ohio State is trapped behind the Trojans until USC loses another game. Guess who will celebrate a win against Purdue by rooting hard for a Notre Dame win this week?
Last game: Beat Wisconsin, 31-13
Next game: Saturday at Purdue
 
8LSU Tigers
Last Week: 6
I've never been a fan of plunging teams in the rankings because they lost a game that, according to last week's rankings, they were supposed to lose. My fellow AP voters apparently feel otherwise. In the aggregate poll, LSU dropped from No. 4 to No. 10. Here, they drop only from No. 6 to No. 8. If Florida is indeed No. 1, shouldn't the Gators beat the Tigers? Why should LSU be punished so severely for losing to a better team?
Last game: Lost to Florida, 13-3
Next game: Oct. 24 vs. Auburn
 
9TCU Horned Frogs
Last Week: 4
As we discussed last week, teams that have designs on winning the national title need to thump inferior opponents. Boise State got dinged for not doing that last week, and TCU's getting dinged for the same reason this week. Yes, it was cold in Colorado Springs. Yes, Air Force is much better than UC Davis, the sacrificial lamb Boise State didn't slaughter a week earlier. Still, a top five team should win by two or three touchdowns.
Last game: Beat Air Force, 20-17
Next game: Saturday vs. Colorado State
 
10Boise St. Broncos
Last Week: 10
I've written a lot about my disdain for Boise State's nonconference schedule in light of the weakness of the WAC, but Wednesday's trip to Tulsa should provide the Broncos with a slight challenge. The Golden Hurricane's only loss came at Oklahoma, and Tulsa has beaten all its other opponents -- none of them BCS-conference schools, admittedly -- by at least 17. Plus, the game is on a Wednesday, which means something wacky will happen.
Last game: Beat UC Davis, 34-16
Next game: Wednesday at Tulsa
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