What's holding Ohio State back in the BCS race?; more mail

Wednesday November 20th, 2013

Despite boasting an undefeated record, Braxton Miller (5) and Ohio State are losing ground in the polls.
Jamie Sabu/Getty Images

Attention Twitter users: Over the weekend, I inadvertently stumbled across the secret for getting a tweet to go viral. Say something in defense of Ohio State.

According to Twitter Analytics, this innocuous observation has been retweeted so many times that it's hit five times my normal "reach," whatever that means. (It also says 93 percent of my followers are male, and 51 percent follow @Erin Andrews. I attribute the crossover to our both being very attractive.) Clearly, incredulous Buckeyes fans are desperate for anyone to acknowledge and debunk the vast conspiracy that seems hellbent on keeping their beloved team out of the BCS title game.

Stewart, has any 10-0 team ever been subjected to the amount of disdain heaped upon Ohio State? Baylor jumped the Buckeyes in the AP Poll? The level of disrespect is galling. Conventional wisdom is that Ohio State has played a weak schedule, but honestly, who have Florida State or Baylor played to make their schedules so much more difficult? Florida State stole Ohio State's spot in the very first BCS championship game, and it would be a travesty if the Seminoles -- or the Bears, for that matter -- were to take the Buckeyes' spot in the final one.
-- Brian Meyers, Oregon, Ohio

First of all, it will be a travesty if any undefeated power-conference school is excluded from playing for the national title, especially knowing the situation will be different next year. I'd say the same thing if Ohio State were No. 2 and Florida State No. 3, or Alabama No. 2 and Baylor No. 3. Anyone who says they definitively know the best two teams in the country is a fan of one of those programs.

That said, I now present the comprehensive guide to Why Ohio State Can't Get Any Respect:

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• Alabama beat then-No. 6 Texas A&M 49-42 on the road on Sept. 14, and defeated then-No. 10 LSU 38-17 in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9. Florida State routed then-No. 3 Clemson 51-14 in Death Valley on Oct. 19. Baylor crushed then-No. 12 Oklahoma 41-12 on Nov. 7, and will visit current No. 11 Oklahoma State this Saturday. The closest thing the Buckeyes have to a "signature" victory is their 31-24 defeat of then-No. 23 Wisconsin on Sept. 28. The only other ranked foe that Ohio State has beaten was then-No. 16 Northwestern, which has gone on to lose six straight.

• The Buckeyes have played four road games to date: Cal, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois. Those teams have not won a single game in conference play.

• According to Sagarin, Ohio State has the 72nd ranked strength of schedule, lower than Alabama (41st) and Florida State (58th), but higher than Baylor (85th). The Bears, however, are beating their opponents by an average score of 61-17. The Buckeyes' average scoring margin is 49-19.

• Remember in 2009, when Cincinnati went 12-0 and no one was particularly sympathetic to the Bearcats because they played in an obviously inferior conference? Well, the '13 Big Ten is the '09 Big East. During its unbeaten regular season, Cincinnati beat two league foes ranked in the BCS top 20, No. 16 West Virginia and No. 17 Pittsburgh. If Ohio State wins out, its best conference wins will likely be over current No. 13 Michigan State (in the Big Ten title game) and No. 19 Wisconsin. One difference: Cincinnati also beat No. 18 Oregon State in nonconference play.

• And lest you think this is all just a big case of media bias, note that nearly every analytical metric is actually lower on the Buckeyes than the pollsters. Sagarin has Florida State No. 1, Alabama No. 2, Baylor No. 3 ... and Ohio State No. 8. Ditto for Football Outsiders' efficiency ratings. In fact, Wisconsin, a team the Buckeyes beat in Columbus, would be favored against Ohio State on a neutral field.

The Buckeyes are a great team. Anyone who says otherwise is trolling. But really, there is no objective basis to have them ranked higher than third, and even that may be generous. Also, one final plea, Ohio State fans: Stop bringing up the 22-game winning streak. It's an incredible feat, but it's completely irrelevant to the 2013 title race. The Buckeyes are 10-0 -- but so are the Crimson Tide, the Seminoles and, possibly after this weekend, the Bears.

STAPLES: Ohio State sits at No. 3 in latest college football Power Rankings

I have never seen an interim coach turn a season around and win over a fan base like Ed Orgeron at USC. Personally, I believe this season is very similar to the Trojans' 2011 campaign. They have nothing to lose and are playing very relaxed. But next year would be different for Orgeron. The pressure would be back and there is much more to running a football program than simply motivating players on game day. In a normal situation, the next coach would have a one-year grace period, but athletic director Pat Haden will anger plenty of players and fans if Orgeron is not hired. Who could Haden hire that would be accepted?
-- Jeff Lloyd, Dallas

It's amazing how many USC fans I'm hearing from that now want Orgeron to get the long-term job, and I imagine his supporters will become even more vocal if the Trojans beat archrival UCLA on Nov. 30. As I wrote in College Football Overtime, however, it's usually not wise to make a hire based on the emotion of either one big win or one stretch of victories. Obviously, the players want Orgeron. They're not looking beyond the present. Still, Haden has to hire the right guy not just for next season, but ideally, for the next 10 years. Orgeron is winning games, though as Jeff said, the permanent head coach has a great number of other responsibilities. While Orgeron has made a few cosmetic changes, USC, at its core, is still currently the program that former coach Lane Kiffin built. And that program was broken.

Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin is the obvious home-run hire. The guy is a heck of a coach, and he'd fit in perfectly in Hollywood. Just last week, he attended a Drake concert and referred to his recruiting helicopter as the "Swag Copter." The players would warm up to him pretty quickly. Vanderbilt's James Franklin may be a tougher initial sell, but he's a salesman and would win over the masses. There also seems to be decent support for alum and current Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Mind you, the new coach could theoretically retain Orgeron as the defensive coordinator, and USC could probably afford to pay him as much or more than he'd make as a mid-level head coach. But that could be awkward. Ohio State did this very thing with Luke Fickell two years ago, but Fickell went 6-7 in 2011, and the guy replacing him had two national title rings. Orgeron might not be keen on being part of a similar arrangement.

MANDEL: Where does USC land in the most recent bowl projections?

Since my Trojans beat Stanford on Saturday night, I have noticed everyone saying that game eliminated the Pac-12 from getting two teams into the BCS and opened the door for Wisconsin to get in. As of now, the Badgers are No. 19 in the BCS. Stanford is No. 9. Assuming both win out, why is it such a foregone conclusion that the Pac-12 wouldn't get two teams (Oregon and Stanford) into the BCS?
-- Jeff, Cincinnati

It's mostly just a case of bad luck in regard to this year's BCS selection order. If this happened to be a year in which the Fiesta Bowl had the first choice of at-large teams, then Stanford would be a no-brainer selection. But that bowl picks last. The Orange Bowl picks first. It's doubtful that organizers would select a two-loss team from the other side of the country that played in the Orange Bowl just three years ago. If a Big Ten or a Big 12 team is available, that's a much safer bet. The American champ (likely UCF) and either Fresno State or Northern Illinois (provided one wins out and remains ahead of the Knights in the BCS standings) have the other two spots nailed down.

Note that in my most recent lineup I slotted potentially 11-2 Michigan State over 10-2 Wisconsin in Miami. Normally, a bowl would prefer a hot team over one that just lost in its conference title game. But with Wisconsin still buried at No. 19, it's no sure thing it will reach the necessary top-14 ranking to become eligible. Michigan State, currently No. 13, would not likely fall out of that range if it wins out but loses to Ohio State in Indianapolis. The best bet for the Pac-12 is for both NIU and Fresno to lose, thus freeing up a second at-large spot. The Sugar Bowl would then likely take a top-10 Stanford team (or perhaps USC, if it wins out but doesn't make the conference title game), knowing that even if it doesn't draw well, the SEC team on the other side (most likely Auburn or Texas A&M) will pack the place.

Could you ever have imagined there would be a year Duke beats Miami in football and Miami beats Duke in basketball?
-- Bart Prorok, Auburn, Ala.

No, but it makes me proud to be an American.

Quarterback Jordan Lynch has Northern Illinois in BCS bowl contention for the second consecutive year.
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Count me among the millions who get physically sick thinking of Northern Illinois in another BCS game, where it will get blown out. If there is a major conference on the fence of getting a second BCS team (example: Big Ten with Michigan State and Wisconsin), can all of the coaches from that league vote NIU last in the Coaches' Poll? It's the last year of the BCS anyway, so the outcry won't be that bad.
-- Chris, Dallas, Pa.

The thought of Northern Illinois in the BCS makes you "physically sick?" Really? It continues to befuddle me the way many college football fans outwardly loathe Cinderella, which could not be more opposite than most fans' approach to college basketball (or really any sport, for that matter). Yes, the Huskies lost to Florida State by 21 points in last year's Orange Bowl. Here is a partial list of other schools that have lost a BCS game by at least three touchdowns: Notre Dame (three times), Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, LSU and Clemson. Should we ban them, too? Also, wouldn't the Big Ten coaches you're suggesting rig their ballots come off a bit hypocritical, seeing as NIU has defeated two Big Ten teams this year (Iowa and Purdue)? Mind you, this season, unlike last, the Huskies would need to finish undefeated to earn a BCS bid.

Don't get me wrong, you're well within your rights to suggest that neither Fresno State (which is currently in better position to get a BCS berth) nor NIU is deserving of their top-16 ranking. Sagarin has the Huskies 46th, the Bulldogs 53rd. (Though strangely, Northern Illinois jumps all the way to No. 3 in his BCS version with no margin of victory.) Football Outsiders has Fresno 45th, NIU 60th. The statistics suggest that 5-5 North Carolina has played better relative to its competition. Still, my thinking is, what's the harm? We're not talking about a playoff or national championship game, just a regular bowl game. Have you seen Jordan Lynch or Derek Carr play? They're both phenomenal. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is pretty special, too, but he's on ABC or ESPN virtually every week. If you remember, the supposed injustice last year was that Northern Illinois bumped the Sooners out of a BCS bowl. Oklahoma instead landed in the Cotton Bowl ... and lost 41-13 to Texas A&M.

Big-name schools get blown out sometimes, too.

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In light of Rachel Bachman's recent open letter in the Wall Street Journal begging Auburn to beat 'Bama for the good of college football, is a dominant team good or bad for the game? Isn't it good to have a Darth Vader or a J.R. Ewing? Does college football really lose interest or viewership when Nebraska, Miami or Alabama goes on a run? Or does it just get more people excited about seeing that team eventually lose and fall down off its pedestal?
-- William Thomas, New York

It's great when the sport has its own version of the Miami Heat -- so long as that team does eventually fall. The three most memorable national championship games of my lifetime were Penn State beating Miami in 1986 (in a pre-BCS Fiesta Bowl), Ohio State edging Miami in '02 and Texas defeating USC in '05. All involved an underdog toppling a supposedly unbeatable team. Alabama most closely resembles the '05 Trojans, who also won two straight national titles and whose coach at the time, Pete Carroll, provoked much the same love-hate response as Nick Saban. I will say, the Crimson Tide are an incredibly boring villain. They don't have a flamboyant superstar like Michael Irvin or J.J. Redick, who was known for smack-talking the opposing student section. When some team does finally beat Alabama in a title game, Saban's expression will barely change. If it happens this year, ESPN will have to cut to a despondent Katherine Webb in the stands.

My only beef with my good friend Rachel's article is that the Tide's three-peat hopes ending in November would not be nearly as satisfying to the rest of the country as some team outside the SEC ending them in January. Alabama has lost an SEC game in each of its past two championship seasons and lost to Auburn the year before that, so this would not be a new phenomenon. Furthermore, a 'Bama regular-season loss would ensure that the SEC's seven-year BCS title streak would end without another conference ending it -- that's anticlimactic, too. If someone is going to take down the empire, it has to be from the outside, not the inside.

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Is South Carolina out of the national title picture entirely? Or would wins over a top-10 Clemson team and then No. 1 Alabama vault it back into the hunt?
-- Joe, Columbia, S.C.

This is really a scenario you're considering days after the Gamecocks barely survivied against a 4-5 Florida team playing with its third-string freshman quarterback? Bless you.

West Virginia has clearly regressed under Dana Holgorsen. While it did lose all of its offensive stars from last season to the NFL, other teams don't seem to have a problem finding players to fill the void and maintain success. Plus, with Oliver Luck's apparent wandering eye for other athletic director jobs, why should Mountaineers fans be optimistic about the future?
-- Chris H., Olney, Md.

Holgorsen was incredibly candid following last week's bowl-eliminating 31-19 loss to Kansas, saying, "Our program is not equipped right now to handle the wear and tear of the Big 12." He added: "This is different than the Big East. The days of just showing up and playing at a very marginal level, whether it's effort, execution, coaching or talent -- you can't show up and be average and win."

Mountaineers fans were a bit oblivious to the magnitude of the step the program took when it moved to the Big 12 before last season. And it's not as if Holgorsen had much time to prepare. He took over in June 2011 when West Virginia was still in the Big East. The Big 12 move was announced that fall and took effect the following season. Having Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey certainly eased the transition last year (though a horrendous defense still relegated the team to a 7-6 record), but this rebuilding '13 campaign might not have looked quite so bad with a Big East schedule.

None of that excuses losing to a Jayhawks team that hadn't won a conference game in three years, but that game didn't take place in a vacuum. It's been a long, trying year for the Mountaineers. Reasons to be optimistic would include the fact West Virginia did somehow beat Oklahoma State, now 9-1, and its defense has looked better at times. Holgorsen hasn't forgotten how to draw up offensive plays; he just doesn't have the necessary players to execute them. He needs to upgrade recruiting, fast. The question is, can any coach attract the amount of talent and depth to Morgantown to compete with the league's Texas and Oklahoma schools? There's no question Luck had to get the school out of the sinking Big East, but its landing spot is not exactly a natural fit. Every road game is a haul. Give Holgorsen another year to see if he can right the ship. He's only a couple of seasons removed from hanging 70 points on Clemson.

How do you put West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl? They lost SEVEN GAMES.
-- Pat C, Rock Island, Ill.

Fair point, though the last time I included the Mountaineers in a bowl projections column they had lost only SIX GAMES. Check back every Monday.

There will soon be several coaching vacancies to fill. Who are the new "it" coordinators or small-school guys looking to get the call up? Who will be the next Urban Meyer to come out of the small schools and lead a BCS program?
-- Jeff Hostetler, Gainesville, Fla.

There could be a ripple effect if USC, Texas and another high-profile program like Nebraska all make changes, creating openings where we wouldn't necessarily expect them. If Fresno State goes undefeated, you can bet Tim DeRuyter will get his share of calls. DeRuyter, 50, is not exactly an up-and-comer, and I can't see him garnering the interest of USC or Texas, but possibly one step below. Ball State's Pete Lembo and Bowling Green's Dave Clawson are other good bets, as is Louisiana-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth.

In terms of coordinators, Clemson's Chad Morris and Alabama's Kirby Smart will remain at the top of every list until they finally leave their respective schools. Ohio State's Tom Herman is a future star, and Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi couldn't be hotter. Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is a longtime David Cutcliffe protégé integral to the Blue Devils' incredible resurrection. Similarly, Baylor offensive coordinator Phillip Montgomery has been with Art Briles for 15 years. You'd think someone might want to implement the Bears system.

Schools that appear increasingly likely to have openings that might want to take a look at those guys include Virginia, Mississippi State and Illinois. Remember, UConn is already open, too (if Houston Nutt hasn't already claimed it).

Do you really do these bowl projections every week? You need to get a life.
-- Anonymous

It comes with my job. You're the one reading them in your spare time.

3:41 | College Football
Staples' Midweek Report: Week 13

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