TCU, Cincinnati title-worthy? Welcome to the sport's new reality
At his postgame press conference last Friday following a 24-21 win over West Virginia,
Away from the podium, however, when prodded by a reporter, the coach whose team sits fifth in the BCS standings acknowledged he's not oblivious to the bigger picture.
"Look, we know about Florida, we know about Alabama, we know about Texas," said Kelly. "If I'm ever sitting down reading the paper or trying to get some information, I want to know about TCU and Boise." What do you want to know, coach? "If they're still undefeated."
A day after his team's eye-opening 55-28 rout of 16th-ranked Utah, TCU coach
Prodded further, however, Patterson acknowledged having noticed the first-place vote his team received in the latest Harris Poll. "That's pretty cool," he said. "That shows we're making strides."
These are "cool" and unusual times to be the coach at a place like TCU or Cincinnati. Never before have the top six teams in the BCS standings (No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 TCU, No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 6 Boise State) all held undefeated records with just three weeks left in the regular season. The only other year that's come close was 2004, when USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah and Boise State remained perfect through the entire regular season.
Yet this season's landscape feels entirely different than that one. Back then, the nation was busy working itself into a tizzy over the previously unthinkable possibility that an undefeated SEC champion, Auburn, might not play for the national title. Utah, which would go on to become the first non-BCS team to reach a BCS bowl, sat behind one-loss squads Cal and Texas. The Utes were a sidebar; the Broncos barely merited the agate page.
This year, we have the Big Three -- Florida, Alabama and Texas -- from which the two BCS title participants will presumably emerge. There's no Auburn-like controversy, at least not yet. But as I read through e-mails and scrolled through Twitter comments late Saturday from fans who were watching TCU -- many of them for the first time -- a common theme emerged: "Wow. ... TCU is for real ... Very impressed ... as good as the 'top three.' ... deserve to play for national title."
This is college football in 2009. In the past, any mention of TCU (or Utah, or Boise State) in the same sentence as "national title" would have immediately garnered smirks and the automatic response of "Who have they played?" Now, there's an unquestioned respect level. The Horned Frogs have Utah to thank for much of that; last year's Sugar Bowl romp over Alabama elevated both the Utes' and the Mountain West's profile. But I'm guessing a lot of it is also coming from a simple eyeball test.
In a year in which the teams at the top aren't necessarily the prettiest, viewers that tuned in Saturday night were treated to an all-around dominant TCU performance against a nationally-respected opponent. The Horned Frogs jumped to a 35-7 lead early in the second quarter. TCU's vaunted defense did its thing --
But what separates the 2009 Horned Frogs from Patterson's previous teams is an equally explosive offense.
"We've always played very good defense here," said Patterson, the Frogs' head coach since 2000, "but I'll be honest -- I'm glad we don't have to face our offense right now."
Teams aren't exactly lining up to face Cincinnati's third-ranked offense, either. But here's another sign of college football's new reality: The Bearcats are the BCS-conference team, yet I'm hearing far less national-title buzz for them than I am the Horned Frogs. (Meanwhile, poor Boise State is a legit top-10 team with no buzz whatsoever.) Part of that may be due to the Bearcats' close calls the past two weeks in primetime games against Connecticut and West Virginia, though they have a huge showcase game still to come at No. 8 Pittsburgh.
After seeing Cincinnati in person, I believe the Bearcats -- while certainly fun to watch -- aren't in the same class as Florida/Alabama/Texas. There's no disputing their offensive firepower, but their defense isn't BCS-caliber. They'd also suffer in a national-title matchup due to their lack of a physical red-zone option. Relief pitcher/quarterback
TCU is a different story. Take away those cool, new uniforms, and you'd never know you're not watching an SEC defense. Throw in an offense with its own share of playmakers, and you've got a complete football team.
"I have been a head coach for five years, and that is the best team I've faced," Utah coach
Could they beat one of the Big Three? Absolutely. Would they? There's only one way to find out. Are we going to get that opportunity? Not unless someone knocks off Texas.
Patterson seemed quite content Sunday with his one first-place Harris vote, but will he be lobbying for something more if TCU wins its last two? Actually: No.
"Is all we're going to do is complain that we don't have an opportunity to play for national championship? Why turn a marvelous season into a negative?" he said. "I don't have any control, besides winning, whether I play in a national championship game or not. If we're given that opportunity, we'll be excited, but why should I turn what these kids have done for 12 games into a negative?"
He shouldn't. And he won't have to. I'm sure there will be no shortage of pundits and politicians ready to take up the cause for him.
When I talked to Stanford coach
Personally, I prefer to use NCAA tournament analogies when discussing mythical playoff events, in which case Stanford is the torrid No. 5 seed that nobody wants to play right now. Two weeks ago, the Cardinal (7-3, 6-2 Pac-10) were still a cute little story, a rebuilding program zeroing in on their first bowl berth in eight years. But there's nothing cute about consecutive 50-point outbursts against the Pac-10's two most respected teams, the latest a 55-21 beatdown of 11th-ranked USC that shredded any remaining aura surrounding
Ironically, Stanford's offense is doing exactly what the Trojans did for years: Out-physical people. With the help of a tough offensive line and bruising fullback
And let's not forget the defense, which picked off Trojans quarterback
"It was put-up-or-shut-up time for Stanford football," said Harbaugh. "Our guys came out focused and loose and did what we had to do to win."
In the opposite locker room was a sullen, stunned team that's basically had its entire reality shattered over the past three weeks. For seven years, USC (7-3, 4-3) was the team beating people 55-21. The Trojans rarely lost, and they
In Saturday's most degrading moment, Stanford scored to go up 48-21 with 6:47 left -- and went for two.
"I'm not sure I have the right words to describe being humbled like that in the Coliseum after so many years and so many good things and playing well and all that," said Carroll. "I don't really know where to put it."
Two years ago, Stanford went into the Coliseum as a 41-point underdog and pulled off an epic upset. Saturday, the Trojans were favored again, but the Cardinal proved to be in a whole other class. Wrap your head around that.
This week's most notable poll absurdity concerns Iowa. Following a closer-than-expected overtime defeat at Ohio State, the coaches poll voters dropped the Hawkeyes (9-2) two spots to No. 15. I don't have a problem with that. The bigger injustice is that they jumped two teams Iowa beat on the road -- 9-2 Penn State (from 17th to 12th) and 8-2 Wisconsin (from 14th) -- ahead of the Hawkeyes. Keep in mind, just a week earlier, the Nittany Lions lost 24-7 at home to the Buckeyes.
Lest you think this I'm nit-picking, keep in mind that the Big Ten teams' final rankings could have direct consequences on the BCS pairings (see below).
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup based on the latest week's games.
TCU's win likely erased any remaining hopes for Boise State of gaining an automatic BCS berth -- but it's starting to look like it might not matter. With "brand name" teams USC, Miami and Notre Dame all falling out of the picture, the Broncos are becoming a more realistic at-large choice. Their biggest obstacle: Oklahoma State (8-2), which, if it wins at Oklahoma, will likely replace Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. Otherwise, the only at-large certainties are TCU, the SEC title game loser and either Penn State or Iowa.
The Penn State-Iowa scenario could become tricky if both finish 10-2. The Hawkeyes won head-to-head but have fallen behind the Nittany Lions in the polls (though remain one spot ahead of them at No. 13 in the BCS standings). The Fiesta Bowl covets Iowa, which has never played there and has a huge local alumni base. However, should the Fiesta select TCU instead, the Orange Bowl would be more likely to tap Penn State.
Ten years ago,
SMU (6-4, 5-1 C-USA), which posted its second straight 1-11 record in Jones' debut season last fall, took over sole possession of first place in Conference USA's West Division (supplanting nationally-ranked Houston) with a 35-31 win over UTEP on Saturday. The Mustangs got the win despite giving up 627 yards, sealing the game on a fourth-and-6 sack at the SMU 14-yard-line in the final seconds.
With one more victory, either next week at 5-5 Marshall or Nov. 28 against 3-7 Tulane, the Mustangs will lock up their first bowl berth since 1984.
SMU fans have suffered through two miserable decades and five different coaching regimes watching a team that seemingly never could recover from its infamous NCAA death penalty in 1987, which shut down the program for two seasons. After firing
Jones' famed Run and Shoot offense hasn't gotten into full gear just yet, but it's been good enough for the Mustangs to rank 22nd nationally in passing offense (271.7 yards per game). Freshman quarterback
Jones' last postseason trip did not go so well; Georgia crushed his Warriors in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. If all goes well, he could be returning to New Orleans -- for the New Orleans Bowl -- or one of C-USA's other bowl partners. The faithful have waited 25 years for any taste of the postseason.
It's come to this: After writing a column last week about the influence of YouTube and Twitter on exposing this season's many officiating controversies, I spent the weekend receiving e-mail reports about pretty much every potentially offensive call from around the country. Please stop. I have eyes, too, and nearly every game I watched this weekend included at least one absurd replay moment.
Friday night at Cincinnati, I watched Bearcats running back
After last week's Alabama-LSU interception controversy, SEC coordinator of officials
Nor was there "indisputable evidence" that
Believe me, I take no joy in wasting column space writing about officiating. It is quite possibly my least favorite topic in sports. But instant replay is causing far too great a credibility crisis in college football, especially considering it was added solely for the purpose of
But at least we may have one possible explanation. In that same
Or, better yet, here's an idea: Is there any particular reason why replay officials actually need to be
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