Contrary to reports, there are in fact lots of stories in college football right now other than that football game in Tuscaloosa this Saturday. I'll get to some of them momentarily, but I fear someone might revoke my press pass or cancel my hotel reservation if I lead with anything but LSU-Alabama.
First of all, for those unfamiliar with the concept, it's completely normal for there to be two Games of the Century within the first 12 years of a century.
The '06 game had a little bit more buildup since it wasn't played until Nov. 18 and since it was the last regular-season game for both teams, but we've been salivating over LSU-Alabama since late September. The fact that the Buckeyes and Wolverines have such a celebrated rivalry to begin with enhanced the aura surrounding that matchup, but the fact that the SEC is the king of college football right now adds to the hysteria surrounding Tigers-Tide. And one thing that's not being discussed much is how these programs are so closely intertwined due to the Nick Saban connection. They've played some fantastic games since Saban returned to college five years ago, and that recent history serves as a nice backdrop to this contest.
But what really makes this game so special is the fact that people seem genuinely split down the middle as to which team is better. There is mass dissension even within the SI.com newsroom. That wasn't the case in '06, when host Ohio State entered the season as the consensus No. 1 team and was widely viewed as the favorite over Michigan. It wasn't even the case with the Florida-Alabama SEC title game two years ago, when both teams were undefeated but the Gators were still overwhelming favorites (wrongly so, it turned out). I have my hunches on this one, but I can see it going either way, and I can see the game playing out a million different ways. The only surprise would be if one team blows the other off the field.
We didn't realize it at the time, but the Ohio State-Miami national championship matchup in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl certainly fit the bill. By my unofficial count, 11 Ohio State and nine Miami defensive starters from that season were eventually drafted, including Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle, Chris Gamble and Mike Doss. In terms of regular-season games, this reminds me very much of those great Florida State-Miami games in the early '90s, when guys like Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp were out there every year.
For much of the latter part of the 20th century, NFL teams gravitated to the Sunshine State for defensive talent. Right now the SEC is where it's at, and these two teams happen to be particularly loaded at present. I'm no NFL scout, but it would not surprise me if we look back in awe one day at the fact that guys like Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu were on the field at the same time.
I don't understand the conflict. Considering the mess he inherited and the hole he had to dig out of, Luke Fickell would have pulled off one of the most remarkable coaching jobs of the season if he wound up winning out and getting Ohio State to Indianapolis -- a feat that would require beating 8-1 Penn State and 7-1 Michigan. Why
I certainly understand the infatuation with Urban Meyer. But suppose Jim Tressel had just told someone about his players' tattoo friend and kept coaching for, say, another five years before handing the reins to Fickell. Buckeyes fans would have been completely cool with that. Instead Fickell unexpectedly got the job in May, had to coach a team whose three-year quarterback also left under dubious circumstances, had its best running back, receiver and tackle suspended, then -- shocker -- got off to a poor start. He certainly could have handled the quarterback situation better initially, though he couldn't control the fact that Braxton Miller got hurt against Nebraska. Now that Miller is progressing and Herron is back and shining, Fickell suddenly knows how to coach. Funny how that happens.
Ultimately, as with any Ohio State coach, it will probably come down to the Michigan game. There's no way Gene Smith keeps Fickell if he oversees the Buckeyes' first loss in eight years to the Wolverines (a real possibility this season). If however, he wins the Michigan game and beats Penn State as well, it's going to be a tough decision, because that would be one heck of a job audition.
The Big East has been very much like the Mountain West or MAC when it comes to coaches: a steppingstone league. Just like some mid-major coaches blossomed into successes (Urban Meyer, Gary Pinkel, Paul Johnson and Jim Grobe among others, with Brady Hoke showing potential), others flopped (Dan Hawkins, Dirk Koetter, Steve Kragthorpe). The jury's still out on Kelly, though he's certainly had a rougher second year than I expected. Rodriguez walked into a terrible situation, and though he shoulders much of the blame for his ill-fated tenure, I'd recommend reading the new book
But you also left two notable names off that list: Bobby Petrino and Mark Dantonio. Petrino coached Louisville to great success in both Conference USA and the Big East, and, after a brief detour with the Falcons, took Arkansas to a BCS bowl last year and is back in the Top 10 this year. And Dantonio, who laid the groundwork for Kelly at Cincinnati, is the best thing to happen to Michigan State football since Percy Snow. I think it shows that the ex-Big East coaches are no different than any others who take a step up: some succeed, some fail. It's not Big East specific.
It seems like we're hearing a lot more about "the edge." Pass-rushers are constantly pressuring quarterbacks from the edge. Explosive tailbacks are beating defensive backs to the edge. Once upon a time we referred to this as "turning the corner," but now it's all about the edge. You don't want to get beat on the edge ... or at the "point of attack."
Amazing how two different people can read the same column and come away with completely different impressions, isn't it? But that was kind of my point. JoePa deserves every morsel of praise and reflection when it comes to his sterling career and unparalleled impact on the sport. However, at some point we've got to stop tap dancing out of kindness and acknowledge a legitimate question: Should Paterno be fully recognized for breaking Eddie Robinson's record when he's been nothing more than a spectator like the rest of us for those eight wins this season? Yes, he's still involved in the day-to-day preparations, and he still holds the title of head coach, so anything Penn State does, good or bad, falls under his domain. But you have to be pretty detached from reality to believe he plays any active role in those Saturday wins by sipping hot chocolate in the press box.
I'm not saying there's a right or wrong answer. It's a touchy subject. But I think it's telling that, considering the magnitude, No. 409 didn't really garner that much coverage. It would seem disrespectful not to note the milestone, but a bit tone deaf to celebrate it as if Paterno were the driving force behind wins No. 401-409.
It's unfortunate you chose to write this roughly 24 hours before I came within a Braxton Miller miracle of
Some seasons are 15 weeks, not 14, so I went by the sixth-to-last poll (usually Halloween weekend or Nov. 1 or 2). The lowest-ranked team at that juncture to reach the title game was No. 7 LSU in 2003, the last of six one-loss teams that sat behind undefeated Oklahoma. All but No. 2 USC lost again. So there's hope for you yet, current No. 7 Arkansas.
Because there are still so many other undefeated teams, and with all the attention right now on LSU-Alabama, I'm guessing few have even bothered to look at Boise State's schedule. We're so conditioned to bash it out of instinct. Many would be surprised to learn the Broncos have played a tougher schedule to date (according to both Sagarin and Jerry Palm's ratings) than Alabama and Stanford. Obviously that will soon change with the Tide playing LSU and the Cardinal playing Oregon. And one thing that really hurts Boise this year is the lack of a looming late-season game against a ranked opponent like it had last year with Nevada. Its three best remaining foes are TCU (6-2), San Diego State (4-3) and Wyoming (5-2), none of which are likely to be ranked come game time.
The Broncos are never going to win any strength of schedule arguments, but I do get annoyed when the critics insinuate they're voluntarily shying away from tougher competition. They only get to choose five of their opponents, and while there's obviously an element of luck involved, they did a pretty decent job this year. They played a respected SEC program in its backyard. There are no FCS teams on the slate. All five played in bowl games last year and at least four of them will again this year, several in better bowls.
Proposal accepted. No puzzles, no puzzles, no puzzles, no ...
The Trojans are still included when calculating all six computer ratings used by the BCS so that their opponents get proper credit for playing them, but they are not included in the actual rankings. So, for example, if Massey or Billingsley determines that USC ranks 23rd this week and Texas 24th, then Stanford would be credited in their rankings with beating the No. 23 team. However, when compiling the overall BCS standings, USC is eliminated from those rankings, and Texas rises to No. 23 in its place.
Five minutes later...
I love my job.