5 Thoughts, Week 14
Week 1 - Is TCU Deserving? |
Week 2 - The bad, bad ACC
Week 3 - Uhhh ... Texas & Florida? |
Week 4 - Ohio State's
- Week 5 - Boise State's
Poll Slide | Week 6 -
The Poll Problem
- Week 7 - The 2 Left
Standing? | Week 8 -
The Oregon Résumé
- Week 9 - What do you
want for a national title?
- Week 10 - Do you believe
Cam? | Week 11 - Arguing FOR
- Week 12 - Denard's great
year | Week 13 - The Pac 10's free pass
1. But those computers love their Oklahoma
No, the BCS didn’t “work.” To be more accurate, the BCS wasn't necessary. For it
to "work," it would've actually had to do something useful.
My sister thinks Auburn is the shade of Nice ‘n Easy she used five tries ago in a yet another failed attempt to look 25, and even she could’ve figured out that the two unbeaten BCS teams should play for the national title. You don’t need a cockamamie BCS system, some bizarre computer formulas (which, by the way, had a few major inconsistencies), and a bunch of money-grubbing bowl executives to figure out that there’s no real argument against the Ducks vs. the Tigers in the BCS Championship.
No, the BCS “works” when there are several worthy teams to choose from and two have to be plucked from the lot, and if it
really worked, it would be able to do a better job of interpreting the
overall landscape of a season. Instead, the human pollsters vote for the
biggest name teams with the best records, they don’t give nearly enough
thought to how the teams got those records, and they coast through the
year going by the latest flash of highlights.
The BCS didn't notice that Oregon didn’t have to play in Madison, like Ohio State did, or in East Lansing, like Wisconsin did, or at
Auburn, like Arkansas and LSU did, and the BCS didn't seem to care that
not having to play on the road against a top ten team might be the
reason that the Ducks have a zero in the loss column and the Buckeyes,
Badgers, Hogs, and Tigers, don't. There wasn’t one Duck road win over a team ranked in the BCS Top 25, and in fact, there was only one win
over a top 25 team, and that was at home to a Stanford team without a
win over a BCS Top 25 team.
Of course, Duck fans keep yelling that the reason there aren't any other Pac 10 teams in the top 25 is because the schedules were too tough
with an extra conference game and some killer non-conference slates ...
and they're absolutely right. Oregon might not have played anyone of
note outside of Stanford, but some Pac 10 teams would've had far better
records if they took it easier. (However, the ASU Sun Devils did that
with two FCSers and it cost them a bowl.) So if that was the case, then shouldn’t the BCS have “worked” and recognized these killer slates by putting more Pac 10 teams in the top 25 over teams like Hawaii, UCF, and Utah?
You can’t have it both ways if you're going to stick up for the BCS. Either the system works and it can see through the
records and the schedules to recognize that Oregon State is probably 7-5
instead of 5-7 if it had scheduled Utah State and Portland State instead
of TCU and Boise State, or it doesn’t work, schedules be damned, and it’s all about who has the best records.
If the system worked, then wouldn’t it have done a better job of recognizing that Boise State beat two top 25 teams and lost to the No. 15 team in the nation
on the road in overtime? Of course, Boise State is No. 11 because the working BCS takes into account the fattening up on the WAC schedule, right? So if the BCS is able to sniff that out and
reward teams that play tough schedules, then why is Alabama, with wins over Top 25ers Arkansas and Mississippi State, and with losses to the No. 1 (Auburn), No. 10 (LSU, on the road), and No. 20 (South Carolina, on the road), ranked five spots behind the Broncos?
Look, if you want to say that Auburn and Oregon should be playing for the national championship because they’re from two of the power conferences and they’re both unbeaten, then
yeah, you're probably right. In the absence of a playoff, or any other
unbeaten BCS conference teams in the equation, the Tigers and Ducks should play for the title. But to assume that everything worked out
because of this system is ridiculous. The system is deeply flawed,
no, it doesn’t work, and it continues to be biased against teams outside of the BCS leagues.
But we're stuck with it.
2. We could've done this a month ago.
That had to be, by far, the most uneventful race to the National Championship game in BCS history. And for that, everyone associated with the game is a little poorer.
The system worked, but then again so does a conveyor belt on an assembly line. Do you realize what’s taken place over the course of the last six weeks? As hard as it is to fathom in the context of recent history, there have been no changes to the top two teams in the rankings since Week 9 all the way back on Oct. 24. Zero. Sure, Auburn and Oregon have swapped places along the way, but both schools have remained in the top two since just after the opening poll, when Oklahoma was No. 1 and the Ducks were No. 2. No late November upsets. No Earth-shattering shockers over the final weekend of the regular season. And virtually no heated debates, which have become one of the trademarks of the flawed system this time of year. The only debates were hypothetical, such as which school would elevate into the two-hole if the Tigers or Ducks lost. Neither did, making for way too much silence and agreement for a ranking system that’s supposed to be so highly subjective and volatile. Heck, even the pole-sitters’ final tests in Atlanta and Corvallis on Saturday were anti-climatic after halftime.
In Eugene and Auburn, they’re celebrating a perfect season, and justifiably so. Everywhere else on the college football landscape, however, fans are feeling a little cheated after getting virtually no drama in the BCS title chase since the middle of October. Here’s hoping that the game on Jan. 10 pitting Auburn and Oregon is far more entertaining than a race to Glendale that had all the twists and turns of an airport landing strip.
3. How do you like them apples?
As if you didn’t already know, this is not your ordinary South Carolina team.
There are must-win games in sports, and then there’s what Washington was facing in Pullman on Saturday night.
There has to be a different term, a higher level of urgency that the Huskies endured in their annual Apple Cup rivalry with Washington State. A victory would mean so much more than just bragging rights against an in-state foe. It would make the program bowl-eligible for the first time since 2002 and give second-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff the bump that they desperately needed since taking over this assignment from Tyrone Willingham. A loss would keep U-Dub from experiencing all of that goodwill and the 15 additional practices that come along with a postseason game. And could considerably set back Sarkisian’s blueprint for success in Seattle.
Washington survived its game on the Palouse, 35-28, fittingly getting the game-winner on a beautiful touchdown pass from Jake Locker to Jermaine Kearse with 44 seconds left. RB Chris Polk was the hero, rushing for 284 yards and two touchdowns, but Locker was the story once Wazzu’s last-ditch comeback effort failed. He returned for his senior year, in part, to participate in his first bowl game. Although the year clearly didn’t go as planned for the quarterback, it’s going to have a happy ending, courtesy of an improbable three-game winning streak. Good for him, and especially good for the Huskies, which won a game that might go down as a turning point in their decade-long quest to return to Pac-10 prominence.
4. Oh yeah, ANOTHER conference title
College football discussions - like those in any sport or, for that matter, any topic under the sun - can get very complicated in a short amount of time. Making one statement in one limited realm of activity should not be interpreted as being an overly expansive or far-reaching verdict on other similar but not identical issues. Such is the case with any debate about the careers of two men who did what they normally do on Saturday night: win conference championships.
Bob Stoops of Oklahoma and Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech are very much one and the same person on certain levels, especially over the past six seasons. They've lost a lot of spotlight games and have fared poorly in BCS bowls. With the exception of Stoops's 2008 offense and Beamer's 2010 offense, the two coaches have had to endure a great deal of inconsistency on that side of the ball. In the wake of their more painful defeats since the 2005 season, both Stoops and Beamer have been laughed at and derided on the national stage.
The vehemence with which OU got buried by fans and media following the 2008 Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia - "Jokelahoma" and "Chokelahoma" became trendy terms - was pronounced and unmistakable. Virginia Tech didn't do itself many favors by tripping in the 2005 ACC Championship Game, stumbling in the 2008 Orange Bowl against Kansas, and then falling to both Boise State and James Madison at the beginning of this season. The national avalanche of derision hurled at the Hokies after the James Madison loss was understandable in a narrow and immediate context: of course a power-conference team will catch flak when it loses at home to an FCS team (even if it's on a very short week after a holistically-draining four-hour war with Boise State). Nevertheless, the anti-Virginia Tech sentiment witnessed (and easily heard) in the college football world on Saturday, Sept. 11, was still noticeably fierce. You'd have thought the Hokies were just as much of a joke of a program as UCLA with Rick Neuheisel, or Clemson under Dabo Swinney, or any of several other programs that truly embody what it means to underachieve.
Now, roughly three months after that awful six-day stretch in September, here the Hokies are, champions of the ACC for the third time in four years and the first team ever to go 9-0 in an ACC season (Florida State went 8-0 in 2000 but did not have the ACC title game available as a platform for a ninth league conquest). The Hokies - who joined the ACC in 2004 - have now won the league in a majority of the seasons they've participated in the conference (four out of seven). They've won their division four of six times, and the two programs that briefly interrupted their run in the ACC Coastal - Wake Forest and Georgia Tech - did the big fade after winning their respective division crowns. Virginia Tech is a model of consistency at a high level - maybe not the highest level of all, but a very lofty one indeed.
And what about Oklahoma? Yes, Landry Jones was an incredibly inconsistent quarterback this season. Yes, OU's defense was gashed at Missouri, and yes, Stoops himself coached horribly in the fourth quarter of that contest, but if we're in the business of looking at a man's larger body of work, the truth is unassailable: In a sport where at least two-thirds of a regular season is spent playing within a conference, Bob Stoops has won his conference seven times in the past 11 years. For the sake of comparison, Texas has won only two Big 12 titles in that same span of time. (Colorado and Kansas State won league championships and were not able to sustain their places of prominence for very long, much like Wake and Georgia Tech in the ACC Coastal.) The Nebraska program Oklahoma defeated on Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium won only one Big 12 championship during Stoops's tenure in Norman, and that came in Stoops's get-acquainted maiden voyage in 1999. Every subsequent season has been defined by the Oklahoma-Texas axis of power, and while Stoops has struggled in recent head-to-head meetings against Texas, he's regularly piloted the Sooners to the Big 12 finish line first. Sure, he didn't deserve the 2008 title Texas should have had, but even if you factor that into the mix, the Big 12 scoreboard would still read OU 6, Texas 3, in the realm of conference titles.
There are many debates to be had about Bob Stoops and Frank Beamer. Do they measure up in bowl games? No. Do they win on a national level the way Boise State does? Not recently. Could they use better offensive coordinators? Most assuredly so. Were they perhaps praised too lavishly earlier in their careers, giving rise to a "build-up-and-tear-down" narrative cycle that's all too common in sports journalism and sports talk radio? Yes, and that's something which needs to be given a lot of attention in this discussion.
However, when all is said and done, the core element of college football coaching quality is indeed the level of success one attains in his conference. In college basketball, the non-conference season occupies a month and a half, and it substantially affects one's RPI rating and schedule strength in advance of Selection Sunday. In football, at least eight games out of 12 - nine out of 13 for teams that play a conference title game - come against conference foes. If you are winning conference titles, you are carrying your weight in the part of the season that really matters, against the teams who know your tendencies and understand your own operation more intimately than anyone else. If you are winning conference titles, you are justifying the outpouring of effort that goes into each and every season. Bob Stoops and Frank Beamer might be overrated in certain nuanced ways, and they have room for improvement in games against teams outside their respective leagues, but let there be no mistake about the matter: Few men have done better jobs than these two over the past decade. If you want to deride the OU or Virginia Tech programs and view the Sooners and Hokies as underachievers, where does that leave the UCLAs, Clemsons and Ole Misses of the world?
College football debates need to have their proper form, focus and function. If you think Bob Stoops and Frank Beamer haven't done enough over the years and you've been very adamant about saying so, you might be technically correct as a pure academic exercise, but you've also been wasting too much energy criticizing coaches who do their jobs better than 95 percent of their colleagues in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
5. To kick or not to kick
By Matt Zemek
Saturday, in the Conference USA Championship Game, Central Florida - leading 17-7 with roughly four minutes left in regulation - faced a fourth-and-17 at the SMU 35. UCF coach George O'Leary opted to kick a 52-yard field goal that was subsequently missed. The decision was met with incredulity from many quarters, an intellectually baffling but contextually understandable response.
Recall that in Super Bowl XLIV, the Indianapolis Colts and coach Jim Caldwell opted to kick a 51-yard field goal on fourth-and-12 from the New Orleans 33 in the early stages of the fourth quarter. The decision was pilloried by commentators in the Monday morning papers and blogs, for reasons that defy easy description or categorization.
It should be simple to appreciate the following idea: A coach cannot make a brilliant decision or a horrible one on fourth-and-long from the opponent's 33- (or 35-) yard line. That is a Bermuda Triangle situation in the realm of football. The field goal is a low-percentage field goal. The fourth-down distance is daunting, making it a low-percentage move to go for a first down. A punt doesn't hold much value unless you can stick it inside the 5. Really - if you're at the 33 and you pin an opponent at the 10, you're gaining 23 yards. That's not a transformative distance, a tectonic shift in field position. The point here is not to say that a field goal is always or even usually the right call on fourth-and-long from the opponent's 35.
The point is that a coach has no supremely good option, no obvious choice to make, in such a situation. The insatiable urge to criticize leads commentators to pounce on coaches in these situations when there's rarely any justification for doing so. Fairness in criticism demands that you give a man his due when he makes a good decision; it also demands that you refrain from criticism when good options don't exist. Criticism is deserved when an obviously superior and merit-rich approach is eschewed in favor of a patently stupid or deficient line of attack. On the matter of fourth-and-long situations from an opponent's 35, there are no great choices to eschew in favor of something much worse. The next time this happens, either in a Super Bowl or in a conference championship game, maybe reason and restraint will win out.
Not all coaching decisions should be subjected to the same level of scrutiny... and scorn.