Cavalcade of Whimsy - The Title Contenders
Posted Nov 14, 2006

We know the Michigan - Ohio State winner will play for the national title, but who are the other main contenders for the crown? What does Notre Dame have to do to get in, and does it even deserve a shot? This and much more in Fiu's latest Cavalcade of Whimsy.

By Pete Fiutak    What's your beef? ... E-mail with your thoughts  
Past Whimsys
Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5
Week 6 |
Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11

If this column sucks, it’s not my fault … Resting at home, Joe Paterno gave me a pep talk over a speakerphone before I wrote the column. As you’ll see, it didn’t do any good.

I’m going to someday have a son, he’s going to be a linebacker, and his name is going to be Wolf Blitzer … After sitting though all the election coverage last Tuesday from around 9ish AM to around 2 AM, I no longer want to hear anyone whine about the blather and bombast from any overblown football pregame show. The talking heads on any sports program can’t come close to matching the gab from the overblown gasbags on all the news networks when there’s absolutely nothing happening.

But she’s a close second in the Best Gams race behind Joseph Gurney Cannon … It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, one thing should be able to unite the nation: Nancy Pelosi will have the best rack of any Speaker of the House since John Griffin Carlisle.

Cheap Shot of the Week … Former Oklahoma star quarterback J.C. Watts was fantastic on CNN’s election night coverage. There’s no truth to the rumor that it was Candy Crowley who threw the key block on Watts' pitch to Billy Sims for a 22-yard score in the 1980 Orange Bowl win over Florida State.

Is there any more eligibility for ol’ J.C.? … Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops obliterated anyone and everyone who suggested that Adrian Peterson might have been getting too much work and could potentially wear down due to all the big shots he took game after game. Upon further review (sorry Sooner fans, poor choice of words), considering the success of backup backs Allen Patrick, Jacob Gutierrez and Chris Brown since Peterson was knocked out with a broken collarbone, why isn’t anyone asking Stoops why he didn’t rotate more backs into the mix earlier? Surely Peterson didn’t need to handle the ball almost 30 times a game with so many other productive players able to shoulder some of the load.

It could’ve been worse; he could’ve been Gary Barnett … Coaches are hardly gods and it shouldn't be that big a deal when one is fired, but try to remember where Iowa State was before the recently resigned/whacked Dan McCarney. Before 1994, Iowa State’s previous bowl appearance was 1978 with only two winning seasons in the previous 14 years. Under McCarney, the program went to five bowls and narrowly missed playing for the Big 12 title in 2004 and 2005 losing the final game of both regular seasons in heartbreaking fashion. This year, the team was hit by injuries and a brutal schedule facing Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Missouri. Cyclone fans have a right to demand a coach who can take the program to the next level, but they shouldn’t forget the guy who got it on the map.

The campaign has had a grip on our nation for the last six years … It’s mid-November meaning it’s time for my yearly inquiry into what AFLAC, the company that sponsors all the trivia questions, is trying to promote. I think it has something to do with getting you a duck if you're a klutz, and as it turns out, no one else seems to know. From Gary Danielson when Verne Lundquist was going a bit overboard on the promo in the South Carolina-Florida game, “you probably get a free AFLAC for doing that.”

And this from a man who lived through Katrina … Quote of the year material here from Tulane head coach Chris Scelfo on what happened when he brought QB Lester Ricard off the bench in the fourth quarter after an awful start in a 31-3 loss to Southern Miss.

"When we brought him back, we were trying to hurry up and get back into the game. We weren't going to sit on it. On the first play, we had a bad throw - half drop, half bad throw. A couple bone-head things. I got tired of looking at it so I punted on third down."

Ricard finished the day completing one of eight passes for 12 yards with an interception.

The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength
Getting into crunch time of the national title chase, with the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State battle going to the BCS Championship, here are the ten main contenders for the second spot with why they deserve to be considered, why they don’t, and what they have to do to get into the national title mix.   

10. Boise State
Get ‘em in … Forgetting the Lifetime Achievement Award aspect for winning 85 games (and counting) in eight years, the Broncos will likely turn out to be one of just two unbeaten teams at the end of the year (assuming Rutgers loses at West Virginia). BSU blasted the same Oregon State team that beat USC.
Keep ‘em out … Strength of schedule. Based on the entire season, Boise State currently has the 86th ranked slate. Sure the team is solid at home, but it’s shaky on the road needing a near-miracle comeback to beat San Jose State and struggling way too much with Idaho. If star RB Ian Johnson is seriously hurt with a lung problem, forget it.    
What has to happen … Everyone has to lose and the Broncos have to avoid getting tagged by Nevada. Boise State doesn’t just need everyone to have a loss, it probably needs almost everyone to flame out.

9. Louisville
Get ‘em in … The 24th toughest schedule should give the Cardinals a little bit of overall credit. Beating Kansas State at Kansas State, Miami (before the wheels completely came off), and West Virginia are a good threesome to have on the résumé. Forgetting the problems in the second half against Rutgers, no one wants to face this offense in a bowl game.
Keep ‘em out … Keep them in Papa John’s and they’ll give the Indianapolis Colts a run. Get them on the road and it’s an entirely different story. The offense is All-World, but the defense, especially against the pass, is mediocre at best.
What has to happen … Blowouts, and lots over them. Not only do the Cardinals need everyone ranked higher to stink, but they have to generate some sort of a buzz again by obliterating South Florida, Pitt and UConn by putting up obscene numbers.

8. Wisconsin
Get ‘em in … If Michigan turns out to be the number one team in the country, then theoretically, Wisconsin might be number two. The Badgers played Michigan tough in Ann Arbor and has beaten everyone else. Bret Bielema's club keeps getting better and better as the season has gone on with one of the nation's top defenses and a ground game that's occasionally as effective as any of the Rose Bowl teams. This might be the fastest, most athletic Wisconsin team ever.
Keep ‘em out … The big win is over … Penn State? Whoopee. The non-conference schedule was a joke, and without getting to play Ohio State, this was a one game season, and that one game was a loss. .    
What has to happen … Michigan has to annihilate Ohio State to suggest that a Badger-Wolverine rematch might be a bit different on a neutral field. It’s extremely possible that Wisconsin, not counting Boise State, could be one of just five one-loss teams at the end of the year (West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers, if it loses to West Virginia, and the Michigan/Ohio State loser) and could move into the top five in the BCS when all is said and done. Forget about the BCS; Michigan and Ohio State will be in somewhere.

7. West Virginia
Get ‘em in … As is, because of the BCS standings, all the Mountaineers have to do is beat Rutgers and they’re probably in one of the big money games as the Big East representative. Shock of shocks, at the moment, they’re strength of schedule is 10th in the nation helped by a 45-24 win over Maryland. It’s possible that when all is said and done, they’ll have beaten both the ACC champion (Maryland) and the Conference USA champion (Tulsa).
Keep ‘em out … Defense, defense, defense. While the offense can run on anyone, the defense has yet to prove it can slow down an offense with a pulse. The secondary is suspect, and while the schedule isn’t technically all that bad, its beefed up by playing a lot of overblown Big East teams. If you don’t really believe in Louisville or Rutgers, then you don’t like the Mountaineers.
What has to happen … It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. First, the pollsters have to get nostalgic and remember how good West Virginia was in the first half against Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl. While that shouldn’t apply to this year, it might make a difference to the voters. In the end, this might be the highest ranked one-loss team behind the Ohio State/Michigan loser.

6. Arkansas
Get ‘em in … Everyone’s going to point to the 50-14 home loss to USC, but that was a far different Hog team. The quarterback situation wasn’t settled, there were several weird turnovers, and star RB Darren McFadden wasn’t healthy. Since then, this has been the SEC’s best team steamrolling Auburn at Auburn and blasting Tennessee. 
Keep ‘em out … 50-14 at home vs. USC. 50-14 at home vs. USC. 50-14 at home vs. USC. That might have been a lifetime ago, but it still counts, and it still might be hard to sell to most fans that the Hogs deserve to be in over USC. Don’t forget the close calls to Alabama and South Carolina along the way. Being the best team in the SEC might be great, but the strength of schedule is only 55th in the nation at the moment.
What has to happen … USC has to lose at least once, twice would be better, and the Hogs have to be double-digit winners over LSU and Florida.

5. Rutgers
Get ‘em in … If Boise State loses to Nevada, Rutgers and the Ohio State/Michigan winner will be the only two unbeaten teams. If you’re going to call the Big East a BCS conference, it might be hard to justify keeping a 12-0 Scarlet Knight team that, if it happens, will have beaten West Virginia at West Virginia and Louisville. If 1984 BYU can be voted in, why can’t Rutgers? The strength of schedule ranking is 37th, but …
Keep ‘em out … … come on. Beating possible MAC champion Ohio and shutting out Navy might be nice, and the whole story might be cute, but no one’s really doing backflips about the idea of Greg Schiano’s club playing for the whole ball of wax. The best defense the Scarlet Knights have gotten past has been, um, uhhhh, South Florida?
What has to happen … It might be there for the taking. The BCS computers love the Scarlet Knights with four ranking them second and two ranking them third. A win at West Virginia, especially an impressive one, might demand a spot in Glendale.

4. Notre Dame
Get ‘em in … The offense is getting stronger and sharper by the week. At this point, it's all about the USC game. If the Trojans blow out Cal and becomes everyone’s number two after this weekend, a dominant Irish performance in L.A. could be enough to get the pollsters to forget about …
Keep ‘em out … … the 47-21 home loss to Michigan that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate. What does it say that the Wolverine win in South Bend was their highest scoring game this year? Yeah, the Michigan State and UCLA wins were classic, but a great team wouldn’t have been in a position to need those comebacks. It’ll be a hard sell to put Notre Dame in the title game over Michigan, and it might be a harder pitch to get anyone excited about a rematch of the September 16th debacle.    
What has to happen … For this to work, Notre Dame has to beat USC by at least two touchdowns and look fantastic doing it. Ohio State has to blowout Michigan badly enough to keep anyone from wanting to see a rematch. Notre Dame has to become the only viable option to play Ohio State, and Irish fans have to remind everyone that they’re owed one after getting passed over in the national title selection by Florida State in 1993.

3. Florida
Get ‘em in … The Gators have certainly earned their stripes with the nation's eighth toughest schedule. If they beat Florida State and win the SEC championship, that’ll mean they’ll have beaten, potentially, nine bowl bound teams. With a 12-1 record, it might be hard to keep the champion of the nation’s best conference out of the title.
Keep ‘em out … Zzzzzzzzzzz. The offense has hardly inspired goose bumps in lackluster performances over the last several weeks; efficiency doesn’t exactly equal greatness. The pass defense can be bombed on, while the now Marcus Thomas-less run defense lost against the one team it faced who can run, Auburn.  
What has to happen … 12-1 with an impressive SEC championship might be enough to get it done. It would be nice if USC would lose one more time, and a Rutgers loss to West Virginia could turn out to be a must. Will the SEC raise a stink if it gets the shaft, like it did in 2004 when Auburn was the odd team out, and will everyone feel like it’s the SEC’s turn to get the big break?

2. USC
Get ‘em in … How good does that 50-14 win at Arkansas look now? If the Trojans finish 11-1, that’ll mean they’ll have beaten at least seven bowl teams, and the number could jump to nine including Big 12 North champion Nebraska and (most likely) BCS-bound Notre Dame. This might be a nebulous reason, but USC just feels like a championship-caliber team after the last few years. You can’t really go wrong from a PR standpoint by putting Pete Carroll in.
Keep ‘em out … Oh yeah, Oregon State. Boise State might have a little bit of a stink if it goes unbeaten and gets left out considering the 42-14 blowout of the Beavers earlier this year. This isn’t last year’s USC team, it’s not the 2004 team, and it’s not the 2003 squad. You have to judge each team and each season on its own merits.
What has to happen … Style points count now. The Trojans have the coveted number three spot in the mix after last week, and they need to look great against California, Notre Dame, and UCLA to take over for the Michigan/Ohio State loser in the top two. The strength of schedule ranking is currently fifth, that’ll certainly be played up over the next few weeks.

1. Michigan/Ohio State loser
Get ‘em in … If the game is a classic either way, in a year with no one grabbing the national title race by the horns, it might be tempting to want to see part two. The precedent was set in 1996 when Florida State beat up Danny Wuerffel and the No. 1 Gators 24-21 in Tallahassee, and then the two met again in the Sugar Bowl with Florida winning the national title 52-20. Ohio State's victory at Texas still might be the best win all year, while Michigan's blowout of Notre Dame is a close second.
Keep ‘em out … Rematches, no matter what, are bad for college football. The integrity of the regular season means everything and if the two have to play again, that would completely diminish the first matchup. The Big Ten isn't that great this year and it certainly isn't wrong to dog Ohio State's slate since the Texas game or Michigan's schedule since the Wisconsin win.
What has to happen … If Michigan wins, forget any hope of a rematch. If Ohio State wins on a last second field goal, many might want to see what could happen if the two played on a neutral field. If there’s an Oklahoma/Oregon-like officiating controversy, expect to see round two in a few months.

The race might be far more interesting than the real one … Just to give the bad teams something to do, I propose a race for the BS BCS – a post-season showdown of the worst teams in America. Instead of getting payouts, the schools have to donate money back into the system for making us watch bad football all season long. The same rules apply. The big six leagues get an automatic bid while there are four at-large teams with only two from the non-traditional BCS conferences being able to get in. I get the final say since it’s my bit …
- BS BCS No. 1 FIU vs. BS BCS No. 2 Temple
- BS BCS ACC Champion Duke vs. BC BCS Big East Champion Syracuse
- BS BCS Big 12 Champion Iowa State vs. BS BCS ACC at-large North Carolina
- BS BCS Big Ten Champion Illinois vs. BS BCS Pac 10 Champion Stanford
- BS BCS SEC Champion Ole Miss vs. BS BCS at-large Utah State

Provocative musings and tidbits to make every woman want you and every man want to be with you (or vice versa).
- The best team you’re not watching is BYU. The Cougars lost on a bomb of a last second field goal in the opener at Arizona and lost in a double-overtime heartbreaker to Boston College. Two plays the right way and they’d be right in the hunt for the national title, and deservingly so.
- I demand to be kissed by a halfway-decent looking Texas A&M coed after every Aggie score. At the very least I should get a smooch after every column that isn’t awful.
- Let the Auburn situation be a lesson to future teams: you can’t just turn it on late in the year. After going through the motions in wins over Tulane, Ole Miss and Arkansas State, the Tigers hardly looked sharp against Georgia with no passing game and a lifeless game from the D. You can’t blame Tommy Tuberville for resting some key players to get them ready for the finishing kick, but it didn't work.
- The best TV angle by far is at USC. Watching the Trojans is like having a seat 35 rows up, not in the second deck like for most games.
- Can CBS get a bad afternoon SEC game? It helps to have major SEC rivalries, but even Ole Miss – Alabama went into overtime.
My Heisman ballot this week would be … 1. Troy Smith, QB Ohio State, 2. Colt Brennan, QB Hawaii, 3. Mike Hart, RB Michigan, 4. Brady Quinn, QB Notre Dame, 5. Ray Rice, RB Rutgers

C.O.W. shameless gimmick item … The weekly five Overrated/Underrated aspects of the world
1) Overrated:
Mario ... Underrated: Emmitt
2) Overrated: South Carolina Gamecock head coach Steve Spurrier … Underrated: DiGiorno Otter head coach Steve Spurrier
3) Overrated: K-Fed … Underrated: Fed-Ex
4) Overrated: Guy who keyed my car ... Underrated: Dick Cheney dunking style torture followed up by a couple of hard
, pipe-hittin' dudes to go to work with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch followed up by having the eyes pinned open A Clockwork Orange style while being forced to watch the entire Arli$$/Cheap Seats library.
5) Overrated:
Heath Shuler, quarterback ... Underrated: Heath Shuler, congressman
Sheer hubris run amok … The three lines this week that appear to be a tad off. Can’t … go … 3-0 … ever. Even so, I’ve been better over the last few weeks overcoming a disastrous start to go 13-14 so far. Here’s the official kiss of death for three teams … 1) Auburn -3 over Alabama, 2) Navy -31.5 over Temple, 3) Central Michigan -3.5 over Northern Illinois

Sorry this column sucked, but it wasn’t my fault … 
I thought I wrote a better column, but like the 2006 Rose Bowl, it just came out that I had a bad replay feed. The officials were looking at fans in the stands rather than focusing on too-close-to-call items.