5 Thoughts - It's The Polls, Stupid
USC QB Mark Sanchez
USC QB Mark Sanchez
Posted Oct 13, 2008

It's all about the polls, and they need to be under more scrutiny. Why? Ranked fourth, USC and Mark Sanchez are in a perfect position to slip into the national title game. Minnesota's turnaround, Texas rebounding, bad rules, and more in this week's 5 Thoughts.

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However, No Bailout Plan Is Needed

By Pete Fiutak   

1. The problem isn’t the greed, the incompetence, or the life-altering, catastrophic errors; the problem is the lack of oversight. The system needs to be torn down and built back up correctly so we won’t have to go through this mess anymore, but at the very least, there must be a far better system of checks and balances.

Wall Street? Whatever. The poll system needs to be better. Far, far, better.

I write this every year about this time, just before the BCS kicks in, and every year about this time the polling gets worse and worse. Considering millions of dollars, once-in-a-lifetime dreams, and the national championship are all on the line thanks, we need more than the whims of coaches and Harris pollsters who know next to nothing about anyone but the teams they coach/cover.  

Oh sure, Texas, Alabama and Penn State might appear to have the inside track to the national championship, and if two of those three finish unbeaten it’ll all be cut-and-dry, but you know, just like those three do, that it’s not a question of if, but when the bubble bursts.

This has nothing to do with how good the teams are, throw in Oklahoma State, and these are the most impressive teams in America over the first half of the year, but the national title chase is going to get more bizarre before it gets clearer.

Penn State has to go to Ohio State, Alabama has to play at LSU, and if everything works out, the SEC title game, and Texas has to deal with Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas, along with a Big 12 title game. Of course, as Ole Miss showed against Florida, and Oregon State displayed against USC, the losses could come out of left-field, too. And then there’s the flat-out choke factor, like West Virginia vs. Pitt last year when everything was on the line.

And all this wackiness will mean the rankings are more important than ever, and remember, the polls (the Coaches’ and Harris, NOT the AP ... ESPN is misleading the world on this) will basically determine the national title matchup. The computer formulas in the BCS equation are basically around for show. If the pollsters don’t want someone in (like Georgia last year or Michigan two years ago), they’ll make that happen. Remember, the No. 1 team at the end of the 2007 regular season, according to the computers, was Virginia Tech. On the deserve factor, it should’ve been LSU vs. the Hokies for the national title.

So now it’s vital to really take a hard, hard look at the polls each week. For some bizarre reason, USC is ranked fourth, because losing at Oregon State is less offensive than Oklahoma losing to Texas, the current No. 1 team in America. Theoretically, Oklahoma could be No. 2. Florida obliterated LSU, but the loss to Ole Miss means the Gators are worse than Texas Tech, a team that has beaten absolutely no one and needed overtime to beat a bad Nebraska? BYU, who has really beaten nobody, is ranked ahead of an Oklahoma State team that just beat Missouri in Columbia? LSU is 14th. Name the person in America who’d take BYU, Ohio State or Utah over the defending national champions on a neutral field next week. Meanwhile Michigan State is ranked ahead of a Cal (the Bears beat the Spartans), Kansas is ahead of South Florida (the Bulls beat the Jayhawks), and some coach somewhere gave Miami a No. 25 vote.

Of course everything will shake out over the next several weeks, and we might be saved from the gross incompetence with two BCS league teams finishing unbeaten, but there’s a better chance that we’re going to have yet another unsatisfying conclusion to the season.

But How? Vince Young Is A Titan?

Richard Cirminiello   

2. The hands-down biggest winner of Week 7 was the Texas Longhorns, which staked their claim to the No. 1 ranking with an unexpected win over top-rated Oklahoma. A close runner-up was every one-loss team in the country with aspirations of still playing for a national championship. That means you, USC. And you, Florida. And Ohio State, Georgia, LSU, and Missouri.

Until Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, and the rest of the ‘Horns delivered the unlikely in Dallas, Oklahoma looked to be the most probable team to run the table. The offense was unstoppable. The defense was better than expected. The schedule had fewer landmines than other unbeaten teams. None of that matters now. The Sooners are flawed, just like so many other schools with lofty expectations. Here’s the kicker: Texas’ stay among the unbeaten teams has a shelf life. I realize this is the worst possible time to bring it up, but the schedule is brutal, including games with Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech in successive weeks. That’s downright unfair, and likely to produce a loss long before the Big 12 Championship game.

The maximum number of unbeaten BCS schools has shrunk to three with half a season still left to go: Penn State, Alabama, and the Big 12 champ. Because of how well Texas played Saturday afternoon, that last entry is a little less likely to get to the finish line without a blemish. And that’s sweet music to every head coach of a school that’s looking to get back into the national title chase.  

Ski-U-Mah ...

By Richard Cirminiello

One of the best stories in the country that absolutely no one is talking is Minnesota, whose days as a Big Ten whipping boy may be over for a long time.

Just a year after bottoming out at 1-11, second-year head coach Tim Brewster has the Golden Gophers bowl eligible with five games left to be played. None of those games, by the way, are against Penn State or Ohio State. Nine wins are within reach, a ridiculous notion just two months ago.

Ever the optimist, Brewster saw this day coming, even if he had no company. His positive approach has always resonated with recruits, and it’s clearly reached his players. Minnesota upset Illinois in Champaign Saturday, the most vivid sign yet that the program is turning the corner and on the brink of a much brighter days. They’re running the ball with freshman DeLeon Eskridge, creating a ton of turnovers, and getting more confident with each passing week. Are the Gophers about to end their 47-year Rose Bowl drought? Unlikely, but the fact that they’re in the discussion in mid-October is a credit to what Brewster and his staff are doing.

Minnesota is winning football games and less than a year away from debuting a beautiful open-air on-campus stadium. Yeah, it’s going to get even easier over the next couple of years for Brewster to attract quality players to his campus.   

No, Gordon Riese Still Isn't Off The Hook

By Matthew Zemek

4. After all the crazy, consequential and controversial incidents from the past weekend's games, a few emphatic (and angry) suggestions for the people who make and enforce college football's rules:
1) If a player catches a kickoff when standing out of bounds (LSU-Florida), but the flight of the kicked ball doesn't break the plane of the boundary/sideline, the kicking team should not be penalized for an out-of-bounds kickoff. Penalize the kick returner (and his team, not the kicking team) for stepping out of bounds. How this rule ever existed is beyond belief. Change it promptly.
2) Stop allowing Hollywood punters to seduce refs into throwing phantom roughing flags (Texas-Oklahoma). Enable a punter to be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct if he takes a dive the way Mike Knall did for the Sooners against the Longhorns. This has been going on far too long in college football... remember, it affected the outcome of the 1999 BCS title game, the Fiesta Bowl between Florida State and Tennessee. Anyone remember David Leaverton and an official named Gordon Riese?
3) After the inexcusable lapses in the Texas-Oklahoma game, fire any replay booth crew that refuses to review important plays (or misses the calls to an unacceptably large degree) before the next snap. What happened in Dallas was and is embarrassing. Crack down on replay reviewers who refuse to even attempt to do their jobs. You can accept a divergent opinion or conclusion on a replay review; what no fan, coach or player can accept, however, is a refusal to review a play in the first place.
4) If a player catches a ball and gets one foot on the ground, it's a catch. Period. All this nonsense about making a football move is making it very hard for officials and replay people to determine catches. Worse, it penalizes players who make good plays, on offense and defense. Oklahoma intercepted Texas in the end zone, but not according to these rule interpretations. North Carolina receiver Brooks Foster made what should have been a game-sealing reception against Notre Dame, but not according to current rule interpretations. An Oklahoma State receiver caught a pass and then fumbled against Missouri Saturday night (in the first quarter, but still...), but not according to these current rule interpretations. Why do college football's rules--including the allowance of a force-out by defenses (which prevented an easy completion for Wake Forest in Thursday's game against Clemson)--make it so darn difficult for receivers and defenders to make legal catches? If you get smoked, you get smoked. If you pick off a pass, you darn sure earned that turnover. If you fumble, you fumble.
All of these asinine rule interpretations and provisions are preventing games from being decided by the players on the field, in moments of both success and failure. Simplify these rules, just like the tax code---for the sanity of everyone, and for the health of a sport that didn't look good after several sorry sequences on Saturday.  

Yeah, He'll Make Sure He Can Stand On The Sidelines For That One

By Steve Silverman  

5. I know, I am supposed to be enamored with Texas because they played such a great game in the antiquated Cotton Bowl and got by a spectacular Oklahoma team. I’m not. Not with the struggles on defense against the Sooners and with Missouri, Oklahoma State, at Texas Tech, Baylor (fine, maybe not Baylor), at Kansas and Texas A&M still to deal with.

My attention is on Penn State. This team just went on the road and destroyed a very solid Wisconsin team. The Badgers are only 3-3, but they had a late collapse against Michigan and a last-second loss to Ohio State before the Nittany Lions came calling. The Badgers were down, but Penn State knocked them out cold. This Nittany Lion team has it all with Daryll Clark on offense, Lydell Sargeant on defense and Derrick Williams on special teams. But watch out. It Texas and Alabama go unbeaten, Penn State will be shut out of the national title game. C'mon, who doesn't want to see JoePa on the biggest of stages one more time?