5 Thoughts - The Mother Of All Debates

Posted Nov 3, 2008

This could be fun. What will happen if Derrick Williams and Penn State go unbeaten and the Big 12 and SEC champions have one loss? Who'll play for the national title? This, along with the Texas - Texas Tech game and praise for TCU in the Latest 5 Thoughts.

5 Thoughts ... Nov. 3

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Eh, Screw It. Just Send Ball State and Boise State To Miami

By Pete Fiutak   

1. For media types who deal with politics, or comedians who need material, there’s always a part of them that has to root for their careers over their loyalties. Of course Rush Limbaugh wants John McCain to win, but career-wise, it’s better if Barack Obama pulls it off. The flip-side is true for a Keith Olbermann or a Bill Maher, who are more relevant with a McCain administration, even if they really want Obama to win. For college football writers, 99% of the time, any and all loyalties go right out the window in the name of good material.

So on behalf of the college football media, no matter what any of our personal allegiances might be, I beg to you, the gods of all things college football mayhem, for 1) Penn State to win out, 2) a one-loss Big 12 champion with a superpower name, like Oklahoma or Texas, and 3) a one-loss Florida or Alabama to win the SEC title.

While there are a million crazy Pitt-over-West Virginia things that could happen (I sort of think Penn State could have trouble at Iowa, but I don’t want to disturb this groove), most likely, we’re about to be in for the mother of all college football debates.

First of all, there’s no way, no how an undefeated Penn State doesn’t play for the national title if Texas Tech and/or Alabama loses. No way. That would create debate number one, because no one thinks the Big Ten is any good, while everyone respects and loves the SEC (even if it’s not warranted this year, but that’s for a later column) and the Big 12. If it were, say, Minnesota, or even Wisconsin, there would be a chance for an undefeated Big Ten team to be passed over for a one-loss champion from the Big 12 or SEC, but not Penn State. This has been too good a big game program, and yes, it actually has a win over the SEC in recent years.

On the other side, if Alabama and Texas Tech win out, Penn State is out. No question, no debate. It’s not fair, and I do think Penn State could beat anyone in a one game shot, but if one team has to be left out of the three, you have to take the undefeated Big 12 and SEC champions this season.

But let’s say Penn State goes unbeaten, Oklahoma or Texas wins the Big 12 title with one loss, and a one-loss Florida beats an undefeated Alabama for the SEC championship. Then what?

Try coming up with the right answer to this one. In 2004, when Auburn was the odd team out in the USC-Oklahoma-Auburn debate, at least there was the game against The Citadel that was just enough to be the difference maker, considering that something was needed to break the tie.

The unbeaten Nittany Lions are in (yes, really, they would be, and it wouldn’t be close), and then it comes down to the politicking. Oh sure, the BCS computers would weigh in, but it would be the human pollsters who would ultimately decide the matchup, just like they chose last year to leave out Georgia and two years ago to put Florida in over Michigan.

Down year or not for some of the big names on the list, how do you leave out Florida if it beats Miami, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida State and Alabama, especially considering the way the offense is destroying everyone lately and the way the SEC has played in the last two national championships? How about Alabama, if it loses to LSU but rebounds to beat Florida in the SEC title game? It'll have ruined Clemson's season before it began, whacked Georgia at Georgia, and the one loss would be in Death Valley; no real shame there, even if the Tigers are struggling. So the Florida/Bama winner is in playing Penn State, right?

But how do you leave out a one-loss Big 12 champion? Let’s say Texas ends up winning the Big 12 title. That would mean the Longhorns will have beaten Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri (twice, most likely), Oklahoma State, and Kansas at Kansas, while the one loss came on the road on a miraculous last second play. Florida’s loss came at home to a good, but not elite Ole Miss. Or what if Oklahoma wins the Big 12 title? It’ll have obliterated Cincinnati and TCU and it would’ve also beaten Kansas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Missouri (most likely). Does the 57-2 win over Chattanooga come into play?

And don’t even start with USC, who might not play anyone and has been dismissed since the loss to Oregon State, but that defense, at the moment, has pitched three shutouts and has allowed 10 points or fewer in every game but one. And by the way, what’s Penn State’s one big win? Ohio State. How did the Trojans do against the Buckeyes?

So please, oh merciful god of all things college football, let your chaos wash over our 2008 season so we might take another baby step to a plus-one. (Sorry, I can’t resist. For this year, SEC Champion vs. USC in one game, Big 12 Champion vs. Penn State in the other, the two winners play the week later … heavy sigh.)

But Please, Not Oklahoma In Another Fiesta Bowl

By Richard Cirminiello     

2. This past weekend, I saw top-rated Texas rally valiantly in the second half, only to fall short on a one-for-the-ages finish in Lubbock. I saw Texas Tech hand the ‘Horns their first loss of the season, remaining unbeaten and authoring its biggest win in school history. Around the same time, I watched Oklahoma dismantle Nebraska in every imaginable way, en route to a 62-28 rout and an 8-1 start. A little earlier in the day, I marveled at the short memory of Oklahoma State, which also got to 8-1 by shredding Iowa State, 59-17. Four top 10 teams with national championship aspirations. One division of the Big 12. A bevy of offensive stars, including Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, and Dez Bryant. And just two available spots in the five BCS bowl games.

The rule capping the number of BCS representatives from one conference at two never made much sense. This year, the Big 12 South is capable of making it look ludicrous. Yeah, I recognize the spirit of the rule and the quest for balance, but when there’s this much depth from one league, don’t you wish there was a provision that allowed for exceptions? I certainly do. While I realize there’ll be a lot of attrition taking place in November, there’s still a good chance that more than two teams from the Big 12 will be worthy of playing in one of the five marquee games. Heck, if Missouri or Kansas upsets the South winner in December, you could have four teams that warrant a bid.

It doesn’t happen often that one league houses so many national title contenders in the same year. When it does, those programs should be rewarded with a chance to play on the biggest stage. It’s good for the schools and great for the sport. Given a choice, do you want to see Ohio State in a BCS bowl game or Oklahoma State? Some Big 12 team is going to feel robbed when invites are announced in December. That’s a shame because when it happens, the bowl season is the biggest loser. If you want evidence, cue up last year’s Rose Bowl between USC and Big Ten runner-up Illinois.       

But Please, Not Against Oklahoma In The Fiesta Bowl

Richard Cirminiello   

3. I’m starting to become convinced that TCU is going to be the first non-BCS team in history to earn a BCS bowl bid with one loss.

The Horned Frogs are rolling into this Thursday’s showdown with unbeaten Utah, arguably the biggest game in Mountain West history. Since getting outclassed by Oklahoma  35-10 on Sept. 27, they’ve been on a tear, winning the last five games by an average score of 44-8. The defense is as good as any in the Big 12, leading the country in run defense and sacks, and ranking third in points allowed. The unit is solid in every phase of the game, and junior DE Jerry Hughes is having a George Selvie-like breakthrough season with 17 tackles for loss and a nation’s best 14 sacks. TCU’s signature win of 2008 may have come a few weeks ago against then-unbeaten BYU, but Saturday’s 44-14 rout of UNLV in Las Vegas was almost as telling. The Rebs are a decent team that could have easily caught the Frogs napping, especially at Sam Boyd Stadium. Heck, Utah struggled with New Mexico over the weekend in its lead-up to this week’s game.

If you watch only one Mountain West game all year, invest the time into this week’s battle for first place between TCU and Utah. The Horned Frogs are the team with the loss, but they’re playing as if that’s the only one they’ll suffer this season.        

Rocky Needed Apollo Creed

By Matthew Zemek

It takes two teams to make a classic, so before anyone thinks that the following remarks represent a way of minimizing Texas Tech's massive achievement on Saturday night, it's actually a way of magnifying the Red Raiders' heroics:
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of witnessing the greatest tennis match ever played: the 2008 Wimbledon men's singles final, in which Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in five sets. The rain-delayed epic took four hours and 48 minutes of on-court time, but nearly eight hours in real time. It's the kind of sports moment that never leaves the memory, and endures into old age (the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise).
That match proved to be unforgettable for many different and very compelling reasons, but the foremost aspect of the seminal struggle was that the loser gained an incredible amount of respect, almost as much as the winner. Federer, at the time a winner of 12 major championships, had defeated his opponents on grass and cement courts so consistently that his unreal excellence had been taken for granted. It was only when he suffered a crushing and heartbreaking defeat that his quality began to be appreciated at a higher level. It was only then, in the aftermath of his most agonizing moment as a tennis player, that Federer's humanity and heart could be seen by the wider populace. Always admired for his brilliant technical expertise and clinical skill, Federer finally received warmth and affection when he lost that match to Nadal. The man who, on one hand, lost so much in a match--$700,000 plus a coveted championship--actually gained great riches at the same time. He finally found love from the sporting public, the kind of embrace that doesn't come easily.
So it also is, then, that the Texas Longhorns earned a similar amount of respect and love from college football fans across the country after their heartstopping loss to Texas Tech. When you're No. 1 in the land, and everyone--particularly in places such as Lubbock, Norman, Tuscaloosa, and State College--wants to see you fall, you're not loved.
After Saturday night, it's impossible not to love the Longhorns with your whole heart and soul.
Bodies were flying off the field and into the infirmary for Texas. Reliable receivers and dynamic defenders were being carried to the bench. Up front and on the edges, Mack Brown and his staff were quickly being drained of reserves. Yet, they raged against the dying of the light, fighting into the night with remarkable resolve. They didn't play better than Tech. They didn't hit harder than Tech. They didn't execute at a higher level. But after 58 minutes and 31 seconds, they led. By one. Don't try to figure it out. Just comprehend how gutsy and gritty the Longhorns were, up and down their depleted roster, before Mr. Harrell and Mr. Crabtree survived a dropped interception with eight seconds left to win seven seconds later.
Texas Tech won the biggest game in the history of the program. More will be made of that in the coming days, and deservedly so. But keep in mind how gallant Mack Brown's team proved to be in defeat. It's only because of the courage with which Texas played that Tech's triumph can be seen as the epic accomplishment it genuinely is.
Much as Rafael Nadal's Wimbledon title became that much greater because of his opponent's unflagging determination, so it also is that Texas Tech's awesome achievement is ten thousand times more impressive because Texas made the Red Raiders sweat until the very last second ticked off the clock. If you want to lose a perfect season, lose it the way Texas did. Longhorn fans should be mighty proud of their boys. Moreover, every college football fan should feel the same sense of grade-A admiration.

For McCoy, He Showed Blood And Guts

By Steve Silverman

In Saturday night's spectacular confrontation with Texas Tech, Texas showed more guts and competitive fire in a 39-33 defeat than it had in almost all of its previous eight wins. And so did Texas Tech.

Falling behind 19-0 only steeled the Longhorns' resolve and Colt McCoy brought them all the way back to take a 33-32 lead with 1:29 to play. That would have been enough in year's past against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have always been a questionable entity in the biggest games under Mike Leach in the past, but this time around they had the gumption to survive the Texas challenge. After building the big lead and watching it slip away, Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree worked their magic on the final play from scrimmage of the game to steal the win with the now-classic 28-yard TD pass. Texas Tech never would have had the resolve to do that in the past, and that's because of experience. This is a veteran team that got justabout everyone back on the defensive side, and 10 starters back on offense. Young teams come up with wins like this over teams like that. The Red Raiders still have a tough schedule ahead with Oklahoma State (home) and Oklahoma (road) and a potential date in the Big 12 championshp game, but they have clearly grown up quite a bit. And so did Texas.