5 Thoughts - Oct. 18
(What to do with BYU)
(The problem with the polls, and the new star QBs)
(The sleeper team to watch out for)
(The Big East apology)
(To Tebow or not Tebow)
(Bama vs. Florida ... already?)
1. Yes, the Hawkeyes vs. the Bearcats
really would be good.
If you think Florida is the best team in America, fine. If you think Alabama is the second best team in America and Texas is third, that's fine, too. Those three have survived so far while other big names fall by the wayside, and they appear to all be worthy of being in the national title discussion. But don't just assume that they belong in the BCS Championship because of the conferences they play in, and that could be the debate for the next six weeks.
Why, exactly, does the Big 12 champion deserve any benefit of the doubt? More to the point, what, exactly, has Texas done to be considered a sure-thing to be in the BCS Championship game besides having a great name and a lot of sympathetic feelings after what happened last year? So the Longhorns beat Texas Tech. Yippee, Houston did that, too. So the Texas defense was great against a Sam Bradford-less Oklahoma. BYU and Miami had few problems keeping the Landry Jones Sooners under wraps. Again, if you want to think Texas is one of the three best teams in America, that's great, it might be, but you can't just do that without explaining why Iowa and Cincinnati, at the moment, don't belong in that discussion.
Boise State is its own problem. There comes a point in the national title talk when deserve enters into the equation, and it doesn't matter if the Broncos are 1995 Nebraska; the schedule is too weak. But that doesn't work for Cincinnati or Iowa.
I don't think either team will go unbeaten, but let's say for the sake of argument that they will. That means Iowa will have beaten Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State, the four other top teams in the Big Ten, on the road. Throw in a win over a nice Arizona team that's not playing all that poorly, and the Hawkeyes will have the résumé.
If Cincinnati finishes unbeaten, then that would mean it beat Oregon State at Oregon State, won at South Florida and Pitt, and beat UConn, West Virginia, and Illinois (fine, the Illini stink). That's not that bad, but it's not like winning the Big 12, right?
Oklahoma lost to BYU and Miami, Oklahoma State lost to Houston, as did Texas Tech, Nebraska lost to Virginia Tech, Texas A&M got whacked by Arkansas, Missouri has become extremely average, Colorado stunk it up before beating Kansas, who played no one before losing at Boulder, and no one else is even worth discussing. So based on what you can prove, and not what you believe, make your case for the Big12 champion deserving anything this year
just because of the conference it plays in.
I know, I know, we're not supposed to speak ill of the almighty SEC. After all, if Sports Illustrated says that no one plays football like they do in the southeast, then it must be true, but there's a whole bunch of mediocrity happening outside of the world-beaters at the top. The SEC has done its part in non-conference play to be the best in a bad lot of conferences, but watch Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, and South Carolina play a few games and then bet the house, the car and the kids on any one of them against a mid-level team from one of the other BCS leagues on the road.
They're good, but they're not so good that
the SEC automatically deserves every benefit of the
doubt. Florida and Alabama do, and the winner of the
SEC Championship, if it really is between those two,
deserves to play for the national championship, but
it gets interesting if the SEC champion has one
loss. More on that in a moment.
The SEC has been great out of conference … at home. The best road win was Auburn over West Virginia. Wait, that was at Auburn. Georgia over Oklahoma State … no, that was a loss. Georgia over Arizona State? That was a home game, too, as was the Tennessee loss to UCLA, the Kentucky win over Louisville, and the Mississippi State loss to Georgia Tech. Every decent SEC non-conference win either came at a neutral site or was at home, with the two exceptions the South Carolina snoozer over NC State and LSU's win over a Washington team that won't go to a bowl.
Does the SEC have a non-conference road win as good as Cincinnati's 28-18 over Oregon State? How about a road win as good as USC over Ohio State, TCU over Clemson, or Houston over Oklahoma State? In other words, don't just assume it's the SEC's world and we're all just taking up space, even if Florida and Alabama are the two best teams in college football. Utah proved last year
that there's always a balloon out there waiting to
But perception does matter, and right or wrong, the SEC is the top dog and the Big 12 is considered No. 2. So if all things are equal, what's the pecking order for the national title? Whether you believe this is true or not, here it is (going on the current records and perceptions) …
No. 1 – Undefeated SEC champion
No. 2 – Undefeated Texas
No. 3 – One loss SEC champion
No. 4 – Undefeated Iowa
No. 5 – One loss Big 12 champion, Texas
No. 6 – Undefeated Cincinnati
No. 7 – One loss USC or Oregon (yes, even with the loss to Boise State, and no, it's not fair)
No. 8 – One loss ACC champion
No. 9 – Undefeated Boise State
No. 10 – Undefeated TCU
But if this really is the case, ask yourself this: would a Cincinnati vs. Iowa national championship really be so bad? For Fox, yes, for college football, no.
2. Can we add Texas Tech of last year to
make up for it?
Did the Big 12 play itself out of a second BCS bowl bid this past weekend? It's a long way to the end of the regular season, but it's becoming a very real possibility that only the league champ will be playing in a fat-payday game in January.
What looked like a certainty before the season began is now in serious jeopardy, provided Texas goes on to win the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 5 in Cowboys' Stadium. The North is unlikely to produce an at-large option after its two ranked members, Nebraska and Kansas, lost unexpectedly to Texas Tech and Colorado, respectively. Missouri, too, is out of the hunt after back-to-back losses. Down in the South, mainstay Oklahoma is 3-3 and headed toward a rare December bowl game. Texas Tech? Possibly, but at 5-2, the margin for error has evaporated. The skinny? It could be up to Oklahoma State if the Big 12 is going to have more than one representative in the five BCS bowl games.
Remember the Cowboys? A forgotten entity after the early loss to Houston, they've quietly strung together four straight wins despite the NCAA suspension of WR Dez Bryant and injury to RB Kendall Hunter. Sure, the first three games were against Rice, Grambling, and Texas A&M, but Saturday's defeat of Mizzou could prove to be a turning point. The defense played well, Keith Toston has become the workhorse in the running game, and Hubert Anyiam has picked up some of the slack at wide receiver.
No, this is not the same Oklahoma State that made news by beating Georgia in the opener. However, it needs to continue persevering and finding new heroes if it wants to fulfill preseason goals. The Big 12 is literally banking on it.
3. Getting puffy.
Amidst the entirely appropriate furor about excessive celebration penalties, it's worth looking in the opposite direction and paying a little more attention to to the kinds of displays that should get flagged on Saturdays.
This subject is somewhat connected to officiating, but it's far more important for the meanings it can communicate to the nation's FBS coaches. If competitive athletics is indeed the vehicle for holistic personal growth the NCAA wants (and needs) it to be, the men who coach 19- and 20-year-old kids need to develop a finer and more focused way of reaching the youths under their charge. If college sports is to fulfill its promise, the people who teach on the frontlines of practice fields and gymnasiums must do more to mold their players into better citizens. Making a distinction between healthy celebrations and arrogant behavior would be a mighty fine place to start.
Pete Carroll and Frank Beamer need to take ownership of this issue... not because their programs are the worst offenders, but because they were both exposed to some unacceptable ugliness this past Saturday.
Carroll and Beamer are two of the finer men in the coaching profession. Carroll's work on behalf of "A Better L.A." represents a substantial and far-more-than-superficial attempt to address gang violence and individual empowerment in the gritty areas of Los Angeles. Carroll isn't the latest in a long line of celebrities who slap their names on a half-baked venture in a transparent bid for cheap compensatory publicity used to mask alarming character deficits. Carroll has long held a vision of how young people can be motivated in a more meaningful manner, and his attempts to reach at-risk youth don't end with his now-known midnight visits; holistic education and constant engagement are part of his program.
Beamer is a beacon for his brother coaches on two fronts: First, the longtime Virginia Tech boss has generously compensated and stood by his assistants, ensuring that the people under his employ receive a just wage within the college football marketplace. It's not too surprising, then, that with loyal and highly-qualified staffers at his side, Beamer has held the same job in the same town for a couple decades, and with first-rate results that put Blacksburg, Va., on the national map long before April 16, 2007.
Carroll and Beamer have some teaching and man-molding to do this week, after unseemly displays by their players. In South Bend, Ind., USC defensive end Everson Griffen strutted and preened like an arrogant cartoon villain after sacking Jimmy Clausen in the third quarter of a game the Trojans led, 20-7. Griffen's muscle-flexing pose deserved to be flagged, and the Pac-10 crew rightly dropped the yellow laundry onto the Notre Dame Stadium turf. That play not only awakened the Irish offense; it also unleashed the floodgates for many more 15-yard penalties from a USC defense that, in moments both violent and vexing, rained down stacks of late hits (some of which were uncalled) on a Notre Dame team that kept its composure. USC's lapses came not from lack of effort, but from excessive arrogance, and it is this boatload of braggadocio, this cornucopia of corrosive cockiness, that should always be flagged by officiating crews.
In Atlanta, Virginia Tech was getting waxed in the fourth quarter of its loss at Georgia Tech. Yet, with the Hokies down by 11 points, Stephan Virgil--one of Virginia Tech's better and more dependable players--acted like the biggest, baddest dude in Bobby Dodd Stadium when Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt got rocked out of bounds on a nine-yard run. It was bad enough that Virgil puffed his chest when his defense got smoked for nine yards; it was worse that Virgil showed attitude when his team trailed by 11; but it was supremely sad and sorry to see a senior cornerback showing up an opponent.
The bottom line is this: If a Stephan Virgil can't comport himself properly at Virginia Tech, and Everson Griffen--another veteran--can't act like he's been there before at a program that has been known to lose Pac-10 games due to gross overconfidence, it's time for Beamer and Carroll to step in and restore order. If Virgil and Griffen are allowed to model unhealthy behaviors for the freshmen and sophomores on the USC and Virginia Tech rosters, people in Blacksburg and L.A. are not going to see a lot of the positive character growth that all fans of college sports must want and, moreover, insist on.
Beamer, for all his virtues, flatly enabled Marcus Vick for far too long a time. Carroll, in light of all the good he's done, was conspicuous in his inability to tamp down the out-of-control culture in the Reggie Bush-Matt Leinart-Dwayne Jarrett era. Beamer and Carroll have done a lot more good than bad in their value-positive careers, but if they're serious about being true to the spirit of collegiate athletics, they'll make Stephan Virgil, Everson Griffen, and their own separate football families re-learn the difference between having fun on a football field, and acting like a stupid playground bully who ruins the collegiate football experience... for themselves, and everyone else involved.
4. And Alabama has yet to win a Heisman.
Add me to the growing list of people who feel that Alabama RB Mark Ingram belongs at the top of the list for every individual honor earmarked for offensive players. There isn't a player who's been more valuable to his team in the first half of the season.
On a night when little else went right for the ‘Bama offense, Ingram went historical on a nasty South Carolina defense, rushing for 246 yards and the game-sealing touchdown to help keep his team unblemished. He has been there for the Tide all season long, bouncing off would-be tacklers, dragging defenders for extra yards, and fast becoming the ticking heart of a national championship contender.
Don't worry that Ingram didn't begin the season with as much hype as other players. Ignore the fact that he's a true sophomore in his first year as a starter. Roll your eyes that he doesn't have a recognizable surname, such as Tebow, McCoy, or Bradford. All of that is irrelevant because in a season when no one seems to want to win some of the game's most prized hardware, Ingram has been one of the exceptions. If he was a more recognizable entity outside the SEC, his name might already have been etched on multiple trophies.
5. The season is barking.
During an appearance on Sporting News Radio Saturday afternoon, I was asked whether there were such things as "the dog days of college football." How sad is that? It's easy to understand how that term applies to baseball. When you're playing 162 games, of course there are going to be "dog days." But in a 12-game regular season, spread over 13 weeks, how can anybody talk about a lull? Easy. Thanks (again) to the BCS, a weekend that had plenty of great games, terrific upsets and new heroes was relegated to ho-hum status. Why? Because the games weren't sexy enough in the BCS picture. Sure, if Florida had lost, it would have made news. And Virginia Tech's stumble against Georgia Tech created some space at the top for Boise State, Cincinnati and USC. But everybody seems to be waiting for the SEC title game to decide who will play Texas for all the marbles. That's a crime. We spend eight long months waiting for college football season, and here we are in mid-October, and people are already losing interest in anticipation of the Jan. 8 "national championship game." Imagine what would be happening if we tried to figure out what was going to happen in the ACC, with an eye on a tournament berth. And how great does that Iowa-Ohio State game look after the Buckeyes' upset loss in West Lafayette? There is plenty of great football every week, but because our eyes are trained on the top – more so now than ever with the release of the first BCS standings – we don't pay attention to all each college football week has to offer. That's what happens when you try to winnow 120 teams to two. It doesn't take long for 75% of them to become irrelevant in the national picture. And by this time, 90% of them are on the outside. It's a shame, because there are some great stories out there and tremendous games left to be played. Don't succumb to the "dog days" theory. Enjoy as much college football as you can, no matter how the BCS tries to steer you away from it.