Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
13 Nov 2008
by Russell Levine
What do college football fans talk about when presented with a less-than-scintillating slate of games in mid-November?
Why the BCS, of course.
It occurs to me that college football's greatest weakness -- the bizzarro way in which it "selects" a champion -- is also its greatest strength. I have always believed that all the arguments over playoffs neglect to address what might be lost in the pursuit of an undisputed champion: The BCS breathes interest into the sport. What people care enough to criticize, they also care enough to follow.
I have never been a huge playoff proponent and am staunchly against any system that limits the meaning of the best regular season in all of sports. I do think the BCS could be improved by some simple tweaks -- mainly, that you must win your conference to be eligible for the championship game. I also think the human polls are a joke and that if all the people that criticized the computers actually looked at the data, they'd change their tune.
It seems that voters will never, ever, drop a team from No. 1 unless they lose (unless, of course we're talking about the coaches' poll and the 1997 Michigan Wolverines, but I'm not bitter). In my opinion, Texas Tech has a more impressive resume than Alabama. They've played better teams and beaten them by wider margins. That does not matter to the polls because Alabama was ranked higher, first.
Thankfully, that doesn't matter since both schools control their fate for the title game. But what happens if Oklahoma beats Texas Tech next week? Do the Sooners leapfrog Texas, a team that beat them last month?
Only time will tell. For now, we'll tune in and hope this weekend turns out to be more exciting in reality than it appears to be on paper.
With the BCS being the main topic of discussion this week, BCS Guru Sam Chi is the guest on our podcast. Sam is a former sportswriter who started his site a few years ago to keep tabs on the BCS. It's a great resource for understanding the true picture behind one of the most confusing things in sports.
Sam was nice enough to return to the podcast this week to discuss the system, its strengths and weaknesses, the outlook for the title contenders, and the looming disaster scenarios this season.
I hope you'll listen in.
Hey, look, it's an ACC tilt with conference-title game implications! Welcome to the most confusing conference in the BCS, with three teams tied (in the loss column) atop each division. Miami and Virginia Tech or two of those teams in the Coastal (the other being North Carolina). While this might not be the winner-take-all battle it was in the early years of the expanded ACC -- or even the teams' last few years in the Big East -- it is still plenty meaningful, and a chance to measure the progress made, especially by the 'Canes. BCS contention in late November would represent a major step in the right direction for Randy Shannon in his second year in charge of Miami. Like most ACC games, this one should be low-scoring with plenty of grind-it-out drives on offense. The team that can keep the chains moving on third-and-short will win. Virginia Tech enjoyed a huge rushing game last week from Darren Evans (253 yards against Maryland) but will find the going tougher against Miami's solid defense.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Virginia Tech | RUSSELL: Virginia Tech
The Big East isn't much simpler to figure than the ACC. Both conferences are chock full o' mediocrity, but as such are also highly competitive. Like it or not, someone from each league is going to get a BCS bid. Cincinnati is one of three teams tied for first with 3-1 conference marks, and they've already beaten co-leader West Virginia. The next two weeks will determine the Bearcats' fate. If they can win at Louisville and at home against Pittsburgh on November 22, a win over lowly Syracuse the following week would send the Bearcats to the BCS. If that were to happen, the major beneficiary would likely be Cincinnati coach Brian Kelley, who is never far from the discussion whenever higher-profile jobs come open. Cincinnati has flown beneath the radar this season as it has struggled with quarterback injuries, but a BCS bid is the kind of result that could open eyes -- and purse strings -- at some other (richer) program, say the one in Knoxville, Tennessee.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Cincinnati | RUSSELL: Cincinnati
Charlie Weis is going to call the plays this week in an effort to kick-start a moribund Notre Dame offense. Jason Whitlock is unimpressed. Notre Dame is somewhat improved over its dismal 3-9 team of a year ago, but how much of that is due to a schedule that is significantly softer? I felt that losing to Navy last year might be a tipping point for support of Weis by the Notre Dame faithful, and I feel that is the case even more so this year. Weis is 1-15 in his last 16 games against teams that finished with winning records. A loss here could begin to grease the slides for his exit. Last week's 17-0 loss to Boston College saw the mainstream media begin to turn on Weis. I think Weis knows the stakes are huge, and he's taking a calculated risk that by publicly announcing he's assuming play-calling duties so he can claim the lion's share of the credit if Notre Dame wins. I don't have to explain the downside of that move.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Navy (Brian adds, "Oh, dear God.") | RUSSELL: Navy
Kansas is the anti-Notre Dame (except that the Jayhawks are probably still better than the Irish). Kansas rode an advantageous schedule to an Orange Bowl win last season, but has faltered this season against a much tougher Big 12 slate. It doesn't get any easier when one of the South division's Big Three, Texas, comes calling. The Longhorns remain very much in the thick of the national championship hunt, although they need help from Oklahoma against Texas Tech next week, and should not let the opportunity pass to impress a few voters. Texas will need every vote it can get in order to stay ahead of Oklahoma should the Sooners knock off the Red Raiders, despite having beaten Oklahoma on a neutral field in October. Such is the beauty of college football. Colt McCoy should enjoy a big day against the Big 12's worst pass defense, and if anyone stumbles in front of him he could find himself right back in the Heisman mix.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Texas | RUSSELL: Texas
Raise your hand if you knew that Oregon State controls its own destiny to win the Pac-10 and go to the Rose Bowl. Anyone? Beuller? The Beavers have had a confusing season, starting 0-2 with losses to Stanford and Penn State before beating USC, and then losing to Utah the following week. But they have not lost in conference play since the opener against Stanford and thus hold the tiebreaker over the Trojans. It won't be an easy road, with a road trip to Arizona and a home date with Oregon still to come. Cal was surprisingly tough on defense in a 17-3 loss to USC a week ago and if it brings the same effort should be able to control the Beavers. Do that, and the Bears might be able to win even with their limited offense.
THE PICKS -- FEI: California | RUSSELL: Oregon State
BYU and Air Force are part of a three-way tie for second place in the Mountain West behind Utah. BYU will face undefeated Utah at the end of the season, so a win here is critical to keep the Cougars' conference title hopes alive. Air Force is as usual a dominant ground team that treats the forward pass like enemy anti-aircraft fire -- something to be avoided altogether. It makes for an interesting contrast in styles against the prolific BYU passing game led by Max Hall, who was receiving some early Heisman love before BYU was thumped by TCU to lose its shot at the BCS. Still, Hall looks like an NFL-quality passer and should find some success against the Air Force defense, provided the Cougars can force the Falcons to give up the ball.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Air Force | RUSSELL: BYU
South Carolina has very quietly gotten to 7-3 this season. "Quietly" because the Gamecocks haven't beaten anyone of note. That would change if Steve Spurrier can win in his second trip to the Swamp as South Caorlina head coach. He nearly pulled off the trick in 2006, as the Gators needed a last-second blocked kick to secure what would turn out to be a national-title run. Nobody expects this game to be that close, not with the Gators destroying everyone in their path since their only loss of the season, the ever-more perplexing home upset at the hands of Ole Miss. Florida knows exactly where it stands -- four wins away from playing for the national title. Having already suffered one enormous upset, the Gators also won't take anyone lightly. South Carolina might have the best defense Florida has faced all year, but the mistake-prone Gamecocks offense will have to protect the ball to keep this one close.
THE PICKS -- FEI: Florida | RUSSELL: South Carolina
With things packed so tightly in both halves of the ACC, any loss is going to be devastating to a team's BCS chances. Maryland has been maybe the most vexing of the ACC's teams, nearly losing to Delaware, but then beating Cal and Wake Forest -- all at home. The Terps lost at Virginia Tech last week, yet still control their own destiny in the Atlantic Division. North Carolina will need help to win the Coastal, but the Tar Heels have been playing as well as anyone in the conference lately and are coming of a surprising thumping of Georgia Tech last week. Maryland has defensive deficiencies -- it is 11th in the conference against the pass and gave up 253 yards on the ground to Virginia Tech's Evans a week ago. North Carolina should score some points, especially if it continues its trend of dominating the turnover margin.
THE PICKS -- FEI: North Carolina | RUSSELL: North Carolina
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|Virginia Tech||+5||Miami||Virginia Tech||Virginia Tech|
|California||+3||Oregon State||California||Oregon State|
|BYU||-5.5||Air Force||Air Force||BYU|
|South Carolina||+21||Florida||Florida||South Carolina|
|North Carolina||-3||Maryland||North Carolina*||North Carolina|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
24 comments, Last at 17 Nov 2008, 8:12am by Pete