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?
03 Nov 2008
by Russell Levine
Cue the gnashing of teeth.
We're early in BCS season -- this week marking just the second standings release of the year -- so it's the time of year when seemingly everyone connected to college football begins laying out the scenarios for BCS chaos.
With each new scenario comes much consternation from a fan base somewhere. Undefeated Penn State could get shut out! A one-loss SEC team might not have a chance! The Big Ten and Pac-10 are awful but will get the nod over the SEC or Big 12!
Allow me, please, a word of advice: Relax.
Have you learned nothing the last few years? Do you not remember South Florida and West Virginia, 2007? Louisville, Rutgers, and USC, 2006? Those are but a few of the teams that were in position to control their own destiny for a berth in the championship game, only to lose in inglorious fashion.
There are five weeks of regular-season play left. The teams currently in position to play for the BCS title -- No. 1 Alabama and second-ranked Texas Tech -- each have multiple difficult games remaining. Penn State, at No. 3 and with what appears to be an easy remaining schedule, might actually be the safest bet among the three to reach the championship. Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas, each highly ranked with a single loss, also have reasonable paths to the championship game based on their remaining schedules. It should be said, though, that USC likely needs a lot of help to get into the top two spots.
The BCS, with its reliance on the scary technology of computer rankings, has always been an easy target. It's an institution that was created in an attempt to solve an unsolvable problem: that of how to pick just two worthy teams out of a 120-team sport in which comparative results are few and far between and in which a playoff is not (presently) an option. It can only succeed by virtue of luck.
Rather than focusing on the shortcomings of the BCS, college football fans and observers should be saving their wrath for the human polls that still account for two-thirds of the BCS formula. The coaches' poll has always been a joke. It's an open secret that coaches don't spend much time watching other teams play every Saturday and that many a ballot is filled out by some junior-level assistant in the sports-information office. The poll is also full of favoritism and built-in bias. How it escapes the same microscope that is applied to the BCS as a whole baffles me.
Look at this week's survey, for example. Oklahoma is ranked fifth; Texas seventh. Those teams have the same number of losses, and when they played less than a month ago, Texas won by 10 points on a neutral field. The same holds true in the Harris writers' poll, which was created as a quickie replacement when the AP pulled out of the BCS a few years ago, but there the results are even worse, as someone still ranked Texas No. 1, presumably having not stayed up late enough to see Texas Tech complete the upset late Saturday night.
If anything, the computer rankings deserve credit for managing to apply some logic to the BCS, restoring Texas to its proper place ahead of Oklahoma.
Thankfully, there is one place where logic applies all the time: on the field. And there are still plenty of opportunities for statements to be made there, just as Florida and Texas Tech made impressive statements Saturday.
Florida looks very much like the best team in the country over the last month, having destroyed all comers. The latest victim, Georgia, never had a chance as the Bulldogs -- so bold in celebrating their supremacy over the Gators last season -- waved the white flag of surrender very early in Jacksonville (see below). Florida's loss to Ole Miss (at home, no less) grows more mystifying by the week. The Gators would be a clear-cut No. 1 right now if not for that game. Still, their path to the championship requires but a little outside assistance. Florida can take care of Alabama itself if both reach the SEC championship game, and would just need Texas Tech to lose.
A loss by the Red Raiders is not in the least bit far-fetched. Mike Leach will face his toughest coaching challenge this week as he prepares his team to face an Oklahoma State squad whose only loss was a tight one at Texas two weeks ago. While the Red Raiders were battling Texas, Oklahoma State was busy squeaking by Iowa State, 59-17.
Leach might want to some phone calls this week to a couple of coaches who also won "the biggest game in program history" in recent years, only to see it all come crashing back to earth the following week. Louisville was undefeated in 2006 when it beat West Virginia to get in position to reach the BCS championship. The next week, the Cardinals melted down in blowing a huge lead to Rutgers. That win put Rutgers in potential BCS position, but the Scarlet Knights' celebration was also a short one, as they fell at Cincinnati the following week.
Leach will need to do everything he can to talk his team down from its pedestal this week. Perhaps his unconventional approach will help. Leach has never been the type to make football larger than life. He should be able to convince his players of the need to stop accepting the pats on the back and get ready to face a team that could very easily beat them. And if Tech survives that test, there's still a road trip to Oklahoma to come. His players should have little trouble understanding the job is not finished.
The most impressive thing about Texas Tech's win Saturday night was that they dominated the line of scrimmage, ran the ball well, and pressured Colt McCoy. Leach's teams, among the most pass-happy in the wave of spread offenses that have come to dominate college football, have been hit with the dreaded "finesse" label, but there was nothing finesse about this weekend. Leach regularly ran the ball behind his massive offensive line. Count us in agreement with Dr. Saturday. If Tech is running the ball now, too, it's really not fair.
Texas Tech offered a straightforward approach to the Texas game. They played from the opening snap as if they were the better team and expected to win. There was little deception, almost no finesse. Again, contrast that with....
... Georgia's Mark Richt. Richt emerged from a deep field of worthy contenders this week to grab the JLS by calling for an onside kick early in the second quarter after kicking a field goal to trail Florida 7-3. The effort failed, Florida marched the short field for a touchdown to make it 14-3, and never looked back.
Richt might argue it's the kind of call that makes you a hero if it works, a zero if it didn't. I could not disagree more. It's simply not a call you make if you feel you have the better team. Urban Meyer must have known precisely at that moment that Georgia didn't believe it could win.
As mentioned, there were plenty of worthy candidates this week, including both Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstedt from the Pitt-Notre Dame four-overtime caution-fest, Minnesota's Tim Brewster, and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema. All four of these men botched late-game clock situations. Even Leach deserves consideration for an obvious mistake: kicking an extra point when up by five with one second remaining.
This season, I am again voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and now available on CBS Sportsline. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment, and I may make changes based on comments for a revised ballot later in the week .
Note: Delta column is all messed up because I didn't file a ballot last week while my home network was on the fritz. All will return to normal next week.
Rankings that may require further explanation: I feel pretty good about the top eight. Texas Tech gets the nod based on most impressive win over Alabama (Georgia not looking as strong as a month ago) and Penn State (Ohio State). The one-loss teams in the next bunch are sorted by quality of that loss. Texas and Oklahoma State are in a virtual tie, with Oklahoma slightly behind in that they lost to Texas on a neutral field. USC (lost at Oregon State) edges Florida (lost at home to Ole Miss) based upon the same criteria. Beyond that it's a crapshoot. Utah should probably fall after the squeaker against New Mexico, but undefeated and a half-decent schedule counts for something. I feel like Georgia and LSU should be lower but I have a hard time putting them behind the teams below.
Games I watched at least part of: Michigan-Purdue, Pitt-Notre Dame, Florida State-Georgia Tech, Florida-Georgia, Texas-Texas Tech, Arizona State-Oregon State.
51 comments, Last at 24 Nov 2008, 10:25pm by Pat (filler)