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So far, this season's an enigma
If two team mascots could serve as official symbols of the 2010 college football season, it’d be Bevo and Oski. No two squads personify this topsy-turvy, who-knows-what-the-heck’s-going-to-happen-this-week nature of the '10 campaign quite like the unranked Texas Longhorns and Cal Golden Bears.
Texas, the BCS Championship runner-ups from 2009, manhandled No. 5 Nebraska in Lincoln a week ago, bumping the Longhorns up to No. 19 in the polls. How’d they respond to what was considered a season-changing victory? By losing to Iowa State for the first time ... ever ... (at home, no less) on Saturday. The 28-21 Cyclones victory was Iowa State’s first road victory over a ranked opponent since 1990. Texas has beaten ranked Nebraska and Texas Tech on the road this season. They’ve also lost to unranked UCLA and Iowa State at home.
Cal? They trailed USC 42-0 at halftime last week. On Saturday, they beat Arizona State 50-17 — the same Arizona State team that held mighty Wisconsin to just 20 points in Madison earlier this year.
Both Texas and Cal are 4-3. Both are freakin’ enigmas.
In 2010 — the year of the freakin’ enigma — the ‘Horns and Bears are pretty much poster boys of the college football season.
Auburn’s long-snapper has a bigger page in the Tigers 2010 media guide than Heisman frontrunner Cameron Newton. Denard Robinson — the nation’s leading rusher — wasn’t expected to start for Michigan this season. Justin Blackmon, the nation’s best receiver, wasn’t even on any of the Big 12 preseason All-Conference squads. And those examples just scratch the surface.
Last weekend, eight of the nation’s Top 25 ranked teams lost. On Saturday, seven Top 25 teams fell, with four losing at home. The Associated Press’ No. 1-ranked teams in Weeks 6 and 7 — Alabama and Ohio State — were knocked off in consecutive weeks, while the BCS’s first top-ranked team — Oklahoma — fell this past weekend. When the second BCS standings of the season were released on Sunday night, five of the schools with the richest college football traditions — Notre Dame, Michigan, USC, Texas, Florida — were nowhere to be found. And yet, Nevada and Baylor rounded out the Top 25.
So, who is in the thick of the BCS title chase? A hodgepodge of teams that have slugged through the past decade mired in mediocrity and a trio of non-BCS contenders who’ve earned their keep, critics be damned.
Auburn is ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings for the first time in school history. The Tigers went 13-0 in 2004 but never got higher than No. 3 in the BCS standings that season. Since that ‘04 campaign, Auburn hasn’t won the SEC West division or played in a BCS bowl.
No. 2 Oregon, meanwhile, is tops in the AP polls for the first time in school history. They, too, though, have yet to participate in a BCS Championship Game and have played in just two BCS Bowl games since the system was put in place in 1998. In fact, of the top 10 teams in this week’s BCS standings, only two — Alabama and Oklahoma — have made it to a BCS title game. Currently undefeated and ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, Michigan State and Missouri have never played in BCS bowl games, let alone ones with national titles on the line.
The Spartans haven’t been to a Rose Bowl since 1987. They’re the lone undefeated team remaining in the Big Ten. Naturally, they were unranked coming into the 2010 season.
“There's a tremendous amount of parity right now in college teams across the country," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio told the Wall Street Journal this week. "That's why you're seeing such a fluctuation between these teams and who's in the top 10. There are so many teams that can get there. They've all got a shot."
As for Missouri, the Sunday morning headlines following their 36-27 victory over previously No. 1 Oklahoma almost reeked of half-heartedness. Missouri Shocks Oklahoma, read the AP header. C’mon. Was it an upset? Sure, in the Vegas point-spread interpretation of the word. But in a season where teams' stays at the top have been about as brief as Brett Favre’s recent press conferences, falling to an undefeated squad that’s playing on national television in front of a home crowd in the rowdiest of environments is hardly a “shocking” outcome.
Reading through the headlines Sunday, the use of the words “stunning” and “shocking” also came up in game recaps from Morgantown to Austin to Iowa City. They all seemed a bit forced.
After all, from what we’ve seen in the season’s first two months, is there even such a thing as an “upset” anymore? What’s “shocking” when No. 1 falls every week? What’s “stunning” when Baylor and Syracuse — a combined 34-84 over the past five years — are each quietly making runs to BCS bowl berths this season.
The only three teams to win in seemingly dominant fashions on a weekly basis? BCS “outsiders” Boise State, TCU and Utah, of course.
Boise State currently boasts the fourth-rated offense and the second-rated defense in the nation. It has beaten two ranked opponents and won its two conference games this season by a combined score of 107-0. Undefeated Mountain West Conference rivals TCU and Utah, who square off on Nov. 6, have won their last four games by a combined scoring margin of 302 points.
But based on the way the BCS standings have been shaping up each week, it appears as though all three teams — regardless of what they do or by how many points they win by — will need help from several teams to make it to the BCS Championship Game in January. There’s a solid chance a one-loss Alabama team, with a win over Auburn in the Iron Bowl and an SEC title in its back pocket, could sneak into the Top 2 over an unbeaten Boise, TCU or Utah.
But outside of Boise, Fort Worth and Salt Lake, no one wants to hear about the Broncos, Frogs and Utes. Nor does ABC and ESPN, the broadcast partners for the 2010 BCS Championship Game.
So, who do I think should play in the final game of the season? Well, the BCS title should be decided between whoever is ranked 1 and 2 at the culmination of the college season. But after that game, there should be another one.
One that pits Texas against California in Roswell, N.M.
I couldn’t think of two more fitting teams to close out the year of the freakin’ enigma.
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