Sheesh, last week we were sitting here proclaiming Florida and Alabama thoroughly worthy of their loftiness despite their struggles … but to be considered the very best and next-to-very-best in all the land, you aren’t allowed to make a habit of that, fellas.
You need to be more like Texas.
Or Texas Christian, for that matter.
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We’ve got a long way to go, but the plight of TCU is getting very interesting. The Horned Frogs went into Provo, Utah, and took apart BYU (38-7), and now they’ve got their sets on Boise State. Yup, we can argue all we want about Florida, Alabama and Texas, but at least some of that will sort itself out.
TCU and Boise State could wind up in a cage match, even though they aren’t in the same cage. As good and as undefeated and as highly ranked as these two teams are, they’re fighting for what figures to be one BCS bowl spot. Only one team from a “smaller” conference can earn an automatic bid.
So, even if both of them finishes in the top five in the BCS rankings, one could be left out of a BCS bowl while the “automatic qualifying conferences” fill up the spots with runners-up ranked as far down as 14th. Sure, either could be selected as an at-large team, but that’s never happened — give a BCS bowl an option between one of their brothers-in-arms and a TCU or Boise, and they’ll go with the conference that they have on speed dial.
Still, TCU is 7-0, has outscored opponents by an average of 33-12, has quality wins at Clemson, BYU, Air Force and Virginia, and still has a Mountain West Conference showdown against Utah on Nov. 14.
Boise State is 7-0, has outscored opponents by an average of 40-15, and has quality wins against Oregon, Tulsa and Fresno State, and still has a Western Athletic Conference showdown against Nevada on Nov. 27.
Last year, while Utah was getting all the attention of the BCS, Boise State and TCU quietly completed sensational seasons, and finished ninth and 11th … only to be fortunate enough to get to play each other in San Diego, rather than be banished to a not-so-warm-weather site. TCU won a great defensive battle, 17-16. But now one of them stands to be in the spot Utah enjoyed last year — and wind up in the Fiesta or Sugar … while the other doesn’t.
So, when we’re arguing through November about who deserves which bowl, consider that these are not the overlooked orphans of yesteryear hanging out in the back alley begging for bowl scraps. These are teams that have earned their top 10 ranking from the BCS and all reputable polls — and are creating another reason for the powers that BCS to adjust their formula yet again after the season.
Think of it as sort of a note for the parking lot of the season: Top 10 teams ought to get the top 10 bowl spots, even if they’re not in the biggest conferences. They’re all playing by the rules as set up by the BCS, and they’re earning their rankings within the confines of a system designed to keep them out. So when more than one team earns its way up there, BCS also-rans should not be able to hide behind a shirt-tail BCS selection procedure.
In the BCS rankings at this point in the season, there have been plenty of “nonautomatic qualifiers” that were on the BCS radar and went on to finish in the top 14.
2008: Utah was 11th in the BCS rankings, moved up to sixth by the end of the regular-season and wound up in the Sugar Bowl (beat Alabama, 31-17); Boise State and TCU were 12th and 14th, but moved up only to ninth and 11th — and faced each other in the Poinsettia Bowl (which TCU won, 17-16).
2007: Hawaii was 18th, moved up to 10th and wound up in the Sugar Bowl (lost to Georgia, 41-10).
2006: Boise State was 15th, moved up to eighth and wound up in the Fiesta Bowl (beat Oklahoma, 43-42).
2005: TCU was 21st, moved up to 14th, but wound up in the Houston Bowl (beat Iowa State, 27-24).
2004: Utah was seventh, moved up to sixth and wound up in the Fiesta Bowl (beat Pittsburgh, 35-7); also, Boise State was 14th, moved up to ninth, but wound up in the Liberty Bowl (lost to No. 10 Louisville, 44-40).
It’s not even November
Before we get too carried away with what’s going to happen in the postseason, we’ve got a lot of football to watch — including what promises to be a crazy Halloween day and night even before “the month they remember” begins.
It’s instructive to recall that only five teams have finished the regular-season with a perfect record in the past three years, and of those, only one was from a BCS “automatic-qualifying conference” (Ohio State in 2006). So, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Iowa and Cincinnati, we’re talking about you.
Of those, Alabama and Iowa rely so heavily on their defenses that they seemed destined to remain embroiled in a series of nail-biters — and there’s at least one that they might not block a kick on the last play, as both have had to do to retain their perfect records. Iowa certainly has been the shakiest, but that only makes them the most impressive in that the Hawkeyes have never been 8-0 before and had absolutely no expectation of being so this season. They smell like a team of destiny, no?
Cincinnati still has some tough games remaining against ranked Big East foes West Virginia and Pittsburgh, but you’ve got to like their chances to remain unbeaten. However, it doesn’t appear that they’d jump all the way into the championship game. We’ll see.
Halloween in Eugene
When USC jumped on top of California a few weeks ago and stepped on the Bears’ throat en route to a 30-3 rout in Berkeley, it looked like the Trojans were maturing into another of Pete Carroll’s championship-caliber teams. But Notre Dame and Oregon State both showed that this USC team does not have either the killer instinct or the experience to overwhelm a motivated team that won’t beat itself.
Three times this year, including the loss at not-so-great-after-all Washington, the Trojans have been outplayed and outscored in the fourth quarter. The past two weeks, they have given up two fourth-quarter touchdowns and were left fighting for their lives down the stretch.
They won’t be able to survive that kind of late-game sag on a wild Halloween night scene in Eugene, Ore. The winner of that one will be almost set for the Rose Bowl, although Arizona is still lurking on both of their schedules. Ducks QB Jeremiah Masoli is back, and Chip Kelly’s offense is running at full throttle.
Showdown in Stillwater
Hey, wasn’t Oklahoma State supposed to fade into the background after running back Kendall Hunter was hurt and then Dez Bryant was thrown for a loss by the NCAA for contact with an agent? The Cowboys have done pretty much the opposite of that, posting four impressive wins in a row, and now they’re poised to send shockwaves through college football. The Texas Longhorns ride into Stillwater this week, in what appears to be the toughest test remaining for the Longhorns.
The Cowboys have continued to run the ball hard and well, and Zac Robinson has conducted the offense masterfully, spreading the ball around better than ever. Moreover, they’re finding nuances in their offense they didn’t know they had. Robinson hit Wilson Youman and Cooper Bassett each for a touchdown Saturday against Baylor as OSU moved to 6-1 on the season. It was the first time in 27 games that Mike Gundy’s offense had thrown a touchdown pass to a tight end.
As hot and high-and-mighty as Texas is, Oklahoma State is also unbeaten in the Big 12 and would take over the lead in the South Division with a victory. Don’t put it past ’em.
You can’t leave, all the plants are gonna die
Be prepared to see more juniors than ever jump to the NFL after this season — far more than the usual 35-45 — because of a rookie salary structure that is expected to be bargained into place after next season. What’s more, the Sam Bradford situation is one that will weigh heavily into conversations, as it should for potential high picks.
Making matters even worse for colleges is the way that NFL scouts are not getting the kind of film and information they have in the past because of a dispute over film rights, and some information underclassmen get from the NFL after this year on their draft potential might not be as reliable as in the past.
Add it all up, and it could be a perfect storm that leaves college coaches with less persuasiveness on their side as in normal years … and could lead to as many as 100 players leaving early.
A glance ahead
Thursday, Oct. 29
North Carolina at Virginia Tech: The Hokies try to get back into the top 10 and into BCS consideration.
Friday, Oct. 30
West Virginia at South Florida: This is a key game in the Big East. Will Bulls will find a way not to lose their third in a row?
Saturday, Oct. 31
Cincinnati at Syracuse: Every time the Bearcats play now, it’s worth paying attention.
Indiana at Iowa: The unlucky Hoosiers have the firepower to keep Hawkeyes uncomfortable.
Georgia vs. Florida: Will the Bulldogs make their underachieving season a success, after all?
Kansas State at Oklahoma: The North Division leaders take on the Sooners, who already have three losses.
Texas at Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have become one of the most potent sleepers out there.
USC at Oregon: There’s lots of future NFL offensive talent on the field, with a Rose Bowl bid nearly on the line.