'Black Friday' could reshape postseason

BY Peter Schrager • November 20, 2010

If the 2010 college football season has been anything, it’s been unique. But that uniqueness is not due to an overwhelming amount of upsets on a week-to-week basis, big individual performances from the game’s superstars, or Cinderella seasons from usual conference doormats.

Rather, this college football season has been the first one in recent memory where there hasn’t been the annual late November national hysteria over BCS rankings and potential bowl pairings. In fact, the usual Sunday night outrage and Monday morning talking head banter over the shortcomings of a flawed system have taken a distant backseat to Sunday night outrage and Monday morning talking head banter over recruiting violations, off-the-field scandals and smarmy non-football related activities.

The BCS, in itself, has been a rather cool customer this season — sensible, appeasing to both the BCS conferences and the non-BCS conferences, and rather accurate in its weekly rankings. To say there’s been any real “BCS madness” would be a lie

That can all change this Friday, though. Armageddon could be-a-comin’. The sleeping monster that’s been the BCS could be poked with a giant stick with three losses. All order in the college football world, as we know it, could be turned upside down in a matter of twelve hours.

“Black Friday” awaits us. Consider yourself warned.

Yes, in the year where respected sports columnist Dan Wetzel’s book Death to the BCS hit bookshelves, there hasn’t been all that much mass displeasure with the system, at all. We’ve grown accustomed to being hit over the head by pundits slaying the BCS during this time of year and, for the most part, those gripes are usually well founded. In 2007, Kansas went to a BCS bowl over Missouri, despite identical records and Mizzou beating Kansas a few weeks earlier when they played head-to-head. Texas being ranked over Texas Tech and thus getting a BCS bowl bid, despite the Red Raiders beating Texas when they played head-to-head, dominated headlines in 2008. Last year, Penn State led Iowa in the BCS standings throughout the month of November, despite identical records and a Hawkeyes’ Saturday night thrashing of the Nittany Lions in October.

This season? As far as BCS outrage and controversy goes, it’s been fairly ho-hum. BCS experts like Jerry Palm have been all but invisible, as names like John Blake, Cecil Newton and Kenny Rogers have stepped into the late November limelight, instead.

But college football’s “Black Friday,” a day that includes very losable games for No. 1 Oregon, No.2 Auburn, and No.4 Boise State, could instantly transform the all-too-cut-and-dry 2010 season into utter chaos and crash and burn mode.

It all starts at 2:30 p.m. ET in Tuscaloosa, where undefeated Auburn takes on Alabama in the first Iron Bowl since 1994 where both teams come in ranked in the Top 10 in the AP polls. The defending national champion Crimson Tide, despite two losses, are actually favored in Las Vegas sports books by a healthy four-point margin. With the Newton scandal swirling in the Alabama winds, a Heisman bid, and a flawless record for their archrivals hanging in the balance, the Bryant-Denny crowd should be more than ready to put a damper on Auburn's dream season. Nick Saban’s team will be ready and prepared, as well.

“The focus this week is on the Alabama-Auburn game, it’s not about anything that’s going on outside,” Saban said this weekend. “It’s not about what happened last year. None of that really matters. It’s about this week, this time, this game. The culmination of your season sort of gets judged by how you do in a game like this.”

At 7 p.m. ET, Oregon kicks off with Arizona. Though the Wildcats have lost two straight, they’ll be coming off a bye and 13 days to prepare for Oregon’s high-octane offense. Cal found a way to limit the Ducks to just 15 points last weekend. The Wildcats’ defense is superior to the Golden Bears’, having given up just 18 points per game this season. When the two teams met last November, Arizona took the eventual Pac-10 champions down to the wire, losing 44-41 in double overtime in Tucson. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles threw four touchdown passes in that shootout. After weeks of battling shoulder and knee injuries, Foles is finally healthy and rested, primed to torch the Ducks defense in front of a national television audience like he did in ‘09.

Then, there’s the late night special out in Reno, the game I’m most excited for. Boise State travels to Nevada to play a Wolf Pack team that boasts the nation’s third-highest scoring offense and rarely, if ever, loses at home. Boise State, of course, features not only the nation’s 19th-highest scoring offense, but also the country’s No. 2 overall defense. Last Friday, the Broncos handed Fresno State its first shutout loss since 1998. After the 51-0 blowout, Fresno coach Pat Hill told reporters in Boise: “I’ll say it. I have no problem saying it. I’ll take Boise State against anybody in the country.”

A loss to Nevada, though, would not only cost Boise State any shot at the BCS Championship Game, but it’d also cost Boise State a BCS bowl berth. Furthermore, it'd force them into a peculiar three-way tie for first place in the WAC with the Wolf Pack and Hawaii. What would that mean? Well, based on the conference's rulebook, there'd be no "tiebreaker" to determine the champion, and instead, the conference’s Bowl Placement Committee would choose which bowl game the Broncos would be playing in. That'd most likely mean a Jan. 9 battle vs. a bottom-barrel ACC team in something called the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. From BCS championship dreams to macaroni and cheese? The nightmare could be a reality for Boise if it doesn’t come out playing their best football from the very start on Friday night.

So, let’s play a quick game of "what if"?

What if “Black Friday” really meant losses for Auburn, Oregon, and Boise State? What would that all mean?

Well, it’d mean that “it” has officially hit the fan in college football. After four or five weeks of little to no movement in the top 10, there’d be a shakeup like none we’d ever seen before. The questions leading up to Sunday night’s release of the standings would be never-ending.

Would a one-loss Big Ten champion jump six or seven spots in the BCS rankings and take control of one of the top two seeds? Would a one-loss LSU (assuming they beat Arkansas on Saturday, which is no safe assumption), with a loss to Auburn earlier in the season, leap over a one-loss SEC West champion Auburn squad? What about TCU? A week after coach Gary Patterson did the ESPN rounds appearing on any and all shows in Bristol that’d have him on — would the undefeated Horned Frogs be given a shot at the national title? How about Jim Harbaugh's Stanford Cardinal? Does one-loss Stanford — with a loss to Oregon already on the books — jump the Ducks based on the cockamamie “What have you done for me lately” process that confounds the American viewing public each year?

This is fun, right?

Amazingly, these hypothetical questions are just merely scratching the surface.

“Black Friday” is usually reserved for holiday buying sprees, eating leftovers and savoring a rare day off from work.

This year, it could mean college football Armageddon. Absolute bedlam.

In a sick way, a little controversy and hysteria over the BCS — and not the litany of off-the-field issues plaguing the game since August — could be just what the sport needs this season.

2010 has been a unique year in college football, already. "Black Friday" could make it epic.


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