This week, it gets interesting
All right, enough with the pussyfooting around.
Alabama, Arizona, and Nevada – teams with a combined record of 26-6 – could make things very entertaining for college football fans this week.
It's like this: On Thursday, we'll stuff ourselves with a whole mess of turkey, and then Friday we'll see if any of the undefeated teams turn into turkeys and make a mess of their BCS hopes.
One of the unbeatens is gonna lose. Count on it.
We're finally getting to the stuff that we'll remember: Oregon, Auburn, and Boise State – three of the four teams with an honest-to-goodness claim on "the right" to play for the national championship – risking their perfect records against teams that could really dirty them up.
TCU, meantime, has already worked its way through its difficult games and now just finishes up by seeing how badly it can beat perhaps the worst team in major college football (New Mexico, which opened the season by losing to Oregon, 72-0). So, we know that 11-0 TCU should become 12-0 TCU, but we can't quite make that assumption about the other three teams at the top of the BCS rankings.
We also know this: We do not want to see all four of these teams finish undefeated, then have to rely on the convoluted BCS system to sort it out. For fans, it'd be much better to see at least one of them get bumped off Friday and then maybe another one of them lose next week — when Oregon faces dangerous Oregon State, and Auburn faces dangerous South Carolina again.
But we'd better be careful what we wish for.
The way things have unfolded to this point, though, it would not serve the fans for Oregon and Auburn to both lose and Boise State win out, joining TCU as the only unbeaten teams in the country. While it could hasten serious conversation among college football's "haves" that a playoff is absolutely necessary sooner than later, that national championship game would not really prove what we need it to prove for this year – that either the Broncos or Horned Frogs could beat the very best that college football would have to offer on the biggest stage of all (or not).
They've already played each other in bowls the past two years, and nobody wants to see them play again — even if the game has a wholly unsatisfying national championship riding on it. In fact, if they did play in the BCS title game, I'd venture to guess that the winner of, say, an Alabama-Ohio State Sugar Bowl or an Oregon-Wisconsin Rose Bowl would gain a lot of first-place votes in the final AP Top 25.
ELIGIBLE, NOT PREFERABLE: In one respect, minor bowl games were able to breathe a sigh of relief over the weekend when several more teams became eligible to participate in bowls. The problem? Many of the qualified teams are not the teams the bowls want.
As it is, of the 68 teams that have qualified for the 70 bowl slots, 20 are in the WAC, Conference USA, MAC or Sun Belt. Yikes.
So, bowl scouts are still rooting like crazy for a number of teams that would bring several thousand fans and a reasonable TV draw to even a lower-tier bowl.
Anybody in the Pac-10: The Pac-10 has only three teams qualified for six spots, and there's a very good chance they'll finish with two or even three empty contracted slots. And if Oregon was to be facing TCU or Boise State in the championship game, Stanford could get into the Rose Bowl, which could leave up to four empty Pac-10 bids.
• California (5-6): The hot-and-cold Golden Bears simply must beat visiting Washington on Saturday.
• Washington (4-6): The Huskies handled UCLA and now must beat California and Washington State for Jake Locker and pals to get to a bowl game, which Huskies fans would be ga-ga over, since it would be their first in eight years.
• Oregon State (5-5): Has to beat either Stanford or Oregon.
• UCLA (4-6): The Bruins must beat Arizona State and USC.
SEC traditional powers: Either of these teams would make any bowl exec's day, considering the alternatives.
• Tennessee (5-6): The Vols have won three in a row and, by beating Kentucky, would squeeze in with their bowl-crazy fan base.
• Georgia (5-6): Since the season was ruined with an early four-game losing streak, the Bulldogs have won four of six, with the only losses coming in overtime against Florida and at Auburn. Now if they beat Georgia Tech, they'd at least get a consolation prize for a good second half of the season.
And back from the Big 12 grave ...
• Texas (5-6): Amazingly, the Longhorns would become bowl eligible by beating Texas A&M on Thanksgiving. All would not be forgiven, but at least Mack Brown would be able to put his young 'uns through an extra three weeks of workouts.
• Colorado (5-6): The Buffs were so bad they fired coach Dan Hawkins, but they have won twice under interim coach Brian Cabral and might even be capable of beating a depressed, quarterback-less Nebraska team this week to become eligible.
THE BIG BOWLS: One thing about this season is that the cream seems to be separating nicely. That is, it is becoming pretty clear to see the teams that deserve to be rewarded with the biggest bowls, and those that don't. Of course, that has very little to do with the reality of how the 10 teams are selected.
At the moment, it would shake out something like this:
• BCS championship game: Oregon vs. Auburn
• Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Boise State
• Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. TCU
• Orange Bowl: Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech
• Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Pittsburgh
The only sure thing is that the Big East champion will be in the Fiesta Bowl, simply because the Fiesta has the final choice this year. The next two years, the Fiesta gets to choose before the Sugar or Orange, so this season the good folks in Arizona will simply have to hold their nose and accept the Big East champion.
The other four games would be very watchable, but part of me is thinking that seeing UConn get a BCS invitation would serve somebody right.
NORTHERN POWERS: The power in next year's Pac-12 is in the north. Oregon State's victory over USC late Saturday means teams from next year's North Division are a combined 15-9 against teams from the South this season. The five teams other than Washington State are a ridiculous 15-5 against the South.
Here's a look at the strength of major college football, by next year's divisions:
1. SEC West (Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, MSU)
2. Big 12 South (Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor)
3. Pac-12 North (Oregon, Stanford, Oregon St., Cal, Washington, WSU)
4. Big Ten A (Ohio St., Wisconsin, Penn State, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana)
5. Big Ten B (Nebraska, Michigan St., Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota)
6. SEC East (South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Vandy)
7. Pac-12 South (USC, UCLA, Arizona, ASU, Utah, Colorado)
8. ACC Coastal (Virginia Tech, Miami, UNC, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Duke)
9. ACC Atlantic (FSU, NC State, Maryland, BC, Clemson, Wake)
10. Mountain West Conference
11. Western Athletic Conference
12. Big 12 North (Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State)
13. Big East Conference
14. MAC West
15. MAC East
16. Sun Belt Conference
THEY'D BE TOUGH, TOO: Most fans have one team they favor, but look at it this way: Assuming your team is invited to the title game, which of the top candidate teams — Oregon, Auburn, TCU, Boise State – would be the most difficult to beat?
In reality, the best answer might be ... Oklahoma State. Or Wisconsin. Or Stanford.
If there were an eight-team playoff — that's three rounds — I'd sure like Stanford's chances with Andrew Luck, except that the Cardinal would probably have guys missing practice at various times in December studying or taking finals. What a concept.
THIS WEEK'S BIGGEST GAMES
Thursday, Nov. 25
Texas A&M at Texas – Aggies are on a roll, but will it continue in Austin?
Friday, Nov. 26
Auburn at Alabama – Somebody's Iron will is going to win out. Don't miss it.
Arizona at Oregon – Can the Ducks get back to their high-flying ways?
Boise State at Nevada – Two of the game's most productive quarterbacks.
Colorado at Nebraska – Cornhuskers hope to win 3-0 to capture division crown.
Saturday, Nov. 27
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State – Bedlam with Big 12 South title on the line.
LSU at Arkansas – Winner of this one becomes well-positioned for Sugar Bowl.
Michigan State at Penn State – Sparty gets roses with a win and (gag) UM victory.
Oregon State at Stanford – Beavers seek bowl, Card still hoping for shot at Rose.
Northwestern at Wisconsin – UW sniffs roses with a three-way tie for Big Ten crown.
Michigan at Ohio State – Buckeyes try to finish 11-1, then root for Northwestern.
Georgia Tech at Georgia – Bulldogs reclamation project can reach fruition in this one.
Notre Dame at USC – Who'd have guessed a few weeks ago that this would be a good game?
N.C. State at Maryland – Wolfpack captures division title with a win; otherwise, it's FSU's.