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College Football Notes (The BCS Cometh)
by Larry Ness - 10/16/2010
Alabama received a season-high 58 first-place votes (of 60) in the October 3 AP poll but those same pollsters showed the Tide very little 'love' after their 35-21 loss on Saturday at South Carolina. It was the first time a No. 1 team had lost a non-championship (SEC or BCS) game since Texas' dramatic defeat at Texas Tech on Nov. 1, 2008 (remember Crabtree's tight-rope down the sideline, right after the Texas DB dropped a sure interception?). The defending national champs faced a brutal three-game stretch which saw them win 24-20 at then-No. 10 Arkansas and crush then-No. 7 Florida 31-6 in Tuscaloosa before losing to the Gamecocks. Alabama dropped all the way to 8th in Sunday's latest AP poll, after seeing its 19-game overall win streak and 18-game SEC regular season win streak end. Alabama was held to 36 yards rushing, the 3rd-fewest in Nick Saban era.
The SEC has won the last four BCS national titles (Florida in 2006, LSU in 2007, Florida again in 2008 and Alabama last year) but according to ESPN's BCS guru Brad Edwards, it's possible that when the first BCS standings of 2010 are revealed this coming Sunday (Oct 17), the SEC could be shut out of the top-five, for the first time since 2005. Of course, the even bigger news is that Edwards says that as of now (prior to this weekend's games), his projections show Boise State at No. 1, Oregon No. 2, TCU No. 3, Oklahoma No. 4 and Ohio State at No. 5.
I think most fans know that no school from a non-BCS conference has cracked the top-three of the official BCS standings, so history could be made on Sunday. In a flashback to 2003, when USC was ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' polls (both were part of the BCS formula at the time) but finished third in the final BCS standings behind Oklahoma (which has just lost the Big 12 championship game 35-7 to Kansas state) and LSU, this year's Ohio State team faces a similar dilemma. The Buckeyes are rankled No. 1 in both polls used in the current BCS formula (Coaches' and Harris) but due to the school's current ranking of 10 in the computers, Edwards says the nation's consensus No. 1 team would currently rank no better than No. 5. The good news for Ohio State fans is, it's only mid-October.
This was just the sort of thing that led the AP to drop out of the BCS process after 2003 but you have to have a pretty good sense of humor to think the AP has any integrity. Two AP votes gave first-place votes this past week to Oklahoma. How did the Sooners earn those votes? By NOT playing. When on the field this year, the Sooners have CRUSHED a powerful Utah State program 31-24 in Norman (as five TD favorites), HUMBLED Air Force 27-24 in Norman (as 17-point choices) and on the heels of those two DOMINATING efforts, took a Cincinnati team "to the woodshed" in a 31-29 road win (as just over two TD favorites). On second thought, maybe the team's bye week last Saturday WAS the its most impressive effort in 2010?
I'd comment on the Harris poll voters but an attempt to contact the five or six school janitors who help make up that august body when unanswered and I wanted them to be able to respond, in all fairness. Now let's get to the coaches, those paragons of knowledge (who knows the game better than they do?), virtue and integrity. The groups' knowledge of the game is unquestioned, although it's been reported for years that often times the task of filling out the weekly ballots have been turned over to assistants (maybe student mangers?). And, we know for sure that petty jealousies plus conference loyalty NEVER comes into play!
Want just a little history regarding the coaches' expertise. Let's start with 2008. Georgia was that year's preseason No. 1 but the Bulldogs would go on to lose 41-30 at home to Alabama (trailed 31-0 at the half), 49-10 to Florida at Jacksonville and 45-42 at home to Georgia Tech (led 28-12 at the half). Georgia would beat Michigan State 24-12 in the Citrus Bowl (trailed 6-3 at the half) and finish 10-3. As Maxwell Smart would say, "missed it by that much." How many of 2008's preseason teams ended up in the top-25 at year's end? The answer is just 12 (less than half). That means that 13 schools chosen by the coaches to be among the coming year's top-25, didn't live up to expectations. Six of the 13 didn't even finish with a winning record, with 3-9 Michigan (ranked 24th in the preseason) and 4-8 Wisconsin (ranked 12th), being the "worst offenders." Just one school (9-4 West Va, which opened at No. 8) of the 13 which failed to end up in the final top-25 even won more than eight games.
Let me add that that Utah was unranked going into 2008 by the coaches, yet finished as college football's only unbeaten team that season. The Utes finished 13-0, including their impressive 31-17 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Speaking of Alabama, the Tide were also unranked at the beginning of the 2008 season, yet won their first 12 games before losing to Florida in the SEC championship game and then to Utah. TCU also began the 2008 season unranked but would finish at No. 7 in the season's final poll, after beating then-unbeaten Boise State 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl. Boise State was also unranked in that year's preseason poll but would finished ranked No. 13.
Defending national champion Florida was a consensus No. 1 heading into 2009 (tough choice with Tebow returning for his senior season) and while the Gators gave it a good run, they fell to Alabama in the SEC championship game with the The Tide going on to claim a national championship by beating Texas. Let me note however, that seven preseason top-25 schools failed to make the final top-25. No. 3 Oklahoma was the highest ranked school which failed to do so (finished 8-5), followed by No. 12 Cal (8-5), No. 13 Georgia (8-5), No. 19 Florida State (7-6), No. 20 North Carolina (8-5), No. 23 Notre Dame (6-6) and No. 25 Oregon State (8-5).
The seven schools which were unranked at the beginning of 2009 but finished among the coaches' final top-25 were No. 9 Cincinnati (12-1), No. 15 Pittsburgh (10-3), No. 16 Wisconsin (9-4), No. 19 Miami-Florida (9-4),. No. 22 West Vs (9-4), No. 23 Texas Tech (9-4) and No. 25 Central Michigan (12-2). The seven schools ranked in the preseason top-25 which failed to live up to expectations finished a collective 53-37 (.589) while the unranked preseason teams which overachieved according to the coaches', finished a collective 71-21 (.772). Think I'm being too hard? Let's check this year's preseason top-25 and see how it looks, six weeks in.
Preseason No. 3 Florida is 4-2 and barely hanging on to a top-25 ranking at No. 22. No. 4 Texas is 3-2 and after consecutive losses to UCLA and Oklahoma found itself out of the AP poll after 126 consecutive weeks in that poll. The Longhorns also dropped out of the coaches' poll as well and with a date in Lincoln this Saturday, are one loss away from having little chance of seeing a top-25 ranking the rest of the season. No. 6 Va Tech basically 'gave away' it's showcase matchup with Boise State on Labor Day night and the very next Saturday, lost at home to James Madison (can't trick the coaches', they had the Hokies ranked 6th!). No. 13 Miami-Florida was embarrassed at Ohio State and then barely lost last Saturday at home to Florida State, 45-17!
No. 15 Pittsburgh lost its very first game of the season (at Utah) and sits at 2-3 overall after losses at Miami (31-3) and Notre Dame (23-17). No. 17 Ga Tech is 4-2 with one of those losses coming to Kansas, which lost at home to North Dakota State. No. 18 North Carolina has had suspension issues and at 3-2 could be back in the poll if it can beat Clemson this Saturday. Then there is No. 23 Georgia, which after beating Louisiana to open the 2010 season, lost its next four games, the final one being at Boulder to Colorado, where the fans are so pathetic that they swarmed the field after their team beat a 1-4 Bulldogs' squad (and the Pac 10 wanted this school?).
My entire point is that until college football puts in a playoff system, we are always going be stuck with, what they used to call it when I first began following the sport in the 1960s, a "mythical national champion. " I don't want to hear any whining about the computers or "the BCS" being the root of the problem, if Boise State comes out No. 1 on Sunday. There is only ONE problem and that is, there is NO playoff.