Monday, September 22, 2008
BCS disaster looming? Maybe, but it won't involve Ohio State
By Mark Schlabach
As we head into the last Saturday of September, most college football teams have reached the quarter pole of the season.
USC looks more dominant than ever, albeit against rebuilding Virginia and Ohio State, which has laid more eggs than the Easter bunny. The race to the SEC championship game looks tougher than ever, with four SEC teams ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The Big 12 also has four teams ranked in the top 10, and three of them -- No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 7 Texas and No. 10 Texas Tech -- reside in the Big 12 South.
The first month of the season showed us that Alabama and Penn State are back where they belong. Florida State and Notre Dame? Not so much.
Here's a closer look at a dozen other observations from the first four weeks of the 2008 season:
1. We're headed toward another BCS disaster.
Southern California is ranked No. 1 and probably won't get much resistance in the Pac-10. But what if the champions of the Big 12 and SEC also finish unbeaten? Which team will be left out? Believe it or not, USC might have the weakest résumé at season's end. California and Oregon are struggling, and the rest of the Pac-10 isn't very good. And how impressive will USC's 35-3 victory over Ohio State look once all the games are played?
2. The SEC is a four-team race.
The SEC has four BCS national championship contenders: No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 Florida, No. 5 LSU and No. 8 Alabama. The Bulldogs have the toughest road the rest of the way, starting with Saturday night's game against the Crimson Tide at Sanford Stadium. Georgia plays at LSU on Oct. 25 and against the Gators in Jacksonville, Fla., on Nov. 1. Florida plays LSU at home and Georgia close to home, but doesn't play Alabama during the regular season. LSU plays each of the other three contenders. Of course, two of the aforementioned teams also figure to meet in the Dec. 6 SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
3. The Mountain West is pretty darn good.
For the first time in history, the Mountain West has three teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25: No. 11 BYU, No. 17 Utah and No. 24 TCU. The league has more ranked teams than the ACC (two), Big East (one) and Pac-10 (one). Mountain West teams are 5-0 against Pac-10 foes and have posted victories over Michigan and Iowa State.
4. Don't forget about Boise State.
If a Mountain West team doesn't finish unbeaten, the Broncos might be the team from a non-BCS conference that crashes the BCS party. Boise State is the class of the WAC after upsetting Oregon 37-32 on the road Saturday. Quarterback Kellen Moore is playing well, and tailback Ian Johnson is still running on the blue artificial turf. The Broncos might be 11-0 heading into a Nov. 28 home game against No. 25 Fresno State.
5. It's great to be smart again.
Vanderbilt is 4-0 and ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in 24 seasons. The Commodores won at Ole Miss 23-17 on Saturday and seem to be well on their way toward ending a 25-year drought without a bowl game. To accomplish that feat, Vanderbilt will have to beat the teams it's supposed to beat: Mississippi State, Duke and, ahem, Tennessee. Northwestern also is 4-0 for the first time since 1962 after beating Ohio 16-8. Wake Forest is 3-0 after winning 12-3 at Florida State and seems to be in control of the ACC's Atlantic Division. Even Duke is off to a 2-1 start in coach David Cutcliffe's first season.
6. Ohio State is only third-best -- in the Big Ten.
With so many starters and seniors returning, the Buckeyes again were supposed to be the team to beat in the Big Ten this season. Ohio State had so much talent coming back that it even was supposed to be good enough to redeem itself with a national championship. Instead, the Buckeyes laid another egg in a big game, losing badly at USC on Sept. 13. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is very talented, but his inexperience will rear its ugly head at some point this season. Penn State and Wisconsin are better and more balanced, especially if Buckeyes tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells doesn't return to action soon.
7. Tim Tebow won't win a second straight Heisman Trophy.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is still as valuable as any player in college football, but Tebow isn't putting up the numbers he did a year ago. And that's a good thing for the Gators, who were too one-dimensional in 2007. Quarterbacks Chase Daniel of Missouri, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Mark Sanchez of USC, and tailback Knowshon Moreno of Georgia, are the early front-runners for the Heisman Trophy. And don't forget about Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and BYU quarterback Max Hall.
8. Oklahoma is best equipped to win the Big 12.
The Big 12 is loaded with good teams and great quarterbacks. Oklahoma is the league's best team. The Sooners are very balanced on offense. Tailback DeMarco Murray is averaging 104 rushing yards per game, and Bradford has completed 79 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions in three games. What separates Oklahoma from other Big 12 teams is its defense. Among Football Bowl Subdivision teams, the Sooners rank No. 10 in total defense, No. 11 in rushing defense and No. 15 in pass-efficiency defense. Defense will win games that matter in such a pass-happy conference. Illinois showed us that Missouri's secondary is suspect (the Illini threw for 451 yards in a 52-42 loss on Aug. 30), and Texas Tech allowed nearly 350 yards per game in an early four-game schedule against Football Championship Subdivision opponents Eastern Washington and Massachusetts, Nevada and SMU.
9. Nick Saban is worth every penny.
Alabama is 4-0 and ranked in the top 10 heading into Saturday's game at Georgia. The Crimson Tide weren't supposed to be there yet. Alabama was expected to be really good a year from now, when Saban's first two recruiting classes would start to mature. But a season-opening 34-10 win over Clemson showed that SEC teams would have to contend with Alabama this season. Whether you love him or hate him, it's hard to argue that Saban isn't one of the best coaches in the country.
10. Plenty of coaches are in trouble.
Odds are, many of these coaches will be looking for a job after the season: Washington's Tyrone Willingham, Syracuse's Greg Robinson, Memphis' Tommy West, UTEP's Mike Price, Miami's (Ohio) Shane Montgomery, Kent State's Doug Martin, Wyoming's Joe Glenn, San Diego State's Chuck Long and Utah State's Brent Guy. Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer and Clemson's Tommy Bowden need to finish strongly to silence their critics.
11. Two legendary coaches may be nearing the end.
Bobby Bowden and Steve Spurrier changed the landscape of college football by turning Florida State and Florida into national powers. Bowden, 78, seems determined to turn the Seminoles into winners again, but it might be too late. FSU's loss to Wake Forest showed the Seminoles are nowhere close to returning to national prominence. With offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher waiting to take over, Bowden might not be able to delay his retirement much longer. Spurrier has reached a point of frustration in his fourth season at South Carolina. The Gamecocks not only aren't good enough to challenge Florida and Georgia in the SEC East, they can't even beat Vanderbilt. Spurrier detests losing, and it's happening too often at South Carolina.
12. Texas A&M and West Virginia will have to be patient.
Fans of both those schools already are second-guessing their new coaches. The Mountaineers have lost consecutive games under new coach Bill Stewart, who was a statewide hero after leading West Virginia to a 48-28 rout of Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. But the Mountaineers looked overmatched in a 24-3 loss at East Carolina and ill-prepared in a 17-14 overtime loss at Colorado. Nothing has gone right for the Aggies under new coach Mike Sherman. Texas A&M was embarrassed in an 18-14 loss to Arkansas State in the opener and again in a 41-23 loss to Miami on Saturday. The Aggies had never lost consecutive nonconference games at Kyle Field before this season.