Congratulations to Ball State, which dispatched Western Michigan on Tuesday night and completed its first undefeated regular-season finish since 1949.
What wonderful prize does the NCAA have for the overachieving Cardinals contingent on their victory over Buffalo in the MAC championship game? How about a lovely trip to the Motor City Bowl to play the seventh-place finisher in the Big Ten?
Boise State runs one of the most innovative and entertaining offensive attacks in college football, playing the kind of game fans love to watch. The Broncos have already sewed up their sixth Western Athletic Conference title in the last seven years, and proved their worth on the national stage in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl by stunning Oklahoma. What will their reward be this year if the Broncos’ can knock off Fresno State and complete an undefeated regular season record? Would you believe staying home to play in the Humanitarian Bowl against the ACC’s eighth-place finisher?
Texas is ranked No. 2 in the current Bowl Championship Series rankings and needs only a win Thankgsiving night over a 4-7 Texas A&M team to clinch an 11-1 regular-season finish. Yet the Longhorns could get passed over for the national title game by Oklahoma, a team they beat by 10 points in October on a neutral field. Meanwhile, the Sooners somehow get rewarded for running up the score – a practice almost universally recognized as unsportsmanlike.
The perfect storm has finally hit college football. There are four remaining undefeated teams at the Division I-A level, but only one of them is going to get a shot at playing for the national championship. That would be SEC leader Alabama, the lone team from a so-called BCS conference. The other three – Utah of the Mountain West, Ball State of the MAC and Boise State of the WAC – are from non-BCS conferences, meaning only one can qualify to play in the BCS. That would be Utah, which has already completed a 12-0 season and has a three-spot lead on Boise State in the later BCS rankings.
Meanwhile, there are five one-loss teams – Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State – who have legitimate claims to the national championship. However, because of something called “style points,” at least three of those teams have no shot at playing for the title.
I have complained for years about how the BCS should remove the “C” from its name, but this year has truly become BS.
If you put a blanket over the top of Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State, you wouldn’t find much difference in any of those teams. Yes, their styles are as divergent as night and day, but no one ever questions how you get your victories. They only care how many victories you get.
The 2008 college football season literally screams for a Division I-A playoff and it screams for a 16-team format that includes the top teams from the top conferences as well as any team – yes, I said any team from any I-A conference – that manages to go through its entire season undefeated.
That is the only way to give teams such as Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State a shot at the title alongside teams like Utah, Ball State and Boise State.
First of all, you get a ranking system that works – and that eliminates human polls. No more posturing by the talking heads at ESPN to get the matchups they believe deserve to play for the national championship. To hell with what they think. Give us a bunch of computerized rankings, average them together and make the top 10 teams immediately eligible for the playoff.
Then you take all of the remaining undefeated teams and then fill out the bracket starting with the team ranked No. 11 in the BCS poll. Seed the teams where No. 1 plays No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on, and give the higher-seeded team home field advantage through the semifinals. You play for four weeks leading up to a Super Bowl-esque national championship game, played at a neutral site on a Monday night and put it one of the major networks.
Fans get a true champion decided on the field while college football (and television) reaps financial benefits beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. First, there is ESPN’s new contract to televise the BCS games through 2013. Secondly, it makes way too much sense – therefore the same university presidents who allow their schools to prostitute themselves by playing every night of the school week continue to criticize a playoff because of the time it would take student-athletes away from their studies.
It’s a shame that college football will crown a national champion Jan. 8 knowing full well there are a handful of other teams out there who could have and should have had the right to play for that crystal football.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
** CBSSportsline.com projects a national championship game between Oklahoma and Florida. Other BCS game predictions: Texas vs. USC in the Fiesta, Alabama vs. Utah in the Sugar, Boston College vs. Cincinnati in the Orange and Oregon State vs. Penn State in the Rose. The website has Ohio State and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.
** My Heisman Trophy ballot really got jumbled last week after Oklahoma throttled Texas Tech. Here is my new working top three: 1. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma; 2. Colt McCoy, Texas; 3. Chris “Beanie” Wells, Ohio State. Yeah, the third-place vote is kind of a homer pick but imagine where the Buckeyes would have been this year without Wells. Now do you see where I’m coming from?
** Maybe my Heisman ballot ought to make room for Florida State safety Myron Rolle. All he did last week was participate in a successful interview to win a Rhodes scholarship, and then hop a plane, suit up at halftime and help his Seminoles beat Maryland. With all the negative news we have to report in college sports, Rolle is a nice respite of fresh air. Rolle, who aspires to be a neurosurgeon and build clinics in his parents’ native Bahamas, is also a potential first-round NFL draft pick.
** How about this for a stat: Penn State’s 49-18 win over Michigan State last weekend was the 800th victory in program history. As a head coach or assistant, Joe Paterno has been associated with 487 of those wins. That is 60.9 percent.
** Paterno is now home after undergoing hip replacement surgery the day after his Nittany Lions beat Sparty and sewed up the Rose Bowl bid. He was released after only two days and expects to resume his coaching duties on Monday. Say and think what you will of JoePa, but never question the 81-year-old guy’s toughness.
** Wisconsin is going to get a bowl invitation thanks to Cal Poly’s inability to kick extra points. The I-AA Mustangs missed three PATs last week, including one in overtime, to allow the Badgers to escape with a 36-35 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.
** Minnesota played its final game in the Metrodome last weekend after 27 seasons in the facility. The Golden Gophers will meet Air Force to dedicate TCF Stadium on Sept. 12, 2009, for the first on-campus game since 1981.
** In case you thought it was bad enough for Notre Dame to lose to Syracuse, a closer look inside the numbers make you scratch your head why the Orange had to make a comeback to win. For instance, the Irish had four possessions inside the Syracuse 24 and came away with six points. In addition, they were held to 41 yards rushing. The previous season low recorded up by the Syracuse defense was 90 yards rushing allowed to Division I-AA Northeastern, which finished 2-10.
** Talk about playing to the level of your competition: Maryland is 7-4 this season – 4-0 against ranked teams and 3-4 against unranked competition. The Terrapins are also afraid of the dark. They were 0-4 at night this season. They finish their regular season with a daytime affair Saturday at Boston College – 20th-ranked Boston College, that is.
** Did you lose track of Appalachian State this year? The Mountaineers couldn’t match last year’s upset of Michigan this season with a 41-13 loss to LSU back in August. But they did come back to win 10 of their next 11 games and the three-time defending Division I-A national champions are the No. 2 seed in the so-called Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. James Madison (10-1), the 2004 champs, is the top seed. The 16-team playoff – there’s a novel idea – begins Saturday.
** Scoring points in bunches isn’t limited to the Texas teams in Division I-A. Last week, Abilene Christian outlasted West Texas A&M by a 93-68 score in a Division II playoff game. ACU piled up 810 total yards and the Wildcats scored touchdowns on 13 of 15 possessions. Meanwhile, West Texas A&M quarterback Keith Null set new NCAA single-game playoff records by throwing for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. The 161 combined points is a new NCAA all-division record. The old mark of 149 points was set in last year’s playoffs when Abilene Christian lost a 76-73 decision in four overtimes to Chadron (Neb.) State.
** No one in the NAIA wants to face Sioux Falls (S.D.) this season. The Cougars have recorded seven shutouts this season with the latest coming last week in a 28-0 win over St. Ambrose (Iowa) in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. The NAIA season record for shutouts is eight. Sioux Falls has made the NAIA semifinals eight of the last 12 years, including national championships in 1996 and 2006.
** Occurring during this week in college football history: On Nov. 24, 1956, College Football Hall of Fame coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf made his final game a memorable one when his California team scored a 20-18 upset win over Stanford; on Nov. 28, 1975, Texas A&M protected its No. 2 national rating with a 20-10 win over fifth-ranked Texas, the Aggies’ first win at home over the Longhorns in eight years; on Nov. 29, 1958, Auburn protected its No. 2 ranking and extended its winning streak to 24 consecutive games with a heart-pounding 14-8 win over Alabama. The Tigers needed a defensive stop with 1:26 remaining in the game to preserve the victory.
** This week also featured a battle of unbeatens in a longstanding series. On Nov. 26, 1988, for the first time in series history, Notre Dame and USC squared off undefeated and occupying the top two spots in the national polls. Irish quarterback Tony Rice rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown while cornerback Stan Smagala intercepted USC quarterback Rodney Peete and returned the pick for a score as No. 1 Notre Dame took a 27-10 victory.
What were we thinking when we picked Texas Tech to beat Oklahoma in Norman? Not sure but the Red Raiders did pick a terrible time to play their worst game of the season. As things turned out for the forecast, we were only 3-3 straight up last week and 3-3 against the spread. That means for the year we are 87-33 with the SU picks and 63-53-1 ATS.
As Ohio State takes a rest from competition, it means we can take a look at some other games this weekend, including a pretty big one Saturday in the Pacific Northwest that not only has Rose Bowl implications but likely impacts the Buckeyes’ BCS possibilities as well.
Texas A&M at No. 4 Texas: The Longhorns are concentrating on trying to keep their national championship hopes alive but they had better not overlook their instate rivals. The Aggies have upset UT-Austin two years running and nothing would look better on first-year head coach Mike Sherman’s résumé that to knock the Orangebloods out of the title picture. It will be a tough order, though, since Texas QB Colt McCoy has played about as well as he can play this season, throwing for 3,134 yards and 30 TDs. Those numbers aren’t exactly music to the ears of an A&M team that ranks 100th in the country in pass efficiency defense … Texas 42, Texas A&M 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Fresno State at No. 9 Boise State: To say the Broncos are on a bit of a roll would be a bit of an understatement. They have scored 40 points in four straight games, clinched a sixth WAC title in seven years and have won 48 consecutive regular-season games in Bronco Stadium. In this particular series, BSU has taken six of seven from the Bulldogs since joining the WAC in 2001, including all three meetings in Boise by an average of 29.0 points. Fresno always puts up a fight wherever it goes, but the Broncos with QB Kellen Moore (3,051 yards, 23 TDs) and RB Ian Johnson (610 yards, 10 TDs) are just too tough … Boise State 37, Fresno State 14. (6 p.m. EST, ESPN2)
Auburn at No. 1 Alabama: It’s the annual renewal of the Iron Bowl and would you believe the Crimson Tide has a six-game losing streak against their instate rivals? If Bama wants to keep the faith, as well as preserve a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Florida in the SEC championship game, it can steel itself with the knowledge that every one of its six straight losses to Auburn have been by 10 points or less. The Tide can also figure they’re home free if they can score 20 points – the Tigers rank a dismal 108th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging only 18.9 points per game. Bama averages almost double that at 31.7. That should put the final score at right around … Alabama 31, Auburn 17. (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)
No. 2 Florida at No. 23 Florida State: Who knew the Seminoles were 8-3? Florida State, once one of the pre-eminent powers in college football, hasn’t had a nine-win season since 2004 and hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2000. This weekend, Grandpa Bobby’s Bunch has a chance to ruin the Urban Legends’ run toward a possible second national title game appearance in three years. Unfortunately, that chance is not a great one. The Gators are running the highest-scoring offense east of Oklahoma, averaging 55.2 points over their six games. FSU just doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up with that kind of attack … Florida 42, Florida State 23. (3:30 p.m. EST, ABC Regional)
No. 19 Oregon at No. 17 Oregon State: The so-called Civil War heads to Corvallis where the Beavers are trying to win one more game and get to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 43 years. They certainly seem like a team of destiny, overcoming injuries last week to their starting quarterback and star running back as well as a botched fourth-quarter PAT to score a thrilling 19-17 win at Arizona. It is certainly the popular pick to take the Ducks in an upset, but the Beavers have been resilient since knocking off USC and they have won each of their last five home games in this series … Oregon State 26, Oregon 23. (7 p.m. EST, Versus)
No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State: This one is called the Bedlam Series although that seems a bit of a misnomer since the Sooners lead the all-time series by a lopsided 78-17-7 margin. It would be difficult to envision how OU could play much better than it has since that 45-35 loss to Texas on Oct. 11. In the five games since, the Sooners have outscored their opposition by an average of 31 points per contest. And they haven’t been held under 60 in three games this month. We just don’t see how the Cowboys can slow them down, especially when Okie State bowed to Texas Tech by 36 points and then the Sooners turned around and beat the Red Raiders by 44 … Oklahoma 56, Oklahoma State 28. (8 p.m. EST, ABC)
Notre Dame at No. 5 USC: You want a blowout, you’ve got one. USC head coach Pete Carroll knows there are only two ways his team can reach the national title game – the Trojans need teams in front of them to lose and they need “style points” in their final two games of the season. Pity the poor Irish, who head to the Coliseum free off that excruciating loss to Syracuse. Embattled ND head coach Charlie Weis probably put it best last year after his team lost a 38-0 decision to USC: “You see where they are; you see where we are. We’re at different ends of the spectrum at this point.” That is not where you want to be when you get the full attention of Carroll and his Trojans … USC 49, Notre Dame 7. (8 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Here are the spreads for the aforementioned games: Texas A&M at Texas (-36½); Fresno State at Boise State (-21½); Auburn (+14½) at Alabama; Florida (-14) at Florida State; Oregon (+3½) at Oregon State; Oklahoma (-7) at Oklahoma State; Notre Dame at USC (-29).
Enjoy the games everyone and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.