I’ve missed a couple weeks. Consider this a breakout.
Wake Up America
There is absolutely no reason Florida should be ranked ahead of either Texas or Oklahoma.
The Gators are already #2 in the just-released AP Poll, and seem likely to match that in the other human poll, then, perhaps, in the BCS rankings. Clearly, this is good for fans of the team, like myself, but it epitomizes all that is wrong with the current system of polling.
Let’s compare resumes.
Florida is 10-1 and unbeaten in the SEC; UF will play for the SEC Championship in December. The Gators dumped then-No. 4 LSU 51-21 at home, and stomped then-No. 6 Georgia at a neutral site; they also beat rivals Tennessee and Miami soundly on the road and at home, respectively. Their wins over lesser SEC competition (Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina) were convincing, both offensively and defensively. Their nonconference schedule, apart from Miami, featured a Hawai’i team that is now 6-5 with a loss to rancid Utah State and a squad from The Citadel with a 4-6 record against FCS opponents that might make a good subject for Pat Conroy’s sequel to “My Losing Season.” Their lone loss came at home by one point to Ole Miss, which was then unranked and 2-2 but has now crept into the AP Poll at No. 25 after a thrashing of once-proud LSU. The Gators own one win over a team in the AP Top 25 this week (No. 13 Georgia, at a neutral site), but have opportunities against No. 23 Florida State and No. 1 Alabama to come.
Oklahoma is 10-1 with one loss in the Big 12; however, the Sooners will likely play for the Big 12 Championship with a win over Oklahoma State this week. OU has beaten one-loss TCU, once-ranked Kansas, Big East-leading Cincinnati, and then-No. 2 Texas Tech at home, none by fewer than two touchdowns, and has scored fewer than 40 points just twice, in games against TCU and Texas that saw only 35 points per game from the Sooners’ offense. The Sooners’ nonconference slate was half manful (Cincinnati and TCU) and half mousy (FCS team Chattanooga and Washington). Oklahoma has held just three opponents (Chattanooga, TCU, Baylor) below 20 points, though, and their defense imploded late against Texas, fueling public perceptions of the Sooners as an offense-only team; last night’s 65-21 beatdown of the Red Raiders in Norman should have answered those questions. Oklahoma has home wins over the No. 7, No. 14 and No. 16 teams in this week’s AP Poll, will play No. 11 Oklahoma State this week, should have a potential Big 12 Championship game against No. 12 Missouri, and lost to only the No. 3 team.
Texas is 10-1 with one loss in the Big 12; the only ways Texas can play for the Big 12 Championship involve Baylor upending Texas Tech, Oklahoma State tipping Oklahoma, or the BCS rankings favoring the Longhorns over the Sooners. Texas beat Oklahoma at a neutral site, Missouri and Oklahoma State, and Kansas on the road; the Longhorns were up with 1:29 left in their lone loss, a six-point defeat at the hands of Texas Tech in Lubbock. Texas’ nonconference slate included one team, Rice, with an above .500 record in the FBS, and no FCS teams. Texas owns wins over the No. 3, No. 11, and No. 12 teams in the AP Poll, one at a neutral site, and lost to only the No. 7 team, but will likely face no more ranked opponents sans upsets of other teams.
I’m not a voter in any poll, but, if I were, I would have a hard time putting Florida ahead of either of these schools. The Gators’ loss is worse than either OU’s or UT’s, their one marquee win is against a two-loss team, and with LSU falling from the sky, Miami getting Rambling Wrecked, Tennessee looking more like Tennessee Tech, and the SEC generally being weak this year, their body of work is nothing compared to surviving the Big 12 South gauntlet with just one loss. The only reason Florida is ahead of these teams is a combination of an early loss and polling inertia; the Gators lost in September, but have risen since, and were No. 3 last week. So when No. 2 Texas Tech lost, the one-two punch of voters idiotically relegating Texas to a spot behind UF after a road loss to a top-ten team and voters refusing to vault the Sooners ahead of them despite their resounding triumph has given UF certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt: now, they know, win and they’re in.
It will work out fine for UF in the end, of course, because if they enter the SEC Championship with one loss, the game against Alabama will be for a spot in the BCS Championship Game; the problem lies in what blindly moving UF up the chart will do to the Big 12. Florida’s ranking doesn’t matter this week or next; Texas’ and Oklahoma’s do, because if both of them and Texas Tech win in their regular season finales, the Big 12 South’s contender for the Big 12 Championship will be determined by BCS rankings.
And if the true measures of those two teams are not being taken because another one-loss team is being rewarded for losing to an inferior opponent earlier in the year, well, that’s a case of someone being asleep at the wheel.
If I had been tasked, before this season, with picking two teams to play for a national championship based on schedule, those two would have been Florida and Oklahoma.
I would have gotten lucky.
So far, Florida has played seven home games, one neutral-site and in-state game, and three road games; Oklahoma’s played six home games, one neutral-site and out-of-state game, and four road games. Each team has a road game with their primary rival forthcoming, but these two games are arguably the most difficult road trips on their slates. Florida will and Oklahoma should play for a conference championship at a neutral site, as well.
Compare that to Alabama, which played Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee on the road; to Texas, with four consecutive games against schools in the AP’s top 11, one on the road and one at a neutral site; to Texas Tech, which met Kansas and Oklahoma on the road and Texas and Oklahoma State at home.
Potential losses pockmarked those schedules, but were few and far between for the Gators and Sooners. That’s why they both still have opportunities to make trips to Miami in January.
A horrific late-season loss did serious damage to Texas Tech. But BYU had a similarly hellish night.
BYU’s Max Hall, at one point a fringe Heisman candidate, threw five completions to Utah players, which helped the Utes turn a 27-24 game at the beginning of the fourth quarter into a 48-24 rout; Utah managed just over 100 yards on the ground, but quarterback Brian Johnson lived up to his vanilla name by extracting just over 300 yards from the Cougars’ defense on 30-of-36 passing.
And, to make matters worse, BYU, despite rallying from 17-3 to 17-17 and from 27-17 to 27-24, never led, and all but one of Hall’s interceptions occured on the Ute side of the 50.
There is nothing more frustrating, generally, for a fan, than a game in which turnovers and penalties (BYU incurred nine for 85 yards) undermine an otherwise decent effort (Harvey Unga had 116 of the over 200 yards on the ground for the Cougs, and scored twice) and consign a good team to defeat.
Such, though, is the fate of BYU, which will go to a bowl on ESPN2 in late December and watch their Beehive State brethren “bust” the BCS.
See You Again
It would not be a college football column without a mention of Tim Tebow.
But it was the way Tebow was talked about in first sentence of the AP’s report on Florida’s win over The Citadel on Saturday that had me miffed.
If it was his home finale, (Tim) Tebow put on a show — albeit a brief one.
That sentence has been moved to a standalone fourth paragraph since about 5 PM yesterday, but began as the story’s opener. It’s since been replaced with a similar sentence:
Tim Tebow circled Florida Field, high-fiving fans, posing for photographs and listening to chants of “one more year.”
The difference, to me, is that the question raised by the first word of the first version is not touched on until the final phrase of the second, and, even then, in a far more oblique sense.
Of course, it’s not irresponsible to be asking whether Tebow, a highly decorated junior who will be eligible to enter the NFL Draft after this season, might not be long for Gainesville; my trouble is with the forum used. An AP report on a game often uses the so-called “hero lead,” giving statistics or story about the star of the game’s winning team; Tebow, certainly, was that person for the Gators on Saturday.
But Tebow’s just one of many players who could jump to Sundays after this season, and this Saturday’s game was also Senior Day for the Gators, who trotted out all sorts of graduates-to-be for the occasion, including oft-injured Javier Estopinan, whose tale gets told in the body of the story:
Another telling sign of the mismatch came early in the third quarter, when Gators coach Urban Meyer gave defensive tackle Javier Estopinan, a fifth-year senior who has undergone three knee operations and isn’t even listed on the depth chart, a carry near the goal line. Estopinan scored untouched from a yard out, the first touchdown of his career, to make it 56-6.
“It was awesome,” Estopinan said. “There’s no better feeling. [Coach is] stingy with his touchdowns. There’s so many playmakers on offense you would never think you’re going to get a touchdown.”
That’s a cool little nugget, and there are ways to make that the lead of this story. But Tebow’s obviously a bigger draw, and it’s more fun to speculate about stars than spin that spotlight, which is why Tebow’s decision is mentioned again, with fellow juniors Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes, later in the article.
Tebow himself would tell you that he needs no more spotlight; he’s a humble, team-first player, who’s always said and done the right things for his team even during last year’s avalanche of accolades.
Why, he might ask, should people waste time asking if we’ll see him again instead of appreciating those seniors like Estopinan who fans at Florida Field certainly won’t?
I understand part of all sports’ allure is that there’s always a next season. But if we indulge in too much foresight, we lose sight of what is.
We were all so bewitched by Mike Leach’s Pirate Voodoo Tour and Colt McCoy’s Carousel of Completions that we missed the best offense in America.
It’s Oklahoma’s juggernaut.
I mentioned earlier that the Sooners have yet to be held under 35 points; they’ve also yet to gain fewer than 430 yards in any game this year. For context and contrast, know, as the inestimably brilliant Doc Saturday points out, Utah has yet to allow more than 419 yards to any squad; if Utah’s a quasi-immovable object, the Sooners are a pseudo-irresistible force.
That the Sooners regularly churn out performances to make the prospect of record books in pencil more economically sensible, though, is no surprise.
What was shocking was the ease with which Oklahoma’s much-maligned defense shut down Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, and the rest of the Dread Pirate Dreadnought’s Skeleton Crew.
Pressure up front certainly helped, as Texas Tech’s offensive line broke down late in plays and left Harrell to scramble or, on as one microcosm showed, do things as ludicrous as attempt backhanded passes to avoid being sacked. But to me, especially in the abysmal first half, Harrell seemed to have time to throw and no one to throw to; perhaps it’s a factor of Oklahoma’s combination of pass rush with effective coverage. That’s something Texas Tech did not see against Texas, which started two freshman safeties and could not compensate even with its awesome pass rush, or Oklahoma State, which watched a talented, veteran secondary come undone as its defense, currently tied for 108th nationally with 13 sacks, could muster just one, on the third play from scrimmage, against the Red Raiders’ line.
Oklahoma, of course, leads the nation in that category, averaging 3.45 sacks a game and adding four to that tally against Tech. Pressure like that and a secondary closer to Oklahoma State’s than Texas’ was, on Saturday night in Norman, the panacea for the Tech passing attack; it didn’t hurt that Oklahoma’s offense forced Mike Leach to abandon the run in the first half with a hailstorm of scores.
And if there’s a very good defense hiding behind the gaudy statistics of Sam Bradford and the exhilarating athleticism of DeMarco Murray, Juaquin Iglesias, and Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma may well emerge as not just the beast of the Big 12 South, but the favorite for the national championship.
Fly on the Wall
Say Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech slides into the Big 12 Championship game and wins, as Brad Edwards imagines.
That would be chaos enough: Texas Tech, by virtue of a win over Texas and a conference title enough, would almost surely rise to the spot behind the SEC champion in the final BCS rankings, providing us a potential title-winner that allowed 65 points in a 44-point loss.
But what if Florida falls on the road at Florida State, something that always seems possible in that rivalry, and then clobbers Alabama in the SEC Championship Game? Would we have a Texas/Texas Tech rematch in the national title game, or would USC return to the BCS title game through a back door?
And what if Tech loses to Baylor and their wunderkind Robert Griffin, or if the Trojans lay an egg against Notre Dame? What if Tech loses in the Big 12 title game to Missouri?
There are still a lot of ifs around, especially in the Big 12. Should there be no more upsets of top-ten teams, the winner of the SEC will almost assuredly play Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game, and Longhorns fans will caterwaul until their wives come home.
But with every contingency, the potential for epic BCS turmoil multiplies, as does the utility of legs that stick to legs and wallpaper in rooms where voters discuss how the rankings should look.
Bottom of the Ocean
Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 23. That is all.
It’s easy to make fun of the ACC, but here are seven things from this week I find especially funny:
- Call it maddening mediocrity: no team in conference has more than eight wins, and none more than seven losses. Of the eight-win schools, only Boston College will be favored to add a ninth in the regular season, because Georgia Tech and Florida State play rivals Georgia and Florida next Saturday, but each could theoretically end up with 11 wins.
- Florida State, Maryland, and Clemson are the only teams in the conference to have crested 50 points; each did it just once, and the performances were against Western Carolina, Eastern Michigan, and South Carolina State, respectively.
- Miami allowed 472 yards rushing in a 41-23 loss to Georgia Tech on Thursday, and it wasn’t the most embarrassing performance by an eleven-man unit in the conference this week, thanks to North Carolina’s six-turnover, 203-yard offensive implosion in their 42-10 loss. Oh, and this happened in Chapel Hill on Senior Day.
- NC State, the Atlantic Division’s worst team, has arguably the conference’s best quarterback, the cocksure and strong-armed Russell Wilson, and arguably the ACC’s two most impressive wins, the grinding overtime victory over East Carolina and the dismantling of the Tar Heels on Saturday.
- Maryland, playing a nationally televised game, at home, against an unranked team, with a potential Atlantic Division playoff on the line with a win, mustered just three points against Florida State. The ‘Noles’ Everette Brown had more sacks (3.5) than the Terps did points.
- The ACC is a respectable 9-9 against other BCS leagues. So there is football-like substance there, somewhere under the muck.
- Every ACC game clipped for highlights during the 1 AM Sunday episode of “College GameDay Final” began with a fumble.
See you midweek for a few fun things.