BCS' messy pile-up all a matter of timing
by Joey Johnston, NBCSports.com contributor
When unbeaten Penn State lost at Iowa on Saturday, that result effectively removed the Big Ten from the national-championship equation. You could almost hear the sighs of relief from BCS officials. SEC vs. Big 12 - complete with de facto national semifinals.
Everything is neat and tidy now, correct? No BCS problems here, right?
What if Oklahoma defeats Texas Tech on Nov. 22? What then?
Maybe it won't be a classic BCS train pile-up, but mark my words, we're headed for more controversy.
When the BCS has "worked,'' it has generally been in seasons that end with only two unbeaten teams in the major conferences. Is that a system "working'' - or is it simply dumb luck?
When the biggest BCS messes have occurred, there have been multiple unbeaten teams or multiple one-loss teams. And they have been sorted out by a BCS system that is arbitrary at best.
Back to Oklahoma-Texas Tech. If the Sooners prevail, it likely would put Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas at one loss in the Big 12. Three-way tie. So who wins the Big 12 South and plays for the league championship?
According to Big 12 rules, it's the highest ranked team in that week's BCS standings. Logic says that would be Oklahoma, getting a nice bump after knocking off an unbeaten Red Raider team.
You can already hear the burnt-orange screams coming from Longhorn Country.
Wait a minute! We beat Oklahoma head-to-head. Our only loss was on the road at Texas Tech, in the final seconds. Now Oklahoma plays for the Big 12 title - and we don't?
And here's some more. If Texas finishes 11-1, it's a good bet to claim a BCS at-large bid, probably to the Fiesta Bowl. The Longhorns could be chosen over Texas Tech, likely another 11-1 team (that beat Texas, remember).
But that's the fallacy of the BCS. Many times, it doesn't matter who you defeated. It's not even about whether you lost. Rather, it's about WHEN you lost.
Truth is, there's no fair way to separate these one-loss teams.
Oklahoma could be boosted because it lost to Texas in early October.
Texas Tech could be penalized - greatly - if it loses in late November, leaving a bad taste.
In the SEC, it's a bit more clear-cut. Unbeaten Alabama faces one-loss Florida in the league's championship game. Winner goes to the Big Game. Loser goes to the Sugar Bowl. Done. Right?
Well, maybe. What if Alabama somehow loses against Auburn in a lead-up game? (Not out of the realm of possibility in that rivalry). What if Florida falls at Florida State? (Ditto). The Crimson Tide and Gators would still meet for the SEC title, but what happens to the national-title implications?
Then we set the stage for all-out chaos. USC will be back in the hunt. How close can Utah and Boise State get to the top?
I'm reminded of that fateful afternoon in 1998 - the first BCS season - when Miami outscored unbeaten UCLA and Texas A&M stunned unbeaten Kansas State. Bobby Bowden, coach of the one-loss Florida State Seminoles, suddenly found himself playing for a national title, even though his team was idle and he had been sitting on his couch.
It's all about timing.
Penn State's defeat was supposed to make things easier. Yeah, right. Even in a season when the BCS seas have seemingly parted, we still see more big waves ahead.
Q: Who are the best prospects to be Tennessee's new head football coach? Would Kelly at Cincinnati be a good one?
- John Trotter, Greenwood, Ind.
A: Brian Kelly has Cincinnati in line for the Big East's BCS bowl bid, John, and he certainly would be a good one. Cincinnati is not a "destination'' program, and Kelly undoubtedly could boost his career by heading to Knoxville.
But if I'm Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, I'm going after Mike Leach of Texas Tech.
Want to jump-start Tennessee's program and make it an immediate factor in the SEC? Hire Leach. Want to create nightmares for the league's defensive coordinators? Hire Leach.
Texas Tech is the most interesting program in college football. Tennessee needs to keep up with the innovations of Urban Meyer at Florida - and Leach would be a great answer.
Another name floated is North Carolina's Butch Davis, who essentially recruited the talent that led Miami to the 2001 national championship (Davis jumped to the NFL). In his second season with the Tar Heels, Davis has UNC in the hunt for a spot in the ACC Championship Game. It might be awkward to leave the Tar Heels that soon, but clearly, Tennessee is a place where the national championship is a realistic goal.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden has been mentioned - Gruden was once a graduate assistant with the Volunteers and he met his wife, Cindy, in Knoxville while she was a UT cheerleader - but he quickly dismissed that speculation. Gruden might be going to the playoffs for the second straight seasons, so his status seems secure.
Q: Help! The UW Huskies are dying. Tyrone Willingham is out the door at the end of the season. Who are some good coaching candidates who can recruit well and get some wins again? Expectations are for at least a bowl.
- Brian, Seattle
A: Two words - Rick Neuheisel.
Um, at the risk of being repetitive, I'll throw out Mike Leach's name again. He's the hottest thing going right now and he's going to be making a lot more money soon - either at Texas Tech or a new locale.
Missouri's Gary Pinkel is an intriguing possibility. He was once a Washington assistant under Don James. Boise State's Chris Peterson and Fresno State's Pat Hill are West Coasters who could be nice fits. Don't forget about former Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin and USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who have both expressed public interest in the job.
Bottom line: This may take some time, especially if Washington is hot and heavy for a coach who is finishing a season. Washington should be a great job, and I expect a lot of interest (from some very interesting names).
Q: I've heard enough Michigan apologists. Sadly, when I went to the Utah-Michigan game, I actually felt sorry for the Michigan players who were getting booed by the end of game and they never even supported the team when it was losing. My question, where are the nation's most spoiled college fans?
- Phil, N.C.
A: It's probably not surprising to see some Michigan fans jumping off the bandwagon. Maybe it's hard not to be spoiled when your program has 33 consecutive bowl appearances. But Michigan is the latest mega-program to take a step backward.
Apathy and unrest certainly happens - quickly - when big-time programs go south. I remember well the post-Steve Spurrier days at Florida, when Ron Zook's team struggled in the initial season, and fans were streaming for the exits.
Booing of players is a little distasteful in college football, which is supposed to be different than the NFL. Of course, we all know the sport is a billion-dollar business, but the majority of players won't turn professional in sports. This will be the last time they play football, and there are some great stories out there about young men who balance athletics and academics.
It would be nice to think booing could be extracted from a college crowd - at least when it's directed toward players - but probably a bit idealistic. Been to an NFL or college game recently? It seems like there's a general undercurrent of anger out there. Maybe the paying customers have rights to express their opinions, but it's over the top at times.
On the other hand, fans who show up for decades to support the alma mater, even in the worst of times, that's kind of cool. Part of the beauty of college athletics is the ownership most fans feel in the team - because they attended that school. You don't see that kind of blind loyalty in the cut-throat NFL.
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