TCU is 10-0, but why hasn't it been embraced by the nation?
Posted: Wednesday November 19, 2003 2:58AM; Updated: Wednesday November 19, 2003 11:51AM
By Luke Winn, SI.com
After TCU fell out of the "guaranteed" ranks of the BCS standings -- the top six -- on Monday, the Horned Frogs' shot at a BCS bid became more of a long shot than a reality. Their BCS case is the sort of thing college football fans should be trumpeting, but are they content to sweep it under the rug?
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., called the BCS "un-American" three weeks ago. If you're in the Biden brigade, sending the Horned Frogs to the Liberty Bowl would be un-American. The Frogs, perhaps, are a patriotic cause on which even John Ashcroft and a Delaware democrat could agree.
Yet, it seems that the very American college football world is not ready to romanticize the idea of TCU crashing this 6-year-old member's-only gala. There would be far more outrage if USC, ranked No. 2 in both polls, were denied a shot at the Sugar Bowl than if the Horned Frogs, ranked outside the BCS' top six, were given the cold shoulder and banished to Memphis, Tenn.
It's a phenomenon that warrants investigation. Why are there still plenty of seats available on the TCU-in-the-BCS bandwagon when the nation seemed ready to embrace a team like Northern Illinois in October? Should I be on the bandwagon? Should you? First, the argument against:
1. TCU hasn't exactly impressed anyone with its schedule.And that light schedule -- ranked No. 90 (out of 117) -- ultimately is what's killing the Horned Frogs in the BCS formula. It resembles a weighted grading system, set up to ensure that the high school kid trying to make valedictorian with a heavy load of Home Ec. and Phys. Ed. can't compete with the honors students. Sure, TCU has beaten an SEC team and a Pac-10 team ... except they were cellar-dwelling Vanderbilt and Arizona.
So how does one compare TCU with the other BCS prospects? Arizona, at 2-9, may be the best barometer, having lost to the Frogs 13-10 in overtime and also facing a host of teams in the BCS mix. Arizona offensive coordinator Mike Deal thinks they don't stack up -- except for one category.
"You can't compare them talent-wise, or physically to an LSU (which beat Arizona 59-13), a USC (45-0), a Purdue (59-3) -- they're just not as good. Even in our own conference, they don't compare to Washington State (30-7), or Oregon (48-10), or Oregon State (52-23). ... But they have still won games."
2. They didn't get folks on the bandwagon soon enough.
Tulane offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo, whose Green Wave lost to the Horned Frogs 38-35 in the season opener, thinks TCU is legit, and says the bigger problem with the Frogs' image is out of their control: "I believe the media can portray teams the way they want to. I'm not sure if, early on, anyone thought [TCU] could do what they're doing, so nobody jumped on TCU."
3. They don't win in convincing fashion. Especially on national TV.
But should the margin really matter, especially if the BCS says it doesn't? Ron Harris, defensive coordinator at Houston, which lost 62-55 to TCU in October, points out that it won't make a difference for the defending national champs: "I know it's a whole different scenario being in the Big Ten, but Ohio State is going to have chance to play in the title game, and that's what they do -- win close games."
Coincidentally, the Buckeyes would make a similar plunge -- from third to 13th -- in the Sagarin ratings if margin of victory were allowed to be a factor. And that surely wouldn't help their mathematical battle with USC.
4. They lack an offensive star, a "face," if you will.
Defense, however, is the thing that wins you-know-what, and the Frogs have an unheralded bunch up front that may be the key to their success. Underrated third-year coach Gary Patterson, the school's former defensive coordinator, has the nation's 12th-ranked run defense, led by DE Bo Schobel (11.5 sacks) and Martin Patterson (88 tackles, 13 for loss).
Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Ted Cain glowingly called Schobel a "dadgum football-playin' Jessie" (translation: he's a damn good player). Tulane's Scelfo, who also faced Texas this season, had more praise: "TCU's front seven is as good or better than Texas' front seven. They [TCU] play defense with a fanatical effort, and it compensates for any lack of talent, speed or size."
5. If TCU does make it in, it hurts the argument of the anti-BCS faction.This one comes from the other side of the fence: Scott Cowan and Co. would never say it, but if TCU does make the cut, the BCS bigwigs will point to the Frogs in any argument against the current system and say, "Ha! A non-BCS conference team can be included." One of the bowls, say, the Fiesta, might be willing to extend the Frogs an offer even if they finish outside the top six, making a financial sacrifice in the hopes of appeasing the BCS have-nots for the long run.
Anyone with a sliver of compassion, however, couldn't justify using the Frogs as martyrs for the C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, MAC and Sun Belt. These are college kids, after all, who are fighting for their team, not the big picture; and who have fought hard enough to be the only other undefeated team in the nation.
The argument for TCU is more concise, and to me, far more appealing.
1. They've won. Every game.
"Personally I think there's only one school that can't lose -- Oklahoma," Scelfo said. "I think anybody else can get beat. Just to win is hard. I mean, Virginia Tech goes to Temple and sneaks out on a missed extra point. How can FSU go to Clemson and lose like they did? Every week, you've got those upsets. I think it speaks volumes for what TCU has done."
2. If they haven't lost yet, one can't know ...
It's rivalry week! According to a Wall Street Journal article, an increasing amount of the $3 billion-a-year college logo retail market is coming from "rivalry merchandise" -- products that either taunt or celebrate a team's win over its bitter rival. The amusing part of it: the loser shares in the profits from its own humiliation. For example, a figurine of the Auburn tiger strangling the Alabama elephant nets money for both schools, as would an Ohio State paperweight with a Michigan player smothered on the underside or a T-shirt of a Florida fan flushing a Florida State helmet down the toilet. "Coach, we know you just let down 100,000 fans in the biggest game of the year, but look on the bright side -- we just made $50,000 on T-shirts of you being disemboweled by a Wolverine!"
While we're on the topic of profit via humiliation ... Jessica Simpson has entertained us on MTV's Newlyweds; for those lucky enough to attend the Orange Bowl, you'll get to see her live at halftime. (Hubby Nick Lachey also will be there.) As a result, FedEx is being removed as title sponsor and Chicken of the Sea is taking its place.
While we're on the topic of skin ... Lou Holtz wasn't too bothered by the recent creation of firelouholtz.com. It's "better than going to pornography," he said. "I hope a lot of people visit it. Maybe I can help the good Lord's work in some way." If Holtz continues the battle against Internet porn, it remains to be seen if he'll treat it like he would an SEC opponent ... "I'm not sure if we can hang with Internet porn. It's looking real good this week."
Here's where The Beat's readers get to have their say.
This week's question: Time to weigh in on the merits of Philip Rivers and B.J. Symons for the Heisman. Rivers is having an amazing season, completing nearly 73 percent of his passes, and Symons will soon break Ty Detmer's record for single-season passing yards (5,188) -- but they both play for teams with four (possibly even five) losses. Should it matter? Is Rivers or Symons being shafted in the Heisman race, or are the right folks (Jason White, Larry Fitzgerald, Eli Manning) at the top of the lists?
Last week's question: Which team in the BCS top 10 would give Oklahoma the best game in the Sugar Bowl, and why? Feel free to be funny.
Ohio State. Who else but the Tresselmen could take a game with anyone and make it close? I'm not sure they know how to play any other game. Their defense would keep them in the game longer than any other team. I still remember all the comments regarding OSU's chances against Miami last year -- "they will get run off the field by the superior Hurricane speed."
It would be easier to eliminate the pretenders. First, USC is nowhere near physical enough nor does it play tough enough defense. Washington State is USC with less talent. Michigan is woefully devoid of defensive speed, and Navarre can't carry the offense when pushed. Georgia is too young, too hurt and too inconsistent. Texas? Do we really have to sit through that again? Ohio State wouldn't score, Tennessee wouldn't cross midfield, and TCU wouldn't get a first down. That leaves LSU, for several reasons. First, they play in a tough, physical conference. Second, to date, they have not overlooked (and subsequently lost to) an average team (unlike USC, Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee or Washington State) which speaks to their consistent play. They have a diverse offense AND an attacking defense with excellent play up front on both sides of the ball. The offensive skill positions are strong and their defense is athletic, fast and disciplined. Their quarterback is poised, tough, and resourceful, and has pulled them out of tight games as well as carried the offense when necessary. Trouble is, Oklahoma does all those things too, only a little better. LSU would give them the best game but, honestly, the only squad the Sooners likely fear is their own second team!
As a Miami fan it pains me to say that Ohio State would give Oklahoma the best game in the Sugar Bowl. Ouch ... that really hurt to admit. First of all, I don't think any team has a chance of breaking the Oklahoma defense. We will only see a close game from a team with a good defense, which leaves us with three possible choices, Georgia, LSU and Ohio State. If the game is going to be close, Oklahoma will probably throw a few picks against a tough secondary. The result is an ugly, turnover-filled game by a heavily favored team, lead by a Heisman Trophy candidate whose leading rusher goes down with a devastating knee ... sorry I was having a flashback to last year. My prediction? The refs will decide ... again!
This might be surprising coming from someone in michigan (fortunately, I was BORN in Ohio -- and yes, the "m" in michigan is not capitalized on purpose), but I believe Ohio State would give Oklahoma the best game of any team out there. Ohio State plays a tough schedule and I believe has the only defense out there with a chance to really slow down the Oklahoma offense. Plus, Ohio State has the mental toughness to win as an underdog and as a favorite, and particularly in close games as we all know. Remember how last year's Miami team was "unbeatable"? OSU has a very solid kicking game that could be the difference in what would probably be a 9-6 OSU victory.
Texas ... is that funny enough?
If you took the best players from the BCS top 20, they might give Oklahoma a game in the National Championship.
Which team would give Oklahoma the best game in the Sugar Bowl? Why, of course, the 1987 Sooners. I'll bet Barry Switzer's best-ever team would "hang half-a-hundred" on the '03 Sooners. In any bowl game, BCS or otherwise. At least that's what my current version of Lance Haffner computer football says. I've played the '87 Sooners against nearly every college team in the game -- more than you can count -- and they've never lost. Oklahoma '87 even beat the 49ers Super Bowl teams. As for reality, hopefully someone will pinch-hit for me.
Luke Winn is the college football producer for SI.com. The Beat will return on Dec. 3.