West Coasters wonder, 'Where are our national champs?'
Posted: Monday August 18, 2003 6:13PM; Updated: Monday August 18, 2003 6:13PM
Last week, I implored Pac-10 football fans -- always so quick to cry "East Coast bias" and "lack of respect" -- to wake up from their hibernation and start sending some questions, something their Midwest and Southeast brethren have been doing in abundance all summer long.
Wake up they did.
Apparently, the S.C. and UCLA fans got off the beach long enough to load up Outlook. The Oregon and Oregon State fans came out of the forest long enough to use some electricity. The Stanford geeks put aside their latest doomed dot-com venture long enough to surf one that's actually lasted, the Berkeley hippies stopped protesting long enough to acknowledge football's existence, the slackers at Arizona and Arizona State laid off the beer bong long enough to turn on their computers and in Seattle, the Washington and Washington State alums put down their double-caffe mocha-espresso long enough to type a complete sentence.
I just can't imagine where they get this idea that we East Coasters don't know anything about them.
Anyway, as much as I'd love to answer every team-specific question -- who will win the QB job at UCLA? (Drew Olson), can Andrew Walter win the Heisman? (absolutely), etc. -- so as not to bore the rest of the country, I figured we'd tackle this more general, and more interesting, query from Derek Wallen in L.A.
Well, the most obvious reason is that none of those teams you mentioned were undefeated, which, despite everyone's annual doomsday scenarios suggesting otherwise, has been true of all five national champs in the BCS era.
Now we could sit here all day and dissect the injustices of the rankings system and why this one-loss team should have made it instead of that one-loss team, but I think the more intriguing issue is how come no Pac-10 team has been able to make it through the season undefeated, not just in the BCS era but in fact since Washington did it in 1991?
Is it simply a tougher conference than the others? Tough, yes, but it'd be hard to argue that Pac-10 teams have it any tougher than Ohio State did in the Big Ten last year or Tennessee in the SEC in '98. Are the teams simply not good enough? Not judging by the amount of Pac-10 players on NFL rosters right now.
If I had to pinpoint a few factors, I'd say 1) the parity of the conference -- there are no Baylors or Vanderbilts, and it seems like nearly everyone is capable of winning the league in any given year. 2) the near round-robin schedule -- teams only miss one conference opponent each year, so it's rarer to find situations like Ohio State and Iowa not playing last year, or Oklahoma not playing either Kansas State or Nebraska this year. And 3) Pac-10 teams take by far the toughest non-road trips, partly because there aren't a lot of natural opponents in their region. This year alone, USC plays at Auburn and Notre Dame, Washington State at Notre Dame and Colorado, UCLA at Colorado and Oklahoma, Washington at Ohio State, Arizona at Purdue, Cal at Illinois, Arizona State at Iowa and Oregon at Mississippi State.
Good luck with that.
With the Rose Bowl not getting the traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup the last two years, how likely is the Rose Bowl to pull out of the BCS, or get a clause in the contract that guarantees a Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup? Thanks.
Discussions are already under way between the Rose Bowl and BCS about making a tweak to the existing system to avoid situations like last year's, when Iowa and USC played in Miami, during the remaining three years of the contract, and it's anyone's guess what will happen after that. The Rose Bowl's contract with ABC is actually separate from that of the other three BCS games, and its re-negotiation period is the earlier of the two. Depending on how hell bent they are, the Big Ten and Pac-10 could theoretically reclaim the game to themselves, perhaps with a stipulation that if one of its teams is ranked No. 1 or 2 it could be released to the BCS and replaced by another league team.
Teams from the other BCS leagues and bowls would obviously be peeved. Why, you may be wondering, should the Big Ten and Pac-10 get such special treatment? Quite simply, because they have leverage. You're not going to be able to stage a true 1-2 game every year without the Big Ten and Pac-10, and if you can't stage a 1-2 game, the BCS is pretty much worthless, so they'd probably have to make such a concession. Others of you may wonder why this is such a sticking point for the Rose Bowl in the first place. Part of it, of course, is that they're stodgy traditionalists, but the game is also unique among the four in that almost none of its ticket base is local. It relies entirely on the participating teams to fill the stadium, and when that didn't happen last year for Oklahoma-Washington State -- even though Sooner fans certainly did their part -- more than a few eyebrows were raised.
How long do you think the Tennessee brass will give Phil Fulmer if the Vols continue to struggle and not get the talent that has been there and getting embarrassed by programs that are on the rise but don't have the Vols' tradition? -- Clayton Cregger, Marion, Va.
Good lord, man, the guy had one bad year. He was a win away from the national championship the year before that. And overall he's won 81 percent of his games. That's like asking, "How much longer do you think studios will give Woody Allen if he keeps making movies like Hollywood Ending? Sure, that one stunk, but when he's also made Annie Hall, Sleeper, Bananas, Broadway Danny Rose and Mighty Aphrodite, you tend to cut the guy some slack.
As noted previously in this column, I have a low threshold for fans with absurd expectations, if you couldn't already tell.
Michigan State hasn't been the same since Nick Saban left for LSU several years ago, and the problems exploded last year with Jeff Smoker's abuse problems and Bobby Williams being fired. What can Spartan fans expect from John L. Smith? Any reason for optimism? --Mark Rutkowski, Newport, Mich.
Well, I think nearly all your problems can be summed up in two words you mentioned above: Bobby Williams. The program was caught between a rock and a hard place when Saban left, and Williams was popular with the players, so the administration caved to public pressure and promoted him when in fact he never should have been a head coach. His teams always looked ill-prepared, lost games they never should have lost and, worst of all, he had no control over the players.
The reason for optimism is what Smith did at Louisville, which is take a previously moribund program to five straight bowl games, land recruits who could have played any number of higher-profile places and gain all kinds of national attention for the school. I have no doubt the Spartans will be much improved and that his offensive philosophy will have an impact on the Big Ten. My only concerns would be whether he can recruit head to head with Michigan and Ohio State, and whether he's in it for the long haul.
Sorry I didn't get to more questions this week. But how about this thought to brighten up your day: By the time this column comes out again next week, college football season will have already begun!
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.