At this point in the season, it appears the BCS will get lucky again
Posted: Friday November 7, 2003 11:42AM; Updated: Friday November 7, 2003 5:36PM
Here is my BCS moment for 2003: With just a few ticks more than 13 minutes to play in USC's 43-16 victory over Washington State at the Los Angeles Coliseum last Saturday, the score of the Miami-Virginia Tech game was at long last flashed on the stadium scoreboard. VIRGINIA TECH 24, MIAMI 0. 4TH QUARTER. It was the first time all night that fans had been given notice of the Hurricanes' impending fall. (Why had it not been previously shown? Did USC coach Pete Carroll want to prevent his team from board-watching? I'm not buying that one. I'm going with slow-on-the-uptake scoreboard operators.)
In any case, as soon as the score was posted, the Coliseum crowd roared. It was a classic moment for the much-flogged BCS. The USC fans immediately understood the ramifications of Miami's loss, and that it would put USC in position to climb into the cherished No. 2 spot behind Oklahoma in the BCS rankings. Even some USC players snuck a peek at the board. "I'm not gonna lie to you," said Trojans defensive tackle Shaun Cody after the game.
In reality, the USC fans were premature in their euphoria. Miami's loss only guaranteed that USC would be one of six high-level, one-loss teams in the BCS rankings. Any of them could have grabbed the No. 2 spot. But USC got it, and for now, the Trojans are in control. They have a long way to go, however.
Here are some BCS realities, as I see the picture right now:
*Polls still rule. And polls are sketchy, man. This year, for the first time, I am a voter in the AP poll. I have often taken potshots in print at "pollsters." Never again. Last weekend I sat on a redeye flight from Los Angeles back home to the East Coast, completing my Sports Illustrated story on USC and filling out my Top 25.
What a mess. It was clear in my simple mind that Oklahoma had to be No. 1 and that USC deserved to be No. 2. But after that? Chaos. Florida State had thrashed Notre Dame earlier that day, and Miami had been soundly beaten by Virginia Tech, 31-7. BUT... Miami dominated Florida State when they played head-to-head three weeks earlier. And what about LSU, which had lost only to red-hot Florida... or Ohio State, which keeps winning unimpressively, but winning nonetheless? And back to Virginia Tech, which thumped Miami, but 10 days earlier had been drilled even worse by a supposedly mediocre West Virginia team. Good grief. Anybody who claims they can make accurate rankings from such a mess is deluded.
(I put LSU third, but then went with Florida State ahead of Miami, very tepidly. I put Ohio State sixth, followed by Michigan -- which might be the best team of all right now -- and then Virginia Tech. That West Virginia loss was ugly.)
But the truth is, with so much parity in college football these days, polls are a total guessing game. Too much credit is given for recent wins, too much punishment for recent defeats. (Why is Virginia Tech's win over Miami suddenly so much more meaningful than its loss to West Virginia?) And who are voters to select which team is best right now?
But make no mistake: The polls are a vital element of the BCS.
*Oklahoma-USC is the game. I don't think anybody in the country can match Oklahoma's overall talent and power. But USC has the best chance against the Sooners. The Trojans have a crisp and varied offense with coordinator Norm Chow at the helm (and every play going through Carroll's headset). They have a terrific front four. It won't be enough, but it's the most appetizing scenario for Jan. 4.
*But that game might not happen. USC has good reason to fear another team taking over its position. If Florida State beats Florida on Nov. 29 in Gainesville, the Seminoles will make a run at the Trojans in the computers. Ohio State could do likewise by beating Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan. (I just can't see that happening, but one disses the Buckeyes at his own peril.) And even LSU, by running the table with wins over Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas and then in the SEC title game, will keep climbing. (I don't expect the Tigers to run the table, either.) Many what-ifs, but there's potential for a lot of noise.
*TCU ain't getting in. I'm all for inclusion. I don't think SenatorBiden has any clue as to how the BCS works, but he's right to criticize the closed-shop nature of the system. There needs to be better opportunity for a team outside the primary six-conference structure to play in one of the Big Four bowls. (And creating a consolation Bowl No. 5 isn't the answer).
But this year's Horned Frogs aren't the team to break through. Northern Illinois would have been a great pioneer. The Huskies had beaten three mediocre teams from BCS conferences to catch the scent of big-time legitimacy. But injuries compromised their chances and they lost to conference rival Bowling Green. TCU is a good mid-major team, to use a basketball term. They beat non-conference foes Navy, Vanderbilt and Arizona, the dregs of the big-time. But I don't want to see the Frogs play Michigan.
In general, the BCS has been fortunate. Only once -- two years ago, when Nebraska got in ahead of Oregon (after getting pounded by Colorado in November) -- has the system embarrassed itself. (And then Miami embarrassed Nebraska in the Rose Bowl). My best guess today is that the BCS will get lucky again. Florida will beat Florida State. Ohio State will lose to... somebody. Probably Michigan. LSU won't win the SEC. It's up to USC not to stumble.
But if there's controversy? That's OK.... As in Oklahoma. The Sooners can make the controversy moot by hammering somebody at the Superdome.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden weighs in with a Viewpoint every Friday on SI.com.