Can any of the seven unbeaten schools finish out the season that way?
Posted: Monday October 25, 2004 12:11PM; Updated: Monday October 25, 2004 5:23PM
Matt Leinart and the Trojans have the best chance for a perfect season.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Before we begin, a question: Did people say, "Back in the day" back in the day?
"Be perfect." "You be perfect."
The final scene from Friday Night Lights, that closing parking lot farewell between Brian Chavez and Mike Winchell, is turning out to be the theme of the college football season. More than halfway through the season, there are still seven "perfect" -- as in undefeated -- teams remaining: Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Miami, Auburn, Wisconsin, Utah and Boise State. I can almost -- wait, what's that? -- yes, I can hear the gang on The Sports Reporters and Around the Horn and Rome is Burning and Skip and Woody (and if you don't know who Skip and Woody are, consider yourself blessed) clamoring for a college football playoff.
The seven aforementioned teams have at least 28 (and, if Auburn plays in the SEC Championship Game, which is likely, 29) games remaining before we go bowling. None of those 28 games are against one another (as when unbeatens Notre Dame and Florida State met in mid-November in 1993) and in fact the highest ranked opponent of any of our perfect teams is No. 7 Georgia, which plays at Auburn on November 13. The next best opponent is Texas A&M (No. 16), who will host No. 2 Oklahoma, also on November 13. The Aggies lost to the Sooners 77-0 a year ago.
Which is why, from a pre-Halloween prism, it seems unlikely that we'll have only two unbeatens remaining at the end of the season. Late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, all six members of the ESPN Game Day crew (Rece Davis, Trev Alberts and Mark May in Bristol; Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso from Raleigh, N.C.) debated this very topic. Alberts and Herbstreit said that as many as four would remain unbeaten, while Corso, as is his entertaining wont, played the wild card and foresoothed six undefeated teams. "Who's going to beat Boise State?" he wondered.
It was left to Fowler, who is always more entertaining -- and likeable -- when he's just a little bit cranky, to play the voice of reason. "I don't mean to do late-night logarithms," Fowler said, "and these teams will be favored in every one of their remaining games, but ... upsets happen."
He's right. Fowler's point reverberated for me because only hours earlier I had watched Boston College humble Notre Dame for the fifth time in six seasons, 24-23. It was eleven years ago that the Eagles, who had begun the '93 season 0-3, took down the undefeated, top-ranked Fighting Irish in South Bend, 41-39. The Notre Dame program has still not recovered from that upset; that was the last time the Irish were ranked No. 1 in the polls.
Nobody in the print media, nobody in South Bend, nobody in the Vatican saw that upset coming. It happened to be an outstanding game, too. Had David Gordon not hit the game-winning field goal, Notre Dame's 22-point fourth quarter comeback (the Irish trailed 38-17) would have just been another dollop of legend-making atop the program's mountain of myth. Instead, B.C. sent the Irish tumbling toward a decade of mediocrity.
Upsets happen. I don't know who of the seven undefeated teams will lose, but I imagine no less than three will. And chances are that they will not be the worst three of the septet. A quick ranking of the teams in order of "Most Likely To Lose" and who the likely upsetter will be (my actual rank of where they belong, among the Unbeaten Seven, is in parentheses):
1. OKLAHOMA (3): Granted, the Sooners have not one, but two Heisman candidates in Jason White and Adrian Peterson. But Oklahoma has yet to play a nail-biter this season (unlike Miami and USC), which may hurt the Sooners on the road, where they will face their two stiffest tests. The Sooners travel to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State and College Station to play Texas A&M on consecutive November Saturdays. Both opponents have only one loss. The Cowboys have no fear of the Sooners, having beaten them two of the last three years. A&M is out for revenge after last November's 77-0 evisceration. Most Likely Loss? At Texas A&M.
2. WISCONSIN (6): The Badgers are 8-0 and play awesome defense. Just ask Kyle Orton. Here's my upset scenario for Wisconsin. Big win at Camp Randall versus Minnesota, for whom the Badgers will have two weeks to prepare. Then Wisconsin is on the road in East Lansing, it's Nov. 13, the weather is raw and the resurgent Spartans (who hung 51 on the Golden Gophers earlier this month) make their season. Most Likely Loss? At Michigan State.
3. AUBURN (4): The Tigers have the toughest remaining schedule: The Dawgs, whose quarterback, David Greene, has beaten them two years in a row; as well as at Alabama, the thirstiest rivalry in college football; and the SEC Championship game, which would be a rematch versus Tennessee or Georgia. The Tigers have only had one tight game (versus mercurial LSU), but their road to the Orange Bowl has the most potholes. Most Likely Loss? Georgia.
4. MIAMI (2): The Canes ALWAYS come to play, and no team in college football, if not all sport, relishes the high-pressure showdown more. So why aren't they my least likely to be blemished? Well, the Canes have the most games remaining -- five -- and while their opponents strike as much fear into my heart as the American League Central, anything can happen. Plus, the Canes defense has shown in the last two weeks (versus Louisville and N.C. State) that it can be scored upon. Most Likely Loss? At Virginia.
5. UTAH (5): Perhaps the Utes and Boise State, who are located a relatively close (in that part of the country) 339 miles apart, should play on their next mutually free date (Dec. 4) in a winner-gets-a-BCS-bowl berth game. Who wouldn't want to see that? Utah has the higher profile quarterback (Alex Smith), while the Broncos have the nation's longest win streak (18 games). Most Likely Loss? Versus Brigham Young, whom the Utes shut out last season, ending an NCAA-record streak of like a bazillion consecutive games in which the Cougars had scored (OK, it was 361).
6. USC (1): A Trojans loss falls somewhere between "and monkeys might fly out of my butt" and "when hell freezes over" on the probability meter. Can the tiny Pac-10 road towns of Pullman and Corvallis-in-Wonderland undo the Men of Troy? Will Desert Stoops do his brother Dustbowl Stoops a favor when Arizona travels to the Coliseum? Can Notre Dame pull off its biggest upset win of the Willingham Era? No, to all of the above. But there's always that cross-town rivalry. Most Likely Loss? At UCLA.
7. BOISE ST. (7): While the Broncos, 15th in this week's AP poll, are the least talented of the unbeatens, they are also the least likely to lose. Their schedule includes Hawaii, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Nevada. The combined score of BSU's four wins versus those schools last season was 221-82 (or an average score of 55-21 in each contest). BSU has only one likely loss remaining this season: The loss of an invitation from the BCS to play in one of its four major bowls. Oh, and there may be the loss of Coach Dan Hawkins (32-2 since his arrival) to a BCS conference school after the season to brace for.
On Saturday morning I was in the atrium of the Notre Dame Bookstore for a book signing (the book's title: Notre Dame Golden Moments). It was a humbling experience, as Golden Boy Paul Hornung was set up at a table just 20 feet away. I knew there was a vast discrepancy at the outset when Hornung arrived with a state trooper for a bodyguard. I arrived wearing Right Guard.
It was worse for the female author who followed me at 11 a.m. Across the lobby from her was Regis Philbin, who was there to sign his new CD. When Reege arrived, the bookstore went "bonkos".
I asked one of the store's managers if Regis is their biggest draw. "Actually," she said, "it's Nicholas Sparks. Whenever he's here, there's a long line of women waiting to meet him."
Sparks, an N.D. classmate of mine, is the novelist who churns romantic fiction (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle) at a Grisham-ic rate. He's a gifted distance runner, too. Sparks won the California high school mile as a senior in 1984.
Another classmate, Michael Collins, ran on the Notre Dame cross country team with Sparks and, while less profitable, is more critically acclaimed as a writer. Collins' 2002 novel, The Keepers of the Truth, was a finalist for the Booker Prize and his most recent novel, Lost Souls, is receiving equally glowing reviews.
Meanwhile, I'm writing pro bono sports blogs at 2 a.m. on Monday mornings. Where did it all go wrong?