The Weekend Review
The best -- and worst -- possible BCS matchup scenarios
Posted: Sunday November 14, 2004 9:57PM; Updated: Sunday November 14, 2004 11:49PM
You can't spell BCS without B.C. And you can't spell "BCS bowl buzz" without a zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
With a 36-17 upset of 13th-ranked West Virginia on Saturday, unheralded Boston College took a giant step toward claiming the Big East's automatic berth while bringing the BCS a step closer to an ugly reality. No offense to the Eagles, a fine football team coached by a fine man, Tom O'Brien, but in terms of national appeal, they're about as sexy to potential viewers as Mark Mangino in a bathing suit. Worst of all for the BCS, as many as three of their four games may wind up fitting the same description, especially now that Utah appears in good shape to claim an automatic bid.
It's been said that one of the side effects of the BCS' national title game is that it devalues the other bowls, and that be never more more true than this year. Even the possibility of an undefeated but jilted Oklahoma or Auburn playing in the Sugar Bowl may not do much for that game if the opponent is, say, Virginia Tech. Or Pittsburgh.
Obviously, there are still an endless amount of permutations when it comes to projecting the BCS lineup, but let's take a look at a few of the possibilities, starting with the best imaginable and working our way down. All scenarios assume USC remains No. 1 or 2 and Utah remains in the top six.
Scenario A. Orange: USC vs. Auburn. Rose: Michigan vs. Cal. Sugar: Miami vs. Boston College. Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Utah.
This is probably the BCS' best hope if Utah is in the mix. You'd have a can't-miss Orange and Rose, Oklahoma-Utah would be extremely fun to watch (though not exactly the best way for the Sooners to make a case for a split title) and Miami-B.C. at least has a little history. Buzz factor: 9 out of 10.
Scenario B. Orange: USC vs. Oklahoma. Rose: Michigan vs. Utah. Sugar: Auburn vs. Miami or Florida State. Fiesta: Texas vs. Boston College.
This one would depend on the highly unlikely event that Cal loses at least once, probably twice, because as long as the Bears remain in the top 12, the Rose is going to snatch them. If not, there's definitely something intriguing about the idea of the Utes in Pasadena. Buzz factor: 7.
Scenario C. Orange: USC vs. Oklahoma. Rose: Michigan vs. Cal. Sugar: Auburn vs. Miami or Florida State. Fiesta: Utah vs. Boston College.
In this one, everyone's happy but the Fiesta. Make no mistake, the Fiesta is highly interested in the Utes -- but not if it means a Utah-B.C. matchup. Buzz factor: 6.
Scenario D: Orange: USC vs. Oklahoma. Rose: Michigan vs. Cal. Sugar: Tennessee vs. Miami or Florida State. Fiesta: Utah vs. Boston College.
This one would mean the Vols beat Auburn in the SEC title game, which leaves an undisputed Orange Bowl and a juicy Rose but not much else. Buzz factor: 5.
Scenario E: Orange: USC vs. Oklahoma. Rose: Michigan vs. Cal. Sugar: Auburn vs. Virginia Tech. Fiesta: Utah vs. Boston College.
Well, at least the Hokies would be able to offer their opinion afterward as to which was tougher, the Trojans or the Tigers, but at this point only half the games would be worth watching. And to think the BCS is adding another one. Buzz factor: 4.
Scenario F: Orange: USC vs. Auburn. Rose: Michigan vs. Utah. Sugar: Texas vs. Virginia Tech. Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Boston College.
Uh oh. Now you've got two nightmares colliding -- the Sooners not only miss the Orange Bowl but get a worthless Fiesta matchup. There's a clause in the BCS that says they can override the bowl's selections if it's in the "best interest" of college football. Do it! Buzz factor: 2.
Scenario G: Orange: USC vs. Auburn. Rose: Michigan vs. Utah. Sugar: Oklahoma vs. Virginia Tech. Fiesta: Iowa State vs. Pittsburgh.
That's right, both the Cyclones and Panthers still have a shot at automatic berths (as do the likes of Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and West Virginia). Buffs coach Gary Barnett, whose team is 6-4, said, "We're the Fiesta Bowl's worst nightmare." Not even close. Buzz factor: Negative-five.
Player of the Week
Jason White, QB, Oklahoma: Oklahoma-Nebraska attendee Tom Brokaw, a guest of OU president David Boren, was booed by the Sooners crowd when introduced Saturday night. White, on the other hand, playing the final home game of his six-year career, received one of the most thunderous Senior Day ovations imaginable (even though it was technically his second Senior Day) when introduced prior to kickoff. And that was before he went out and completed a school-record 18 straight passes, finishing 29-of-35 for 383 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions despite rainy, miserable conditions. "He continues to amaze you in what he is able to do," said OU coach Bob Stoops. "The ball is a little bit slippery and the grass is wet, and people take it for granted that he's in there executing in a great way."
White, who after losing his grandfather earlier this month went out and threw five touchdowns against Texas A&M, has been overshadowed at times by teammate Adrian Peterson's own heroics. But take a look at the season he's having: 64.9 percent completions, 2,513 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. You'd think he was a Heisman winner or something.
Michigan WR Steve Breaston (272 all-purpose yards, two TDs in 35-second span) vs. Northwestern; Pittsburgh QB Tyler Palko (26-of-42, 334 yards, five TDs, no INTs) vs. Notre Dame; Arizona State QB Andrew Walter (26-of-41 for 332 yards, five TDs, no INTs) vs. Washington State; Auburn RB Carnell Williams (198 all-purpose yards, 1 TD; and a 29-yard TD pass) vs. Georgia; Texas QB Vince Young (403 total yards, two TDs in final 4:12) vs. Kansas; LSU DE Marcus Spears (eight tackles, two sacks, forced fumble that led to a touchdown) vs. Alabama; Bowling Green QB Omar Jacobs (24-of-37, 389 yards, five TDs, 1 INT) vs. Marshall; Florida QB Chris Leak (six TD passes) vs. South Carolina; Temple QB Walter Washington (315 total yards, four TDs) vs. Syracuse; Iowa kicker Kyle Schlicher (five field goals) vs. Minnesota.
Gratuitous props to ...
North Texas RB Jamario Thomas, whose 28-carry, 291-yard, four-TD performance against Idaho gave him a Division I-A record-tying fifth straight 200 yard game; Duke kicker Matt Brooks, whose 53-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Blue Devils over Clemson; and injury-plagued Miami RB Frank Gore, who set career highs with 28 carries for 195 yards in the 'Canes' win at Virginia.
Team of the week
Michigan State: It's safe to say the Spartans have had the most eventful 5-5 season of any team in the country. The year began with an embarrassing loss to Rutgers, and John L. Smith's club sank to a 2-3 start while struggling to find an offensive identity. Then sophomore QB Drew Stanton emerged as a dynamic dual-threat playmaker and Michigan State became reenergized, walloping then-No. 20 Minnesota 51-17. All the momentum came crashing down in one heartbreaking Saturday two weeks ago, however, when the Spartans blew a 27-10 fourth-quarter lead to hated Michigan and lost Stanton to injury. They went on to lose 32-19 to Ohio State on their home field a week later and fell to 4-5.
From out of the ashes, though, came Saturday's stunning 49-14 upset of undefeated Wisconsin. A team that had every reason to cave after what happened against Michigan produced a victory marked by resolve. In the second quarter, running back Jason Teague, seemingly wrapped up for loss by Erasmus James on a busted play, managed to lateral the ball to receiver Aaron Alexander, get up, run downfield and catch a 30-yard touchdown pass from Alexander for a 21-14 lead. Then the State defense stopped Wisconsin four times from the MSU 1-yard line in the final seconds of the first half, with linebacker David Herron Jr. and cornerback Roderick Maples standing up Anthony Davis on his fourth-down dive attempt. They attempted a successful onside kick to start the second half, and it was off to the races from there, with the victory preserving the Spartans' bowl chances (they must win both of their remaining games against Penn State and Hawaii). "I looked at the team before the game and I saw an angry, hungry team walking out of that locker room," said defensive end Clifford Dukes. "I knew something special was gonna happen."
'Heidi' Potter bumps Utes
The Mountain West may be on the verge of its first BCS berth, but not all parties are exactly ready for prime time. A power outage at Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium delayed the start of the Cowboys' game against seventh-ranked Utah by 99 minutes (the official explanation: a blown fuse) and caused the first half to be played in dim lighting. Wyoming only installed lights in its stadium four years ago and hadn't hosted a night game since 2001.
Alex Smith and the Utes' offense seemed unfazed by the dark, but it did cost them some much-needed exposure. Because of the outage, ABC, making a rare appearance at a Mountain West game, wasn't able to pick up its telecast until the second half, and even then missed one of its most important markets. When the game wasn't available at kickoff, Salt Lake City affiliate KTVX began showing a certain movie and never picked up the game when it became available. " "We would have loved to air the game," KTVX's Jon Fischer told the Deseret News. "[But] we were not allowed to go back to the Utah game because of our contractual obligation with [ABC] to run Harry Potter in its entirety."
1. The BCS isn't just driving fans crazy -- take a look at what it's doing to some coaches. Kansas coach Mark Mangino went certifiably nutso in his postgame news conference following a last-second loss to Texas, blaming a costly and highly questionable offensive pass interference call against the Jayhawks on some sort of Big 12/BCS conspiracy to protect the Longhorns. "You know what this is all about, don't you? The BCS. That's what made the difference in the game. ... Dollar signs." Mangino later issued a statement retracting his preposterous comments, but you know what? There's probably a whole lot of conspiracy theorists out there who agree with him.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, admittedly and reluctantly contradicting his own values, called a time out with 40 seconds left, up 30-0 on Nebraska, to set up a fourth-down play from the Nebraska 18. It failed, and the Huskers wound up scoring a last-second field goal of their own. "What we were doing at the end of the game, we've never done before," said Stoops. "The other side of it is, if we don't do it, for instance when we did take a knee against Texas Tech, does that then come back and haunt you? Is that the reason that maybe kept you out of something, and how do you live with that as well? Its really a rotten position to play in." It's hard to question Stoops' decision -- the Sooners did indeed lose ground to Auburn in the polls Sunday. Would 37-0 have saved a few votes?
2. Has there been a bigger disappointment this season than Clemson QB Charlie Whitehurst? Touted as the top quarterback in the ACC and a potential All-America entering his junior season, Whitehurst has struggled mightily most of the year, culminating Saturday in a 12-of-16, 117-yard, no-touchdown, two-interception performance in a 16-13 loss to lowly Duke. His pick with 1:07 remaining and the score tied 13-13 allowed the Blue Devils to get in position for the game-winning field goal (Clemson coach Tommy Bowden claimed afterward the intended receiver on the play got knocked down). On the season, Whitehurst has completed just 50.5 percent of his passes for 1,916 yards, seven touchdowns and 16 interceptions, puzzling for a player who a year ago had 3,516 yards and 62 percent completions. Whitehurst is hardly solely to blame. The Tigers are missing stud receiver Derrick Hamilton, who unexpectedly entered the draft, and he's getting little help from his running game. But rarely do you see a college quarterback drop off so dramatically from one year to the next.
3. One of the most dramatic plays of the season took place Saturday in Boulder, Colo. With 16 seconds left, the game tied, and Colorado at its own 34, Buffs QB Joek Klatt was only looking to get into field-goal range for all-star kicker Mason Crosby. He took care of that and then some, though. Scrambling left, Klatt saw receiver Ron Montheil uncovered and delivered a perfect pass to the senior, who caught it in stride and dashed 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown. It gave Monteilh his first career touchdown and 100-yard game in his final home game. More important, it gave Colorado, a team that appeared on the verge of disaster all offseason, the sixth win it needed for bowl eligibility and keeps it alive for a spot in the Big 12 championship game. "This is right up there for me," said Gary Barnett, the coach who missed spring practice while on an involuntary leave of absence and was narrowily spared his job following numerous investigations into his program's recruiting practices. Ironically, the play came 10 years after another memorable pass in Buffs history: Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary to Michael Westbrook to beat Michigan. The length of that pass: 64 yards.
4. Watching last Thursday night's Florida State-N.C. State game was more painful than trying to sit through an episode of Trading Spouses. The two offensively challenged teams combined for more punts (22) than first downs (16), with the 'Noles managing just 121 yards, the Wolfpack 123, in a 17-10 FSU victory. Much of the credit obviously goes to the two defenses, which are both ranked among the top four nationally, but the game also continued a season-long theme for both teams: Shoddy quarterback play. FSU's Wyatt Sexton, who's struggled in all his road games, was 5-of-18 for 73 yards and an interception, while N.C. State's Jay Davis was 6-of-19 for 72 yards. Are these really the same schools that produced Philip Rivers, Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke? N.C. State's offense has been so bad that, despite a defense that's yielded the least yards per game in the country (229.5), the Wolfpack are doomed to their first losing season in five years under head coach Chuck Amato. The 'Noles, meanwhile, are somehow 8-2 despite basically just one impressive performance all season (against Virginia), a fact that hasn't stopped the pollsters from putting them back in the top 10 this week.
5. What's the one thing you don't want to do as a coach when your job security is in question? Lose to Temple. Syracuse's Paul Pasqualoni, just a week after enjoying a dramatic double-overtime home win over Pittsburgh, suffered the ultimate indignity, losing to the Owls 34-24 at Lincoln Field. (The 15,564 in attendance must have intimidated the Orangemen). It was the Owls' first Big East victory in two years, in their second-to-last game before being kicked out of the conference. Unbelievably enough, Syracuse would have moved into a first-place tie had it won. Now, the Orange must upset new leader Boston College on the road in two weeks to avoid a losing record -- not likely. If that happens, it would be the third straight year Pasqualoni's team has failed to achieve a winning record after doing so in each of his first 12 seasons. And it's not like the Big East is suddenly getting tougher.
"I don't understand," receiver Andre Fontenette told the Syracuse Post Standard. "We just don't want to win. We're not playing. We don't have any heart." Athletics director Jake Crouthamel is extremely loyal, but here's guessing even he has concluded it's time for a change.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.