Posted: Monday November 28, 2005 12:13PM; Updated: Monday November 28, 2005 5:59PM
Who deserves their day in the desert? How do you decide that? What statistics do you employ? I find that fans usually only cite the statistics that favor their team. For example, Hurricanes fans may note that their team beat as many Top 25 teams as any of the six on my list (two -- Clemson, and Virginia Tech) but conveniently fail to mention that they also had Temple and Duke on the schedule.
Not that this really needs to figure into Junker's decision, but here are a few statistics. If you add each team's national ranking in scoring defense and its ranking in scoring offense, that's a fair indicator of a team's overall strength (although, as USC demonstrates each week, you need not be great on both sides of the ball to be championship-caliber). Using the SD+SO sum as an index, with the lower number being better, here's how these half dozen would rank:
1. (Tie) Penn State 10+12 = 22
1. (Tie) Auburn 6+16 = 22
3. Ohio State 7+27 = 34
4. Miami 3+43 = 46
5. Notre Dame 46+7 = 53
6. Oregon 48+9 = 57
How about the losses? Oregon, for example, only lost one game. However, the Ducks lost by more points (32, albeit to No. 1 USC) than any of the other five schools. The four two-loss schools all lost by fewer combined points than the Ducks' 32 to the Trojans. So you have it:
Penn State -- one loss, 2 points
Notre Dame -- two losses (one in OT), 6 points
Miami -- two losses, 7 points
Ohio State -- two losses, 10 points
Auburn -- two losses (one in OT), 12 points
Quality wins? The Nittany Lions, Tigers, Buckeyes and Hurricanes each beat a pair of Top 25 teams. Notre Dame only beat one (Michigan) while Oregon's only Top 25 conquest was Fresno State. The most impressive of all those wins was likely the Hurricanes' 27-7 silencing of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but was that even as impressive as Notre Dame's performance against USC in October? Who's to say?
I listened to all the ESPN analysts expound on this topic on Saturday and most of the time they all made sense. However, one factor that I never heard any analyst mention was name recognition. Quick, name a player from Notre Dame. Easy, right? Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija.
How about Ohio State? A.J. Hawk, Ted Ginn, Troy Smith.
Now, name somebody who plays for Auburn. If you instantly -- without a moment's hesitation -- answered "Kenny Irons" or "Brandon Cox," my guess is that you live within 10 miles of a Waffle House. You live in the South.
It's not enough to say that traditional powers draw big ratings, as the argument goes. Sure, the Irish are couch-potato magnets. And so is Ohio State. But Auburn's been playing football for a little while, too. As have the Hurricanes. Only Oregon, despite its success (and p.r. blitzkrieg) of the past decade, remains a national afterthought. Do you know the Ducks' best player? It's defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Heck, more people know the name of Charlie Weis' son (Charles, Jr.).
Who do I think the two most deserving schools of those six are? If I were John Junker, and my only criterion was placing the top two teams in Tempe, I'd take Penn State and Auburn. There is no way of proving this, but I do think that the Lions and Tigers are the best teams on this list. However, this would be their third meeting in a bowl in the last 11 seasons and you don't hear people fondly recalling that 1996 Outback Bowl (a 43-14 Penn State win) or the 2002 Capital One Bowl (Auburn, 13-9) very often, do you?
The Irish and Buckeyes will travel to Tempe not because they have the most storied programs. No, it's because they have the most marquee players. Quinn will likely finish fourth in the Heisman voting. Samardzija is a Biletnikoff Award finalist and Irish tight end Anthony Fasano is a Mackey Award finalist.
Ohio State's Hawk is the favorite to win the Butkus Award. Toss in Tom Zbikowski, Maurice Stovall and Darius Walker for the Irish, and Ginn and Santonio Holmes for the Buckeyes, and that's a deeper ensemble than the cast of Love, Actually (sorry, that was the best example I could come up with; but, if that makes you uncomfortable, let's just say Ocean's Eleven).
Players create storylines. Storylines create ratings. Do you think the people in Pasadena mind that the likely top three Heisman finalists will all be playing in the same game on Jan. 4?