College Football Mailbag (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday August 22, 2007 12:58PM; Updated: Wednesday August 22, 2007 4:05PM
I've only seen one national publication or journalist that has Wake Forest picked at the top of the ACC Atlantic Division. It will only take a 6-2 record to win the division, and Wake doesn't play either Virginia Tech or Miami. I realize winning the ACC Championship game again is a tall order, but why such little respect for the defending champs in terms of getting there?
It seems to me most pundits are treating the Demon Deacons as a one-year wonder. It's like, "OK, you had your fun -- now go back to being Wake Forest." I disagree. First of all, if you look at similar, out-of-nowhere "Cinderella" teams over the years (1995 Northwestern, 2000 South Carolina, 2005 Rutgers), all of them went on to have similar success the next season, because, while the team might lose a few key seniors (as Wake did with Steve Vallos, Josh Gattis and NFL early entrant Jon Abbate), the overwhelming core still returns (in Wake's case, 15 starters). The Deacons did catch their share of breaks last year en route to their conference title, and maybe it's unrealistic to think the stars will line up so favorably again, but they've certainly got as good a chance as anybody of winning that division. SI has them finishing in a three-way tie for first with Boston College and Florida State, all at 5-3. That sounds about right to me.
There is a lot of optimism concerning this year's UCLA team, and many pundits point to the team's 20 returning starters. However, if I remember correctly, there was a Purdue team a few years ago that was a popular preseason pick because it was returning a boatload of starters, but they ended up having a disappointing season. Can you please tell me that won't be the case for UCLA this year?
I can assure you of no such thing, as I have a hard time putting too much faith in any Karl Dorrell-coached team, but I can tell you that the reasons behind the Bruins' rosy outlook are slightly different from those of that 2005 Purdue team. As I recall, the Purdue team you're referring to did return a lot of starters (including all 11 on defense), but the single biggest reason everyone was so high on them that year was because they somehow had a schedule devoid of Ohio State and Michigan (Iowa has the same luxury this year and next). Obviously, that didn't help, because Purdue wound up finishing 5-6 -- the only losing season in Joe Tiller's tenure -- primarily because a) QB Kyle Orton was not among those returning starters; and b) Those 11 defensive starters, it turned out, stunk.
UCLA, on the other hand, fielded an impressive defense last season that finished sixth nationally in sacks (40) and 35th in total defense. The Bruins did lose one stalwart in defensive end Justin Hickman, but everybody else is back, so it's reasonable to expect a similar performance. That said, UCLA went 7-6 last year, its offense was inconsistent and that vaunted defense disappeared in the Emerald Bowl. Therefore, you've got to believe almost all of the Bruins' preseason hype is based on that USC upset last December. (Though strangely, that same game seems to be having no effect whatsoever on the Trojans' expectations.) If the Bruins play like they did against USC every week this year, then heck, book their trip to New Orleans, but Dorrell's track record suggests they'll probably lose at least one or two games they shouldn't. I'd consider a preseason ranking in the 20-25 range to be reasonable.
If the "plus one" idea becomes reality, do they do it every year, or just the ones where there is no clear-cut champion? It seems to me that it would be pretty lame to make the lone undefeated team in the nation (presumably ranked No. 1 before and after the bowl games) play someone who has a loss (before and after the bowl games).
It would be every year. Logistically, it would be impossible to suddenly stage an extra, mammoth game on a week's notice, nor could you spend the money to stage one, then suddenly cancel it when you don't need it.
As many of you have pointed out, there have been several seasons during the BCS era where a plus-one game would have seemed unnecessary, such as 2002, when Miami and Ohio State were the lone undefeated teams, and '05, when USC and Texas were also undefeated, clear-cut Nos. 1 and 2. Presumably, those teams would have played different opponents in their bowl games, then, if they won those, matched up in the "plus-one." However, there have been plenty of years when it was not as clear-cut -- and even in some of the others, maybe it wasn't as clear-cut as we might have thought (See: Ohio State last season). By no means do I think a plus-one would resolve all cases of BCS ambiguity; in fact, there would probably be some years where it caused even more controversy. But I'm also a realist. If you guys want to see the BCS structure change (and I know the overwhelming majority of you do), this is the only realistic alternative in the near future.