College Football Mailbag (cont.)
Posted: Thursday January 3, 2008 12:19PM; Updated: Thursday January 3, 2008 3:12PM
If there's one common characteristic to the USC, Boise State and West Virginia losses, however, it's that Oklahoma's defense looked absolutely baffled by its opponent's offense. The unique nature of bowl games, as opposed to conference games, is that you have to game plan against an opponent for which you have no frame of reference. Through the years, the Sooners have done better than most when it comes to slowing down teams like Texas and Texas Tech, who they see every year, but it would seem they have not prepared very well for the more unfamiliar opponents.
All that said, West Virginia has become quite an enigma itself. Over the past three seasons, we've seen the Pat White-Steve Slaton (or, in Wednesday's case, Noel Devine)-led offense bulldoze practically everybody it plays, including two pretty darn good BCS opponents in Georgia and Oklahoma. So how is it they spit the bit against USF each of the past two seasons and, even more baffling, Pittsburgh this year? The team that racked up 526 yards against Oklahoma could most certainly stack up against either Ohio State or LSU in next week's championship game, but the team that could barely gain a first down against the 4-7 Panthers obviously prevented that from happening.
Doesn't the Hawaii pratfall show the subjective bias of polls? A 12-0 record -- despite the weak strength of schedule -- allowed them to be ranked higher than reality dictated.
Polls are subjective? You're kidding me. I suppose next you're going to try telling me the stock market is volatile.
As long as we have them, however, I think pollsters need to evaluate teams like Hawaii on a case-by-case basis. I'm a little bit hypocritical myself in this department. I was skeptical of the Warriors most of the season due not only to their weak schedule but the fact they had so many close calls against several indisputably mediocre opponents. They were a great story, but the fact is they never offered even a shred of evidence they were a top-12 caliber team, and while I resisted moving them up my rankings longer than many of my colleagues, it became harder and harder to justify keeping them below that threshold when we got late into the season and the other contenders all had at least three losses. They wound up 11th on my final AP ballot despite needing a last-minute touchdown at home to survive 4-9 Washington.
All along, I was far less comfortable with Hawaii than I was with Boise State last year simply because the Broncos had at least beaten one legitimate BCS-conference opponent (10-4 Oregon State), and handily at that. Ditto 2004 Utah, which destroyed Texas A&M and North Carolina, both of them bowl teams that year. Just as Boise State's Fiesta Bowl win last year probably contributed to the pollsters' faith in Hawaii this year, the Warriors' Sugar Bowl debacle will probably have the opposite affect on any potential BCS buster next season. Personally, I'm all for the inclusion of such teams in the major bowls if deemed worthy, but I don't think it's asking too much to see one win over a legitimate opponent before granting a blind benefit of the doubt just because a team went 12-0.
Last season sportscasters said that the Florida-Ohio State game provided evidence that the SEC is faster than the Big Ten. Now, those same commentators are arguing that Ohio State is just as fast as LSU and will be motivated this year because they feel disrespected by all the talk of them being slow. Huh?
For the love of all that is holy, can we please stop with the sweeping generalizations about the SEC and other conferences?
There's no arguing that, for whatever reason, Ohio State could not handle the speed of Florida's pass-rushers in last year's title game, but how that one game became a testimonial to the speed of every other player on every other team in that conference is beyond me. Yes, we saw much the same thing in the Georgia-Hawaii game, but who's to say USC, Virginia Tech or any number of other teams wouldn't have given the Warriors the same problem.
Don't get me wrong, speed is arguably the most important factor in college football today, and many SEC teams tend to have particularly fast defensive linemen and linebackers. But so does USC, so does Virginia Tech, so does West Virginia and ... believe it or not ... so does Ohio State.
Meanwhile, speed is hardly the only deciding outcome in a college football game. If it was, how did Michigan beat Florida on Tuesday? My guess is if we took out stopwatches and timed every member of last year's Florida team and this year's Florida team, we'd find no noticeable difference. I'm guessing all those five-star recruits Urban Meyer has brought in the past couple of years did not cause the Gators to get slower.
But those players, particularly on defense, are far more inexperienced than last year's, and supposedly "slow" Michigan was able to exploit that. The Wolverines were also the more physical team that day, which, even in the age of spread offenses, remains an important factor in any contest. And of course, there's no understating the importance of a good game plan. Michigan seemed to catch Florida off guard by doing several things (handing off to Mike Hart out of the shotgun, calling running plays for Mario Manningham) they had not done all season, while the Gators' extreme dependence on Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin ultimately doomed them at the end of the game when trying to run a two-minute offense with so few other options.
Stewart, I can't be the only one thinking it. If LSU and Ohio State both play a sloppy game, what are the chances that the AP will vote Georgia or USC No. 1 based on their dominance yesterday?
You know that expression "slim and none?" Whatever's the next rung down from that.
First of all, in the entire 70-plus year history of the polls, a No. 2 team has never beaten a No. 1 team and not then moved up to No. 1 itself. Granted, there's much less separation this year, if any, between those two teams and the teams right behind them, but the Bulldogs and Trojans are hurt by having played perceived inferior opponents, whereas the Tigers and Buckeyes play each other.
Basically, you're asking the voters to completely reevaluate their opinion of all the teams involved -- and do it with almost no time to put any extensive thought into it (the final AP ballots are due immediately following the conclusion of the title game). I'm not saying they shouldn't consider it -- I'm just being realistic. It's not going to happen.