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Posted: Wednesday October 29, 2008 11:26AM; Updated: Wednesday October 29, 2008 12:52PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >

BCS scenarios, Willingham's future, Minnesota's quiet revival and more

Story Highlights

An undefeated Penn State could be squeezed out of the BCS title game

Tyrone Willingham's fall from a hot coach to one being fired twice is a mystery

Minnesota coach Tim Brewster has the Gophers on the right track

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Penn State is going to be at the center of every BCS discussion as long as it remains undefeated and No. 3.
Penn State is going to be at the center of every BCS discussion as long as it remains undefeated and No. 3.
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI
Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.

It's the last week of October, which means the Mailbag's "BCS Doomsday Scenario Hotline" is officially open for business.

At this point, there remain countless possibilities as to what this year's annual BCS controversy will look like, but one team's involvement seems increasingly likely. Say it with me now: "WE ARE ..."

I know most people outside of the Big Ten are going to look at Penn State's performance at Ohio State and scoff, but I saw an offense that made very few mistakes (no turnovers, no penalty yards assessed), kept its cool and took advantage when OSU made a mistake. The poise that Penn State showed was remarkable. Do you think that will be enough for a BCS title game berth? Or do you think that if, say, Alabama or Texas lose next week but plays lights out down the stretch that they will still be above Penn State at season's end?
-- Ryan, Charlottesville, Va.

First of all, I agree with your assessment of last Saturday's game. Would I have liked to see more big plays from Penn State's offense? Of course. But we've seen enough 40-plus point outings from the Nittany Lions to know the Spread HD is no fluke. I was there, and believe me, Ohio State played out of its mind on defense. It seemed like Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward were camped out in Penn State's backfield. Also, it was obvious from talking to Penn State's coaches afterward that they went in with an ultra-conservative game plan. They expected a close game that could hinge on a turnover (as it did) and scrapped many of the bells and whistles we'd seen in previous games.

As for the Nittany Lions' title prospects, they remain third in the pecking order behind Texas and Alabama and will remain so for as long as those teams keep winning. While Penn State finishes up with relatively blasť games against Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State, the Tide play at LSU, Texas plays at Texas Tech and both stand to benefit from a potential conference championship game.

But if Penn State wins out and either Alabama or this weekend's Texas-Texas Tech winner slips up ... the Nittany Lions are in. Period. You can argue until you're blue in the face about their schedule strength (currently 61st, according to relative to the others (Texas: No. 1; Alabama: No. 53), but the fact is, they will have won all their games. Period. To exclude an undefeated, major-conference team in favor of a one-loss team would set a dangerous precedent the pollsters won't, and shouldn't, feel comfortable setting.

The past two seasons an SEC champion having one loss more than the Big Ten champion completely routed the Big Ten champion. Please make the case why a one-loss Big 12 or SEC champion would not continue that trend this year against 12-0 Penn State.
-- Mike Dunlap, New York

Obviously, I can't predict on Oct. 29 how Penn State would theoretically fare on Jan. 8 against a theoretical opponent ... but I can make a pretty solid case why it would be idiotic to discount the Nittany Lions solely on the basis of a fellow conference member's past performances.

• Penn State did not lose those games. Ohio State did.

• The Big Ten did not lose those games. Ohio State did.

• Allow me to rephrase your statement for a second: "The past two seasons a Big 12 champion [Oklahoma] lost to a lower-ranked opponent in a BCS game. Please make the case why a lower-ranked foe would not continue that trend this year against No. 1 Texas?"

• Say what you want about Ohio State, but I think we can all agree that Beanie Wells is an elite running back. Any defense that can hold Wells to 55 yards on 22 carries is capable of winning a national championship.

• This year's SEC, if you haven't noticed, is not as indisputably dominant as it has been. The SEC is fourth in Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings, sixth in Jerry Palm's Conference RPI ratings. That doesn't mean Alabama, Florida or Georgia wouldn't beat Penn State, but they're not entitled to some automatic benefit of the doubt, either. Why?

• Because, most important of all, this is a different season.

Assuming USC and Penn State win out, and if Florida were to beat Alabama in the SEC championship game and Texas loses in the Big 12 title game, that could create a scenario where Florida, Alabama, USC, Texas and Oklahoma would all have one loss and a legitimate argument for a shot at Penn State for the title. Would your vote be based on who had the best season, who is playing the best at that moment, who would have the best shot at winning, style points, or will you simply ask Sweet Dee and the gang to choose for you?
-- Greg, Welcome, N.C.

Just to be clear, my AP vote carries no weight whatsoever in determining the BCS title opponents. For the purposes of this answer, we'll have to pretend I'm a Harris voter.

Believe it or not, your scenario is not as complicated as it sounds. First off, all the teams that didn't win their conference -- in this case Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma -- would be eliminated. That might sound unfair for Texas, which, if it wins this weekend, will have beaten four straight top-11 opponents and would be undefeated going into that title game. But it would be hypocritical to make an exception for the 'Horns when lack of a conference title was one of the most commonly stated reasons Michigan and Georgia were passed over the past two years.

So then it comes down to a simpler, two-team decision between USC and Florida -- and it would be simple because the Gators' resume would be far more impressive than the Trojans'. They would have beaten LSU, Georgia and Alabama (all ranked in the Top 10 at the time), while USC may well end up with one win over a highly ranked opponent (Ohio State).

Incidentally ... isn't it fitting that right after the BCS commissioners rejected Mike Slive's plus-one proposal last spring, this may wind up being the ideal season for one? Imagine a four-team playoff with the Big 12 champion, SEC champion, Penn State and USC. Think that wouldn't satisfy some folks? Coincidentally, the last time the honchos shot down the plus-one, when ABC proposed it in the spring of 2004, the season that immediately followed it brought the USC-Oklahoma-Auburn debacle.

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