What BYU-OU may mean, ACC's bad start, Washington's showing, more
BYU's upset of Oklahoma could land the Cougars in the national title game
The ACC went 4-6 on opening weekend with two losses to FCS opponents
Washington, winless in '08, looked much improved in 31-23 loss to LSU
Football Insiders: Click here to read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.
Saturday night's BYU-Oklahoma matchup was borne of necessity. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione told me this summer the Sooners signed on for the neutral-site game only after an unnamed mid-level school surprisingly declined Oklahoma's offer for a home-and-home. ("Let's just say it's a team that you wouldn't traditionally expect Oklahoma to go play in their stadium," he said.) With the Sooners and Cougars looking to fill an open date on their schedules, ESPN stepped in with an offer to play in its planned season-opener at the new Cowboys Stadium. The parties only announced the matchup last January.
Oklahoma and BYU could have chosen to follow so many other schools and schedule a creampuff opener. Instead, they took a gamble. As a result, the Sooners are paying a hefty price, their national-title hopes severely damaged and their star quarterback sidelined.
The Cougars, however, have set themselves up for a potentially unprecedented opportunity. Since the dawn of the BCS, we've assumed the loftiest goal a team like BYU could realistically achieve was a berth to the Sugar, Orange, Rose or Fiesta bowls. We've assumed justifiably -- no such team has finished higher than sixth in the BCS standings.
But no previous team from a non-BCS conference has ever beaten a top three team during that period, either. With BYU set to play three more games against teams ranked in the AP's preseason top 20 (TCU, Florida State and Utah), it's time to revisit a question I first posed last month: Could an undefeated BYU team realistically reach the national championship game?
At least one man thinks so. "I give BYU credit for scheduling itself into that position," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Sunday. "That schedule matches up pretty well with a lot of people's."
BYU's upset could not have come at a better time for Thompson, who's spent much of the past eight months crusading for his conference's inclusion among the BCS's automatic-qualifying leagues. This being just the second year of a four-year review period, he needs MWC teams to continue their momentum from last season, when Utah and TCU both finished in the top 10.
Last January in New Orleans, Thompson watched the Utes rout a 12-1 Alabama team that nearly played for the national championship. On Saturday in Dallas, he watched the Cougars shut down a Sooners team that did play for last year's title.
Some will instinctively downplay BYU's 14-13 upset due to Heisman winner Sam Bradford's shoulder injury. Those people probably did not watch the game. A swarming Cougars defense exploited Oklahoma's rebuilt offensive line from the get-go. The scoreboard read 7-7 when Bradford went out, 10-7 at halftime and 13-7 after BYU stonewalled Oklahoma on a third-and-goal from the one-yard-line early in the fourth quarter, relegating the Sooners to a field goal.
"We knew the center [Brody Eldridge] was a [converted] tight end and he needed to make all the protection calls," BYU defensive coordinator Jaime Hill told Salt Lake City's 1280 the Zone. "We thought hopefully we could put them in some bad situations where they didn't know where we were coming from -- and they didn't."
Offensively, BYU played the entire game without returning 1,132-yard rusher Harvey Unga, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Despite that, Cougars QB Max Hall (26-of-38, 329 yards) kept chipping away at the Sooners' defense. Stymied by a pair of interceptions and two BYU fumbles, Hall finally broke through late in the fourth quarter, engineering a 16-play, 78-yard go-ahead touchdown drive.
Last year, BYU began the season as the consensus favored "BCS buster," but ultimately the Cougars' young defense couldn't play at the same level as its powerful offense. This year's team is much better suited for a run at perfection -- if it can handle the schedule.
In the meantime, I'm eager to see how the voters treat BYU when the new polls come out Tuesday. When TCU knocked off No. 7 Oklahoma in the 2005 opener, the Horned Frogs barely made a dent, entering the AP poll at No. 22 (four spots lower than the Sooners). BYU, however, should benefit from having started the season ranked 20th, and, presumably, from the level of respect for its conference that did not exist four years ago.
"It will be really interesting to see what the nation thinks of that performance, and equally interesting will be where Oklahoma drops to," said Thompson. "It's all about how quickly you can move up in the polls, and ultimately, where you get stranded in the polls. If they continue to win, then it's going to be equally important to see what happens in November."
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