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Oklahoma should re-enter the BCS mix in 2010, but Georgia has real problems
Alabama stands a greater chance of losing its rivalry game than Texas or Florida
Plus: Notre Dame's ideal coach, odd bowl notes, an angry LSU fan and more
There are so many things for which to be thankful this holiday weekend. Family. Friends. The sight of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer back at the coffee shop on last week's Curb Your Enthusiasm finale.
And best of all, most of us can be thankful (at least this season) we're not fans of one of the following teams.
A great number of traditional powers -- Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida State, Oklahoma and my own Georgia Bulldogs -- have stumbled badly this season. Obviously Oklahoma and Georgia came into the preseason ranked highest, but I think all expected at least a Top 25 ranking and bowl trip. Is this just another example of parity or a simultaneous coincidence of bad coaching? Who do you think bounces back next year?
This isn't as rare an occurrence as you think. If you look back over the course of this decade, there's only one BCS-conference program -- Texas -- that hasn't suffered at least one season of five or more losses. At the start of the decade, USC, LSU and Penn State were complete non-factors. So was Alabama until Nick Saban came along. Miami went from BCS title game to Humanitarian Bowl in four years. Even Florida had its dark period under Ron Zook. It's just a reality of the sport today: No program is immune from a downturn. The question is, which of the aforementioned teams are just having a rough year, and which are facing a longer-term problem?
The Irish and Seminoles likely face more rough sledding ahead as they go through coaching transitions, and Michigan is already in the midst of its own turbulent transition period. But the real interesting cases are Oklahoma and Georgia, two programs that, previously under their current coaches, had little trouble reloading from year to year.
Excluding their debut seasons, Bob Stoops' lone "down" year prior to this was an 8-4 season in 2005, while Mark Richt's was a 9-4 campaign in 2006. In both cases, their teams were starting freshman quarterbacks (Rhett Bomar for Oklahoma, Matthew Stafford for Georgia), and in both cases, their teams got better as the season progressed (OU beat a 10-1 Oregon team in the Holiday Bowl while the Dawgs beat 10-2 Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl). Not so this year.
While injuries were a viable excuse for Oklahoma's early struggles, they don't justify a three-point output against Nebraska on Nov. 7, or explain last week's debacle at Texas Tech. For the first time, Stoops has some real deficiencies on his roster, most notably the offensive line, which is admittedly inexperienced but hasn't improved. The good news is, quarterback Landry Jones has shown promise at times and is only a redshirt freshman; the bad news is, OU's defense could lose stars Gerald McCoy, Jeremy Beal and Travis Lewis to the NFL. But there's little evidence to suggest Stoops' recruiting has suddenly gone in the toilet. My guess is this season will turn out to be an aberration, and OU will be back to contending for a BCS bowl next season.
I'm not as sure about Georgia. The Dawgs may well have talent, but they're terribly undisciplined. Remarkably, they rank 119th nationally in turnover margin and 116th in penalties per game. Chalk that up to plain old bad coaching. Richt will undoubtedly be fielding new coordinators next season, and unlike Oklahoma, he'll be breaking in a new quarterback as well (presumably redshirt freshman Aaron Murray).
Richt is also dealing with much the same problem as recently deposed SEC coaches Phillip Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville: His competitors are catching up. Florida has separated itself considerably under Urban Meyer. Georgia Tech, which Richt beat each of his first seven seasons, is now a BCS contender. Tennessee -- which has blown out the Dawgs two of the past three seasons -- is quickly beefing up its talent level under Lane Kiffin. And Auburn, with whom Georgia wages a whole lot of recruiting battles, now employs its own renowned recruiter in Gene Chizik. Georgia may be considerably better next season, but so, too, could its primary rivals. I wouldn't expect a quick fix in Athens.
The top three teams -- Florida, Alabama and Texas -- all play huge rivals this weekend, and all three of those rivals (Florida State, Auburn and Texas A&M) are having off years. If you had to rate the three games in order of potential upset, who would you give the best shot?
None of them seem particularly plausible, but if I had to rank their likelihood:
1) Auburn over Alabama: The Tigers benefit not only from playing at home, but also from coming off a bye week. That doesn't necessarily give them an edge health-wise (Alabama had a de facto bye last week against Chattanooga), but it gave offensive coordinator Guz Malzahn an extra week to come up with some wacky new formations to throw at the Tide. Having said that (sorry, Jerry), it's still hard to envision Auburn's offensive line protecting Chris Todd or its defense matching the physicality of Mark Ingram and Co.
2) Texas A&M over Texas: Kyle Field is always a tough venue for visitors (the 'Horns lost there two years ago to an A&M team so bad it still fired its coach afterward), and a short week always benefits the home team. But that's about all I can say in the Aggies' favor. Their defense is atrocious, and Colt McCoy is not.
3) Florida State over Florida: The FSU blog Tomahawk Nation uncovered a remarkable stat this week: This year's 'Noles boast both the ACC's best offense AND worst defense since the conference expanded in 2004. Tim Tebow should have a field day with that defense, and Brandon Spikes and Co. should make E.J. Manuel's life fairly miserable for three hours.
I was reviewing the bowl alignments and noticed that the SEC and Pac-10 don't have a bowl game where they can square off. The SEC has two games against the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, one against the Big East team and one against Conference USA. Any thoughts on why the Pac-10 and SEC don't have a bowl game together?
Believe me, I'd love to see it too. Generally speaking, the SEC and Pac-10 have been the two most entertaining conferences this decade (some years more than others), and there's an undisputed disdain between both sides. The problem is geography. No bowl east of Texas is going to partner with the Pac-10, whose fan bases don't generally travel in droves even within their region, much less across the country. And there's no logical reason for the SEC to go play a bowl in California when there are any number available closer to home.
What's truly amazing is that the two leagues have yet to meet in a BCS game. In fact, the last SEC-Pac-10 bowl matchup of any kind, according to my own personal research, was Washington's 34-7 victory over Florida in the 1989 Freedom Bowl. It looks like we're just going to have to keep settling for the sporadic regular-season matchups -- which, in the 2000s, the Pac-10 won 11-9.
Hypothetically: If Clemson beats Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, and Oregon wins the Pac-10, would that make TCU and Boise State the only conference champions to beat another conference's champion?
Correct. Think Craig Thompson and Karl Benson might bring that up at the next BCS hearing? There is one other similar possibility, however: If Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh and Oregon State beats Oregon, the Big East champion Bearcats will have a victory over the Pac-10 champion Beavers.
Oh wait -- my original statement is incorrect. If Florida wins the SEC, it has a victory over Sun Belt champion Troy.
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