This season's real problem? There are just too many dominant teams
There are six dominant teams -- but only two will play for the BCS title
Only four players still have a realistic chance of winning the Heisman
Are both Notre Dame's Charlie Weis and FSU's Bobby Bowden on the way out?
Football Insiders: Check out Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.
This season has sparked a recurring complaint, one that surfaced again following Week 13 scares from Texas and Alabama: There are no dominant teams this season.
There was a time earlier this year when I felt that way myself, but now, with the finish line just a week away, I'd argue this season has suffered from the polar opposite oddity: There are too many dominant teams. Six of them, in fact. The delineation couldn't be clearer in this week's BCS standings, which feature six undefeated teams (Florida, Alabama, Texas, TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State) ... then no one else with fewer than two losses. Just to punctuate the point, No. 6 (12-0 Boise) even beat No. 7 (9-2 Oregon).
It's been a top-heavy season, not just nationally, but within most conferences. In addition to the five leagues with official championship games, the Big East (Cincinnati-Pittsburgh), Big Ten (Iowa-Ohio State), Pac-10 (Oregon-Oregon State) and WAC (Boise State-Nevada) all wound up staging (or will stage) unofficial title showdowns. It's a scheduling coincidence made possible by the fact that, in each case, two teams separated from the pack. (Not so in the Mountain West, where TCU beat its two closest competitors, Utah and BYU, by a combined score of 93-35.)
Finally, this weekend, we get to see two of the Big Six collide when No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama stage their long-anticipated SEC Championship showdown in Atlanta.
"I can't think of a bigger football game that we've been a part of," Gators coach Urban Meyer said Sunday. "There's not a whole lot of difference between playing in the [BCS title] game and playing in the SEC Championship. ... This is every bit as big."
The Gators and Tide have looked vulnerable at times. Some might argue Florida, which has averaged a modest 27.6 points in SEC play, isn't as dominant a team as it was a year ago, when the eventual national champs routinely put up 40- or 50-plus points against conference opponents. But lest we forget, last year's Gators actually lost a game to Ole Miss. This year's version has only suffered one truly close call, a 23-20 last-second win over Arkansas.
Some might also argue that Alabama's come-from-behind 26-21 win at 7-5 Auburn last weekend exposed the Tide as overrated. That's one way of looking at it. The other is to marvel at team that managed a 15-play, seven-minute, 79-yard game-winning drive despite its Heisman-contending running back watching from the bench. 'Bama has had more close calls than Florida (Terrence Cody's field-goal block to fend off Tennessee, the waved-off interception to help survive LSU) but it's also produced more "statement" wins (the season-opener against Virginia Tech and a 22-3 road dismantling of Ole Miss).
"Even though we had some games where we felt like we didn't play our best football, we made some big plays, and players responded when they needed to," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "I'm really pleased with what they've accomplished."
The Gators and Tide so thoroughly dominated the nation's purportedly toughest conference that they each nailed down their spot in Saturday's matchup by Nov. 7. Florida won its division by a staggering four games; Alabama by three. At last, we'll get to see them face a worthy adversary.
"College football wants this game," said Meyer. "I've been hearing it for a long time, trying to ignore it, push it back, but now it's here."
If only we could draw up a similar crescendo for No. 3 Texas. The watered-down Big 12 has produced a championship matchup between the 12-0 Longhorns and 9-3 Nebraska. Texas has beaten just two ranked teams, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State; the Sooners finished 7-5, and just beat the Cowboys 27-0. Critics looking to poke holes at the 'Horns found ammunition in last week's 49-39 shootout at 6-6 Texas A&M, while conveniently ignoring the fact Texas never trailed after wiping out A&M's early 7-0 lead. When that's your team's equivalent of a "close call," you know you're doing something right.
This isn't 2007, when LSU won the national championship with two losses. There should be little doubt by day's end Saturday that we'll be watching two truly elite teams in Pasadena. The problem is, there could be as many as three similarly dominant teams left sitting on the sideline. While Florida and Alabama get to settle their half of the bracket on the field, TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati (should it beat Pittsburgh) must sit and root for Nebraska to beat Texas. Even then, two of them won't get a shot.
The computers will say they didn't play as rigorous a schedule as the SEC and Big 12 champs, but those same computers are told to disregard margin of victory. The closest any opponent came to the Horned Frogs over their last seven games was 27 points. Nevada brought an eight-game winning streak to Boise last Friday and fell behind 27-3 by early second quarter (the Broncos won 44-33). If not for a pair of futile last-second touchdowns by Connecticut and West Virginia, the Bearcats would have just one single-digit victory (28-20 over Fresno State) on their docket.
Consider, we stand just a week away from a potential Florida-Texas title matchup that many have been anticipating for 11 months, yet this year's annual round of BCS backlash figures to be the most feverish yet. There is, however, one tantalizing upside to such a top-heavy season: Whoever emerges from Saturday's SEC showdown will have to beat two straight undefeated teams to claim the crystal trophy.
The first 13 weeks have been fun, but these last two could be epic.
Heisman chase down to four
It was interesting to watch how the largely muddled Heisman race seemed to finally crystallize itself over the course of the holiday weekend. It began Thursday night with Colt McCoy's nationally televised masterpiece against Texas A&M, when the Texas star threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another 175 and a score. It marked the third time in four games McCoy has racked up 400-plus yards of total offense and all but assured he'll be returning to New York.
Then, on Friday afternoon, Alabama's Mark Ingram -- the frontrunner on most Heisman lists for the past several weeks -- suffered an unfortunately timed off day against Auburn, gaining just 30 yards on 16 carries. The fact that Nick Saban opted for freshman Trent Richardson to start the Tide's game-winning drive certainly didn't help Ingram's cause, nor did the apparent hip injury that shelved him the rest of the way.
On Saturday, Clemson's C.J. Spiller -- despite a kickoff return for a touchdown on the game's opening play -- saw his last remaining hopes go down the drain with an 18-yard rushing day in the Tigers' 34-17 loss to South Carolina. Florida's Tim Tebow, on the other hand, made the most of his three-hour CBS infomercial, shredding Florida State's jayvee-caliber defense for 311 total yards and five touchdowns.
And then, Stanford's Toby Gerhart closed out the weekend with another humongous night, rushing for 205 yards and three touchdowns and passing for another against Notre Dame. Once a dark horse candidate, Gerhart has the best claim of anyone right now. He leads the nation in rushing yards (1,736), and his 26 touchdowns eclipse the next-closest player by seven.
We could spend all day debating who should merit consideration come the Dec. 7 voting deadline -- Kellen Moore, Golden Tate and Ndamukong Suh chief among them. Realistically, there are only four remaining players who could hoist the statue: Gerhart, McCoy, Tebow and Ingram. Gerhart could be at a disadvantage because he doesn't play next weekend. Although, with the other three all facing elite defenses fully capable of silencing them, perhaps it will work out better for him in the end.
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