In a season of chaos, it's time to put our trust in the steady hand
We need to accept the reality that Boise State may be the most flawless team
Oklahoma, Oregon, Auburn could all lose due to the lack of an elite defense
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So ... it's going to be that kind of season, is it?
Two consecutive weeks, the No. 1 team goes down. The team that beat No. 1 last week (South Carolina) goes and loses at Kentucky. The team that two weeks ago fell out of the Top 25 for the first time in a decade (Texas) goes and beats the No. 5 team (Nebraska). It's beginning to feel a whole lot like 2007.
The initial BCS standings released Sunday had Oklahoma No. 1, Oregon No. 2. As I wrote last week even before their 52-0 rout of Iowa State, the 6-0 Sooners are a perfectly deserving No. 1 team based solely on résumé to date. They'll further add to that résumé if they win at 6-0 Missouri on Saturday.
But do you really trust Oklahoma to run the table? I don't, for much the same reason I don't trust Oregon or No. 4 Auburn: the lack of an elite defense. As riveting as it was to watch the Ducks storm back to beat Stanford 52-31 and the Tigers put away Arkansas 65-43, national-championship teams don't give up 28 points per game in conference play like Oregon, or let Arkansas' backup quarterback complete 15 of his first 17 passes like Auburn. (I'm not writing off Oklahoma yet, but the Sooners rank 72nd in total defense.)
As Texas reminded us so vividly Saturday against the previously splashy Huskers, even the most dangerous offense can be tempered by a dominant defense. Thus, amid this budding season of chaos, it may be time to start embracing the steady hand. And as much as fans of the bluebloods refuse to hear it, the BCS' current No. 3 team, Boise State, may actually be worthy of No. 1.
Now, now. Stop cursing. Take your fingers out of your ears. And put aside for a second the Boise State schedule-strength argument, because nobody's disputing it. No, the Broncos probably wouldn't go undefeated if they had to play Alabama's schedule, or Oregon's schedule, or Oklahoma's schedule -- but guess what? Neither will those teams. And unlike those teams, Boise's defense is the most dominant in the country. Literally. The Broncos are No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 in rushing defense and No. 1 in pass-efficiency defense.
If the teams played today, there's very little chance Oregon -- the No. 1 team in both major polls, mind you -- would put up 42 points against the Broncos. Last year it scored eight, and while the Ducks are far more explosive today than they were back then, Ryan Winterswyk, Billy Winn and the rest of the Boise defense certainly haven't gotten worse.
If Boise State faced Auburn tomorrow, Cameron Newton might well run for a whole bunch of yards. He's done so against every team he's faced. But if Tyler Wilson (who?) can throw for 332 yards on the Tigers, what ungodly numbers would Kellen Moore put up? Auburn is currently the highest-ranked team in the SEC -- and yet, if they played, I would consider Boise State the favorite.
Of course, nobody south of the Mason-Dixon Line remotely agrees with what I just wrote. Heck, few people outside of Boise yet believe it. The only thing they can agree on is that the Broncos "haven't beaten anybody," what with their two most high-profile victims to date, Virginia Tech and Oregon State, barely hovering around the bottom of the Top 25. (The Hokies re-entered this week, the Beavers fell out.) The rest of their opponents, of course, are "garbage."
But Boise's done to those opponents exactly what a championship-caliber team should do: beaten them 51-6 (Wyoming), 59-0 (New Mexico State), 57-14 (Toledo) and 48-0 (San Jose State). TCU has been similarly consistent, yet for whatever reason isn't garnering the same respect. Certainly last year's head-to-head Fiesta Bowl result is playing a factor.
All along, we've assumed Boise's chances of reaching (and staying) No. 2 were minimal, in part because the computers would kill the Broncos' schedule (and indeed, computers, not polls, are the reason Oklahoma sits higher than Boise today) and in part because the big boys would eventually pass the Broncos.
But what happens if the big boys keep losing? What happens if the SEC produces a two-loss champion? What happens if Oklahoma and Oregon fall late in the season? Ultimately, the polls carry the biggest weight in the standings, and at some point there might not be teams left to move ahead of the Broncos.
Boise's best hope is actually for those teams to lose sooner than later, forcing the pollsters to move the Broncos to No. 1. As long as they're No. 2 or lower, they'll always be ripe to be passed, especially as their computer scores continue to deteriorate.
But No. 1 is another story. Voters aren't prone to dropping No. 1 teams without a good reason. As the weeks go by, as the carnage piles up elsewhere, they may have no choice but to embrace the reality that maybe, just maybe, a team with an All-America quarterback, two NFL receivers and a consistently dominant defense may well be the most flawless in the country.
Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday: Daniela Pestova 2003
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