Impact of reputation on polls; more mail (cont.)
As you have made clear, you fully expect that Oregon will fall to a minimum of one of its conference foes. In your opinion, which of Oregon's remaining foes should it be most concerned about?
-- John Dillon, Gilde, Oregon
When the conference's eighth- or ninth-best team, UCLA, is capable of beating Texas, the short answer is: It could happen any week. (Though I don't give the short-handed Bruins much of a chance Thursday night in Eugene.) From a pure X's and O's standpoint, the most worrisome foe is Arizona. The Wildcats are one of the few teams with the defensive speed to contain LaMichael James and Co., while their controlled passing game can give any opponent fits. As you may recall, last year's game between the two was a double-overtime thriller that Arizona very nearly won in regulation. But the fact that this year's game is at Autzen Stadium may negate the upset possibility.
Strange as it may sound, Oregon's most worrisome game may be Oct. 30 at USC. To be clear, the Ducks are the better team, but it will basically be USC's Super Bowl. With no championship or bowl aspirations of their own, the Trojans' greatest possible achievement this year would be to avenge last year's blowout in Eugene and crush Oregon's national-title hopes. I realize I may be wrong about all of this. It may be that the Ducks are just that much better than the rest of the Pac-10. Remember, I'm the guy who told you back in April to forget about Jeremiah Masoli because Oregon was still very much the team to beat. I just think the league is too deep to run the table.
Hi Stewart, I'm curious (truly, no edge here) about whether you were writing in 2004 about the importance of defense for championship hopefuls. Did you believe, as all Auburn fans did, that an Oklahoma team that was giving up 35 to Okie St. and Texas A&M had no chance against an offense as good as USC or Auburn?
-- John Barrow, Pittsburgh
As a matter of fact: I did (though not quite as emphatically).
After watching the Texas-Nebraska game, I was struck by how fluid Texas' playcalling was. But, of course, they were mostly running the good ol' spread that has brought UT so much success this past decade. Where does Greg Davis rank among offensive gurus? I rarely see him mentioned as an innovator of the spread, or zone-read, and yet it seems that he has provided two of the best expressions of those sorts of offenses with Vince Young and Colt McCoy and Co. I ask mostly out of curiosity because most Longhorns fans would rather grumble than praise him (myself included).
-- Greg, Brooklyn
It's pretty baffling. I actually spoke on a panel at a Texas alumni event in New York right before the season, and as soon as I said the words "Greg Davis," people started booing. Are you kidding me? Are first impressions that hard to change? Davis was an understandable scapegoat when Chris Simms failed to live up to the hype and Oklahoma kept beating the 'Horns -- but that was eight years ago. Since that time, Texas has produced two of the most dominant quarterbacks in history -- two completely different players, mind you -- which wouldn't have happened without Davis. I don't necessarily consider him a "guru," because most of the spread and zone-read elements he employed were imported from elsewhere, but he did an excellent job of molding his offense to those players' strengths and keeping opponents off-balance with his play-calling.
Obviously, this year got off to a rough start, in part because the 'Horns got away from what they did so well the past eight years. But I had a feeling Davis would use the bye week and come back with some wrinkle against Nebraska, and he did. Using Garrett Gilbert as a runner clearly caught the Huskers off guard at the outset, and it brought back many of those same delayed draws and misdirection plays that worked so well with Young and McCoy. Now, having said that, Gilbert and the offense didn't do a whole lot in the second half, and this is by no means an explosive unit. Much like Florida, Texas inexplicably lacks firepower at the skill positions right now. But we began to see a new identity take hold in Lincoln, and I'm not surprised, because Mack Brown's teams often gain steam after the Oklahoma game. Guess who plays a big role in that?
Your suggested four-way tie at the top of the Big Ten is impossible, since Iowa still plays both Wisconsin and Ohio State. After those two games, at least one of those three teams will have two Big Ten losses.
-- Keith Williams, Chicago
I never said it had to be those particular teams. Where's your respect for 2-0 Purdue?
(Just kidding. You're right. I goofed.)
Hey Stewart. I am a big proponent of a playoff. I am trying to figure out the impact of Boise State possibly being in a national-title game. If they make it, I am afraid that the BCS people will say "Look, see, even Boise can get in the national title game, so there is no more crying needed about a playoff." Yet I could see the presidents of a one-loss Oregon or Alabama or Ohio State screaming about a Boise or TCU getting in and crying out to their fellow BCS colleagues that a playoff is needed. If Boise or TCU makes it in, which of these two sentiments do you think is more likely to be voiced?
-- Bryce S., Orting, Wash.
The former. Over the years, lots of coaches, ADs and presidents from lots of "snubbed" teams have cried out to their fellow colleagues, and all it's resulted in is more and more extensions of the current system. In fact, a Boise State or TCU appearance would help take the political heat off the BCS honchos, who could turn around and say, "Look, we told you, the system is perfectly fair." As I wrote on Twitter, every year, people try to dream up the most chaotic scenario possible in the hopes of blowing up the BCS. Folks, we've had 12 years of every mind-numbing scenario imaginable, from Nebraska (2001) and Oklahoma (2003) getting in despite blowout losses the week before, to Miami (2000) and Texas (2008) getting edged out by teams they beat on the field, to USC/Oklahoma/Auburn in '04 to the jumble of two-loss teams in '07, and none have caused any significant change besides tweaking the formula and adding a fifth BCS game.
The only "scenario" that will motivate presidents and commissioners to mess with the current system is if you, the fans, stop caring about college football -- and obviously that hasn't happened. Now, if TCU and Boise State BOTH made the game? The TV ratings might just be so embarrassingly low that ESPN would step in and demand a change. But for the same reasons that matchup would be so unappealing to fans, voters -- who themselves are fans at heart -- aren't going to let it happen. Jerry Palm says there's only a 10 percent chance Boise even makes it, so I don't know why we're even pondering either possibility.
Except, of course, for the fact that it's a 100-percent possibility in my world.
Do you know how a Big East fan can send a "Get Well Soon" card to Eric LeGrand? Last year's tragedy at UConn, and now this nightmare at Rutgers ... regardless of our intense rivalries on the field, we are all brothers in life.
-- WVU California Bear, Palm Springs, Calif.
Rutgers fans, West Virginia fans and any other fans who read the awful news of LeGrand's paralysis can send him get-well wishes here.
We all love watching football, but with it comes the scary reality that all those 18- to 23-year-olds who provide us our Saturday entertainment are forever a play away from a potentially life-changing injury.
Get well, Eric. Our thoughts are with you.