Rash of undefeated teams could cause BCS crisis; more Mailbag
Plus-one movement would get boost from several teams finishing undefeated
Oklahoma silenced the Alabama/LSU supremacy talk with dominant effort
Plus: Boise's big problem, Penn State's dilemma, taunting fallout and more
|The Mandel Initiative|
|Stewart and Mallory predict which undefeated team will lose next. Oregon beat writer Lindsay Schnell discusses the affects of LaMichael James' injury.|
Every year, people start freaking out about the possibility of some end-of-season BCS nightmare pretty much as soon as the games begin. My response is usually the same: Get back to me in early November.
Based on what we've seen so far this season, however, I'm making an exception. You have every right to start panicking/salivating about an excess of undefeated teams -- because I am, too.
We all know how much you loathe the hypothetical "what if..." type questions early in the season. But each week seems to reinforce the fact that there is a distinct separation between four teams and their remaining opponents. History says it won't happen, but right now there is a strong possibility we'll see Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Alabama/LSU all being undefeated at season's end. Your thoughts?
-- Andrew Zucker, Sandusky, Ohio
I don't think it is unreasonable to think either Alabama or LSU, either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, Wisconsin (or Michigan?), and Clemson can all finish the season undefeated. Maybe Stanford, too. Are we potentially looking at 2004 all over again? I can't picture any of those teams being unworthy to contend for the national championship if they finish the season undefeated. If 2004 couldn't change the BCS to a plus-one or other system, could 2011?
-- Joshua, Anchorage, Alaska
This is as top-heavy a season as I can remember. Oklahoma, LSU and Alabama are probably the most talented and complete teams we've seen since Florida's 2008 title team. That doesn't mean they're immune to upsets, especially if they suffer injuries between now and season's end. But as of today, it's a safe bet that either or both the Nov. 5 LSU-Alabama winner and the Dec. 3 Oklahoma-Oklahoma State winner will finish undefeated.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is quite clearly the class of the Big Ten, even with two other undefeated teams (Michigan and Illinois) in its conference. Andrew Luck is such a machine that Stanford is realistically looking at a two-game season (Nov. 12 vs. Oregon and Nov. 26 vs. Notre Dame). And we know Boise State will be in the mix, too. I'm not yet ready to go to the bank on Clemson going 13-0, mainly because the ACC is proving to be much deeper than I expected, so I'll leave the Tigers out of this discussion for now.
We had one season like this before, when five teams finished undefeated in 2009, but there was a pretty clear separation in perception between Alabama/Texas and Cincinnati/TCU/Boise State. The Oklahoma/USC/Auburn situation in '04 was far more controversial because there was a perfectly valid argument that the SEC champion Tigers were every bit as deserving, if not more so, than the Sooners and Trojans. If a similar scenario unfolds this season, I don't think there will be much debate over the two most worthy teams. The SEC and Big 12 champs will have completed far more rigorous schedules than Wisconsin, Stanford or Boise State. But two undefeated major-conference teams getting left out would cause the biggest BCS firestorm to date.
To this point, no individual season has caused any real impetus for major BCS change. The political and financial motives behind the BCS generally trump the on-field results. However, if you're among the many rooting for change, the above scenario is pretty much your dream come true. The two leagues that have been most adamantly opposed to a plus-one are the Big Ten and Pac-12. So imagine if both leagues' champions (in this scenario, Wisconsin and Stanford) got jilted -- after winning the conference championship games their leagues implemented in part to avoid this very scenario, no less. Admittedly, it would make for one heck of a Rose Bowl, which would very much please Jim Delany; but here's guessing Larry Scott would not take the slight lightly, especially if a plus-one would have given both teams a chance. Remember, there was already the first hint of a changing sentiment in those conferences following their joint ADs meeting this summer.
And now that I've pushed aside 12 years of reasoned caution on all things BCS, here's guessing one of the aforementioned teams gets upset this weekend.
Will the lack of success Utah has had so far in the Pac 12 and TCU's two losses so far have an indirect effect on Boise State's championship aspirations? The two (one former and one soon-to-be-former) recent mid-majors most often in the same conversation as BSU are struggling playing major competition. Do you think voters see this and assume the same would happen to BSU if it played decent teams every week?
-- Craig, Charlotte, N.C.
Obviously, TCU's losses have a direct impact on Boise because they devalue what was supposed to be the Broncos' biggest conference game. The Horned Frogs are no longer ranked and might not be come Nov. 12. As for the "guilt by association" thing: Call me naive, but I think we're past that at this point. Save for a few loons here and there, most college football fans and voters generally recognize at this point that Boise can play with anyone. They've even come to acknowledge that there's more to the Broncos than Kellen Moore. The Broncos currently have the No. 1-ranked defense in Football Outsiders' schedule-adjusted efficiency ratings, right ahead of Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma.
Boise's problem is the same as always: schedule. It doesn't play nearly the same quality opponents as the teams ranked above it, which means it needs all the teams above it to lose. As I just wrote, I don't see that happening this year. The fact that there could be so many undefeated major-conference teams bears far more relevance to the Broncos' national title hopes than does Utah's inability to hold on to the ball.
Hey Stewart, I know Oklahoma killed Texas, but I don't think this game radically told us about how good OU really is, unlike say the 2000 Red River Shootout. Your opinion?
-- Sam, Chapel Hill, N.C.
I assume you're insinuating that this year's Texas team is not on the same level as the teams OU crushed in 2000 (63-14) and 2003 (65-13), en route to the BCS title game. I wouldn't dispute that. Still, this was exactly what the Sooners needed to quiet the Alabama-LSU talk for a week. It was a complete performance by a veteran team that knows exactly what it needs to do in every situation.
At this point, we're basically numb to the exploits of Landry Jones and his receivers. For me, the takeaway was how elite this Oklahoma defense is -- easily its best since at least '03. Young Texas quarterbacks or not, notching eight sacks and three defensive touchdowns is quite a feat. From Travis Lewis to Ronnell Lewis to Frank Alexander to Jamell Fleming, that defense is loaded with playmakers. Combine OU's clinic against its archrival on a neutral field with its gutty 23-13 win in an incredibly hostile atmosphere in Tallahassee and it's hard to dispute this team is championship material.
But if Oklahoma and Alabama met on a neutral field today, the Tide would still be my pick.
Welcome to the West Coast -- although moving from New York to Santa Clara will be a bit of a culture shock. Don't let anyone tell you any different: You live in the suburbs now. Also just a warning, if you thought Cal fans felt you were biased against them before, just write a few columns about how great Stanford is and how happy you are to be able to cover them more now that you live in Santa Clara.
-- Bill, Oakland, Calif.
Thanks for the welcome. To be honest, it's hard to believe I still lived in New York just a week ago. My wife and I have fully immersed ourselves in suburban living. We drive our Prius to the supermarket and actually buy more groceries than we can carry. We have two -- two! -- bathrooms. And I'm writing this column from a Starbucks, where I actually had my choice of open tables. I've been sitting here for two hours and have yet to see a homeless guy use the bathroom. It really is a different world.
As for football ... I'm really looking forward to covering more Stanford games now that I live 20 minutes from its stadium. I think the Cardinal are really great.