With few upsets, BCS title race lacking usual excitement
As top teams continue to roll, a nation clamors for some upsets, a little chaos
Showdowns between Alabama-LSU, Oklahoma-Oklahoma St. may decide season
Plus: S. Carolina's misfortune, two sensational freshmen, Missouri's makeup, more
College football fans didn't need Sunday night's BCS standings announcement to tell them how the national title race is taking shape. What they really need is something interesting to happen on the field.
Saturday was yet another uneventful day at the top of the rankings as the top nine teams in last week's AP poll won by an average margin of 30.5 points (No. 10 Arkansas didn't play). Only No. 8 Clemson (7-0), which rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Maryland 56-45, was in danger of losing in the fourth quarter. It looked more like a Saturday in early September, when the big boys are feasting on FCS and directional schools, than mid-October, the heart of conference play.
But it's been this way throughout an unusually upset-free season. Exactly halfway through a 14-week season, eight of the top 10 teams in the preseason coaches poll are still there, seven of them still undefeated. Contrast that to a year ago, when the No. 1 team in the polls lost on three consecutive October weekends.
The closest thing to upheaval Saturday was Virginia's 24-21 upset of No. 12 Georgia Tech. It barely moved the needle. The Yellow Jackets were one of three undefeated teams, along with No. 11 Michigan (vs. No. 23 Michigan State) and No. 16 Illinois (against Ohio State), to go down. All that did was confirm just how much separation there is at the top.
Right now it seems the nation is in a holding pattern, biding time until the Nov. 5 showdown between BCS No. 1 LSU (7-0) and No. 2 Alabama (7-0). In fact the season could have an unofficial plus-one bracket if No. 3 Oklahoma (6-0) and No. 4 Oklahoma State (6-0) manage to run the table all the way to the Dec. 3 Bedlam game.
Even one of the participants acknowledges the hierarchy.
"In my opinion, there are three teams in the country [Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma] that are really, really good," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after his team's 38-26 win at Texas. "And then there are six or seven others who could probably win on any given field on any given day if they took care of the football and didn't give up big plays."
Some of the teams in Gundy's second category might take exception to their classification. Like, say, BCS No. 5 Boise State (6-0), which drubbed Colorado State 63-13 on Saturday, marking its second straight road win by at least 50 points. Or No. 6 Wisconsin (6-0), which routed Indiana 59-7 (a year after beating the Hoosiers 83-20) and has now won all six of its games by at least 31 points. Or No. 8 Stanford (6-0), which, with a 44-14 win at Washington State, has now won 14 straight dating to last season, the past nine by at least 25 points.
The problem is, those teams have played few, if any, marquee opponents and won't have many opportunities going forward due to the lack of depth in their respective conferences. Hence, they must wait and hope one of the SEC or Oklahoma schools goes down.
But they're not the only ones that could use an upset or two. It goes for the rest of us, too.
College football is always more fun when there's week-to-week upheaval. Looking at the schedules of the aforementioned teams, it's hard to find many realistic possibilities, but then, there were also 10 undefeated teams this week a year ago, a list that eventually whittled down to three.
Russell Wilson and the Badgers face a legitimate road test Saturday at BCS No. 16 Michigan State, the only team to beat Wisconsin in the 2010 regular season. The Spartans' second-ranked defense is the real deal, notching seven sacks in their 28-14 win over Michigan and holding Denard Robinson to 159 total yards. As SI.com's Andy Staples wrote from East Lansing, the Spartans toe the line between aggressive and unsportsmanlike, which makes for a nasty defense but could also cost Michigan State big time this week if the Big Ten suspends star defensive end William Gholston for his antics against the Wolverines.
Michigan State may be the rare defense capable of slowing down both Wilson and Wisconsin's rushing attack. But if the Badgers roll over Sparty like they have everyone else, it's hard to believe Ohio State or Penn State will have much better luck.
Much like Wisconsin, Andrew Luck and Stanford keep methodically pummeling people with a physical, balanced attack, but none of the Cardinal's six victims to date currently boast a winning record. That changes this week when BCS No. 25 Washington (5-1) comes to Palo Alto, though the Huskies' mediocre defense will be hard-pressed to slow down Luck. Stanford's season will likely come down to two big games, Nov. 12 against No. 10 Oregon (5-1) and Nov. 26 against Notre Dame (4-2).
Gundy's professed Big Three all have more quality wins to date and more big games ahead before their really big games. While LSU is indisputably better than Auburn (5-2) this year, it can't afford to sleepwalk through next week's game in Baton Rouge. Alabama visits its nemesis for an Iron Bowl revenge date on Nov. 26. And Oklahoma may face another undefeated team in two weeks when it visits upstart Kansas State (6-0).
The first half of the season was severely lacking in sizzle. Either the upsets start sprouting and make this thing more interesting, or we all sit back and wait for Nov. 5 and Dec. 3.
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