Penn State fallout; more mail (cont.)
I must have missed something while trying to watch that pathetic excuse of offensive football Saturday night. Yes, I'm talking about the LSU vs. Alabama game. Why is it that if it's No. 1 vs. No. 2, it's an epic defensive battle, but when Illinois and Penn State played the week before, with two very good defenses as well, it supposedly set offensive football back a century? Why are we being spoon fed this garbage as an epic battle of two super powers?
-- DC, Redondo Beach, Fla.
Look, I'm a Penn State fan. I know a lot about horrible offense, especially this season. LSU-Alabama was not clumsy, awkward Big Ten football. This was more Steelers-Ravens than OSU-Wisconsin. It could have gone either way and went down to the bitter end. Isn't that what we really want to see? The same was true of Kansas State-Oklahoma State as far as interest, but they just were incapable of playing defense.
-- Paul McChesney, Woodstock, Ga.
It wasn't the classic we'd hoped for, but if you can't appreciate the quality of defense played by both teams Saturday night, I'm sorry to say you really don't know much about football. How do we know this was different from Penn State-Illinois? Because we're nine games in at this point, and Penn State hasn't been able to score on anyone, good or bad. Going into Saturday night, Alabama and LSU were both averaging nearly 40 points per game, and while hardly fancy on offense, had been able to wear down every defense they'd faced -- until they ran into each other. The game was a defensive standstill ultimately decided by LSU's superior special teams. The one time Alabama nearly scored a touchdown, on Marquis Maze's Wildcat pass to Michael Williams, LSU's Eric Reid made a sensational play to rip the ball away. That's the defensive equivalent of Brandon Weeden throwing a perfectly placed touchdown to Justin Blackmon.
Of course both teams made mistakes. There were questionable coaching decisions, like Nick Saban not even trying to run the ball in overtime to set up a shorter field-goal attempt. Both teams' quarterbacks struggled. But over the years we've seen teams led by Matt Mauck, Craig Krenzel and Matt Flynn win BCS championships, while teams led by Heisman winners Chris Weinke, Jason White, Troy Smith and Sam Bradford got completely shut down. It might not be exciting, but dominant defenses trump high-flying offenses nine times out of 10.
I'm with Paul on this one.
Only a blind fool would believe either LSU or Oklahoma State could stop Andrew Luck. It would be a mismatch of historic proportion.
-- Owen, Crewe, UK
What do you say we find out how he does against Oregon first?
Stewart, does Alabama only dropping to No. 4 in the latest poll effectively mean that Boise State can forget about playing in the national championship for another year? It seems like Oklahoma State and Stanford would both have to lose and Alabama would have to lose AGAIN for them to get a shot.
-- Rob McDaniel, Greenville, Texas
Actually, it's quite the opposite. The LSU-Alabama field-goal fest and its ensuing backlash was just about the best thing that could have happened to Boise State's national championship hopes. It all but guaranteed there will be little appetite for a Tigers-Tide rematch in January. 'Bama may be ahead of Boise now, but there's nothing stopping the voters from changing their ballots come Dec. 3 -- something they've done several times before. And I think that's exactly what they'd do if Boise were the only viable alternative to a rematch. It's possible there'd be a big enough discrepancy in the computers that 'Bama would still finish ahead of the Broncos in the overall standings, but my guess is whichever team the majority of voters side with would finish No. 2.
Now, before angry Crimson Tide e-mailers firebomb my inbox, let me offer those people their own little ray of hope.
I looked at an online version of the SEC divisional tiebreakers, and my head hurts. How about a little professional help? To wit, if (and it's a big one, I know) the Arkansas Razorbacks can generate a three-way tie atop the SEC West by bumping off the LSU Tigers, who gets to go to the SEC Championship?
-- Clint Weldon, Austin, Texas
Remember in 2008 when Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech finished in a three-way tie in the Big 12 South, and the Sooners got the championship game spot over a team they'd lost to (Texas)? The SEC tiebreaker is designed to avoid just that.
It states that in a three-way tie with no other form of resolution, the team with the highest BCS ranking gets the invite to Atlanta -- UNLESS the No. 2 team is within five spots of the highest-ranked team, in which case it reverts to head-to-head between those two teams. Right now, LSU is No. 1, Alabama is No. 3 and Arkansas is No. 8, with either No. 3 Stanford or No. 7 Oregon, and No. 2 Oklahoma State or No. 6 Oklahoma State guaranteed to lose. It's very feasible, then, that if the Razorbacks were to upset No. 1 LSU, the Tigers would fall back behind Alabama, and Arkansas would either be the highest of the bunch, or in between the Tide and Tigers. Either way, Alabama and Arkansas would be the top two and within five spots of each other, which means the Tide would win the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Razorbacks and go to Atlanta.
Hey Stewart. In the BCS era, can you think of any other school that has played a tougher nonconference schedule than Tulsa? The Hurricane played current BCS No. 6 Oklahoma in Norman, No. 5 Boise State on the blue turf and No. 2 Oklahoma State in that weird weather delayed game that kicked off after midnight. Talk about brutal!!!
-- Luke, Edmond, Okla.
I absolutely cannot, though I open the floor to my army of researchers in the field (you guys) to submit evidence of a tougher one. Much credit to Tulsa for shaking off those early beatdowns (which they lost 47-14, 59-33 and 41-21, respectively) to start 5-0 in conference play.
Stewart, Will the Big East be able to keep its AQ status with adding Boise, SMU, Houston, UCF and whatever other school it can find? Even with this new alignment won't they still face the same problem that midlevel conferences face now that the strength of schedule is terrible compared to the other "big time" conferences?
-- Kris Andrews, Mililani, Hawaii
I don't believe so. As I wrote a little while back, the Big East's future won't be determined by BCS rankings or computer averages. It will be determined by marketplace interest. In light of the massive changes to conference membership over the past two years, the next BCS contract (which will be negotiated next year) could entail massive restructuring. The BCS could look completely different than the model we've grown accustomed to since 1998. There may not even be such a thing as "automatic qualifiers." But however it's structured, I just can't imagine that the proposed lineup the Big East is compiling will be enticing enough to bowls and television networks to warrant the same degree of access as the Big Ten, SEC, etc.
Case in point: Have you noticed that even at 9-0 and No. 11 in the polls, there hasn't been a whiff of interest in the Cougars from one of the major bowls? That's not a slight against Case Keenum or his teammates; it's just that fans aren't itching to watch an Alabama-Houston bowl game, just as the Orange Bowl must be cringing at the possibility of another Cincinnati-Virginia Tech showdown. So why would the BCS' next television partner (presumably ESPN) or its bowl partners want to lock themselves into an arrangement where they may be forced to take a Houston or Cincinnati every year, regardless of ranking? That doesn't mean ESPN wouldn't make an offer, or the Fiesta Bowl would pull out of the BCS, if presented with a contract that includes an automatic Big East berth. But they'll be likely to offer significantly more money if they know that 10th spot will go to a highly ranked team from a more prestigious conference.
I saw your BCS predictions with Wisconsin going to the Rose Bowl because you think both the Badgers and Ohio State will beat Penn State. That also means you are predicting Ohio State to lose one more game. Are you saying Michigan will end its misery against Ohio State this year?
-- Zach, Columbus, Ohio
Maybe. Or maybe I'm picking Purdue this week. The Buckeyes do have a one-game losing streak in West Lafayette. You'll just have to wait and find out.
Stewart, I read your column on Missouri being added to the SEC. While I agree with many of your "cultural fit" points, my question is who should they have gone after instead?
-- Mike, Marietta, Ga.
The question isn't "Who should the SEC have gone after?" It's "Why did the SEC need to expand in the first place?"
Mike Slive hasn't made many mistakes in his tenure, so I'm sure he has his reasons (money), but the SEC doesn't need 14 teams. Unlike the ACC or Big 12, it wasn't facing imminent danger. Unlike the Pac-12, it wasn't in desperate need of a kick-start heading into a television negotiation. Unlike the Big Ten, it didn't get to add one of the most prestigious programs in the sport. The SEC was in the ultimate position of power, yet overreacted to the threat of the Pac-12 adding Texas. On that threat alone, it felt it had to get into Texas and thus plucked Texas A&M, at which point it needed a 14th team. But there wasn't any obviously appealing option. Missouri was available, and here we are.
I should add I feel bad that I keep dogging on Missouri. I have nothing against that fine school. In fact I should be indebted to it. The only time my name has ever appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated came from covering the Tigers' moment of glory in 2007. I'm just disappointed the SEC went and messed with a perfectly good product, and I know a lot of its fans are, too.
Aren't you a Northwestern journalism graduate? Could that have something to do with your dislike of Missouri and given you a negative slant?
-- Mike Lawson, Springfield, Ohio
You know how vicious those J-school rivalries can be. The Iron Bowl's got nothing on us. I will go to my grave convinced that Missouri boosters paid for Dennis Dodd and Pat Forde.