Posted: Wednesday November 30, 2011 11:22AM ; Updated: Wednesday November 30, 2011 2:22PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Tide better team, but Cowboys may deserve title shot; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

When it comes to picking title teams, difference between 'best' and 'deserving'

There's no way to predict if Urban Meyer will experience burnout at Ohio State

Plus: Crowded Heisman field, worst coaching opening, bowl projections, more

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If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, Tracy Moore and the Cowboys will have beaten five Top 25 teams, including fellow BCS hopeful Kansas State.
If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, Tracy Moore and the Cowboys will have beaten five Top 25 teams, including fellow BCS hopeful Kansas State.
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI
The Mandel Initiative Podcast
Andy Staples joins the show to talk about Urban Meyer's move to Ohio State. Stewart and Mallory break down Oklahoma State's title-game chances and the thrilling Heisman race.


More Mandel Initiative | Find on

To properly follow along in this week's Mailbag, you'll need to first read my College Football Overtime column from Sunday, specifically the Alabama/Oklahoma State résumé comparison near the bottom of Page 1.

Ready? Let's go then.

Stewart, the BCS was designed to do one thing: Pit No. 1 against No. 2. Do you actually believe that Oklahoma State is the second-best team in the country or are you just against two teams from the same conference playing for the title? Why are you so against Alabama playing LSU in a rematch when the Tide's only loss is to No. 1 LSU by three points in overtime and not to an unranked Iowa State team?
-- Jay, Chelsea

Do you think that the BCS championship game should feature the two BEST teams or the two most DESERVING teams? I think most people would agree that Alabama would probably beat Oklahoma State in a head-to-head matchup. But, given your breakdown of Alabama and Oklahoma State's résumés, it seems like Oklahoma State would be more deserving (provided it beats Oklahoma).
-- John, Los Angeles

Like most, I believe Alabama is the second-best team in the country. But John hits on a key point I've been talking about for years: When it comes to the BCS, there IS a difference between best (purely subjective) and most deserving (more quantitative). In recent years the pollsters seemed to be moving more toward "most deserving" with their final ballots, like jumping Florida from No. 4 to No. 2 in 2006 and LSU from No. 7 to No. 2 in '07. The point of my column Sunday was not to advocate for one team over the other, but to express my frustration over the slew of columns I read last weekend declaring the season over and the title matchup decided when there's still a set of games remaining, including a very important one between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. How can we declare an outcome before the results are final?

That said, this is not a case of the NCAA selection committee sitting in a room discussing the respective merits of potential at-large candidates. It's a set of Coaches' and Harris Poll voters who, in theory, aren't actually picking the national championship matchup. They're voting in a weekly poll in which the last edition just happens to help set the title game. Obviously, they're aware of the consequence of their votes, which is precisely why there's so much 11th-hour shuffling on those final ballots. I do believe that if the Cowboys beat the Sooners impressively on national TV on the final night of the season to capture the Big 12 title (no certain thing when OU leads the series 81-17-7), we'll see some of that movement. But considering Oklahoma State currently trails Stanford and Virginia Tech in the polls in addition to Alabama, it would take a LOT of movement to close the gap entirely.

I understand why the polls stand where they do. We haven't seen Mike Gundy's team play since it lost at Iowa State. During the time since, Alabama routed Auburn and Stanford and Virginia Tech closed in impressive fashion. And I certainly understand the adulation for 'Bama, because I've been on that bandwagon all season. The Tide's defense is out of this world, one of the best this sport has seen in many years. One could say the same of Oklahoma State's lethal offense, but it's been my experience that a dominant defense trumps a dominant offense nine times out of 10. While the overwhelming majority of the public is anti-rematch, there's no rule against such a thing, and it's not the voters' responsibility to preclude one. By no means should they elevate any available team simply to avoid LSU-Alabama II.

But as I wrote Sunday, the numbers show there IS a valid alternative (provided Oklahoma State wins Saturday night), which one could easily argue fits the "more deserving" bill. It's not just that Alabama failed to win its conference. It's that none of those columns I read about the LSU-Alabama coronation bothered to note that the Crimson Tide have beaten just three -- repeat, three -- teams with winning records. Meanwhile, if Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, it will be an 11-1 major-conference champ that beat five current BCS Top 25 teams (compared to Alabama's two) yet is being automatically dismissed. Of course, 'Bama did not lose to 6-5 Iowa State. Its sole defeat was against the consensus No. 1 team. To many, the Cowboys' loss is a deal-breaker, and understandably so. But if you evaluate the teams' complete bodies of work over 12 games rather than one, it's pretty eye-opening.

I'm not ready to say Oklahoma State should be in the game instead of Alabama. For one, it still has to play its toughest foe of the season this weekend and could well lose by three touchdowns. For another, instinct tells me Alabama is the better team. Of the LSU-Oklahoma State possibility, I've heard people say, "Why would you even want that? It would be a 25-point blowout." They might be right. But if the Cowboys win Saturday, they may have done more to earn the opportunity to prove us wrong than 'Bama has done to earn the chance to try again.

It's my understanding that you can't have three teams from the same conference qualify for the BCS bowls. If Georgia beats LSU, thus qualifying for the Sugar Bowl, can LSU still play Alabama in the national championship game if they are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 after the SEC championship game?
-- Ross Freeman, New York

The scenario Ross describes is the only way in which three teams from the same conference can earn BCS bids, because the SEC champion is guaranteed that Sugar Bowl berth AND the No. 1 and 2 teams play in the title game no matter what. I'm not sure the founders ever envisioned it becoming an issue.

Am I the only Buckeye fan who is a little on the fence about the Urban Meyer hire? I'm worried about his long-term prospects. One of the things that we (the fans) got used to with Tressel was the fact that we always knew he wasn't going anywhere (insert NCAA infraction joke here). With Meyer, I don't get the same feeling, whether due to health or maybe some other job interests him in three or five years. I will have a hard time enjoying the 10-2 or 11-1 years again with the feeling that it could all be over in a blink of an eye. Maybe I should stop worrying and just enjoy the ride.
-- Chris B, Hamilton, Va.

I don't blame you for worrying. We're dealing with a very unusual situation here, where a potential Hall of Fame coach in the prime of his career suddenly walked away from one of the top programs in the country -- not for another coaching job, but because of apparent burnout. Health issues initially played a part, but seem to be resolved. While I don't think you have to worry about Meyer leaving for another job, who can say whether he'll go through the same issues three years from now, five years from now, etc.

I will say, I'm a little sensitive to Meyer's situation. Some of you may recall I took a brief sabbatical from SI.com a couple of years ago. I was only gone five months, but just having the opportunity to step away from the only way of life I'd known for more than a decade made me realize how much I loved it and missed it. (I remember attending the Big East tournament in the upper deck and looking down at my colleagues on press row with envy.) I came back reinvigorated and full of new ideas, and I'm guessing Meyer will do the same. The guy's a coach. It would be naïve to think he was going to spend the next 10 years in a broadcast booth or attending little league games. That doesn't guarantee he'll remain with the Buckeyes for the next 10 years, but I don't think you could say that about any coach in the country right now, either.

 
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