Unbeaten Louisville still searching for national respect; more Mailbag
Louisville deserves credit for its 9-0 start, but it has played lackluster competition
Texas A&M's offense could test 'Bama, but Aggies don't have the talent of Oregon
Plus: Bowl scenarios, Miami's postseason predicament, Jeff Tedford's woes, more
|The Mandel Initiative Podcast|
|The Heisman Pundit, Chris Huston, discusses the state of the race with four weeks to go. Stewart and Mallory assess the title contenders and answer listener mail.|
Much (electronic) ink has been spilled here already about Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame, and there's likely much more to come in the weeks ahead. But did you know there's another undefeated team out there that's technically eligible for the BCS championship? Really? Tell me more.
I have a question about (wait for it) the Louisville Cardinals. They've got a good chance of finishing undefeated, as long as they end up beating one-loss Rutgers. In the past, when a Big East team went undefeated, they'd at least be near the discussion for a national championship. This year, however, Louisville is not on the radar at all. Does the conference's current perceived strength have to do with an impending exodus of Big East teams that hasn't happened yet?
-- Billy, Montreal, Quebec
It's true, Louisville (9-0) has gained absolutely no traction in the national championship conversation, starting the season No. 25 in the AP Poll and, over the course of 10 weeks, moving up just 14 spots to No. 11. The Cardinals sit at ninth in the BCS standings, behind the SEC bloc of Georgia (8-1), Florida (8-1), LSU (7-2) and South Carolina (7-2). Meanwhile, at this same juncture in 2009, Big East peer Cincinnati, unranked in the preseason, was 9-0 and fifth in the BCS, behind only other undefeated teams (and ahead of one, Boise State). And back in 2006, Louisville rose as high as No. 3 when it started 8-0 before losing to unbeaten Rutgers, which rose to No. 6 following the victory.
So it would seem Louisville is being treated as a mid-major, which gives credence to Billy's theory. While the Big East is still an AQ conference as of now, it's been drilled into our brains since the playoff discussions last spring and summer that the league will no longer be considered one of the Big Six going forward. Is Louisville being preemptively punished as such? Perhaps. Clearly, the Big East has lost a lot of luster not just since its Ray Rice-Pat White-Brian Brohm glory days, but also over the last three years, since Brian Kelly's Bearcats came within a last-second Texas field goal of possibly playing for the national championship.
In reality, the voters are actually being kind to Louisville, given its schedule. The Cardinals have two wins of any note, over 6-3 North Carolina and 6-2 Cincinnati. The rest of their schedule has consisted of 1-9 Kentucky, 3-7 Missouri State, 2-8 FIU, 0-9 Southern Miss, 4-5 Pittsburgh, 3-6 USF and 3-5 Temple. Their cumulative opponents' record is a putrid 28-56, and it's not as if Louisville has dominated that slate, either. Five games have been decided by one score. As a result, Jeff Sagarin's ratings (the ones that include margin of victory) rank Louisville all the way down at 44th.
Essentially, Louisville has gone the entire season without playing the kind of "wow" game that causes voters to take notice, and the Cardinals aren't helped by the fact that their two best Big East foes, Cincinnati (against Toledo) and Rutgers (against Kent State), both lost to MAC opponents. All due credit to Charlie Strong, Teddy Bridgewater and Co., but their résumé is no better than Hawaii's was in 2007. The Big East tag isn't hurting the Cardinals; it's giving them a shred of legitimacy. But they could at least lay the groundwork for a serious run next season if they reach and win a BCS bowl.
Stewart, do you think this week's matchup between Alabama and Texas A&M could give us an idea of what an Alabama vs. Oregon title game would look like? Obviously, Oregon is the standard bearer for hurry-up offenses and has even better athletes than A&M, but both feature a dynamic running quarterback, very good starting running backs and receivers who can gain yards after the catch. Your thoughts?
-- Corey, Waverly, Iowa
This weekend's game might offer some clues as to how Alabama defends a running quarterback and deals with tempo, but you can't use it as a true barometer for how the Tide would defend Oregon. That's for one simple reason: The Ducks are a much better team than A&M. Even if you give the nod at quarterback to Johnny Manziel over Marcus Mariota, which is a tough call unto itself, the Ducks have better running backs, better receivers, better tight ends and a better overall offensive line (though the Aggies have two tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, with better NFL prospects than any individual Oregon offensive lineman).
One thing that's really jumped out at me after covering two Oregon games this year: Chip Kelly's offense has gotten bigger and more physical up front over the last two years. The scheme and the tempo that served as equalizers earlier in Kelly's tenure are almost ancillary to the Ducks' talent now. Case in point: According to ESPN Stats and Info, Barner gained 261 of his 321 yards against USC before contact. That's insane. Oregon just kept running the same stretch play, and both the Ducks' linemen and their receivers kept sealing the end. Texas A&M hasn't reached that level of dominance yet, as evidenced by its Florida and LSU games, though Manziel and his teammates execute that offense well and create opportunities in open space, much like Oregon does. Ultimately, however, talent is tougher to account for than scheme. Alabama probably still has more of it than Oregon, but it's not the discrepancy it used to be.
Since neither A&M or Texas is going to a BCS bowl and both have possible nine-win seasons looming, isn't it likely that the Cotton Bowl would seriously consider keeping the rivalry alive and match up Texas and A&M? If they brought that rivalry, thought to be dead, to Dallas Jan. 4, they could put 100,000 people in Cowboys Stadium. Since you don't have that in your bowl projections, what do you think would keep it from happening?
-- Matt McClearin, Dallas
I got that question far more than any other in response to Monday's projections. And it's definitely a possibility, and one that could bring more attention to that game than any non-BCS bowl in recent memory. But a few things have to happen. For one, Oklahoma either needs to get pulled up to the BCS or finish with the same record as the Longhorns. Passing up a 10-2 Oklahoma team for a 9-3 Texas team that the Sooners beat 63-21 would not be well received in Big 12 country. Similarly, the Aggies certainly need to finish at least 9-3 (which seems likely) given there could be multiple 10-win SEC teams available, most notably LSU.
But ultimately, the deciding factor may be exactly the same one that ended the rivalry in the first place: spite. These teams will face each other eventually, especially with the forthcoming SEC-Big 12 Sugar Bowl deal announced Tuesday, but this year may be too soon. There's still a lot of bad blood. While it's technically the bowl's call, it's not going to do anything to alienate one of its most important partners, and my guess is DeLoss Dodds and Co. want no part of such a matchup if it can be avoided. I could be wrong. Maybe they'll welcome it. But keep in mind, the matchup doesn't affect the schools' financial windfall either way. They get a set payout. It's the bowl that wants to sell as many tickets as possible, and while I think LSU-Texas would sell out Jerry World, A&M-Texas would sell out in about 47 seconds.
Army beats Air Force for the first time in seven years and it doesn't even get a mention in College Football Overtime? You are covering COLLEGE football right? How about a little coverage to the small guys when something BIG happens?!
-- Paul, Atlanta
Yep, I dropped the ball there. The service academies have gotten several mentions this year (including Navy's win over Air Force Oct. 6), so of course the Black Knights deserve a shout-out. And I'm sure no one was happier about Army's milestone than SI associate editor and West Point alum Mark Beech.
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