More Overtime (cont.)
I'll try not to let this turn into another conference realignment rant. But it's going to be tough.
On Saturday, now No. 4 Florida completed a surprising 11-1 regular season by running past archrival Florida State (10-2), 37-26. In doing so, the Gators achieved their fourth win this season against a current BCS top-15 team (No. 7 LSU, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina and No. 13 FSU), and their sole loss was to No. 3 Georgia. I've been a huge Gators skeptic all season (as Florida fans rightly remind me), which can happen when a team needs a last-second punt block to survive Louisiana-Lafayette. Still, you can't argue with that résumé.
In fact, Will Muschamp's team had the best season in the 2012 SEC. That may sound strange, seeing as Florida is not even playing for the conference title, but it's true. Welcome to the world of bloated 14-team conferences and unbalanced schedules.
In this year's top-heavy SEC, six teams (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, A&M and South Carolina) went a combined 30-0 against the other eight squads. Florida, which happened to draw a particularly tough schedule, went 3-1 against the other five heavyweights (not to mention its nonconference win over Florida State), whereas title-game combatants Alabama and Georgia each went 1-1. The Bulldogs beat the Gators straight up to earn their trip to Atlanta, but they didn't exactly play an even slate the rest of the way. This will change once the Dawgs and Tide face each other next week, but as of today, the SEC team most deserving of facing Notre Dame is Florida.
And they want to make these conferences even bigger?
Meanwhile, as much as I'd love to blame realignment for this week's otherwise sorry slate of conference championship games -- Florida State vs. 6-6 Georgia Tech (ACC), 10-2 Nebraska vs. 7-5 Wisconsin (Big Ten) -- the truth is, various teams' NCAA sanctions made those duds possible. Even the Pac-12 title game seems like a bit of a letdown with its highest-ranked team, No. 5 Oregon, sitting at home, but No. 8 Stanford earned the North crown by beating the Ducks. It's hard to say the same of South champ UCLA (9-3), which will have lost to the Cardinal six days earlier.
The one saving grace in all of this: The upcoming four-team playoff. As much as people groused this offseason about rectifying Alabama's winning the national title last season without winning its division, this year has offered a much more telling example why division or even conference titles are no longer a definitive case as to which was a league's best team. In 2014, Florida -- and possibly Oregon -- would get their shot.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Rose: Nebraska vs. Stanford
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Oregon
Sugar: Florida vs. Oklahoma
Orange: Florida State vs. Rutgers
At this point, you can safely pencil in Notre Dame, Oregon and Florida (which is guaranteed the SEC's second berth by finishing in the top four). The Fiesta will snatch up the 11-1 Ducks with the first at-large choice. Both spots in the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl's ACC spot are obviously dependent on conference championship game results, while Kansas State needs to beat Texas to secure its Fiesta Bowl berth, unless Oklahoma loses to TCU.
The Big East race got a lot more complicated after Rutgers (against Pittsburgh) and Louisville (against UConn) both slipped up this weekend. Rutgers still gets the nod if it beats the Cardinals on Thursday, but a Louisville win creates a potential four-way tie at the top with Cincinnati and Syracuse.
Finally, there's the possibility that Kent State will crash the party. A rash of losses by teams ranked ahead of them lifted the 11-1 Golden Flashes to No. 17 in the latest standings, just one spot from a guaranteed berth, and No. 16 UCLA could very well lose this weekend. The Flashes should get a boost if they beat 11-1 Northern Illinois in this week's MAC championship game. If all that happens, they'd likely go to the Orange Bowl at the expense of a second Big 12 team, with the Sugar Bowl taking the Big East champ. However, keep in mind there's a sizable gap in the BCS score between UCLA and Kent State and there's no guarantee they'd swap spots.
When I started this little experiment at the beginning of the year, I was curious how long into the season it would be before my ballot meshed with the mainstream consensus. I'm guessing we've reached that point.
1. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. With yet another do-everything performance in a 59-29 rout of Missouri (439 total yards, five total touchdowns), the freshman broke Cam Newton's SEC single-season record for total offense (4,600 yards) -- in two fewer games played.
2. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. He did his thing against USC, notching his seventh interception (tied for second nationally) and playing an integral role in stuffing the run. As stated previously, though, it's tough to truly quantify a defensive player's impact.
3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC. Even in one of his quietest games to date, Lee contributed 174 all-purpose yards and Notre Dame resorted to hack-a-Shaq interference penalties to prevent two potential touchdowns. He's No. 2 nationally in receiving and No. 3 in all-purpose yards.
A note on Collin Klein: He can still crack my ballot with a big game against Texas, but it's going to be hard to get back to No. 1 after laying that egg against a horrendous Baylor defense.