SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
12/02/2006 11:54:00 AM
Saturday Preview: Florida Still Has a Chance
Chris Leak and the Gators hope a win over Arkansas will vault them into the national title game.
ATLANTA -- Everywhere I went last night, I ran into visiting Florida Gators fans. And while they generally seemed happy to be here, in talking to some of them, they seem to have an overwhelming sense of resignation. They feel like no matter what their team does tonight against Arkansas, they’re already effectively shut out of the national championship game. Their fans will be the first to admit Florida hasn’t exactly been pretty lately, but as one of them asked, “Why are we not even part of the discussion?”
I do not have a reasonable answer for that. The Gators remain part of my national-championship discussion, but I could understand why they’d get that impression if they’ve spent any time this week watching ABC or ESPN. If you’ve seen the promos for today’s USC-UCLA game, you’ve heard Brent Musburger say something to the effect of, “Win, and they [the Trojans] are in the national championship game.” While probably true, to state it as fact like that seems awfully presumptuous -- and completely unfair to Florida and Michigan.
But hey, that’s life in a world ruled by television. If Florida-Arkansas was on ABC, I’m sure we’d be seeing similar promos about the Gators. Alas, it’s on CBS, and since I don’t watch CSI or Survivor, I’ve seen no hype whatsoever for this game, even though it’s unquestionably the best matchup of the day.
I’m here, however, to provide a glimmer of hope for those frustrated Florida fans. Yes, USC will likely clinch the title spot with a win today. You can argue it all you want; the reality is pollsters don’t drop the No. 2 team the last week of the season unless they do something to screw it up.
However … mark my words, you heard it here first: If USC loses to UCLA and Florida beats Arkansas, the Gators -- not Michigan -- will head to Glendale. I know that runs contrary to what you’ve heard much of the past two weeks. You’ve heard that Michigan is deserving of a rematch with Ohio State, and that Florida hasn’t looked good in weeks. Neither of those statements are necessarily false.
But like I said a couple weeks back, it’s all about last impressions. There’s no way the Gators can beat Arkansas tonight without looking good. Either their defense is going to have to do something no other SEC foe has accomplished and shut down Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, or Florida’s offense is going to have to explode to keep up with the Hogs in a shootout.
Either way, I believe it would be enough to cause a lot of Harris and coaches voters to reconsider their ballots. They’re going to ask themselves, “Am I really OK with keeping out a 12-1 SEC champion that beat nine bowl teams, including LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas, to let Michigan have another shot at Ohio State.”
Mark my words: In that scenario, the voters will anoint Florida.
I'm really hoping for LSU vs Michigan in the Rose Bowl. That game will tell the story about how weak the Big 10 is this year. Michigan and Ohio State have managed to hide in their Big 10 shell for just about the whole year. The ABC/ESPN anouncers can play up Michigan all they want (and they certainly do it a lot), but you know what will be funny? When the "real" college football experts put down an opening line on that game.
I agree that if USC loses and Florida wins, the Gators will leap over Michigan. But the reason will be that most everyone outside of Ann Arbor does not want to see a rematch in a championship game. I wonder what will happen if USC barely wins in a lackluster effort and Florida blows out Arkansas. Not likely? Just remember K-State taking Oklahoma to the woodshed a few years ago.
This high school popularity test called the "BCS" is an awful way to find the best team in college football. I'm tired of hearing anyone trying to defend it. I am unaware of any other sport determining a champ by voting. The AP poll is bad enough, but the BCS polls using celebrities and techno-geek written computer programs is really a laugh.
Why isn't an undefeated Boise State even MENTIONED in anyone's national championship debate? Maybe they are in a 'weaker' conference, but they did win out, which is more than most of the rest of us can say of our teams.
Arkansas, in the past ten years, has been medicore at best. Hence, when USC shecduled them for the 2006 season, they scheduled a relatively weak non-conference opponent not much different then Michigan's scheduing of Vanderbilt. On top of that, Arkansas might wind up out of the top ten this year - well below the Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State teams on Michigan's schedule. As a result, Michigan played Notre Dame - ranked #2 at the time - this season away and beat them, in every statistical category - by more then a USC team that played Notre Dame at home when they were ranked # 5. Simply put, no matter how you look at it, Michigan has wins over higher ranked oppenents, both non-conference and conference, at the time of the initial game and at season's conclusion: (Michigan: beat at the time #2 and now #10 Notre Dame and beat at the time unranked and now # 6 Wisconsin - as compared to - USC: beat at the time unranked and now # 8 Arkansas and beat at the time #5 and now # 10 Notre Dame). Consequently, Michigan's strength of schedule contains games agaisnt 3 top ten opponents at this season's conclusion, whereas USC's strength of schedule contains games agaisnt only 2 top ten opponents - both of which are ranked the same and or lower in the top ten then Michagan's opponents, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. How can advocates of a USC berth in the national championship use an early season Arkansas game - and at the time un-impressive victory - as reason to have a higher strength of schedule and be ranked higer at season's end, then a one loss Michigan team. Moreover, Michigan loss came agaisnt a more impressive opponent - #1 Ohio State, then USC's loss did - a unranked Oregon State team. That fact, if it doesn't automatically justify a Michigan berth over USC in the National Championship game, should at the very least offset the fact that USC played 3 more .500 bowl bound teams his year. Michigan should then, fairly and logicaly, be moved into the number 2 spot on the basis of their indisputable great performances - 2 being on the road - agaisnt 3 teams in the top ten. In which, they beat two by multiple scores and lost by three to the other. Explain, how you can justifably and objectively and or empirically disagree with Michigan being ranked number 2 at season's conclusion?
All right Stewart, for the sake of college football let's hope that you are right. Michigan in no way belongs in the national title game. Unlike Michigan, Florida has earned a spot. Louisville is also more deserving than Little Blue.