The Real No. 1 Team
When the Ohio State schedule was released in the off-season, it seemed designed to run once-embattled coach John Cooper out of town. Instead, that schedule, which has included five preseason Top 25 opponents in the first six games, has established the Buckeyes as the best team in the country so far, even if the pollsters don't agree. That brings us to the first of five questions to ponder as the season passes its midway point:
1) Even if Ohio State goes 13-0, will it win the national title?
Only if all three teams ranked in front of the No. 4 Buckeyes—Florida State, Nebraska and Florida—lose a game. Ohio State has climbed from its preseason No. 12 ranking, but barring upsets of those teams, it will likely remain tethered to the fourth spot until the Florida State-Florida game in Gainesville on Nov. 25. And even after that game, an undefeated Ohio State team would represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl probably ranked no higher than third, thus nullifying its national title hopes. (The bowl alliance stipulates that the two top-ranked teams—aside from Big Ten and Pac-10 champions—play in the Fiesta Bowl for the national crown.)
Such a scenario has generated much-needed discussion on poll reform. Several league commissioners and athletic directors have suggested that the preseason Associated Press and USA Today/ CNN coaches' polls be abolished as early as next year. "How does anyone pick the Top 25 teams in the country before the start of the year?" asks Cooper. "Until you've actually played some games, you don't really know how good other teams are. Start the polls a month or six weeks into the season, and you have a better idea."
However, the polls in their current form still have their advocates. "I think the poll is one of the most exciting things in college football," says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "But I've got an idea. Just tell those schools in the Pac-10 and the Big Ten to come on over and join the alliance. Maybe then we can work out this darn controversy over who should be the national champion." A good point, as well.
2) Can a tailback win the Heisman Trophy with fewer than 150 rushing attempts?
Yes. Although Florida State's Warrick Dunn is averaging only 13 carries a game, he is on pace to rush for 1,474 yards. And in contrast to Ohio State's Eddie George and Texas A&M tailback and erstwhile Heisman contender Leeland McElroy, both of whom touch the ball up to 35 to 40 times a game, Dunn will be lucky if he gets more than 20 carries in any of the Seminoles' final five games. "He's still just a little fella," Seminole coach Bowden says of the 178-pound Dunn. "We're going to run plays for him designed to keep him alive just a little while longer."
Dunn's Heisman candidacy faces other obstacles, too. Unlike Ohio State, which pledged before the start of the season to push George for the Heisman over teammates and worthy candidates Bobby Hoying and Terry Glenn, Florida State is promoting both Dunn and quarterback Danny Kanell. That could create a situation similar to the one that existed last fall at Penn State, where the big numbers put up by quarterback Kerry Collins likely cost Collins's teammate and Heisman runner-up Ki-Jana Carter several votes.
3) Is Northwestern's Gary Barnett the runaway leader for Coach of the Year?