On a day when the baseball playoffs fill the house with either joy or angst, or some combination thereof, permit me to slip in the side door and plop a small rant down on the kitchen table.
Here it is: The college football polls, both the Associated Press and the Harris Interactive, are whack. The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) poll isn’t due out until next week, but it is expected to follow the lead of the AP and the Harris and also be whack.
Like Alice staring into the looking glass or falling down the rabbit hole, it gets curiouser and curiouser.
Under poll logic, the unbeaten team is king and everyone else is subordinate. And Lord help you if you should lose a game, because, well … down the rabbit hole you go.
Let’s face it, big-time college football is now at 12 games and that’s overkill. Once upon a time, when Doak Walker, Johnny Lattner and Vic Janowicz played, teams played nine games. Then the NCAA bumped it up to 10. That was so perfect a number that the NCAA, using every shred of logic at its disposal up there in its ivory tower, had to mess with it. The schedule got bumped up to 11 games.
(Footnote No. 1: By this time, some conferences were having a playoff game for its top two teams — with each team subsequently going to a bowl game. Thus, if you were good, an 11-game schedule actually meant you played 13 games.)
You can guess what happened next. Sure enough, the coaches and the boys in the tower said, “If we can play 11, we sure as heck can play 12!”
And so they do.
(Footnote No. 2: See Footnote No. 1. Thus, if you are a good team, a 12-game schedule actually becomes a
Here’s the thing you have to understand. Hardly anyone goes unbeaten any more. Unless, of course, you are a South Florida, a Utah, a Hawaii or some renegade team that plays on a blue field like Boise State.
Such teams play in lesser conferences and have weaker schedules and, well, one or two of them every year are going to go unbeaten.
In a grueling, overlong
12-game schedule (before anyone even thinks of playing in a conference playoff game), there are going to be upsets. Doesn’t matter how great a team you have (See: Southern Cal, Michigan), you’re going to get knocked off one Saturday afternoon during the autumn.
It’s just a law of nature — an offshoot of Murphy’s Law as applied to collegiate football.
Following Michigan’s upset loss to Appalachian State, a college coach whose name I can’t recall said on ESPN Radio that he wasn’t totally shocked by the upset.
“The talent — and there’s just a ton of it coming out every year — is getting spread around more and more,” he said. “And a lot of this talent is trickling down to the Division 1-AA schools.
A high school player says to himself, ‘Why should I go to Notre Dame or Michigan or Nebraska and sit for maybe two years before I get to start, when I can go to an Appalachian State or a South Florida and play right away?’”
When viewed through the prism of such logic, the upsets — even Stanford knocking USC off its pedestal — begin to seem less and less shocking.
Football, more than any other sport, is a game driven by emotion. Emotion and enthusiasm can be the great equalizer when Goliath strolls out onto the field all flat-footed and nonchalant and cocky as all get-out.
And when a team is playing a 12-game schedule with a couple of thought-to-be “cupcakes” mixed in, that team is sure as heck going to take the field flat-footed and uninspired at least one time every autumn. You just can’t be “up” all the time.
Thus, USC at No. 10 is ridiculous and Florida at No. 13 is absurd. The only thing more absurd and more ridiculous is having South Florida at No. 5 and Hawaii even mentioned at all.
Also, I seriously doubt that the team whose pennants and logos you have plastered all over your man-cave is the third-best team in the country. Who, exactly, have “our” mighty Buckeyes beaten?
Answer: mighty Youngstown State, the U. of Akron, Washington, Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue.
Today they get to tussle the hair of feisty Kent State before rubbing their noses in the dirt while 100,000 roar their approval.
Big deal, Buckeyes. Playing one Ohio school to help it put money in its coffers is commendable. Playing three of them is stuffing your face with cupcakes before dinner.
Dinner, of course, being the meat-and-potatoes of the
Big Ten schedule. Alas, the
Big Ten is having a thoroughly lackluster season and everyone knows it. And yet we’re supposed to clap our hands and say Ohio State is No. 3.
Another example of common sense gone awry: LSU is No. 1 in the country and it needed four (count ’em, four) gutsy calls on fourth down to keep a drive alive in order to come from behind and beat Florida, 28-24.
So what’s that make the Gators? Dog meat at No. 13? Not bloody likely. Try No. 5 or No. 6 for the Gators.
There has to be a better method for ranking teams. For starters, the first rule voters should ask themselves is: If so-and-so (South Florida, Boise State, Utah, Hawaii, Cincinnati, Louisville, et al) were to play in, say, the Southeastern Conference, the Pac-10, the Big Ten or ACC, exactly how would they fare playing such a schedule?
OK, OK, I hear you. You’re yelling, “All right, Wise Guy, how exactly would your ratings look?”
Fair’s fair. So for the price of this newspaper that you will wrap tonight’s flounder in, I hereby give you ….
Clarke’s College Ratings
1. LSU (6-0)
2. California (5-0)
3. Oklahoma (5-1)
4. Southern Cal (4-1)
5. Florida (4-2)
6. Boston College (6-0)
7. Ohio State (6-0)
8. South Carolina (5-1)
9. West Virginia (5-1)
10. Oregon (4-1)
11. Virginia Tech (5-1)
12. South Florida (5-0)
And there it is — my Dirty Dozen. And I’ll bet you anything this is a lot closer to how the teams end up in the BCS ratings by season’s end.
The lone exception will probably be Ohio State, which will roll through this season like a thresher through poppies and finish in the top two. (The pollsters love unbeaten threshers going through poppies.) Reality won’t settle in until the Buckeyes have to play a bowl game against a good team.
And that’s that. Already I feel better.
Contact Doug Clarke at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.