October 20, 2009
The long-term effects of the early upsets that culled so many preseason favorites from the ranks of serious national title contention started to come into focus Sunday, when in the initial, darkhorse-heavy BCS rankings replaced usual suspects Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State and Virginia Tech with the likes of Boise State, Cincinnati, Iowa and TCU in the top eight -- interlopers, all of them, respectable overachievers but certainly not of national championship pedigree. A Cincinnati-Iowa title game simply isn't done, you see. And the notion of Boise State in Pasadena, my word, it's just ghastly.
The upheaval in the top 10 has already led some observers to seek alternate routes to a more palatable championship matchup -- i.e. one involving schools that have been there before -- which so far has led them to one conclusion if Texas (heaven forbid) happens to bite the dust: How about an all-SEC championship? We're not there (yet) with the national media, but the homers are already abuzz with the prospect of turning the Rose Bowl into the world's largest deer stand. CBS Sports' Gary Danielson implied as much with his SEC-riffic championship hierarchy during the Florida-LSU game earlier this month, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Tony Barnhart, holding his nose at the sight of Boise-Cincy-Iowa at 4-5-6 in the BCS, suggested Monday that he's getting the itch for a title game that doubled as SEC Championship West:
1. There CAN be an Alabama-Florida rematch for the national championship. Last week I said that if Alabama and Florida were undefeated, ranked 1-2 and played a close SEC championship game, there would not be a rematch for the BCS title.
But after seeing the first set of BCS standings on Sunday, I think it is now possible if No. 3 Texas loses at some point. That’s because there is a huge gap in the BCS average between No. 2 Alabama (.9526) and No. 4 Boise State (.8083) and No. 5 Cincinnati (.7870). ...
Secondly, I can’t remember when we’ve had this much of a competitive gap between the top two teams in the standings and the rest of the Top 10. Example: If you’re a voter in one of the polls, do you put a 12-0 Iowa into the big game over a 12-1 SEC team that just lost a close game to the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the nation?
Considering Iowa would have to beat Arizona (a computer favorite this week), Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State, Big Ten fans have your answer: "Yes. Yes you do."That goes especially those Big Ten fans who remember the anti-Michigan arguments from the pro-Florida camp after the No. 2 Wolverines lost to No. 1 Ohio State in the de facto Big Ten championship game in 2006 -- they weren't the conference champions, the Big Ten was too top-heavy and the cognitive dissonance of rewarding the second game over the first (what if Michigan won the rematch?) was far too great to justify overlooking the one-loss Gators. Who, of course, subsequently proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the puffery of the media's season-long love affair with the Big Ten. You can connect the dots from there to here.
At least another SEC homer, Paul Finebaum, had the patience to suggest we only skip ahead to the SEC Championship game, instead of straight past it while waving the Tigers and Gators on to Pasadena. Give him time.
I would suggest that the "competitive gap" Barnhart cites between the top two teams and the rest of the contenders is much more about perception that "competition." What is the overwhelming competitive difference right now between Florida in its three biggest wins, over Tennessee, LSU and Arkansas, and Iowa in its wins over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin? The combined margin of victory in both cases is 23 points; overall, the Hawkeyes have beaten five winning teams to date to the Gators' two (and Alabama's three). All three of Cincinnati's wins over winning teams have come on the road. The current polls all say Boise State's best win (over Oregon) is better than Alabama's best (Virginia Tech). The "competitive gaps" may have looked enormous in August, but actual competition has a way of leveling preseason assumptions, if you bother to revise them to actual events such as "last-minute rally necessary to beat Arkansas."
It appears that's asking a bit much. The BCS narrative is frustrating enough at the moment, when we're already resigned to an inevitable title game between Alabama/Florida and Texas if the status quo holds. If the Longhorns lose sometime in the next month, the modest opening salvos by Barnhart and Danielson may seem tame by the incessant Florabama love that flows hence and bathes the Georgia Dome in a honeysuckle-scented glow on Dec. 5. But god help me, I cannot imagine a plausible scenario that might possibly justify a rematch in January.