Perhaps college football rules makers should consider making blinkers mandatory equipment – at least in November where, once again, several national title contenders got caught looking and are now out of the race.
Upset losses this week by BCS No. 3 Louisville, No. 5 Texas, No. 6 Auburn and No. 8 California quashed these teams' championship hopes and raised an interesting question heading into Saturday's showdown between No. 2 Michigan and No. 1 Ohio State: Isn't the loser of this colossal clash more worthy of playing for the BCS crown than the remaining chasers?
Outside the Wolverines and Buckeyes, all the contenders have damning losses, too many close wins or, in the case of upstart Rutgers, a questionable schedule.
Let's outline the blemishes in an effort to decide if Michigan and OSU should just play two to determine the national champion.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (8-1, 6-1 PAC-10): The Trojans' rout of Arkansas in the season opener looks more impressive now, given the Razorbacks' ensuing 9-0 run. But close victories over Washington, Washington State and Arizona State raise questions. Should it beat California and Notre Dame (and UCLA), USC's stock should soar and the Trojans probably can make the best case of anyone outside Columbus or Ann Arbor to play for the crown. But how can you forget about the embarrassing loss at Oregon State (6-4, 4-3)?
FLORIDA (9-1, 7-1 SEC): The Gators are No. 4 in the BCS rankings. But they haven't looked like title-contender material. They have four wins by seven points or less, including narrow victories over Vanderbilt and South Carolina the past two weeks. Their lone defeat, to Auburn, lost some street cred with the way Georgia thumped the Tigers this week.
NOTRE DAME (9-1): The Irish have drawn criticism for their schedule (Army, Navy, Air Force, Stanford, North Carolina) and their less than dominant wins over crummy Michigan State and struggling UCLA. ND's biggest win was a 41-17 rout of then-No. 19 Penn State. Notre Dame would gain big computer points by beating USC, especially if the Trojans keep winning. But regardless of who wins the Michigan-Ohio State game, how could you make Notre Dame No. 2? The Irish were absolutely manhandled by Michigan 47-21 in South Bend.
RUTGERS (9-0, 4-0 BIG EAST): The Scarlet Knights are destiny's darlings right now. Should it win its remaining games against Cincinnati, Syracuse and West Virginia, Rutgers will have a somewhat legitimate beef if left out of the title game. But a nonconference schedule featuring the likes of North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Howard and Navy won't win the Scarlet Knights much favor. Can you really argue that an unbeaten Rutgers team is better than a one-loss Ohio State or Michigan? Fuhgettaboutit.
ARKANSAS (9-1, 6-0 SEC): The Hogs certainly can make an interesting argument. They are clearly playing their best football now, as evidenced by a 31-14 drubbing of Tennessee. But they barely beat Alabama and Vanderbilt, and they have Utah State, Southeast Missouri State and Louisiana Monroe on the schedule. Then there was that 36-point loss to USC.
By comparison, both Michigan and Ohio State have had only one game decided by a touchdown or less.
The more you analyze the field, the clearer it becomes. Ohio State and Michigan should not only play this Saturday but also play for the national championship Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.
GOING UP: Arkansas. It's been an amazing resurgence for the Razorbacks, who opened with a 50-14 pounding by USC. Since, they've rattled off nine straight wins and are on the verge of playing in the SEC championship game. They have a bona fide showstopper, if not a Heisman candidate, in Darren McFadden, who ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw a TD pass in their blowout of Tennessee.
GOING DOWN: Auburn. The Tigers couldn't have picked a worse time to lay an egg. They were throttled by Georgia 37-15 and looked inept in almost every phase of the game. Quarterback Brandon Cox was intercepted four times. The Bulldogs outgained them 459-192. Say goodbye to SEC and national title hopes.
GOING NOWHERE: Florida State. Surprising Wake Forest handed Bobby Bowden his first shutout at home in 31 years at the school. It was the first time the Seminoles (5-5, 3-5 ACC) had been blanked in 232 games dating back to 1988. FSU, with games left against Western Michigan and Florida, needs one more win to be bowl eligible. Better beat those Broncos.
Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State – 12-of-19 passing, 185 yards, four touchdowns, one interception in a 54-10 win over Northwestern. Smith matched his season high for touchdown passes as the Buckeyes had their way with the Wildcats. He remains firmly in command of the Heisman race but needs a good showing against Michigan to seal the deal.
Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame – 14-of-19 passing, 207 yards, four touchdowns in a 39-17 win over Air Force. The Falcons did what they could to keep the ball away from Quinn, but pretty much every chance he got, he found the end zone. With all the upsets this week, the Irish's Nov. 25 matchup with USC takes on even more importance, especially in Heisman circles.
Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia – 12 carries, 148 yards, two touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Cincinnati. Slaton, who fumbled twice last week, held on to the ball against the Bearcats and showcased his breakaway speed. He had two runs of 60-plus yards, one for a TD. The Mountaineers can get a little respect back by winning their last three, including the finale against unbeaten Rutgers on Dec. 2.
WELL SAID: ”It was real hard not to look forward. Now that it's here, it's a surreal feeling."
– Ohio State's Brandon Mitchell, on the much-anticipated meeting with Michigan.
THE NEXT BIG THING: Michigan (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at Ohio State (11-0, 7-0), Saturday, 3:30 ET (ABC)
The one we've been waiting for is here at last. The winner plays for the BCS championship. The loser just might too. It will mark the first time these teams have met as No. 1 and No. 2. The Buckeyes own the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games. Michigan has the second-best run at 10 games. Jim Tressel has pretty much owned Lloyd Carr in this series, going 4-1. Carr is 6-5 against OSU. Key storyline: Can Michigan's defense slow down Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., et al. Don't bet on it in the Horseshoe.