You could write a book on the dismal fates of the great gridiron powers this season. Or you could just look at the first polls of November, where Stanford, TCU and Central Florida (according to the coaches, anyway) are the highest-ranked teams in the states of California, Texas and Florida, respectively, and none of the top five in the new Coaches' poll has won a national championship in the last 50 years. The Mountain West (TCU, Utah) and WAC (Boise State, Nevada) place two teams apiece in both major polls, compared to one from the ACC (Virginia Tech) and none from the Big East. Welcome to 2010.
Oh, and TCU leapt Boise State in all three mainstream human polls – the Associated Press, the USA Today/Coaches' and the Harris – for the first time this season in the wake of the Horned Frogs' 47-7 obliteration of fellow Mountain West heavy Utah in Salt Lake City. That follows the Horned Frogs' computer-driven ascension over Boise in last week's BCS rankings.
Thus the Broncos become perhaps the first team ever to fall after trashing a top-10 offense riding a six-game winning streak in a 42-7 massacre. In two weeks, in fact, Boise has fallen from No. 2 in both polls to No. 4 while burying two conference opponents by a combined score of 91-27 and increasing the nation's widest margin of victory to nearly five touchdowns per game.
Are the Broncos getting screwed? By traditional poll logic (win big, hold court), probably. Are they on their way to a bigger screwjob in the BCS? Again, probably, depending on whether two of the three teams in front of them fall over the next month. And if they're not, then TCU is, or else both of them are, stuck on the outside looking in for the second year in a row
With the Broncos and/or Horned Frogs on the cusp of securing a spot in the BCS Championship Game with a single stumble by the Tigers or Ducks, the "great debate" over the interlopers' credentials as national contenders, in general, is already beginning to evolve into a debate about which outfit is more qualified if a golden ticket to Glendale becomes available. I don't know what the answer will be or should be if it comes to that kind of deadlock, except that it will be unsatisfying to just about everyone.
Which it should be. The path to the title game may be clearer with Alabama and Oklahoma out of the picture, but the first and last volleys in the debate haven't changed: Any championship system that fails to include both TCU and Boise – the only teams that have spent the entire season in the top 10 after finishing in the top 10 each of the last two years – if they both finish 12-0 is a failure. That's not to say they should be No. 1 or No. 2, but rather that limiting the opportunities to No. 1 and No. 2 alone doesn't reflect the reality on the field. If one deserves it, clearly, they both do. The real debate should be about why college football has a championship structure that forces us into the unnecessary debate over the merits of wildly successful upstarts at all, when every question could be settled beyond a doubt with actual football instead of opinion polls.
It's a built-in screwjob, but since it's all we've got at the moment, well, let the debate begin.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.