Saturday, September 13, 2008

USC and Nine Little Dwarfs

Much has been made about the weakness of the ACC and Big East this season. Fair enough, neither conference has covered itself with much glory after three weeks in 2008.

But have you checked out what the Pac-10 did this week?

OK, we must start at the top. The very top, in fact. USC is No. 1 in every poll in the land and will be even more entrenched there after its devastating 35-3 rout of Ohio State. But in every conversation involving the Pac-10, you should just leave the Trojans out of it.

They play in a different league - unfortunately not literally.

In the last six years, USC has won the Pac-10 title every year. Went to a BCS bowl every year. Dominated the conference with a 44-6 record. And while USC finished no worse than 4th in either poll over those six seasons, no other Pac-10 team has been in the top 8 in the same span. No other Pac-10 team has been to a BCS bowl since 2002.

While USC was busy pummeling the Buckeyes on Saturday night, the rest of the Pac-10 just laid a giant egg. The Nine Little Dwarfs went 2-7 on the weekend, going 1-4 against non-BCS teams and 1-3 against BCS conference opponents, snatching a single victory when Oregon survived at Purdue.

UCLA made the biggest splash by getting mauled by Brigham Young, 59-0. The last time the Bruins lost that badly - in 1929 - the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began shortly thereafter.

But at least BYU was ranked and has BCS bowl aspirations. California lost to a Maryland team that had already succumbed to Middle Tennessee State and was nearly beaten by I-AA Delaware. The Golden Bears took the "Fear the Turtle" mantra perhaps a bit too seriously.

Arizona State, though, saved the Pac-10's worst for last. Playing at home against a double-digit underdog, the Sun Devils blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to UNLV, 23-20, in overtime.

Other ignominious losses by the conference included Oklahoma's wipeout of Washington and two other collapses against Mountain West foes. In fact, of the four games staged between these two conferences on Saturday, the non-BCS MWC won all four.

The Mountain West is certainly making a strong statement about its place in the college football landscape. Four teams remain undefeated, with a combined 4-0 record against BCS conference foes (3-0 vs. Pac-10 plus Utah's win at Michigan).

BYU's rout of UCLA was the second-most important BCS-related development of the week. The Cougars are now the front-runner among non-BCS members vying for a BCS bowl bid. After East Carolina's lackluster victory over Tulane, BYU most likely will jump ECU in the polls - and more importantly, in the unofficial BCS standings. With the MWC a considerably tougher conference than Conference USA, should both BYU and ECU remain undefeated, the Cougars will maintain their advantage in the BCS standings.

The most significant BCS item of the night, of course, was USC-Ohio State. Now the burning question is, are the Buckeyes finally put out of their misery so they wouldn't bother us again in the BCS championship game?

The answer is: Most definitely possibly yes.

There are a couple of reasons why you can't write off the Buckeyes completely just yet. First, Ohio State will suffer a drop in the polls, but not a freefall because it played the top-ranked team, on the road, without its star running back. It's as if the excuses were pre-arranged just for this outcome.

But more important, it's still just way too early in the season to write anybody off. Sure, the Trojans look like world beaters now and probably it wouldn't be too presumptuous of them to make travel arrangements to Miami for the BCS title game - but they still have 10 games to play. And the elite teams in the SEC and Big 12 still have the whole season ahead of them to kill each other off.

That leaves the door just slightly ajar for Ohio State. After that beating in the Coliseum, the slower, gentler Big Ten slate will seem quite appetizing. After all, the Buckeyes were merely 22-2 in conference games the past three seasons. They have their own dwarfs to beat up on.

(Please understand all references to dwarfs are metaphorical. We certainly don't endorse doing any such thing literally.)

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