Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Red River: There Will Be Blood

Six weeks into this college football season, nearly half of the Big XII membership remains undefeated. Since there are only 10 unbeaten BCS conference teams - 14 total in Division I-A - an argument may be made that the Big XII is the top dog of 2008.

In the latest unofficial BCS standings - an almost exact facsimile of the real thing since we have all but one of the six computers accounted for - three of the top four spots are taken by Big XII members, with Oklahoma on top and Missouri and Texas at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively. Texas Tech is a bit further down at No. 10 and Oklahoma State checks in at No. 17.

What exactly is leading to this Big XII dominance? Or it is merely a charade?

To be perfectly blunt: This is but a house of cards.

Oklahoma may be a legitimate No. 1 team in the nation, and Missouri, on any given Saturday, can hang 50 points on anybody, but beyond that, there isn't really much there.

Credit shrewd scheduling. Though these five teams managed to go a combine 25-0, they have played exactly two bona-fide quality opposition. They faced a total of four BCS conference foes, and three of which - Washington, Washington State and Arkansas - are bottom feeders who are winless in their own conferences. The only team of consequence, Illinois, was beaten by Missouri, 52-42, in St. Louis.

Oklahoma had the best non-conference win of the bunch, ironically over a non-BCS team - Texas Christian, in Norman. The rest of the slate for these five unconquered, in the immortal words of OSU coach Mike Gundy, is just "garbage."

The good news - for those of you who are annoyed at the Big XII power play so far - is that these guys have to start their own backyard brawls now, beginning with Saturday's Red River Shootout in Dallas. Oklahoma is favored against the Longhorns, and, if recent trends hold, the Sooners should win in a blowout.

Until last year's 28-21 affair won by Oklahoma, the Red River Rivalry of recent vintage hasn't exactly been nailbiters. The last 10 contests have been decided by an average of 23.4 points. The higher-ranked team has won EVERY time. And Oklahoma has dominated for the most part, winning five of the past seven.

Texas, despite its 5-0 record and five easy, breezy victories, is still an unknown. Its five victims are a combined 11-15, with just 3-2 Colorado possessing a winning record. The Longhorns never left the Lone Star State in the month of September.

But Texas will get its just desserts in the coming weeks. In the next four games, the Longhorns will play four teams with a combined 20-0 record. That's right, they'll face each of the other four Big XII unbeatens in succession - no byes, no nothin'. If they can some how get through that gauntlet unscathed, then they would deserve to be No. 1 themselves.

Just don't bet on it.

A few other observations from the new standings:

* Under the radar a bit, but the truly significant game of the week is LSU's trip to the Swamp. Last year, the Tigers ended the Gators' title hopes at Tiger Stadium by handing them a second straight loss. This time, it's up to Florida to return the favor. Despite its lofty poll rankings, LSU is only sixth in the BCS standings because it has only played four games and against mostly non-descript competition. A victory in Gainesville will get the computers' attention.

* BYU's slim hopes of playing in the BCS title game is DOA. The Cougars come in at No. 12, well behind two teams already with one loss (USC and Georgia). In fact, they're not even the highest ranked non-BCS team. That distinction belongs to Utah, at No. 9 thanks to its robust computer ratings. BYU, meanwhile, can only curse UCLA and Washington - its BCS conquests with a combined 2-8 record - as its strength of schedule is ranked 126 (by Sagarin) among all Division I teams.

* USC didn't have to do much to get back in the BCS title chase. The Trojans' 44-10 dissection of the Oregon Ducks gained them enough currency in the polls to move them up to No. 7 in the BCS standings. They have a decent lead on Georgia and are well ahead of all other one-loss teams. USC is very well positioned to move up when the top six teams start losing.

* The only Big East teams currently in the top 25 is No. 23 South Florida, coming off a home loss to Pittsburgh. Four non-BCS teams are ahead of the Bulls - Mountain West's Utah and BYU, WAC's Boise State and even MAC's Ball State. Worry not, though, as the Big East is guaranteed a BCS bowl berth no matter what.

* Slowly but surely, Notre Dame is creeping up the standings, checking in at No. 36 this week. The Irish are hoping a 10-2 season would be enough to place them in the top 14, making them eligible (and all but guaranteed) for a BCS bowl berth. Notre Dame's 2008 schedule is much softer than last year's, when it went 3-9, but it's about to get a little rougher. The Irish are playing at resurgent North Carolina this week and a loss there, with a trip to the L.A. Coliseum still looming on the schedule, we can file the Irish BCS C.V. away for another year.


Mars said...

Won't BYU's computer strength make a significant leap when they beat Utah and TCU? Plus, if they are in the Top 2 at the end of the year in the human polls that's worth 2/3rds of the BCS isn't it? Alabama, Texas, and Penn State just need to lose, and as a few more teams get loss #2 that could still open a spot for the Cougars. BYU is ranked now where it was in 1984 when it last won the National Championship.

The Guru said...

The problem with BYU right now is that their computer ranking is too low and their SoS won't improve that much as they get into the conference games.

If UW and UCLA continue to tank, it will only more adversely affect the Cougars.

Besides, they have already hit a ceiling in the polls. They're behind several one-loss teams and are unlikely to jump them the rest of the way.