Sunday, December 02, 2007

BCS Bowl Predictions

This afternoon we will learn the final destination for the top football programs in the "Bowl Subdivision" of D-I (quick note: let's please change the name back to Division I-A and I-AA and lose this subdivision mumbo-jumbo). So before the real deal is revealed, I'd like to take a stab at where everyone is going. More importantly, I want to focus on who will play for the national championship.

First let's look at the Top 12 ranked teams from last week's BCS standings.
1. Missouri - LOST to Oklahoma, Big XII championship
2. West Virginia - LOST to Pittsburgh
3. Ohio State
4. Georgia
5. Kansas
6. Virginia Tech
- defeated Boston College, ACC championship
7. LSU - defeated Tennessee, SEC championship
8. USC - defeated UCLA for Pac-10 championship
9. Oklahoma - defeated #1 Missouri, Big XII championship
10. Florida
11. Boston College
- LOST to VT, ACC championship
12. Hawaii - defeated Washington

The problem with this week's results is the fact that the teams immediately behind 1 and 2 in position to move up aren't exactly ideal candidates for the championship game.  Yes, Ohio State, the Big Ten champions at 11-1, are most certainly in.  They did not have to play a conference title game and will get the opportunity to step into that No. 1 ranking.  However selecting a Georgia for a Kansas for the championship game is not the automatic solution.  

Not only did both Georgia and Kansas not win their respective conference championship, neither team won their own division within the league.  Georgia fell short of the SEC title game as Tennessee advanced from the East to take on LSU.  Kansas lost the Big XII North in the Border War versus Missouri.

While there is precedent of a team that did not win its conference playing for the national title (see Oklahoma, 2003), no team in the BCS era has failed to at least win their division.  The Sooners were Big XII South champs in '03 before falling to Kansas State in the conference title game.  Kansas and George both deserve BCS Bowl bids.  They deserve to play for something meaningful.

At the same time, Georgia is one of the hottest teams in the country.  They finished the season on a six-game winning streak, including victories over #11 Florida, #18 Auburn and #23 Kentucky.  Georgia didn't get to opportunity to play LSU this season, so we can only speculate how that game may have played out.  However, losing at home to South Carolina doesn't exactly scream "title contender."

Kansas is in a tough spot.  They finished the regular season 11-1 (7-1 Big XII).  That one loss came at the worst possible time.  Even though they crumbled against Mizzou at Arrowhead Stadium, they still have an 11-1 record.  Naysayers will argue they beat no one - a very legitimate claim.  Central Michigan, Southeast Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International don't exactly represent a difficult challenge.  

If the college football season was a ride in a car, Kansas may have been driving over those team as if they were crosswalks, not speed bumps.  They didn't exactly pose any reason for Kansas to take their foot off the gas.  The Jayhawks didn't flinch against those team.  And they can't be flawed for missing conference powers Texas, OU and Texas Tech this season.  The difference is that college football is not the NFL.  The NFL has a set schedule that mandates certain divisions play certain divisions in a give season.  It's all set.  College football allows teams to schedule whomever they want.  For that, Kansas can be faulted.  The one chance they had to prove themselves, they blew it.  11-1 is nice, but upon closer inspection, it's not nice enough for a title-game berth.

So who else might move up to take on the Buckeyes (who I'm not exactly sold on, but we'll have to go with it for now)...

Let me quickly preface the rest of this posting with this: Missouri and West Virginia lost as the most crucial time of the season, so they should not be playing for the national championship.  I know it happened with Oklahoma a few years ago, but that was the exception, not the rule.  Sorry Tigers and Mountaineers, but you had your shot.  All you had to do was hang out.  Guess you just lost your grip.

Back to who can move up and why they may or may not...

Virginia Tech was ranked ahead of LSU at #6 last week and defeated the #11 team in the country (Boston College) to clinch the ACC title.  Looking at Virginia Tech, they are a prime candidate for the BCS title game that no one is talking about.  Everyone is so caught up with LSU, they are missing one amazing season under the most unlikely of circumstances.  Considering where Virginia Tech was as a university last April, to see them play for the national championship would represent a significant resurgence for not only that program but that entire institution.  The fact that those students put together an 11-2 record is astounding enough.  If put in the championship game, who knows what they could accomplish.

Virginia Tech is the team I'd like to see play for the national title.  I don't see how they can come into this week ranked higher than LSU in the BCS (#6 versus #7) and defeat a higher ranked team than LSU (#11 versus #14) and get jumped by LSU.  It wouldn't make sense.  Because of that, I think the computers and the voters may just move up the Hokies.  I'd also like to see it because it would be the most amazing story of the entire college football season.  I know the Hokies lost to LSU early in the season, but then LSU should have been ahead of VT last week.  It didn't happen then and it shouldn't happen now.

Everyone talks about the most unlikely wins from all these unranked teams upsetting No. 2 teams and No. 1 teams falling and Appalachian State beating Michigan, but in my opinion the most unlikely win of them all is Virginia Tech putting together a championship caliber season after last April's tragedy.

As far as LSU goes, I won't be surprised to see them in the national title game.  Not only will I not be surprised, I'd be shocked if they missed it.  They've been dominant all season with their only two loses coming in college football's wacky triple overtime.  Essentially their would-be perfect record came down to a pair of two-point conversions.  They have defeated many ranked teams in the power-packed SEC and finished the season as conference champions.  I'm of the belief that you should be a conference champion to play for the BCS title, and LSU fits that mold.  My only problem with them would be how they would leapfrog Virginia Tech after being ranked behind them this week.  Virginia Tech did nothing to drop behind the Tigers, and apparently the early-season loss to LSU wasn't enough to keep the Hokies behind LSU last week.  It shouldn't affect this week's BCS standings.  

Is anyone playing better football right now than USC?  The Trojans stumbled early in the season, but after watching them finish the season so strong, it's tough to debate their talent.  'SC locked up a record sixth straight Pac-10 title ad BCS Bowl berth. (Their last five: '07 Rose Bowl, '06 Rose Bowl, '05 Orange Bowl, '04 Rose Bowl, '03 Orange Bowl.)  The reason they will be kept out of the national title game came in what can only be described as a fluke against Stanford when quarterback John David Booty injured a finger on his throwing hand.  

The Trojans' other loss came in Eugene, Oregon when the Ducks were still a powerhouse with Dennis Dixon under center (okay, in the shotgun).  Since losing Dixon, it's been duck season.  USC has been dominant through November - a month in which they've never lost a game under Pete Carroll.  Of all the top teams with two losses, USC is least likely to make the championship game because of that disaster against Stanford.  Looking back, its easy to trace where the Trojans title hopes slipped: October 6 in Los Angeles.

Oklahoma just beat the No. 1 team in the country.  They have two road losses by one possession each.  They showed just how tough a team they are on national television against Mizzou.  After being ranked No. 8 last week, their dominance in clinching the Big XII championship shows they are a Top 5 team.

Florida: You have a great young team and Tebow is a beast.  Only problem is you have three losses.  Better luck next year.

Had Boston College not lost to Virginia Tech, maybe they'd be in the discussion as a token "also ran."  Instead, they are out of it.

The final team that has national title aspirations is the one team I'd like to see have a shot:  the Warriors of Hawaii.  They are the only undefeated team in the Bowl Subdivision.  While it's easy to say "schedule some tougher teams," I understand why most top-tier teams won't travel to the islands to play them.  And it's not like it's an easy trip for the Warriors to fly across the Pacific then across the country to take on an SEC team.  Hawaii has scheduled some tough opponents in the past.  In 2003 and 2004, they played a home and home versus USC during the Trojans' two-year title run.  So, it's not like they pulled a Kansas and scheduled dogs.

Colt Brennan is a touchdown machine.  I don't know if it will translate to the NFL or if it will even get him a plane ticket to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but those are some ridiculous numbers he's put up on the season.

The biggest reason I'd like to see Hawaii play for the national title - and the biggest reason they won't - is because of what Boise State did last year to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  That game proved the "Any Given Sunday" theory of the NFL translates to college football as the Broncos knocked off OU in one of the most exciting games I've ever witnessed.  The hook-and-ladder to get into OT only to have Sooner stand-out Adrian Peterson run 25 yards in the first play of overtime.  It seemed over at that point, but how that Statue of Liberty play fake to Ian Johnson worked... it was a thing of beauty.  But I digress.

The reason Hawaii won't make the national title - and it's silly logic, but it's a fact - is because what if they win?  Seriously, what if Hawaii wins the national title?  Well if that happens then it means the six major conferences no longer have a monopoly on championships.  Does that mean the WAC should get an automatic BCS bid for its champion?  Does that open it up for more at-large teams?  If Hawaii gets blown out by an Ohio State - a traditionally strong national power of a program - then all mid-majors everywhere have their legitimacy taken into question.  If Hawaii wins a BCS title game, it essentially opens the doors for every single one of the 119 Division I-A teams to make the national championship game.  As of right now, it's really only available to teams from the big six conferences (ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Big East, SEC and Pac 10).  That's why Hawaii won't make it.

So who will make the BCS title game?  Here are my predictions:

There are five games: the Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and the BCS title game.  Just some quick ground rules as set forth by the BCS: only two teams per major conference and a team must finish in the BCS top 12 for a berth.  My only concern is if Illinois somehow finishes in the BCS top 12.  If they do, the Rose Bowl may do their best to keep the Big Ten vs. Pac 10 tradition of the Granddaddy of them all and selection the Illini.  However, I doubt they will make it.  Without further adieu, here we go:

BCS Title Game:
Ohio State (Big Ten champion) vs. LSU (SEC champion)

Rose Bowl:
USC (Pac 10 champion) vs. Georgia (at large)

Fiesta Bowl:
Missouri (at large) vs. Hawaii (at large)

Sugar Bowl:
Oklahoma (Big XII champion) vs. Arizona State (at large)

Orange Bowl:
Virginia Tech (ACC champion) vs. West Virginia (Big East champion)

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