Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Quickie: Mizzou, Giants

This is an awesome college football season, especially compared to last year. Think back: The 2009 season was static -- everything came down to a single game (Florida vs. Alabama) and there was little dispute that these were the top two teams. Or, at the very least, that the winner of that game deserved a shot at the national title.

This season? Uncertainty, maxed out. How many folks watched Mizzou -- beyond highlights -- for the first time yesterday, as they thoroughly outplayed the top-ranked team in the country? The Tigers looked terrific. And if Oklahoma was the best -- per the BCS -- then doesn't the team that beat them have a strong claim?

How about Auburn, which knocked off an unbeaten Top 10 BCS contender of its own? Is there any dispute that Auburn QB Cam Newton is the guy to beat for the Heisman? (Don't pay attention to talk that he HAS to beat Alabama. He's having the closest thing to a dominant season as I have season since Tebow in '07, and TT was on a 4-loss team.)

The only thing that feels certain is that Oklahoma wasn't the last contender to lose. Oregon could lose -- as soon as next weekend at USC. Michigan State could lose -- as soon as next weekend at Iowa. Mizzou could lose to Nebraska. Auburn could lose vs. Alabama. TCU and Utah play head-to-head.

My only problem with Boise State -- and remember that I have been saying they were the best team in college football this season since last January -- is that they don't face anything remotely like these challenges. We know Boise could beat any team in the country on a one-off basis. But could they go undefeated playing the complete schedule of the other contenders? Even TCU/Utah's schedule feels qualitatively better by an order of magnitude. The computers' algorithmic "strength-of-schedule" metric is a necessary component to human frailties.

Where do we stand after 8 weeks? On the one hand, we could have six unbeaten teams at the end of the season -- an apocalypse I have been (erroneously) predicting for a decade -- but on the other, we could have just two: Boise State and the TCU-Utah winner. The likely reality in the middle is the real mess.

But, unlike last year, at least the path to the final BCS standings is strewn with exciting upsets and, more importantly, tremendous performances by winning teams. It is easy to experience the schadenfreude when Alabama or Ohio State or Oklahoma loses, but it is all the sweeter when it's not fluky, when the teams that knock them off have earned it entirely.


As I think about my Top 25 ballot, I am torn by this Boise problem. Mizzou and Auburn beat VERY good teams. TCU throttled an Air Force team that nearly beat Oklahoma in Norman. Oregon passed the sniff test. And even if Michigan State barely survived, they were playing on the road against a Top 40 BCS team coming off a bye week. The good news is that the regular season continues to weed out also-rans.

1a. TCU
1b. Boise
1c. Utah
1d. Auburn
1e. Oregon
1f. Missouri

OK: Stop right there. While I am fairly certain that Alabama will prove itself to be one of the top 6 teams in country -- inevitably taking the spot of the TCU-Utah loser -- and while I appreciate that Michigan State is still unbeaten, this feels like a clear-cut Top 6.

But how to organize those six feels ridiculous. My Top 3 last week -- TCU, Boise, Utah -- are still strong, but Auburn, Oregon and Mizzou racked up impressive wins that, if strength-of-schedule matters, should catapult them closer to the top. My "ranking" is not a cop-out, but I'd love your input on how to organize it at the top.


Congrats to SF Giants fans: The Phillies were a very very good team -- a veritable dynasty in the NL -- and the Giants should feel awesome about toppling them.

There will be a common meme that a Rangers-Giants World Series will be a popular failure. Far more compelling is the idea that it is impossible to predict an obvious winner.

-- D.S.

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