Saturday, March 21, 2009

First Round - What Did We Learn?

Well, for starters, maybe the ACC isn't quite the juggernaut that everyone thought it was. Four of the conference's seven teams went down, and all four were upset by lower seeded teams. Wake Forest was blown out by 13-seed Cleveland State, 7-seeds Clemson and Boston College were upset by Michigan and USC (respectively) and Florida State fell to Wisconsin in overtime. Only Maryland's mild upset of Cal saved the conference further embarassment.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I called the USC and Wisconsin upsets. Yee-aahhhh!!!

I watched the thrilling overtime finishes between both Ohio State-Siena (2OT!) and USC-Wisconsin last night, and I have to admit it was one of the most exciting sequences I have seen in some time. Siena and Wisconsin both hit timely three pointers to stay alive, and their opponents fell just short at the buzzer. As an OSU-hater, I especially enjoyed seeing Siena take down the Buckeyes.

The Mountain West has to be disappointed to see both of their teams crash out against lower-seeded teams. Earlier in the season, there was talk that the conference might earn three or even four bids. The poor showing shouldn't (but probably will) affect perception of the league next season.

And what about Dayton? Many experts were predicting West Virginia as a sleeper to reach at least the Sweet 16, so it's a great win for the Flyers. Kansas will be a tough matchup for them, but Dayton is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Overall, though, the tournament is basically going according to plan. Wake Forest was the only team seeded fourth or higher that lost (although three 5 seeds lost) and the top contenders are all still alive. The second round tends to provide more of these types of upsets.

Of the one seeds, I think Pitt has the toughest matchup. Oklahoma State can run the floor and has beaten several top teams. LSU is a bit of enigma, but I don't see them hanging with North Carolina. Connecticut and Louisville should also be able to handle Texas A&M and Siena, although I've said before that Louisville makes me a little nervous.

Among the two seeds, I've already gone on record saying I expect Michigan State to lose to USC. Oklahoma could also be susceptible to an upset, but Michigan will need its threes to fall. Memphis and Duke would seem to be a little more safe. Memphis opponent Maryland has the capability of winning tough games, but they are not consistent. We've already seen the middle of the ACC exposed as perhaps a bit overrated, so I expect Memphis to win. Duke has been a prime candidate as of late for earlier-than-expected exits, but I am not impressed at all with Texas.

Well, the games start in less than an hour, so enjoy! Game number one is UCLA-Villanova,and once again I'm expecting another upset there.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Last Minute Tournament Preview

OK, so maybe you had been expecting more “bubble” updates as the conference tournaments were winding down, so sorry about that. For what it’s worth, I think the committee did a pretty good job. Also, a number of surprise tourney berths (Mississippi State, Temple, and Cleveland State) eliminated at-large spots and probably made the committee’s job a little bit easier.

From a seed-centric perspective, it appears that Arizona and Wisconsin were the last two teams to make the tournament (as 12 seeds) with Dayton coming as the lone at-large 11 seed. Michigan, Minnesota, and Maryland all clocked in as 10 seeds. Nine seeds Tennessee, Butler, and Texas A&M were never really in any doubt, so realistically speaking, only about six seeds were up for grabs going into the final selection process.

I don’t really have any huge issues with the seeds themselves, but I will point a few teams that seem to stick out a little bit. For example, I’m a little surprised that Boston College earned a seven seed. I know they beat Duke and won at UNC, but they also lost at home to Harvard and only went 9-7 in conference, including 5-5 in their last ten games. Xavier also seems to be seeded a little high. They had two very impressive wins back in November (Missouri, Memphis) but also struggled down the stretch (going 5-5 with two losses to RPI 100+ teams), so a four seed seems a little high. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I think Tennessee’s nine seed is a little low. The weak SEC may have brought down their numbers a little bit but they did play against the third ranked schedule in the country and advanced to the SEC title game.

For posterity’s sake, I’ll mention my bracket picks, although I didn’t put an incredible amount of thought into them. Unless otherwise noted, I went with the chalk.

First Round
Arizona over Utah – Utah may be ranked in the RPI top ten, but they won only one road game against an RPI top 100 team (Wyoming). They did win the Mountain West tourney, while Arizona is coming off a disappointing quarterfinal exit. Arizona has also lost five of their last six, so I can’t come up with any rational reasons for this pick, except that I think Utah is overrated and Arizona will want to justify their inclusion as likely the last at-large selection.

USC over Boston College – Unlike Arizona, USC is playing well right now, having just won the Pac-10 tourney. As I mentioned above, I think Boston College was seeded too generously and I like this game for an upset.

Tennessee over Oklahoma State – I guess a nine over an eight is upset, but as a Vols fan, I have to pick them to win at least one game.

Wisconsin over Florida State – My usual thought process centers around the fact that the Big Ten sucks, but hey, Northwestern was able to beat Florida State, so why not Wisconsin? Wisconsin also won at Virginia Tech, which proves they can beat ACC talent.

Wow, a whopping four upset picks for the first round. Let’s not get carried away here…

Second Round
USC over Michigan State – First of all, I’m in a pool with a bunch of people from Michigan, so this is huge chance for me to separate myself from them. But more importantly, Michigan State really isn’t all that good. I may be biased because one of the only games I saw them play was a 98-63 blowout at the hands of UNC, but their disappointing show in the Big Ten tourney may be a sign of things to come.

Wisconsin over Xavier – What the hell is wrong with me? Picking one of the last at-large teams to advance to the Sweet 16? Well, I do feel that Xavier is over-seeded and they haven’t been able to win on the road, at least lately. This is more a pick against Xavier than for Wisconsin. If Florida State beats Wisconsin, I would probably pick them over Xavier as well.

UCLA over Villanova – Many people are picking UCLA to get upset in the first round by VCU, so this is my “opposite pick” that sometimes seems to work in Vegas. Unfortunately, Villanova will basically be playing at home, so this may be a reach. UCLA has Final Four experience, so I don’t see them going down easily. Call me crazy.

Arizona State over Syracuse – Throw rationale out the window. I just think Syracuse’s luck has run out. That 6 OT win over UConn must have used up a lot of karma. Meanwhile, Arizona State has kind of slipped in under the radar, although did play well in the Pac-10 tourney before losing in the title game to USC.

Again, I don’t know what is wrong with me. I have FOUR Pac-10 teams in the Sweet 16. I guess Obama and I are not on the same page – he has every Pac-10 team losing in the second round (or earlier). I think my picks are more a factor of good matchups than an actual statement on the strength of the conference.

Sweet 16
Sorry, no upsets here. I do have Kansas advancing to the Elite Eight (in place of Michigan State/USC) but all my other one and two seeds held serve. Oh, and that also means all the Pac-10 teams are gone now.

Elite Eight
Memphis over Connecticut – Memphis never seems to get any love, despite the fact they have been to three straight Elite Eights. They are hard team to gauge, but it’s also hard to ignore how they dominated the Conference USA tournament. Connecticut has a terrific resume and will probably be rested after bowing out a little earlier than expected in the Big East tourney. Regardless, this should be a great game and obviously it could go either way, but I like Memphis to come out on top.

Final Four
Memphis over Louisville
UNC over Pitt

At this point we’re just splitting hairs. Louisville can be inconsistent (see: 90-57 loss at Notre Dame) but they are peaking at the right now. UNC’s fortunes will probably depend on Ty Lawson. If he is not 100%, then Pitt would be my pick.

UNC - Unless they lose to Pitt...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bubble Watch - Weekend Update

After a weekend full of exciting games, several teams helped their tournament causes, while a few others shot themselves in the foot.

Time is starting to run and out, and desperation may set in for a few teams listed below.

No Longer a Lock
Gonzaga – Sure, they’ve only lost once in 2009, but their RPI continues to slip thanks to a weak conference schedule. They have probably saved up enough goodwill from previous tournaments, but this clearly isn’t one of Gonzaga’s better teams in recent memory. Their schedule is easy enough that they shouldn’t lose until possibly the WCC championship, but a loss before then would be very bad.

Ohio State – OSU has fallen out of the RPI top 40 (43) and into legitimate bubble territory. With a 7-7 conference record, Ohio State will need to win at least two of its last four games. After losing their last three games, the Buckeyes are rapidly losing ground in the Big Ten. Ohio State hosts Penn State tomorrow night in what will be a big game for both teams.

Georgetown – We already knew the Hoyas were in trouble, despite a lofty RPI, but now that RPI has fallen all the way to 45. Worse, they are 5-9 in the Big East, have lost eight of their last ten, and just missed a chance for a big home win against Marquette. Georgetown hosts Louisville today and this game could be considered a must-win game. If they lose, their next game (at Louisville) most definitely becomes a ‘must-win’ game, but even that may not be enough.

South Carolina – In January, South Carolina looked like it might be a rising squad in the SEC, but lately they have been just as inconsistent as the rest of the bunch and their RPI has slipped to 44. With an 8-4 SEC record, South Carolina may be able to absorb home losses to Tennessee and Kentucky over the next couple of weeks, but a win in one of those two games would probably punch their ticket.

Moving Up
Texas – After knocking off Oklahoma this past weekend, Texas might have just sealed their bid. With an RPI at 35, Texas can probably afford to split their last four games and still feel relatively comfortable.

Texas A&M – Having just beat Texas themselves, A&M gets a bit of a secondary bump from Texas’ win over Oklahoma. With an RPI of 39 and 5-7 conference record, Texas A&M certainly can’t feel too comfortable right now, but their next three games are manageable and they finish with an important home date against Missouri.

LSU – After moving into the RPI top 40, LSU is almost assured of an NCAA bid. Even if they lose their last four games, LSU would still have an 11-5 SEC record.

Creighton – This team jumped about 10 RPI spots after knocking off George Mason in Bracket Busters. With many other bubble teams struggling, Creighton has to be considered a dark horse candidate to sneak into the tournament. The regular season finale against fellow bubble team Illinois St. looms large.

St. Mary’s – Another team that benefited from Bracket Busters, St. Mary’s profile certainly looks a little better after beating Utah State.

Maryland – Maryland got one of the big wins (UNC) they needed, but they will probably need another one before all is said and done. With Duke and Wake Forest still on the schedule, it just might be possible.

Penn State – A huge week for the Nittany Lions (wins over Minnesota, @ Illinois) leaves Penn State at 8-6 in the Big Ten. They travel to now-struggling Ohio State tomorrow and a win will inch Penn State even closer to that elusive bid. Their RPI (61) and non-conference schedule are still weak, but a few more conference wins will improve their profile.

Ole Miss – Don’t look now, but Ole Miss has won five of it last seven (including wins over Kentucky and Tennessee) so perhaps it’s time to give the Rebels a cursory glance. Their RPI has nudged up to 65, and with a 6-6 conference record, they aren’t completely dead. They probably need to win their last four games to have a decent chance, though.

Moving Down
USC – They missed a chance after losing at home to Washington, so they really need a result out of their road trip to Cal later this week. Their other three games won’t help their profile, but can definitely hurt them.

Davidson – After getting demolished by Butler, Davidson has run out of chances to improve their profile. Another loss would be devastating, and anything less than a conference championship may not be enough at this point.

Virginia Tech – Sinking like a rock right now, Virginia Tech can’t catch a break. They have lost three straight and finish with four games against the ACC’s top four teams. They absolutely need to win two of those games to get back into the discussion.

Providence – After losing at home to Notre Dame, it’s probably over for Providence. Their RPI has sunk to 76 and they’ve lost five of their last seven. They have two more chances to record big wins (Pitt, @Villanova) but it still might not be enough.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bubble Watch

Everyone knows that the unwritten law of NCAA tournament selection is that nearly every “BCS” conference team with greater than a .500 conference record will make it to the Big Dance. Occasionally, a team will sneak in at under .500 if at has some quality out-of-conference wins or an especially brutal schedule.

Some empirical data also suggests that nearly every BCS team with an RPI of 40 or better will be selected, and that every top 30 non-BCS team will be selected. Certainly than have been a few exceptions here and there, but I’ll hold that rule for simplification.

Following these basic rules, the following teams would advance:
ACC – UNC, Duke, Clemson, Wake Forest, Florida State
Big Ten – Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota
Big East – Pitt, Connecticut, Villanova, West Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown
Big 12 – Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma State
Pac 10 – Washington, Cal, Arizona State, UCLA
SEC – Tennessee, South Carolina
Mountain West – Utah
Atlantic 10 – Xavier, Dayton
Conference USA – Memphis
Horizon – Butler
West Coast – Gonzaga
Metro Atlantic – Siena

For those of you keeping track, twelve conferences are represented above. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that all twelve auto bids for these conferences come from the teams already listed. The above list includes 37 teams, so reducing that number by 12 means 25 at-large bids are already more or less accounted for.

Given that there are 31 auto bids, this also means that 19 bids will be given to teams that wouldn’t qualify via the above requirements. Adding the 36 teams in the first list to the 19 other auto bids gives a total of 55, which means that only ten bids are truly up for grabs.

Another empirical observation of mine is that no team outside of the RPI top 65 will receive a bid. Air Force did get a bid in 2004 with an RPI of 70, but again, for argument’s sake, let’s cap it at 65.

Basically, this means that there are approximately 29 schools fighting for the last ten berths. Of course, this assumes that teams currently in the RPI top 40 will stay there, and we all know that is not going to happen. Before taking a look at some of these bubble schools, I’d like to point out a couple of teams in the ‘safe’ list that might not be so safe.

Siena (29) – Siena is on the very edge of safety for a non-BCS school. They won’t have much of a chance to improve their RPI and they lack an RPI top 50 win. One more loss might just nudge them out of the RPI top 30.

Oklahoma State (37) – OSU has a relatively strong RPI, but this is more due to a strong schedule than recording solid wins. Oklahoma State is 4-6 in the Big 12 and is 2-8 against RPI top 50 schools, with their best win coming against fellow bubble-mate Siena. OSU should probably win five of its last six games to maintain this RPI (and a plus .500 conference record) but that will mean beating either Texas at home or Oklahoma on the road.

Georgetown (39) – Like Oklahoma State, Georgetown’s RPI is propped up by a killer schedule, although to their credit they do have some terrific wins (Memphis, @Conn, Syracuse). However, they have lost seven of their last eight and still have to play Marquette, Louisville, and Villanova. Georgetown will probably need to win two of those games to have a solid chance.

And on to the bubble teams!

Utah State (33) – Impressive record (23-2) but they have only three victories against RPI top 100 schools. Utah State will need to win at St. Mary’s (Bracket Busters) because their other four remaining opponents have an average RPI of over 200. Anything less than a tourney championship will probably leave them out in the cold.

Temple (34) – Surprisingly high RPI for a 15-9 team with only one RPI top 50 win. Temple does have a 7-3 conference record in the tough A-10. With a relatively easy remaining schedule, Temple has a chance to run the table if they can win at Dayton. If Temple can’t knock off Dayton, they will need a deep tourney run.

BYU (35) – 18-5 (7-3) with no bad losses, but no great wins either. They do have a neutral court win over Utah State. Their remaining schedule is tough, with dates against Mountain West rivals UNLV, San Diego State, and Utah. All four of those teams are in the hunt, so that three game stretch will go a long way in determining who advances.

UAB (39) – With only two RPI top 100 wins, I’m somewhat surprised to see UAB ranked this high, especially with a 17-8 record. The early season win at Arizona looks good and none of their losses is particularly damaging, but UAB may regret not winning one of its several close losses against RPI top 25 teams (Oklahoma, Butler, Memphis). If UAB can knock off Memphis at home, they will get a look, but otherwise I don’t see it happening.

LSU (41) – LSU is a near lock at this point with a 9-1 SEC record, including wins over Tennessee and South Carolina. They can probably afford a slip-up or two, especially if they manage to beat Florida at home or Kentucky on the road. The only yellow flag is their awful, awful non-conference schedule.

Arizona (42) – Winners of seven straight, Arizona is playing well at the right time. Probably safe, but a win at Arizona State or Washington would probably seal the deal. Arizona State currently has an 8-5 conference record and should end up with at least ten conference wins.

USC (43) – Not quite as strong a profile as Arizona, USC has yet to record any significant road wins. Their only remaining chance is at Cal. A home win over Washington this weekend would also enhance their profile, as they currently maintain a 6-6 conference record.

Texas (44) – In a bit of a tailspin at the moment. Texas has non-conference wins over Villanova and Wisconsin but have lost four of their last six. Texas will need to win one of these three games to be confident of a bid: Oklahoma, @Ok St, @Kansas.

San Diego State (45) – Very similar to BYU. Remaining home games against BYU and UNLV could improve their profile. San Diego State missed chances to record non-conference wins against Arizona and St. Mary’s.

Florida (46) – Fairly impressive record at 19-6, but other than an early season win over Washington, the Gators don’t have much to brag about. After blowing a game against previously SEC-winless Georgia, Florida will need to win at least two of these three: @LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky.

Texas A&M (47) – Staying alive after yesterday’s win over Texas, the Aggies have a very realistic chance of reaching .500 in the Big 12. Currently at 4-7, the Aggies only face one more team with a winning conference record (out of five). If Texas A&M can’t defeat Nebraska on the road, they will absolutely have to beat Missouri at home in their regular season finale.

Cincinnati (48) – Swept Georgetown and also have wins over fellow bubble teams UAB and UNLV. Their next three games (Louisville, West Virginia, @Syracuse) are brutal and Cincinnati will probably need to win two of those games to boost their profile.

Miami (49) – Miami has faced a tough schedule and notched a few notable wins (at Kentucky, Florida State, Wake Forest) but they still sit at 4-7 in the ACC. A road win at Florida State would then lead into a manageable four game stretch that could leave them at 9-7. Anything less, however, might not be enough, other than an extended ACC tourney run.

Davidson (50) – Only a win against West Virginia keeps their profile from looking completely blank. Their recent home loss to Charleston (120) hurts, as well as their remaining weak conference schedule, but a Bracket Busters win at home over Butler may push them into safer territory. Also, they may get the benefit of the doubt after last year’s performance.

Virginia Tech (51) – Solid ACC record (6-4) but unfortunately five of their last six games are against RPI top 20 teams. A couple of wins from that group (Florida State, @Clemson, Duke, UNC, @FSU) are essentially a requirement. Virginia Tech already holds solid road wins over Wake Forest and Miami.

Boston College (52) – Wins over Duke and UNC help mask ugly losses to Harvard and Saint Louis. A win in either of their next two games (@ Miami, Florida State) would help tremendously.

Michigan (53) – Still alive after beating Northwestern on the road, Michigan needs to win three of its last five just to get to .500 in the Big Ten. No easy task considering they have two against Minnesota, host Purdue and travel to Wisconsin. Even the one ‘gimmie’ (at Iowa) is no walk in the park. In short, Michigan is up against the wall right now. Wins over Duke and UCLA may come in handy if Michigan can win a few more conference games.

Baylor (54) – Like Michigan, Baylor has struggled in conference, but unlike Michigan, they don’t have great non-conference wins to fall back on, although Arizona State and Providence are both decent wins. At 4-7 in the Big 12, Baylor has to win four of five to get to 8-8. Road trips to Oklahoma State and Texas will probably prevent that from happening.

UNLV (55) – See BYU and San Diego State. They do have an ace in the hole with a road win at Louisville, but will need to score a couple of wins against the trio of Utah, BYU, and San Diego State to separate themselves from the pack.

Creighton (56) – Not likely to get any love with a home win over Dayton as the only decent accomplishment on their profile. If they can run the table, including George Mason in Bracket Busters and MVC rival Illinois State, Creighton might just get a look if they can get to their tourney championship game.

George Mason (57) – No clue how they have an RPI in range of Creighton’s. With five losses to RPI sub-100 teams (and two to RPI sub-200 teams), George Mason should focus on winning their conference tournament.

Illinois State (58) – Significantly weaker profile than Creighton, their RPI might improve with three relatively tough games (@Niagara, Northern Iowa, @Creighton) remaining. Even winning those three might not be enough if they don’t get to their conference title game.

St. Mary’s (59) – As has been well publicized, St. Mary’s has struggled without their injured star, losing four of their last six. A home win over Utah State will look good, but their fate probably rests on the health of Patty Mills.

Maryland (60) – Hanging around in the ACC at 5-5, Maryland faces the four top teams (@Clemson, UNC, Duke, Wake) in their last six games. Maryland will probably need to win two of them to get a solid look.

Kentucky (61) – Hard to envision a tournament without Kentucky, but the Wildcats will have to be careful. Four of their last six are tricky (Tennessee, @South Carolina, LSU, @Florida) and they would do well to split those games.

Niagara (62) – Not bloody likely.

Rhode Island (63) – No signature wins, but if they can run the table they will end up at 12-4 in the A-10. Only Dayton (and maybe @ Duquesne) should present a problem. If that happens, then we’ll talk.

Nebraska (64) – Will need to win four of their last six, including two (maybe three) from this group (@Kansas, Texas A&M, @ Kansas State, @Baylor) to get back into the conversation.

Western Kentucky (65) – Early season win over Louisville is all that’s keeping them alive. Even if they run the table, their weak remaining schedule will drag down their RPI.

Bonus teams!
Providence (69) – No bad losses and some good wins (Syracuse, swept Cincinnati) give Providence a little bit of leeway. Remaining schedule includes @Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, @Villanova. Two wins from that group could leave Providence at 11-5 in the Big East, which should be good enough for the Dance.

Penn State (71) – Terrible non-conference schedule holds them back, but if they can win one of their next two (@Illinois, @OSU) Penn State’s stock should increase dramatically.

Notre Dame (74) – Sigh. They need to win four of six to get to .500 in the Big East. That means winning two from this group: @West Virginia, @Providence, @Connecticut, Villanova. I don’t see it happening, but they still have a chance.

There you have it. If I had to pick ten from that group, I’d go with LSU, Arizona, Texas, BYU, Florida, Kentucky, Boston College, UNLV, Temple, and Utah State.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

And that happened...

By the way, Florida won the BCS Championship and extended the SEC’s title reign to three years. This gives the SEC four of the last six National Championships and, since the inauguration of the BCS, five of eleven. Unfortunately, other than recruiting, no one really cares about college football right now. After the Super Bowl, we’ll officially have no football until early fall. I guess we’ll have to make due with basketball and baseball until then.

Speaking of basketball, the SEC has been absolutely terrible this year. Tennessee barely looks like a tournament-worthy team (having gone 1-4 in their last five home games) and the rest of the league is even worse. No team is in the RPI top 25, and Kentucky is the lone SEC representative in the polls. After losing to Ole Miss, I doubt they’ll stick around much longer, either. Only two teams (Tennessee and Florida) are even in the RPI top 50. For absolute futility, the award has to go to Georgia. The Bulldogs (9-11) somehow have a lower RPI than such storied programs as Canisius (7-13) and Rice (6-14). Just sad.

And how the hell is Notre Dame ranked? Okay, they beat Texas and (a now-slumping) Georgetown, but come on, people! Other than those two teams, their next best win is over Seton Hall! The same Seton Hall that’s 1-6 in the Big East. Oh, and Notre Dame is ranked 78th in RPI, is 11-7 and they’ve lost five of their last seven. I don’t care if four of those losses have been against top 25 teams, teams should be ranked because they win games, not because they ‘kind of keep it close’ against elite teams. The rest of the schedule doesn’t get any easier with six RPI top 50 opponents left to go (four on the road) so hopefully Notre Dame will just fade away. Although I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to pick them to get upset by another double-digit seed in the tourney…

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weekend in Review

True to typical BCS form (as of late) Texas Tech laid a huge egg against Oklahoma and tumbled out of the BCS race. For the moment. Analysts are already putting together scenarios in which the now 7th ranked Red Raiders can return to title game contention.

How big of a disaster would that be? Think about it. Let's say Oklahoma State knocks off Oklahoma next week. That would propel Texas Tech to the Big 12 Championship game, where they would face a Missouri team that has already been manhandled by Red Raider-victim Texas. Texas Tech would likely pass both Texas and Oklahoma with a Big 12 title on its resume, and presumably Utah and the loser of Alabama-Florida as well. For those keeping track at home, that would push them from #7 to #3. Would voters leapfrog Texas Tech over a somewhat uninspiring (and currently 5th ranked) USC team? Hard to say, but I can just imagine the complaints if a team that recently lost by 40+ points ended up in the title game.

In other news, we are inching dangerously close to another yawn-inducing Rose Bowl. Now that Penn State has locked up a Rose Bowl berth, no one seems to be mentioning the fact that current Pac-10 leader Oregon State has already played Penn State. And they certainly aren't mentioning the fact that the first matchup ended before it even started, with Penn State claiming a 45-14 victory. While I would love to see USC miss a BCS bowl, I'd much rather see them play Penn State that have to suffer a week-one rematch. Expect the Rose Bowl brass to be secretly rooting for Oregon to take down Oregon State this weekend.

The ACC continues to prove that is a worthless conference. Odds are overwhelming that the conference champion will have at least four losses, unless Boston College can salvage what's left of the ACC's dignity by winning out. Only three teams have less than four losses, and all three sit at three losses. Boston College of course is one of them, and the other two are Florida State and Georgia Tech. The latter two teams each have tough out of conference rivalry games (against Florida and Georgia, respectively) remaining, so I would not count on either of them pulling out a win.

Utah, Boise State, and Ball State all won to remain undefeated, but odds are that only one of them will receive a BCS invitation. Given that Utah has already wrapped up its season and has a hefty BCS ranking advantage over their two 'mid-major' rivals, it looks like tough cookies for Boise State and Ball State.

In another blow for Tennessee, albeit an indirect one, Wyoming fired its coach this week. What does it say about Tennessee's program that a win over Tennessee would not be enough to save the job of a coach at Wyoming (Wyoming!)? Five years ago, this would have been talked about for weeks, but now it's just another disappointing event in a looong season.

The Cincinnati Bearcats are poised to claim a Big East automatic BCS berth after downing Pitt. Only a win over lowly Syracuse stands in the way of a potential Orange Bowl appearance. Great job by that team, and totally unexpected this season: The Big East media picked Cincinnati to finish fifth in the conference. Expect to hear head coach Brian Kelley's name thrown around alot this offseason in connection with various big-time openings.

Finally, a word on Alabama. Yes, they are undefeated, but I can't help feeling they will fall short before they even reach the SEC championship game. According to most statistical rankings, Alabama has the weakest schedule of any top 25 team, excluding the non-BCS schools. Other than the big win over Georgia (in which they only played well for the first half) Alabama really hasn't put together a dominant performance. Three of their SEC wins have come by less than a touchdown, and those were against mid-tier teams like LSU, Ole Miss and Kentucky. Alabama clearly has talent, but I think they have benefited from a slightly easier schedule than the rest of their SEC counterparts. The Iron Bowl will be a big mental challenge this weekend. Although Auburn is not as talented as they have been in the past, emotions always run high in the Iron Bowl and I expect a tough game. Also, Alabama hasn't beaten Auburn since 2001, so this game certainly isn't a given for 'Bama.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Maybe Obama isn't the Anti-Christ after all...

You have to give Obama credit. Politicians have long attacked unpopular ideas in order to build their support. What better way to bring the country together after a divisive election than by attacking the wildly unpopular BCS? Even though the idea of the (future) most powerful man in the world stooping down to meddle in the world of college athletics is a little absurd, it is definitely a smart play.

The common man may not understand the reasons for the mortgage crisis (which is probably why we have the crisis in the first place), whether or not the domestic auto manufacturers are worth saving, or how to simultaneously reduce the federal deficit and lower taxes, but he does know one thing: the BCS sucks.

College football is the only major team sport that does not have an inclusive post-season tournament, and as long as the networks continue to sign decade-long deals with BCS bigwigs, we’ll never see any change. Whether the future President himself could force the BCS power-brokers to institute a playoff is debatable, but he will certainly earn himself a few more favorable opinions by at least pretending to try to do something about it.

I have supported a playoff system in the past, but one of the problems is that while everyone seems to want a playoff, no one can agree on the structure. At the moment, an eight team playoff seems to be the most popular, but some are arguing for a four or sixteen team playoff. Four teams is clearly not enough to have a true playoff, and sixteen would dilute the value of the regular season. For example, Oklahoma and USC are ranked fifth and sixth in the BCS, but most people would concede that those two teams are just as deserving as number three Texas. Well, at least USC is, since Texas already beat Oklahoma. As far as having sixteen teams, just consider that Michigan State and TCU are ranked 15th and 16th, respectively. While both are solid teams, most would agree that including three teams each from the Big Ten (also: Penn State, Ohio State) and MWC (also: Utah, BYU) is a little excessive.

Location also seems to be a concern. Where would these playoff games be held? Would the fans be able to travel with such short notice? It doesn’t seem to be an issue in other sports, but for some reason it keeps coming up in this debate. The NFL and NCAA Final Four fans seem to manage with the uncertainty, and I don’t see why it would be a problem for a college football playoff. As long as a clear bracket was established, fans would know in advance where their team might end up.

Other concerns such as “hurting student athletes” by extending the season are ludicrous. All other divisions of college football have a playoff, and most of those schools have more of an emphasis on academics than the college football factories.

Perhaps the BCS proponents’ strongest argument is the most basic one: it’s all about money. Since the inception of the BCS, college football has never been more popular. Television networks are falling over themselves trying to secure the rights to televise games. More and more schools are expanding their stadiums and adding luxury suites. College football is bringing in more money than ever. With a playoff, would people still tune in to the regular season?

First of all, I don’t believe that an eight team playoff would be all that dilutive to the regular season. Winning a conference title is still a major accomplishment, and fans will continue to tune in to see those games. Most big-time programs have several heated rivalries, and with the small number of games per year, each individual game carries huge importance. One argument against a playoff system is that fans will lose interest in these late-season games (such as Penn State losing to Iowa) because they will lack the drama of an elimination-type game. However, I could argue that the BCS makes virtually every game meaningless. Once your team loses, it is basically eliminated from contention. What reason do you have to watch the games of other teams after your team loses?

Of course, that is not true. Michigan and Tennessee still have packed houses for their games despite horrific seasons. Fans will continue to watch games like Penn State-Iowa because they love college football and the game has a significant factor in deciding the conference championship.

The biggest reason for a playoff goes beyond money (and the millions a playoff would generate) because college football (and sports in general) is about more than that. Players play to win. This isn’t gymnastics. Style points shouldn’t matter. Decide the outcome on the field. How can you tell a 12-0 Utah or Ball State “congrats on winning all your games, now enjoy the Humanitarian Bowl”? Don’t they deserve a chance to play for it all? How do you tell an 11-1 USC that their 11-1 isn’t as good as Florida or Oklahoma’s?

At some point you have to look past all the fluff to see the truth, and truth is that college football needs a playoff.