Dallas Colleges: Colorado State Rams
Williams, Kyan Anderson and Hank Thorns each converted two free-throw attempts within the final 1:36 for TCU (14-10, 4-4 Mountain West).
Thorns scored 15 points, J.R. Cadot 14 and Garlon Green 10 to supplement Williams' output.
Anderson had eight assists and three steals and Cadot and Connell Crossland each had seven rebounds.
Williams' effort helped TCU to a 30-8 scoring advantage off the bench.
Wes Eikmeier scored 26 points for Colorado State (15-8, 4-4). Pierce Hornung scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Let’s change the rules, based on what we’ve seen today. If you survey the weekend slate and you can’t find any meaningful games and potential upsets that you’re overly interested in, that means it’s time to call Earl and the crew (everybody has a friend named Earl), stock the fridge and get ready for some good basketball. If this was a lukewarm weekend in college basketball, what qualifies as a great one?
Iowa State 72, No. 5 Kansas 64
Many laughed when Fred Hoiberg began his tenure at Iowa State by recruiting from a pool of players known for their checkered pasts. Royce White, who left Minnesota two seasons ago after a tumultuous stay, led the bunch. But Hoiberg looks like a genius right now after the Cyclones handed No. 5 KU its first Big 12 loss of the season. The win snapped both the Jayhawks' 13-game winning streak over Iowa State and their 10-game overall winning streak (they hadn’t lost since Dec. 19).
The postgame court-storming was well-deserved for the 'Clones and their fans. Hoiberg has as much job security as any coach in the country based on his legendary career in Ames, which allowed him to pursue so many transfers without worry. In other words, he’d get a mulligan if things didn’t work out.
Against Kansas, however, Hoiberg proved that he’s more than a risk-taking recruiter. He can coach, too. Iowa State, a squad that suffered an 82-73 loss at Kansas on Jan. 14, led by three points at halftime. But that didn’t last. The Jayhawks scored 11 unanswered points early in the second half. The crowd’s energy dropped after that KU run, but Iowa State kept fighting, something it had failed to do down the stretch in its earlier loss to the Jayhawks.
White led the charge. With his team leading 56-53 and five minutes to play, he scored the Cyclones' next eight points (three straight layups and a pair of free throws). He entered the game as a 51 percent free throw shooter -- ISU was the Big 12’s worst free throw shooting team at 61 percent overall -- but he was 6-for-8 from the charity stripe in the second half. He finished with a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, making up for his six turnovers. The team was 25-for-34 from the charity stripe.
So yes, the same Iowa State squad that lost at Drake Nov. 15 looks like an NCAA tournament team right now -- no matter what my colleague Doug Gottlieb might tweet. At 5-3, the Cyclones are off to their best Big 12 start in a dozen years and sure seem like they won't be fading away anytime soon.
No. 4 Syracuse 63, West Virginia 61
It just can’t happen. Not in late January with the stakes so high. Not when it’s so blatant. Officials in this game missed one of the more obvious and critical goaltending calls of the season. In the final seconds, West Virginia's Truck Bryant air-balled a 3-pointer that ended up in Deniz Kilicli’s hands with his team down by a bucket. Kilicli’s layup was swatted away in mid-air by Syracuse's Baye Keita, but replays showed what looked like a clear goaltending violation by Keita. Officials never blew their whistles.
West Virginia got the ball back and Kevin Jones (20 points, eight rebounds) missed a deep 3-pointer to win the game, but the final outcome might have changed had that crew flagged Keita for goaltending. Now granted, WVU had its chances. Brandon Triche (18 points) hit a pair of free throws with a minute and a half to play and the Mountaineers missed four consecutive shots. But the no-call clearly impacted the game.
Syracuse struggled in its third consecutive game without Fab Melo. The Orange just haven’t looked like the same squad without him and his defensive presence. West Virginia secured an astounding plus-21 (41-20) rebounding edge over the Cuse and had nearly as many offensive boards (19) as the Orange had total. How does that happen? It’s not like the Mountaineers are the biggest team in the country. They were just tougher than Syracuse most of the afternoon. And had it not been for that missed goaltending call, West Virginia might have avoided its 13th loss to the Cuse in 14 meetings.
No. 7 Baylor 76, Texas 71
With 4:09 to go, Texas' Myck Kabongo hit a 3-pointer as Pierre Jackson committed a ridiculous foul to put him on the line for a four-point play opportunity. Texas had been down by 12 points early in the second half, but Kabongo’s shot cut Baylor’s advantage to just one. Cameras panned to Baylor coach Scott Drew on the sidelines. He had the “I can’t believe this is happening at home” look on his face.
Perry Jones (22 points, 14 rebounds) was far more aggressive than he’d been in some of his efforts, but Baylor couldn’t keep the pressure on the Longhorns and nearly blew one at home. J’Covan Brown scored 32 points (11-for-22), his third consecutive 30-point effort. But he had way more time to create a better shot than the deep 3-ball he took with 14 seconds on the clock. His team was down by three points in the closing seconds, so I understand why he’d take a deep shot, but he didn’t have to shoot it when he did. He had more time on the clock.
Here’s where you have to have more question marks about Baylor, though. The Bears are at home. Texas shot 36 percent from the field in the first half and was 1-for-12 from beyond the arc before halftime. Seemed like an opportunity for Baylor to flex its muscle. But it turned into another lukewarm finish for the Bears.
No. 13 Florida 69, No. 16 Mississippi State 57
The Bulldogs just couldn’t handle Florida’s inside-outside attack. Patric Young (12 points, six rebounds) was solid for the Gators, especially after halftime. Bradley Beal led the Gators’ talented backcourt with 19 points. The nation’s leaders in 3-point field goals hit 11 of them as they won their fifth straight and 17th in a row at home.
Arnett Moultrie was 4-for-10 and scored 12 points for a Bulldogs team that committed 14 turnovers. It was MSU's third SEC road loss of the season. At 5-3 in league play, they’d better find a way to compete away from home. They’re certainly talented, but the Bulldogs have really struggled on the road. Thought this one would have been a closer game, but give the Gators credit. They can spread teams out with their guard play and minimize their size disadvantages, a tactic they used to perfection against the Bulldogs.
No. 1 Kentucky 74, LSU 50
The Wildcats are in Beast Mode right now. They’re just crushing teams. LSU entered this game following a tight road loss at Mississippi State. But the Wildcats are just a different animal. Terrence Jones led all scorers with a season-high 27 points and the Wildcats held LSU to a 1-for-9 clip from the 3-point line. Just two Tigers reached double figures.
Although LSU is only 2-5 in the SEC, you have to wonder how dangerous the Wildcats can be in March when a guy like Jones can explode despite some inconsistency this season. He entered the game averaging 11.6 ppg and he only scored five points against Georgia on Tuesday. But this game was further proof that Kentucky is a “pick your poison” kind of opponent. How do you defend a team with that number of studs? The Wildcats have so many weapons.
Syracuse is deep. Ohio State has balance. But no team in America looks as potent as Kentucky right now.
Some more observations from the afternoon games ...
- It Happened! It Happened! It Happened! Towson wins! The Tigers had set a record with 41 consecutive Division I losses, but on Saturday, a miracle happened when the Tigers beat UNC Wilmington 66-61 despite a 1-for-8 mark from the 3-point line. Marcus Damas scored 18 points. There were shaky moments late -- the Seahawks hit some late 3s after Towson took a 60-53 lead with 1:25 to play -- but the Tigers held on and a justifiable celebration ensued. For reaction from coach Pat Skerry and the Tigers, read Andy Katz's story in the Nation blog.
- Marquette did its normal slow-start/big-finish thing at Villanova, but Dana O'Neil was at the game, so I'll let her tell you more about it.
- Duke nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead against a young St. John’s team. The Blue Devils' 83-76 victory over the Red Storm was nothing to hang their hats on. The Devils should be disappointed that they gave up a late run that could have cost them the game.
- Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt clashed Saturday in a tight game between the two Tennessee schools. MTSU, 20-2 entering the game, has been one of the bigger surprises on the national scene. The Blue Raiders start four transfers who weren’t with the team last season. But their story hit a roadblock in their 84-77 loss at Vanderbilt. The loss snapped Middle's 12-game winning streak and gave Vandy its fourth win in its past five games.
- Is Pitt about to launch a big comeback this season? I’m not sure. But the Panthers have won two in a row after an impressive 72-60 win over No. 10 Georgetown, their fifth win in their last six meetings with the Hoyas. They lost their first eight Big East games, but Lamar Patterson scored a team-high 18 points and Ashton Gibbs added 13 for the Panthers, who have now won an incredible 12 straight home games against top-10 opponents.
- The Mountain West Conference is legit. Proof? No. 12 San Diego State took a tough 77-60 road loss at Colorado State on Saturday, despite Jamaal Franklin’s 24 points. After a brutal travel week in the Rockies, the loss snapped SDSU’s 11-game overall winning streak and its 58-game win streak against unranked foes, which had been the longest such run in the country. Colorado State’s dwindling at-large hopes certainly got a huge boost with this victory, the school's first over a ranked team since 2004.
After the dust settled on a wild weekend, TCU's 24-point win turned into a rankings loss.
The Frogs' hopes for a third consecutive BCS berth took perhaps a devastating hit when the BCS computers revealed Sunday night that TCU (9-2) actually dropped one spot to No. 20. TCU must finish in the top 16 in the final rankings in two weeks to have any hope of earning an automatic BCS berth.
For the complete BCS rankings, click here.
TCU doesn't play again until its season finale on Dec. 3 at home against UNLV (2-8), which will do little to strengthen its case. The Frogs are assured of at least sharing the Mountain West Conference championship and will win it outright with a victory over the Rebels.
If TCU did somehow get the help it needs from teams ranked ahead of it and did crack the top 16, the Frogs would still need help from Houston, which moved up to No. 8. TCU needs Houston to lose Friday at Tulsa, which would make the Golden Hurricane (7-3) the Conference USA West division champ and put it in the C-USA title game. If Houston beats Tulsa, TCU would then need the Cougars (11-0) to lose in the C-USA championship game. If the Cougars win out, they will play in the school's first BCS game.
The BCS grants an automatic berth to a non-AQ conference champion if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of the champion of an AQ conference. Houston and TCU are virtually assured of finishing ahead of the champion of the Big East, which does not have a team ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings.
After Sunday's rankings, however, it appears TCU's brief flirtation with the BCS will end as nothing more.
Likely TCU bowl destination: Independence bowl in Shreveport, La.
They remain at No. 19 in the AP poll and moved up one spot to No. 18 in the coaches poll. The latest BCS rankings will be revealed this evening on ESPN.
To earn an automatic BCS berth, TCU must finish in the top 16 in the BCS rankings, and it still must have Houston, which controls its destiny, lose its final regular-season game at Tulsa next Friday or in the Conference USA title game. Even if the Cougars lose, rising to No. 16 will require plenty of help from the teams ahead of TCU.
Whether at No. 18 or 19 in the BCS standings, the Frogs will have a tough time moving up on their own merit considering their season finale in two weeks is against UNLV. Still, getting to No. 16 is not impossible.
Consider that (rankings are current coaches poll) No. 17 Clemson plays at No. 13 South Carolina, No. 16 Michigan plays host to Ohio State and No. 15 Kansas State plays host to upset-minded Iowa State.
This is becoming old hat, but it shouldn't become old news: A win Saturday against Colorado State would be the 45th over the last four seasons for this year's TCU Horned Frogs senior class, making them the winningest class in school history. It would mark the fourth consecutive season that the seniors have topped the one before it.
Now that's consistency.
The jury was certainly out on this class winning nine or more games, especially after the 3-2 start. TCU lost a number of key seniors last season, including four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton and several defensive stalwarts. The Horned Frogs -- with 18 seniors (seven who start), compared to 26 last year -- returned one of its younger teams in years. Coach Gary Patterson has played six true freshmen this season, the most he's ever played in his 11 seasons at TCU. The 22 freshmen (six true, 16 redshirt) that have played is tied for 15th nationally. They battled back into the national polls and BCS rankings this week at No. 19 across the board.
For much of the season, this team has acted like a young one, often frustrating Patterson with a more relaxed approach than he would prefer, even on the eve of last week's big battle at Boise, which came on the heels of a slew of sloppy turnovers that nearly cost them the game at Wyoming.
"I walked in this [meeting] room and they weren’t ready to go play a ballgame in Boise. I walked in and just told them, 'I’d be lying, I’d be sending you somewhere that you don’t need to be sent to; you’re not ready to play,'" Patterson said. "I said, 'I’m not trying to be negative, I'm not trying to tell you anything different,' I said, 'but the bottom line is you’re not ready to play. I’ve watched you.'
"Physically, they got ready, but mentally they didn’t get ready."
Patterson said concentration and motivation shouldn't be an issue with the stakes high for the senior class as well as unexpectedly lofty for the team as a whole. Along with the senior wins record on the line, TCU can tie for no less than a tie for the Mountain West Conference championship. Two victories make it three consecutive MWC titles. But, wait, there's more.
"If I’ve got to get them motivated for this one then you don’t deserve to win a championship," Patterson said. "They’ve got a chance to be a part of three out of four years of championships. You’ve got to win one out of two to tie for it, but if you want to give yourself a chance to do anything else as far as BCS, you’ve got to win these ballgames."
Yes, a BCS berth, remarkably, is alive.
The Frogs will need Conference USA frontrunners, No. 11 Houston Cougars and No. 20 Southern Miss Golden Eagles, each to lose once, but the BCS is a mighty motivational carrot to dangle in front of a team that no one figured would follow in the BCS footsteps of the past two veteran-laden squads.
"I’ll be really surprised," Patterson said, "if they don’t come ready to play."
Patterson continaully said he'll do his talking in another two weeks when and if the Frogs (10-0, 6-0 Mountain West) end the season at 12-0 for a second consecutive year. He talked up Saturday's opponent in the home finale, the San Diego State Aztecs (7-2, 4-1), as though the Knute Rockne-era Fighting Irish were invading Amon G. Carter Stadium.
But, Patterson made his point. Coming off last week's pasting of then-No. 5 Utah, this is no time for a letdown.
"You better get ready to play," he said. "You’re judged only on Saturdays. In about three hours you’re judged and you’ve got to score one more point. If you don’t do that then none of you [the media] will be sitting here. If I get beat Saturday, you won’t be asking me any of these questions [about playing for a national championship[ and you won’t care that I’m playing New Mexico [on Nov. 27]."
Patterson is speaking from a position of wisdom.
"I've been here before. TCU in the last 10 years, I was here at 9-0 [actually 10-0] playing Southern Miss at Southern Miss," said Patterson of that 40-28 loss in 2003. "I was here in 2005 and we got beat by SMU. Gary Patterson has been here, so I’m not going to put my team at risk of going out there on the limb [talking about playing for a national championship] so that I can make myself sound good at the risk of my team losing a football game."
The Frogs' victory at Utah crossed their last major hurdle, not that Patterson will think that. The Utah game bit them in 2008 when, ranked No. 11 with only a September setback at Oklahoma blemishing their record, TCU lost to the Utes, 13-10, to end hopes of a first BCS berth.
"They [TCU players] understand that I think they can play," Patterson said. "But, they also understand that -- what, we were at Colorado State when we didn’t play very well, we were ahead 6-0 at halftime? So, we better come to play with our ‘A’ game this Saturday."
The senior's 39-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jimmy Young gave him a new TCU-record 50 scoring tosses in his career, breaking the Horned Frogs' previous mark of 49 (Max Knake, 1992-95). Dalton and the No. 5 Frogs blanked Colorado State on Saturday, 27-0.
Dalton is already the school's all-time leader in wins as well as holding numerous other career marks.
*The 27-0 win gave Gary Patterson his first road shutout in his 10 seasons as TCU head coach. The previous six shutouts under Patterson came in home games. TCU's last road shutout was a 24-0 win at Navy on Sept. 30, 2000, when Patterson was the Horned Frogs' defensive coordinator under Dennis Franchione.
If Tuesday's report in the New York Post suggesting TCU is on the Big East's radar caught Horned Frogs football coach Gary Patterson by surprise, perhaps he's had his nose buried in playbooks.
"Surprised," Patterson said via text message. "I have been working on CSU."
OK then. During football season, Patterson is a here-and-now guy and that means full-time preparations for Saturday's Mountain West opener at Colorado State. But, what if in a few years the conference opener was at Syracuse or UConn or Pittsburgh or West Virginia or Louisville? And what if the end game was an automatic bid to a BCS game? Should TCU be intrigued?
"Don't know!" Patterson typed. "Too busy to think about it right now!"
The man TCU pays to know, athletic director Chris Del Conte, did not return a phone message.
Right now, Patterson knows he can't afford to lose. One loss and the No. 5 Frogs won't be going to any BCS game. That's not the case for teams in the six major conferences that have automatic access to BCS games and millions of dollars in revenue annually.
But, does the Big East make sense for TCU? At first it would seem the Big East makes no sense logistically for sports other than football. But, that argument loses steam when you consider the new Mountain West once Utah and BYU leave and Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada come in.
"Travel is about the same," Patterson noted, and it is.
The bottom line is it might not be safe for TCU to hold out for an invite to the new Big 12 with 10 teams. And, who knows when the next major conference shakeup occurs and where it will shuffle schools. As TCU knows well, there are no guarantees.
The real winner in a move to the Big East might just be the men's basketball program, the one underachieving sport at TCU. The Big East is a college powerhouse and it could open all kinds of recruiting avenues, not to mention bringing in nationally ranked programs to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum every week, including Pitt and its coach, TCU's own Jamie Dixon.
For those concerned about TCU's baseball program, the Big East boasts a 12-team league. What's so special about MWC baseball again?
According to the report, everything is preliminary. Even so, it is intriguing.
"He was pretty fired up at halftime," game hero Jeremy Kerley said. "Miscues and misplays, that’s basically what it was."
Patterson told his team: "We’ve got to go take the ballgame. They were walking in with their heads down because it was 14-10. I said, 'You’re ahead. This team probably was preparing for you from last spring. You took their best shot. Now we got to go out and we got to play. That’s what it’s all about.'"
As the media gathered outside the visitor's locker room for coach and player interviews after TCU's 41-24 win over June Jones' inspired SMU team, media relations director Mark Cohen marched over and whispered orders from the head coach: Only one player would be made available to meet the media. Hello, fullback Luke Shivers.
No disrespect to Shivers. He landed the knockout touchdown from 4 yards out early in the fourth quarter. But, reporters that coverd this re-budding little rivalry Friday night wanted to also talk to players like Kerley, who gutted through a stomach virus, senior quarterback Andy Dalton, and junior linebacker Tank Carder and others on a veteran-laden team that ranks fourth in the nation and moved to 4-0.
Not until Patterson wrapped up a nearly eight-minute press session that touched on themes from Dalton's two interceptions ("he needs to stop") to TCU's place in the next poll ("the only thing we can control is at the end of the season we have an argument if we’re still undefeated"), did he soften and relent on a last-ditch request to talk to Kerley, a wily senior who's been there before.
His 83-yard kickoff return after SMU took a 17-14 lead early in the third quarter, quickly snapped momentum back in TCU's favor. He was asked what it felt like to have essentially saved the season. He also had four catches for 33 yards and a completion for 11 yards.
"I wouldn’t say I saved the season [with the return]," said Kerley, who acknowledged SMU stunned the Frogs early with hard-hitting play. "I’m glad I could step up to do that."
The silliness that governs college football today allows for the odd post-game interview in which the coach won, yet feels compelled to defend the way in which his team won the game. As the fourth-ranked team in the nation, it comes with the territory. He admitted mistakes and some sloppiness, but he ultimately praised his team for persevering in a tough spot, whether it costs them in Sunday's polls or not.
"I can’t worry about all that," Patterson said. "All I can worry about is trying to go into conference next week against Colorado State. If I let this be a negative that we just won a ballgame like that then I’m not the coach that I say that I am. We’ll see what people say about us in December."
TCU now enters its eight-game Mountain West Conference schedule. It starts in Fort Collins then back to TCU for three consecutive games against Wyoming, BYU and Air Force. The triple-option Falcons and the Nov. 6 road game at Utah figure to be the Frogs' toughest challenges in their quest for regular-season perfection.
The Mustangs on Friday night gave TCU, riding high after the Baylor rout, a timely reminder that everyone can be vulnerable.
"You got to give coach Jones and his staff and SMU a lot of credit," Patterson said. "We came into their house, they went door-to-door, they got a big crowd in the stands and it was a great football game in the state of Texas on a Friday night. We’re just glad we won because I think they would probably trade us."
No argument there. But, national-championship good? The voters, in this case the reporters who cover the teams and the games, think so. When this week's AP top 25 poll revealed that TCU had leaped the Longhorns, bouncing from No. 6, over No. 5, and to No. 4, it put the Horned Frogs bumper-to-bumper with its BCS-buster nemesis, No. 3 Boise State.
Those poll positions, for the first time since the creation of the BCS, mean not just one, but two "non-automatic qualifying" teams are legitimate contenders to bust on through to the national championship game.
Boise has the edge over the Frogs if both sweep their respective schedules -- for a second consecutive season. But, if Boise bumbles just once and TCU stays true, the Frogs would be in position to possibly get the chance to color in the tip of coach Gary Patterson's famed pyramid of goals. It reads: No. 1, National Champions.
But, when push comes to shove, would an undefeated Boise or TCU really get the nod over, say, a one-loss Florida or Oklahoma?
"I don't think we'll know until we get to the end of the season," Patterson said.
If Boise or TCU -- or both -- don't lose, the coaches that vote in the USA Today top 25 poll will have to think long and hard. (Patterson, by the way, will not be casting votes this season. With a slight smirk, he said he's glad.) The Harris Poll voters will also have to think long and hard. Then it will all come down to a formula and a computer will spit out No. 1 and No. 2 and the national championship matchup is born. (The AP poll is not part of the BCS formula, but the other polls, logically, would be in close step.
So does TCU or Boise have the more difficult path to perfection? And what about No. 1 Alabama? And No. 2 Ohio State? Does either have an early loss lurking? And what about No. 5 Texas? Could Bevo push from behind if it builds a head of steam?
Two of three face stiff tests Saturday: Alabama welcomes No. 18 Penn State, and Ohio State plays No. 12 Miami at home. Texas should get an easy, crowd-pleasing win in its home opener against the Mountain West's Wyoming.
Meanwhile, TCU will be heavy favorites in each of its games, starting Saturday at home against Tennessee Tech and leading into the Nov. 6 showdown in Salt Lake against big-in-its-britches Utah, soon-to-be Pac-10-bound. The Utes broke into the rankings this week at No. 20.
The Broncos face the Beavers at home on Sept. 25. Two late-season WAC games, fortuitously at home against Fresno State and Oklahoma-stunner Utah State, stack up as Boise's most challenging obstacles.
If Boise and TCU continue to win, how voters weigh overall strength-of-schedule, an edge the "major conference" teams will win every time, will be an interesting study.
But, who knows? Anything is possible.
Here's a look at the key areas of the remaining schedules for the nation's top five teams:
No. 1 Alabama
Ranked teams defeated: None
Ranked teams left on schedule:6 (No. 18 Penn State, No. 14 Arkansas, No. 8 Florida, No. 24 South Carolina, No. 19 LSU, No. 21 Auburn)
Others close to being ranked: None
Trap game: at Tennessee
No. 2 Ohio State
Ranked teams defeated: None
Ranked teams left on schedule: 4 (No. 12 Miami, No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 18 Penn State, No. 9 Iowa)
Others close to being ranked: Michigan
Trap game: at Minnesota
No. 3 Boise State
Ranked teams defeated: 1 (No. 10 Virginia Tech)
Ranked teams left on schedule: None.
Others close to being ranked: Oregon State, Fresno State
Trap game: at Idaho
No. 4 TCU
Ranked teams defeated: 1 (No. 24 Oregon State)
Ranked teams left on schedule: 1 (No. 20 Utah)
Others close to being ranked: BYU
Trap game: at Colorado State
No. 5 Texas
Ranked teams defeated: None.
Ranked teams left on schedule: 2 (No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 6 Nebraska)
Others close to being ranked: None.
Trap game: at Texas Tech
"Followed up on various media reports regarding a potential Mountain West Conference-Conference USA merger, and confirmed that representatives of both leagues did indeed meet yesterday in Colorado Springs. Included were Commissioner Craig Thompson, Commissioner Britton Banowsky (who have a long-standing personal and professional relationship), and a couple MWC Athletics Directors. The informal gathering, which was previously scheduled, covered a wide range of topics, including concepts regarding television, scheduling and the BCS. Yet another example of the Mountain West's ongoing strategic thinking on a number of fronts, as the league continues to position itself in the national landscape."
So the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA have apparently put their two brains together and are talking a one-game showdown -- champion vs. champion -- with the winner being granted an automatic BCS berth.
First question: On the surface, it seems ludicrous, so why would the BCS agree to give an automatic bid to a non-automatic-qualifying conference team every year?
Answer: They won't (in my opinion, but let's continue...). Conference USA hasn't sniffed a BCS berth since long-departed Louisville in 2004 and Tulane a dozen years ago. Last season, unranked East Carolina knocked off No. 18 Houston in the C-USA championship game. East Carolina went to the Liberty Bowl and lost to unranked Arkansas, 20-17, and finished with a 9-5 record. Houston came to Fort Worth and got shellacked by unranked Air Force, 47-20, in the Armed Forces Bowl to finish 10-4. Since the 2006 season, no C-USA team has finished with fewer than three losses. In three of those four seasons, the league's best team had four losses. Can you imagine the national outrage had 9-4 East Carolina actually played its way into the BCS by upsetting TCU in a one-game bonanza?
That's reason enough to end this conversation right here, right now ... but, having said that, the one reason the BCS might bend and agree to such a scenario would be to avoid the embarrassment of last season when it had to deal with two BCS-busters and threw TCU and Boise State into the Fiesta Bowl to eat their own. A MWC vs. C-USA playoff would lump 23 teams (assuming today's count for the 2011 season of 11 teams in the MWC and 12 in C-USA -- things can change quickly, like, say Houston switching sides, but the numbers would stay the same) together and immediately lop off 22. No longer would the BCS have to worry about two teams messing things up.
Second question: This is a no-brainer for C-USA, which has never sent a team to a BCS game, but why would the superior MWC want any part of this?
Answer: Last year, TCU and Boise State both crashed the BCS, but two years ago, undefeated Boise State was left to play one-loss TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. Would Boise have taken a one-game playoff against the C-USA champ for a shot to play on the big-money stage? Of course. What if TCU and Boise both go undefeated this season? One scenario: Boise gets the BCS bid and unbeaten TCU is invited to the Las Vegas Bowl. Gary Patterson has worked too hard to elevate TCU to a national platform to just give unproven C-USA a ticket to the BCS gates, but in the current system, Patterson might figure he has a better shot each year to win his conference and then win one more against the C-USA champ to ensure getting into the BCS rather than depend on BCS calculations to determine his team's fate.
Also, this would eliminate the undefeated-or-forget-it situation that now exists in the non-automatic-qualifer conferences, easing pressure on TCU and Boise State and the others to sweep their non-conference schedules, typically highlighted by two to three tough matchups against major-conference schools (TCU plays Oregon State and Baylor this season; Boise plays Virginia Tech and Oregon State). A loss in September wouldn't end all BCS hope as it does now.
The MWC and C-USA are also looking toward the future. Although the superconference model didn't come to fruition this summer, nobody is shortsighted enough to believe the Big 12 is stable and the Big Ten and SEC won't seek to expand. When and if superconferences emerge, schools in the MWC and C-USA won't hold their breath for an invite, and that includes TCU. Arranging this championship game would possibly ensure a spot in the BCS when the landscape again changes.
Third question: Would such a championship game generate more money for the two conferences?
Answer: How much is debatable. Surely, ESPN would pay for an elimination game, but it certainly wouldn't rank up there with, say, the attractiveness and popularity of the SEC championship game. And, revenue generated from a championship game would seemingly have to be split among the 23 teams, further watering down the profit margin.
Alternate solution: Merge. Let's say the Mountain West bids farewell to New Mexico, Wyoming and San Diego State (WAC, anyone?) and moves forward with eight -- TCU, BYU, Boise, Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada and UNLV -- and invites four from C-USA -- Houston, Memphis, Tulsa and maybe Southern Miss for a 12-team conference with a championship game. That's not bad football to take to ESPN and other networks to hammer out a more lucrative TV deal than either conference has now. It's also a stonger product than either can currently take to the BCS for eventual automatic inclusion.
The source said that even though it appears 95 percent certain that an exodus to the Pac-10 is just days away, an internal debate at Texas continues regarding the merits of sticking with a 10-team Big 12.
The Big 12 has been told that a new TV deal, while it wouldn't be as lucrative as if Nebraska remained, would still be considerable, enough to pay out substantially more than the current deal in part because there would be 10 teams instead of 12 to divide revenue. Also, by staying in the Big 12, Texas would remain as the ultimate power broker and could continue with a plan to create its own TV network, something it won't pursue as a member of the Pac-10, which figures to establish a conference network like the Big Ten.
This outcome is obviously favored by the Big 12 North schools and Baylor.
But, if Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State break away, the source said the remaining five schools -- Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor -- could attempt to reconstitute the Big 12 by adding the top teams from the Mountain West -- TCU, BYU, Utah, Air Force and perhaps newly acquired Boise State --plus schools from Conference-USA and even a school such as Louisville out of the Big East, a conference that could soon be facing an uncertain future of its own.
The source said "several teams" have already initiated contact with the Big 12 about such a scenario if the league splits as expected.
The idea behind a rebuilt Big 12 assumes that the league would retain its status as a BCS conference, which grants an automatic bid to lucrative BCS bowl games. That would be an enticing scenario for the Mountain West teams. The MWC is in position to become a BCS conference, but not for another two years once a four-year evaluation period expires.
In the ever-changing college landscape and with the potential for four super-conferences on the horizon, schools are looking out for their best interests. For those four MWC schools, aligning with Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor presents a stronger long-term viability than the current MWC makeup with Wyoming, San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State. It could also be possible that the Big 12 simply absorbs the entire MWC.
The Kansas City Star reported Saturday night that the five remaining Big 12 schools communicated via teleconference earlier in the day to discuss their situation, and Big 12 expansion was among the topics.
Of course, as fluid as the situation is, things can change quickly. If the Pac-10 does expand to 16, the Big Ten and SEC could respond by also growing to 16. In that case, Missouri could land in the Big Ten.
The Big East and the ACC could be in store for major changes as both conferences would figure to be raided in the expansion process.
One potential road block for a Big 12/MWC merger is a perceived dislike and distrust between TCU and Baylor dating back to the breakup of the SWC and the creation of the Big 12. Of course, Baylor was granted membership while TCU was left to fend for itself. However, TCU athletic Chris Del Conte Saturday night said TCU and Baylor "absolutely" could co-exist as conference members. The two schools continue a series in football this season at TCU.
Del Conte contradicted a report on Saturday that TCU would seek to block Baylor's inclusion into the MWC, if the MWC sought to expand by adding the remaining Big 12 teams. Del Conte said he spoke to Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw on Saturday.
"That did not come from myself or the chancellor or anyone associated with TCU," Del Conte said of the report.
As realignment continues to swirl, it might not be Baylor looking to join TCU, but rather TCU -- and friends --moving into the Big 12.
However, there are certainly no guarantees.
We had a shocking development last week: I went 7-0. Correctly picking SMU to pull off the upset over East Carolina was the difference. We've got plenty of games this week, including a handful right here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Please make your selections in the comment section:
Oklahoma vs. Texas (Cotton Bowl, Dallas): Don't let Oklahoma's record trick you into think this is going to be some kind of stomping by the Longhorns. I don't think so. Sam Bradford looked perfectly fine last week, and the Sooners will be desperate after two losses early in the season. As for the Longhorns, they haven't really been tested other than Texas Tech. But Oklahoma is still dealing with injuries, and Texas' defense will do enough to get this win. It'll be closer than the score indicates. Prediction: Texas 28, Oklahoma 21
Texas Tech at Nebraska: Maybe it doesn't matter who's at quarterback for the Red Raiders. Coach Mike Leach has said it will be a gametime decision on Taylor Potts (concussion) or Steven Sheffield. Either way, this shapes up to be a very good game. For Nebraska, it's a great chance to show that the program continues to improve. And if you haven't seen Nebraska's outstanding defensive tackle Ndamukung Suh, set your DVR. He's fun to watch. Prediction: Nebraska: 35, Texas Tech 31
Missouri at Oklahoma State: The Cowboys won on the road at Texas A&M last week despite all the distractions. Dez Bryant is still waiting on word from the NCAA about his application for reinstatement. But a night game at home against Missouri should help the Cowboys' focus. I'll be curious to see how Missouri responds after blowing a 12-0 lead after three quarters. Prediction: Oklahoma State 34, Missouri 24
Texas A&M at Kansas State: This is the start of a stretch where A&M plays four of its next five on the road. The Aggies lost a close one to Oklahoma State last week. But my bet is they rebound here. Kansas State is struggling, and the Aggies need this win (and a few others) to get to a bowl game. That's plenty of motivation here. Prediction: Texas A&M 24, Kansas State 13
Baylor at Iowa State: We'll see which quarterback (Blake Szymanski or Nick Florence) gets the start for Baylor. But the Bears face a tough foursome after Saturday -- Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas -- so this is one they really need. The Bears are three-point underdogs, but I'm going to take Baylor in the upset. Even in losing to Oklahoma, Baylor did enough things right to feel good about themselves heading into this game. Prediction: Baylor 17, Iowa State 14
Navy at SMU: The Mustangs will actually have real Mustangs on the field as part of the gameday scene. And both teams will play for the Frank Gansz trophy, honoring the special teams coach that had ties to both schools. But Navy's triple-option is very difficult to defend (ask Rice, which gave up 471 yards), and the Midshipmen just have too much. Prediction: Navy 38, SMU 24
Florida Atlantic at North Texas: The Mean Green are an improved team, but they are learning how to win and finish games. Turnovers and penalties were costly in blowing a 10-point lead to Louisiana-Lafayette last week. Look for North Texas to bounce back. Penalties and turnovers are correctable mistakes. You can bet coach Todd Dodge and his staff spent time on that this week. Prediction: North Texas 31, Florida Atlantic 28
Colorado State at TCU: For those worried about the Horned Frogs looking ahead to next week's game at BYU, a quick refresher: TCU barely escaped against Colorado State last year. Few coaches are better at using that kind of result as motivation than Gary Patterson. And while TCU hasn't blown too many teams out, they'll be ready for the Rams. Prediction: TCU 35, Colorado State 14
Air Force rushed for 229 yards against a TCU defense that is ranked ninth in the country vs. the run. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson said it was the most yards his defense has given up against a triple-option team in 10 years.
But he's confident that his team will bounce back after the 20-17 victory. Patterson said Air Force's scheme gave the Frogs fits.
"They had not run the midline this year, at least out of a pro set, and we were not prepared for that in the fourth quarter," Patterson said this week. "The quarterback got loose and we needed to step around. We got hurt on a long reverse, too. You want to make them one-dimensional and we did. But we know we have to get better."
Patterson's team faces Colorado State at home Saturday. He was complimentary of the Rams' offense and running game and said his defense will have to mix things up and be focused.