Lurking behind the Big Three of Florida, Alabama and Texas are two interesting undefeated teams: TCU and Cincinnati. The Horned Frogs jumped over the Bearcats in the BCS standings a couple of weeks ago, but Cincinnati's strength of schedule down the stretch may reverse that again. One of the two would be in line for a BCS title game appearance if Texas was to lose.
So which one is more deserving? Only a blogger debate can settle such a weighty issue.
Brian Bennett: OK, Graham, I admit I haven't seen TCU all that much, because most of their games are on channels that my cable provider laughs at whenever I ask for them. Sell me on why the Horned Frogs are better than Cincinnati and why they're a legitimate national title contender.
Graham Watson: TCU is the most complete team right now. The Horned Frogs are playing at a high level on offense, defense and special teams, and just embarrassed a Utah team that had lost just one game in the past two seasons. The 55 points the Utes allowed were the most they’ve allowed since 1990. And Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after the game that TCU was the best team he’s seen in his five years as a head coach. Yeah, that means he thinks they’re better than Alabama.
For years, TCU has been dominant on defense and now the offense is starting to come around. The Cincinnati and TCU offenses are almost even statistically and TCU’s defense blows Cincinnati’s out of the water. Punt returns are even, and TCU has a slight margin in kick returns. I don’t think the schedules are all that different, either, because let’s be honest, Rutgers was a disaster to start the season. With the exception of Pitt, which the Bearcats haven’t played yet, the schedules are pretty comparable.
TCU might not play in an automatic qualifying conference or play on some of the more brand-name stations, but you can't deny how well it has performed. Now make Cincinnati's case.
BB: TCU has been impressive, but in examining its wins I wonder how impressive. Yes, TCU beat Clemson, but the Tigers are always inconsistent early in the year (they lost to Maryland, for crying out loud). I think BYU is vastly overrated (hello, Florida State) and Utah is not nearly the same team it was last year.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati won at Oregon State, which may wind up claiming the Pac-10 title, and if the Bearcats win out, they will have beaten a top-10 team in Pitt. And the Big East, from top to bottom, is much tougher than the Mountain West overall. Running the table in an auto-bid conference ought to count for something. Agree or disagree?
GW: I have a hard time with your assertion that the Big East is “much better” than the Mountain West. Yes, the Mountain West has its terrible teams, but I think the top and middle are about equal. I’d put Air Force’s defense up against Rutgers, no problem. And honestly, I think New Mexico might give Syracuse a run for its money. It’s easy to dismiss a bunch of teams you’ve never seen play just by looking at their records.
I agree that running the table -- period -- should be rewarded. I also think doing it in style should be rewarded. TCU has won its games in style. TCU obliterated the weak competition that you say it plays. During the four games prior to the Utah game, TCU outscored its opponents 178-25. It allowed just two touchdowns during that span. And Utah might not be the same as it was a year ago, but it was still good enough to give Oregon a run for its money on the road and put more points on TCU than any other team this season (and more points than the previous four games combined). Also, the 55 points TCU put on Utah was as many points as the Frogs had scored on the Utes since 2005 -- combined.
To me, that sounds like a team that’s learned to be dominant this year and that should count for something. Can you honestly say that Cincinnati has had the same dominance?
BB: Graham, I salute you for defending the league you cover, but you can talk up San Diego State, UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico all you want. I'm not buying it.
And, yes, I can definitely say that Cincinnati has been dominant. The Bearcats are among the nation's leaders in virtually every statistical category. They were beating teams senseless -- winning by an average of nearly 27 points per game -- before two recent close calls against UConn and West Virginia. While people may wonder about those games, they were against two good conference opponents who were fighting for their season.
Cincinnati let up a little bit in the second half against UConn and was uncharacteristically sloppy at times against the Mountaineers (who were ranked coming in), but in the end it got the job done. And let's not forget the Bearcats have been playing with their backup quarterback for more than a month. They still managed 711 total yards against UConn.
I think we both agree that these are two really good, entirely worthy BCS title contenders. So here's my next question: Assuming that neither gets a title shot, in a perfect world would it be better for a 12-0 Cincinnati and 12-0 TCU to play each other for the shadow championship? Or would each be better served by playing a big boy like, say, the SEC runner-up to prove themselves?
GW: I wouldn’t mind seeing these two teams play each other since there has been so much debate about which is more worthy of a shot at the national championship game. As you mentioned, Cincinnati is near the top of every statistical category, but if you look, TCU is either above or right there with the Bearcats. I don’t think you could find a more evenly-matched game.
While both fan bases might want their teams to prove their mettle against an SEC team, the Mountain West already has conquered that mountain. A game between the Big East and Mountain West might continue to stoke the fire regarding which conference is most deserving of the automatic bid.
Orange Bowl here we come!
BB: Well, the ACC might have a problem with that. To me, the Fiesta Bowl looks like the only possible venue for such a matchup. I think the Big East would much rather prove itself against the SEC than play the Mountain West with very little to gain. Who knows? At the end of the year, maybe both TCU and Cincinnati will be 13-0 with their own legitimate claims to the national title.