NCF Nation: BCS

That was fun; now what's next?

January, 8, 2014

The much-maligned and graying BCS system gave the college football nation a sly wink and grin Monday night, gathered its fedora and overcoat and quietly exited the building while we were all going nuts over the thrilling ending of the final BCS National Championship, Florida State's epic comeback win over Auburn.

Talk about knowing how to leave on top. All five BCS bowl games were undecided in the fourth quarter. The title game, Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl were decided by five points or fewer. Suffice it to say, it was an exciting final week for the BCS system, which will be replaced by a four-team College Football Playoff in 2014.

Exciting and odd: The dominant SEC went 0-2 in BCS bowl games and didn't win a national title for the first time in eight years. The so-called soft ACC went 2-0 in BCS bowl games and captured its first national title since 1999, also won by the Seminoles.

But enough of the past. It's time to do what college football fans always do when the season is just recently concluded: look ahead to the next campaign.

There will be plenty of storylines and intrigue to anticipate as college football undertakes a substantial change to how it conducts the postseason.

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Love it or hate it, the BCS delivered a dramatic and fitting ending on Monday night, as No. 1 FSU rallied from from a late four-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 in the final VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles won their third national championship and ended the SEC's reign of seven consecutive BCS national championships.

Play of the game: Trailing 31-27 with about one minute to go, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw a 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene to move to Auburn's 23-yard line with 56 seconds to play. Six players later, after Auburn was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to go ahead for good with 13 seconds to play. FSU's extra point gave it a 34-31 lead.

Turning point: After Auburn took a 24-20 lead with about 4:42 to go, FSU's Levonte Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield, a 5-foot-7 freshman known as "Kermit," returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season.

Early turning point: With Auburn holding a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray to stake the Tigers to a 14-3 lead with 13:48 to go in the first half. Ray, a sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., had four catches for 58 yards this season before hauling in the long touchdown catch against the hometown Seminoles. FSU, which hadn't trailed since falling behind Boston College on Sept. 28 and had led for more than 571 minutes of football before falling behind the Tigers, suddenly trailed by two scores. The Seminoles played catch-up the rest of the night but finally caught the Tigers in the end.

Player of the game: Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., got off to a slow start against Auburn's defense, getting sacked four times and fumbling once in the first half. But in the end, Winston broke the Heisman Trophy jinx, throwing the winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns.

What it means: The controversial BCS era ends with the SEC being denied its eighth consecutive national championship, which should sit well with college football fans outside of the SEC. In a game in which the SEC seemed most vulnerable during its championship streak, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead but couldn't hold on for a victory. The Tigers were denied their second BCS national championship since the 2010 season, when they defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship behind quarterback Cam Newton. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn missed becoming only the second coach -- Miami's Larry Coker was the first -- to lead his team to the national title in his first season since the BCS began in 1998.

Stat that matters: 2-for-12: Florida State won despite going 2-for-12 on third down.

What's next: Florida State will probably be a popular choice to be the No. 1 team in preseason polls heading into the 2014 season. FSU will have to replace several key pieces on defense, including linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. But the Seminoles will bring back Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, along with several of their most important players on offense. Auburn, which reached the BCS national championship in Malzahn's first season, will be among the SEC West favorites in 2014, along with Alabama and LSU. The Tigers will bring back Marshall, but they'll have to wait to see if junior tailback Tre Mason returns to school or enters next spring's NFL draft. Auburn's very young defense will be a lot wiser in coordinator Ellis Johnson's second season, too.

Roy Kramer pleased with BCS

December, 17, 2013
Roy Kramer never claimed the Bowl Championship Series was perfect, nor was he so naive as to think there wouldn't be some controversy along the way.

But, as college football bids adieu to the BCS on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif., when No. 1 Florida State faces No. 2 Auburn for the national championship, Kramer will know very contentedly that it served its purpose and, more times than not, served it well.

"Despite the criticism, I think perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the BCS was the increased interest in college football and elevating it to a national sport from a regional sport," said Kramer, who implemented the idea heading into the 1998 season.

"We were able to maintain the significance of the regular season, which was a goal. The regular season is the backbone of college football, so that was very important. And even though some people might say there are too many bowls, we were able to maintain and expand the bowl system. Look at the number of Mid-American Conference teams going to bowls now. And without the BCS, you never would have had Boise State playing Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl or Hawaii playing in the Sugar Bowl.

"Rather than it being restrictive, I think the BCS broadened college football."

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It's time to part ways with the BCS

December, 17, 2013

We've all experienced at least one crazy, tempestuous relationship, right? It was toxic yet also sometimes thrilling beyond measure. The highs were extraordinary, and the lows miserable. There were raving arguments full of frenzied recriminations, but somehow you stayed together for a surprisingly long time. Alas, eventually, sanity prevailed and you went your separate ways.

On Jan. 6 at midnight, college football will break up with the BCS after a tumultuous 16 seasons. The sport will move on to a new relationship in 2014 with the four-team College Football Playoff. This one promises to be more stable and mature.

So as we move toward this inevitable split, how do we feel? We know this is for the best, but certainly there will be some bittersweetness to the parting.

The BCS, after all, stopped us from ending seasons the way we ended 1997, when twin unbeatens Michigan and Nebraska eyeballed each other from across the country because the old bowl system didn't allow them to settle things on the field. Simply, the BCS tried to find the best way to put the Nos. 1 and 2 teams together for a winner-take-all game, which, at the time of its creation, seemed like a great idea. While it was unquestionably an imperfect system, it gave us Texas' 41-38 win over USC in 2006, which might well be the greatest college football game ever played. It also gave us Ohio State's shocking double-overtime win over a seemingly invincible Miami squad in 2003, which has a spot on the same list.

Further, while some insist the BCS made the postseason all about one championship game, that point can be strongly countered. What about Boise State's overtime win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl? Or Michigan's overtime win -- led by Tom Brady! -- over Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl? Or Texas' one-point victory over Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl? Those were fantastic games with great storylines that can still inspire goose bumps with their recollection.

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3-point stance: Filling the schedule

December, 4, 2013
1. Just as the 12-game schedule separates pretenders from contenders, so does the nine-game conference schedule. A reader pointed out to me that the top five in the BCS all play only eight conference games. The Pac-12 and the Big 12, which play nine league games, fill five of the next seven spots. The Big Ten is moving to nine games in a few years. The ACC dropped its plans for a ninth game when it made the deal with Notre Dame to play five league teams a year. The SEC has no such excuse.

2. When the Big 12 season began, the league drew attention because of its inexperience at quarterback. David Ash of Texas, with 18 starts, led the league. As the Big 12 heads into its final Saturday, only Bryce Petty of Baylor and Jake Waters of Kansas State have started every game. The 10 teams have started 19 different quarterbacks, six of them freshmen. That explains why only three Big 12 guys rank in the top 20 of the QBR: Petty (third), Clint Chelf of Oklahoma State (fifth) and Davis Webb of Texas Tech (18th).

3. Did Chris Petersen wait too long to leave Boise State? He has averaged almost 12 wins a year with the Broncos, taken them to two BCS bowls, and made them a national player. Boise State has gone from 12-1 to 11-2 to 8-4 in its three years in the Mountain West. He also has put his name into a few coaching hats, only to either back off or be passed over, as was the case at USC (assuming that’s why he “withdrew his name” from the search). Petersen seems as if he would fit at Washington. If that gets serious, I hope he takes it.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
Taking stock of Week 12 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC started with a great plan against Stanford. Then it played smart, disciplined football and executed that plan. And when Stanford looked like it was asserting itself, the Trojans persevered, making clutch plays at the end to beat the Cardinal 20-17. USC is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, looking nothing like the sloppy, uninterested team from the beginning of the season.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee caught six passes for 83 yards in USC's upset win over Stanford.
Best game: On a mostly ho-hum weekend, USC-Stanford wasn't decided until the final moments. Moreover, the stakes were high. Stanford was knocked out of the lead spot in the North Division and the Trojans are now squarely in the South race.

Biggest play: Was it the athletic interception from freshman Su'a Cravens that set up the final USC drive? Or was it the fourth-and-2 completion from Cody Kessler to Marqise Lee for 13 yards to the Stanford 35-yard line on the game-winning drive? Or the 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari? Each was critical in the final turn toward USC in the fourth quarter.

Offensive standout: Colorado WR Paul Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards in the Buffaloes' 41-24 win over California, which gave them their first Pac-12 win since September 2012. Richardson broke the school’s single-season receiving record, eclipsing the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson. He sits at 1,201 receiving yards, which ranks second in the Pac-12.

Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had eight tackles, with four coming for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against USC. The Cardinal lost, but it sure wasn't Murphy's fault. He now leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (18).

Defensive standout 2: Arizona State safety Robert Nelson had two interceptions -- one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devils' 30-17 win over Oregon State. He also had five tackles.

Special teams standout: It has been a long season for Heidari, but he was the difference for the Trojans in their upset win over Stanford. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play that provided the winning margin. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on PATs.

Smiley face: We'd gush more about Orgeron's leadership at USC, but there at least needs to be a hat tip to Washington State and coach Mike Leach going to Tucson and grabbing a much-needed victory with some late-game heroics from QB Connor Halliday. His 25-yard TD pass to Isiah Myers for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:15 to play gave the Cougars a 24-17 win, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

Frowny face: As impressive as USC's win over Stanford was, it probably wasn't very popular among 10 other Pac-12 teams. Oregon, of course, is thrilled. The Ducks now control their North Division destiny and Rose Bowl hopes. But Stanford's losing makes it unlikely the conference will have two BCS bowl teams, which means every conference team lost about $500,000 when the Cardinal went down. It will be the first time since 2009 conference ADs won't enrich their coffers with that extra check.

Thought of the week: Arizona State and UCLA have a recent history of disappointing their fans and falling short of expectations. But guess what? Both teams are 8-2 and ranked heading into their critical showdown Saturday. They are about where optimistic preseason expectations placed them after 10 games. Both have showed resolve under second-year head coaches. No matter who wins Saturday, both programs seem to be on a decided uptick.

Questions for the week: Who salvages their season? Several Pac-12 teams' seasons are on the brink, and two games in particular are of note: Washington visits Oregon State and Washington State plays host to Utah. As far as the Huskies and Beavers, the loser of that game will officially be able to call its season a disappointment. The Huskies would then face the specter of another 7-6 season -- or worse -- and that could make Steve Sarkisian's seat pretty hot. The Beavers would be set up to lose their final five regular-season games after a 6-1 start, pending the result of the Civil War against Oregon. Utah needs to win in order to keep its bowl hopes alive, and failing to reach a bowl game for a second consecutive year would have folks getting chippy in Salt Lake. The game is not a must-win for the Cougars' bowl hopes, but they'd probably rather not hang their hopes on the Apple Cup the following week.
Chaos could happen. Alabama could lose to Auburn. Florida State could go down in the ACC title game. Ohio State could lose to Michigan. Baylor could falter at Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTailback Tyler Gaffney's big day -- 45 carries for 157 yards -- helped Stanford crush Oregon's hopes of playing in the national title game.
Then the Pac-12, in the form of either Stanford or Oregon, could slip into the final -- final! -- BCS national title game. Honestly, it wouldn't even require all of that. Because of the top-to-bottom quality of the conference this year, a one-loss Pac-12 team might end up first among equals in the BCS standings. Unbeaten Alabama and a bunch of one-loss teams? Stanford probably would come first among those with a single blemish, though then the nation would commence a bitter and grotesque "quality loss" debate.

So it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Pac-12 wiggles its way back into one of the top two spots.

But our premise here is that doesn't happen, that things don't go all 2007 again. Our premise here is the Pac-12 again is shut out of the national title game.

A CliffsNotes version of what follows: Drat. But justifiable.

The Pac-12's last national championship was USC in 2004, which means the drought will be a full decade when we head into the first season of the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014.

The conference did play a supporting role in two of the best BCS title games: USC falling to Texas after the 2005 season in one of the greatest college football games in history, and Oregon being nipped by Auburn by a last-second field goal after the 2010 season.

Still, in the preseason this felt like the year of a breakthrough. This felt like the year in which the Pac-12's two top dogs, Stanford and Oregon, had the pieces in place to win a title and dethrone the SEC after seven consecutive championships. They both had experience at quarterback. Both looked strong on the offensive line. Both had A-list talent on defense.

(And both had united to defeat evil!)

Sure, both had questions. But all teams do. Stanford and Oregon had begun to look like programs that answer questions on an annual basis. You know: Like Alabama, which was supposed to be questionable on defense and, well, isn't.

Yet after both the Cardinal and Ducks went down, those questions returned. Stanford's middling passing attack was a major reason the Cardinal lost at Utah. And one suspects that if linebackers Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were on hand, Oregon wouldn't have allowed Stanford to convert all seven of its third-and-2 or shorter plays with Tyler Gaffney runs last Thursday.

Might have things been different for either team if, say, Stanford had a healthy Henry Anderson for Utah, or if Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent last Thursday? Maybe. But that's speculation trying to subvert the bottom line reflected on the scoreboard.

Judging who should play for the national title, which is always subjective in our present system and will continue to be with the four-team playoff, ultimately involves the totality of the season, so how things look on Nov. 11 is pretty meaningless. But how things look to me today is that Alabama and Florida State should play for the national title and that they both look better than either Stanford or Oregon.

Maybe that changes, because a week ago I was ranking Oregon No. 1. It probably would change if Alabama lost to Auburn, or if Florida State went down in the ACC title game. Stranger things have happened.

But my chief reaction after the Stanford-Oregon game was: Neither of these teams would beat Alabama. My feeling wasn't as strong for Florida State, but the Seminoles have yet to reveal any weaknesses so far this season.

I can feel the rage already exploding out there from Pac-12 fans. Such an assertion surely will make Pac-12 fans angry, but I suspect that 75 percent of those currently enraged actually, perhaps not even that deep down, agree with me. They just don't want to hear it or read it.

But the role of the Pac-12 blog is not to advocate for the conference. It distributes tweaks to other regions when necessary or even just for the amusement of doing so. But there's also a credibility issue. If we're telling folks Oregon/Stanford has the best chance of any team in the nation to beat Alabama and end the SEC's run, it should be a honest assessment, not a stroking of the regional ego or some public-relations move.

So today's assessment, impermanent as it may prove to be, is this: The Pac-12 will not play for the national title this season because it doesn't deserve to.

Again: Drat. But justifiable.

State of Oregon takes center stage

October, 22, 2013
If you catch the state of Oregon collectively lip-syncing to the Spears song "Scream and Shout" this week -- "All eyes on us! All eyes on us!" -- it's understandable.

Oregon, our 27th most populous state, with one tenth the population of fellow Pac-12 state California, one that produced just 13 FBS football signees last February, is the center of the college football universe on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsQB Sean Mannion and Oregon State look to win their seventh straight, but it won't be easy against Stanford.
First, No. 12 UCLA visits No. 3 Oregon, with ESPN's College GameDay setting up shop. This is a nice test for the Ducks, one that should allow them, if they win, to climb past Florida State into the all-important second spot in the BCS standings. And, obviously, the Bruins could make a national statement in Year 2 under Jim Mora with a victory.

Then, the nightcap just 45 miles down the road in Corvallis: No. 6 Stanford, the top one-loss team in the BCS standings, visits No. 25 Oregon State. With a win, the Cardinal could set up a marquee North Division match up with Oregon on Nov. 7. Or the Beavers could announce themselves as North contenders, and perhaps hint at another high-stakes Civil War matchup to end the season, not unlike 2009.

If we use the BCS standings as our rankings (the Beavers are No. 28 in the AP poll), it's the first time ranked Oregon and Oregon State teams have played host to ranked visitors on the same Saturday in state history.

Of course, there are other marquee games. No. 10 Texas Tech, unbeaten but untested, visits No. 15 Oklahoma, where it is 100 percent certain Bob Stoops is grumpy. And No. 21 South Carolina, one of the SEC's reeling powers, faces No. 5 Missouri, the unbeaten upstart from the Big 12 that was hopelessly overmatched by the SEC grind (or so almost everyone thought).

Give those games a nice pat on the head. And revert your admiring gaze back to the Beaver state (apologies Ducks, but, well, that's where you live).

A few decades ago, the very notion of the state being even worth a glance from the college football nation would have been difficult to imagine. In 1971, the Beavers began a streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons. From 1965 to 1988, the Ducks never won more than six games.

When Oregon won the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season, it was the first victory in the Granddaddy by either since 1942. The Beavers last Rose Bowl appearance came in 1965.

But since 2000, both programs have been regular inhabitants in the national rankings. The Beavers won the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame after the 2000 season and finished ranked fourth, the first of five Top 25 rankings in the final AP poll, including No. 20 in 2012.

And, obviously, Oregon has been on a bit of a roll of late, finishing ranked for the past six seasons in a row, including top-four rankings in the past three.

The Ducks and Beavers, however, presently have different bars over which they are trying to jump.

Oregon is smack in the middle of the national-title hunt, where there is no margin for error. So far, the Ducks have dominated every foe. Their closest game was a 21-point win at Washington.

Oregon State started the season nationally ranked by faceplanting with an opening loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. In that game, the defense was abysmal. Yet since then, the Beavers have clawed their way to six consecutive victories and are a win away from jumping back into the national polls. Beating Stanford, in fact, could immediately propel them into the teens, not the 20s.

And that defense that got torched by EWU has held the past three Pac-12 foes to an average of 19.3 points per game.

There's obviously a lot at stake for all four teams, but an interesting subplot is the QBs from the Oregon schools. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota is No. 1 in ESPN's total quarterback rating (QBR) and tops among Heisman Trophy candidates. Beavers QB Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdowns. He could legitimize his Heisman candidacy with a big game against a rugged Stanford defense.

So there's a good reason all eyes will be on the state of Oregon this weekend. Both games will have significant national and Pac-12 ramifications.

And if the home teams win, it would become reasonable to speculate upon the possibility of another epic Civil War on Nov. 29 in Eugene, one that again would captivate the college football nation.

Video: BCS Minute, Week 9

October, 21, 2013

Brad Edwards breaks down the first BCS rankings and looks at why Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State are ranked where they are.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
Taking stock of Week 7 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Utah knocked down Stanford last week, but the Cardinal got up, wiped away the blood and posted an inspired performance on both sides of the ball in a 24-10 win over UCLA. RB Tyler Gaffney rushed for a career-high 171 yards, including 84 yards in the fourth quarter, while the defense throttled QB Brett Hundley and the Bruins.

Best game: Utah's visit to Arizona was a back-and-forth affair and wasn't iced until Wildcats running back Ka'Deem Carey capped an epic night with a 44-yard touchdown run in a 35-24 victory. Both teams showed resolve, with the Utes fighting back after losing starting QB Travis Wilson to a hand injury, and the Wildcats bouncing back after losing a big first-half lead.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's defense was spectacular in a 24-10 win over previously unbeaten UCLA, but Kodi Whitfield's one-handed touchdown grab might be the play of the year.
Biggest play: Stanford receiver Kodi Whitfield's 30-yard touchdown reception against UCLA gave Stanford a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, so it was important. But this time we're more about best play instead of biggest. As in ... best play of the year? His twisting, one-handed grab between two defenders was unbelievable. It certainly will make a top-10 list of plays for the 2013 college football season. It's also amusing that such an acrobatic catch came from the son of a former All-Pac-10 offensive lineman, Bob Whitfield.

Offensive standout(s): We have a "chicken or the egg" deal with Oregon State. QB Sean Mannion completed 35 of 45 passes for 481 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout win over California. Receiver Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score. Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdown passes. Cooks lead the nation in every notable statistical category for his position, including receiving yards and touchdowns. Feel free to tap whichever one is your personal favorite.

Offensive standout 2: Carey rushed 40 times for 236 yards against a tough Utah run defense. It was a big-time performance by a big-time player when his team really needed it.

Offensive standout 3: Arizona State RB Marion "006" Grice rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries -- 7.5 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in the 53-24 win over Washington. He also caught four passes for 37 yards and a score. He now has 18 total touchdowns this season.

Defensive standout: Arizona State's defensive effort against Washington was beastly, particularly considering the Huskies had decent success against the two best defenses in the Pac-12: Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils held the Huskies to 212 total yards, including minus-5 yards rushing. Bishop Sankey, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing, had 22 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils had seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. That Huskies offense, by the way, ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, eighth in total offense (526.8 yards per game) and averaged 35 points per game.

Defensive standout 2: Stanford safety Jordan Richards had a team-high 10 tackles as well as two interceptions in the win over UCLA.

Special teams standout: It's not good when your punter is called upon 11 times, but Washington's Travis Coons averaged 46.8 yards on 11 boots with a long of 61 yards. He also made a 27-yard field goal and three PATs.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 is playing defense this fall. The five winners Saturday plus USC, which lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, combined to hold their opponents to 19.6 points per game, and many of those points -- hello, Washington State, says Nick Aliotti -- came in obvious fourth-quarter garbage time. The Pac-12 offenses, of course, are still good, other than a few stragglers (USC!), so there's strength on both sides of the ball. And fewer 52-50 games.

Frowny face: Washington! Washington! That performance at Arizona State was abysmal (though we type that without taking credit away from an inspired Sun Devils effort and game plan). If the Huskies win in Tempe, they buck the "overrated!" taunt that their adversaries -- mostly Ducks fans but also many Cougars and Beavers -- have enjoyed tossing their way for, oh, 12 or so years. A win at Arizona State would have hinted at a team headed toward nine or 10 wins. Now the ugly possibility of a fourth consecutive 7-6 season -- how is that possible! -- is in play.

Thought of the week: The Pac-12 is the center of the college football universe this weekend with two matchups of ranked teams in the BCS standings. And it's all happening in the state of Oregon! In Eugene, with ESPN's "College GameDay" setting up camp, the No. 3 Ducks play host to No. 12 UCLA, while No. 6 Stanford is visiting No. 25 Oregon State just up the road in Corvallis. The Ducks are looking to further burnish their national title game resume, while UCLA is looking for a breakthrough win. The Beavers are trying to move up in the North Division pecking order and make themselves the top challenger for the Ducks. And Stanford is trying to get to its Nov. 7 showdown with Oregon in control of its destiny.

Questions of the week: Which quarterback(s) has the best weekend in Oregon? Does Ducks QB Marcus Mariota make a loud Heisman Trophy statement, or is he upstaged by Mannion? And what about the visitors? Does Hundley rediscover his mojo at Oregon? Or does Stanford's Kevin Hogan show everyone that steady and unspectacular wins the day when you've got a great defense?

Question of the week 2: Who rises above the noise and consistently plays to its ability over the homestretch of the season? It's not easy to go unbeaten, even when you're more talented than everyone on your schedule, because it's difficult to get 40 or so guys to bring their A-game 12 games in a row. It's not easy to go 8-4 and know your team reached its max winning potential, that you only lost to superior teams. And it's hard to win on the road. Take Arizona State. The version of the Sun Devils who blistered USC and Washington at home would have romped Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but that team didn't show up that evening in Arlington, Texas. And the Huskies that nearly beat Stanford and whipped Boise State would have won in Tempe. Stanford's tumble at Utah, Oregon State's defeat to Eastern Washington -- losses full of regret. The pressure is building. Which teams win all the games they are supposed to -- as favorites -- and which teams fall to underdogs?

Georgia's path to the BCS title game

October, 1, 2013
If a one-loss team is going to play in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game this season, Georgia might be as good a bet as any.

But hear this Dawgs fans: You need some help.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall, Aaron Murray, Kolton Houston
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsTo reach the BCS title game, Georgia will likely need more than just the scoring prowess of Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs' offense.
The good news for Georgia is that it moved up to No. 6 in the USA Today Poll, one of three components used in the BCS standings.

If the Bulldogs keep winning, they’ve got a great chance to move up even more, especially with a pair of wins over top 10 opponents.

Remember, too, that only twice during the SEC’s streak of seven straight national championships has the team winning it all finished unbeaten.

The Bulldogs are explosive enough offensively to beat anybody in the country. Obviously, they’re going to need a healthy Todd Gurley the rest of the way. He’s day-to-day for this weekend’s game at Tennessee with a sprained left ankle.

To the Bulldogs’ credit, they played without him for the final three quarters last Saturday and still managed to outlast LSU 44-41. But it’s difficult to see them winning out (and winning the SEC championship) if Gurley’s not close to 100 percent. Keith Marshall is a heck of a talent at running back, but Gurley gives that offense a different dimension when he’s on the field.

Georgia also must continue to grow up on defense if the Bulldogs are going to have a chance to navigate their way to Pasadena. They’ve played 10 true freshmen on defense this season, and three are starters. Of the 22 players listed on their defensive two-deep, 16 are freshmen and sophomores.

So it’s not exactly a surprise that they’ve given up an average of 32.5 points per game, which ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense. To be fair, they’ve also played three top-10 foes.

The key will be how much that defense improves over the next month because the offense, as good as it’s been, can’t be expected to score 35-plus points every game.

But what else needs to happen for the Bulldogs to get to where they came within a tipped pass of potentially getting to last season and playing for the national title?

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • They need to win out, and they probably need to do so impressively, particularly over the teams they’re expected to beat. Otherwise, some of the unbeaten teams behind them in the polls (Florida State, Louisville and Oklahoma) could easily pass them.
  • Clemson has to lose somewhere along the way. There’s no way Georgia gets into the BCS National Championship Game over an unbeaten Clemson team, which opened the season with a 38-35 win over Georgia. The best chances for Clemson to go down (and no, Dabo, I didn’t say pull a Clemson) are Oct. 19 against Florida State at home, Oct. 26 at Maryland and Nov. 30 at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won four straight over the Tigers.
  • If Florida State were to beat Clemson, then Georgia would likely need the Seminoles to lose at some point. Florida State faces Maryland at home this weekend. Miami visits Tallahassee on Nov. 2, and Florida State closes the regular season on Nov. 30 with a trip to Florida.
  • Oregon and Stanford play each other on Nov. 7, so one of those teams is going to have a loss. Both are currently ranked ahead of Georgia. An unbeaten Pac-12 champion would be a lock to fill one of the spots in the BCS National Championship Game.
  • Having Ohio State stumble would also be helpful to the Bulldogs. The Buckeyes play at No. 16 Northwestern this weekend. If they get out of Evanston unscathed, it’s hard to see a loss on their schedule, although they do have to play at Michigan this season.
  • The ideal scenario for Georgia would be for Alabama to win out and be No. 1 in the country heading into the SEC championship game. That way, Georgia would have a chance to score massive points with the voters in the two human polls (and with the computers) by taking down the Crimson Tide on that last weekend before the final BCS standings are released. It’s supposed to be your entire body of work that voters consider when casting their ballots, but last impressions always seem to carry a little extra weight with those final ballots.

In sum, there’s so much football remaining before we get to that first weekend in December that it’s impossible to predict who will still be standing in the national championship race. But if Georgia is indeed going to make a run as a one-loss team, UGA fans probably need to root against Clemson, against Ohio State and for Alabama … at least until the SEC championship game.

Committee could be set by December

September, 25, 2013

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The selection committee for the upcoming College Football Playoff is expected to be finalized by the end of the 2013 season, possibly before the regular season concludes in early December.

BCS/College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said invitations to some prospective members have been made, although discussions are ongoing and additional vetting of candidates must be done. The committee will consist of 12-18 members, most likely "on the lower end," Hancock said, and will determine the four teams for the first Playoff, which will take place after the 2014 season.

"We are making calls to prospective members to gauge their interest," Hancock said during the conference commissioners' meeting at Big Ten headquarters. "And those are going very well. We have invited some people to participate. The response has been remarkable. A hundred percent has been excited to get the call, honored to get the call and wants to give something back to the game."

To read the rest of this story, click here.
Last year, the chant of "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!" was heard in both Pac-12 and Big 12 country.

That other conference, however much it makes folks grumble, gets to be No. 1 until somebody dethrones it. But the debate among Pac-12 and Big 12 fans for second place was a spirited one.

The Big 12 just clipped the Pac-12 in the Stats & Info power rankings by 0.6 points after going 2-1 versus the Pac-12 in bowl game, with Baylor whipping UCLA in the Alamo Bowl and Texas outlasting Oregon State in the Holiday Bowl.

Of course, Oregon, the Pac-12 North runner-up behind Stanford, blew out Kansas State, the Big 12 champion, in the Fiesta Bowl, and Arizona beat Oklahoma State in the regular season -- by 21 points -- to even the conferences' overall mark at 2-2. So even then there was some wiggle room.

The Pac-12 went 4-4 overall in bowl games, winning two BCS bowls, while the Big 12 went 4-5, losing its only BCS bowl. Both conferences finished with three Top 25 teams, but the Pac-12 had two teams in the top-seven compared to no top-10 teams for the Big 12.

Like we said: It was close. And highly subjective to judge.

This is all prelude to the new Pac-12 bowl agreements, which haven't yet been officially announced but we can strongly conjecture upon.

What the Big 12 could always counter in bowl matchups with the Pac-12 is a lower seed. The past three Alamo Bowls matched the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Pac-12 team against the No. 2 non-BCS bowl team from the Big 12. The Holiday Bowl featured the No. 2 Pac-12 team against the No. 4 team from the Big 12.

(There's even a Pac-12 counter to this, with the Pac-12 sending two teams to BCS bowl games the past three years an the Big 12 sending just one during the same span, which thereby evening out the seeds).

Guess what, though? Since the Pac-12 signed on with the Alamo Bowl, the Big 12 is 3-0 against it. Baylor beat Washington in 2012 and Oklahoma State crushed Arizona in 2011.

But the new bowl contracts likely will match the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Rose Bowl Pac-12 team vs. the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Sugar Bowl Big 12 team.

Previously, the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team played in the Cotton Bowl, which got the Big 12's No. 1 non-BCS bowl team but is now part of the College Football Playoff. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has already commented on the change for his conference.

What does that upgrade mean for the Pac-12?

Well, if we go by teams that played in the Cotton Bowl that means UCLA would have played No. 11 Oklahoma, Washington would have played No. 11 Kansas State and Arizona would have played No. 18 Texas A&M.

Now, these trades aren't exact and aren't always better because bowls have their own selection politics. For example, No. 16 Oklahoma State was ranked higher than Texas A&M in 2011 but the Cotton Bowl preferred a Texas-based team.

Still, this means the bowl competition for the Pac-12 is moving up. It will be a test worth watching.

And the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team might like getting out of the Cotton Bowl rotation. The Big 12 has lost nine of the past 10 Cotton Bowls to the SEC, and the lone victory was No. 7 Missouri over No. 25 Arkansas in 2008. Of course, the Tigers are now in the SEC.

By the way, the Big 12 and Pac-12 also appear headed to a matchup in the Buffalo Wild Wings in Sun Devil Stadium -- the Big 12 likely will be replaced by the Big Ten in the Holiday Bowl -- so the conferences will matchup at the top as well as measure each other's depth.

While both conferences would like to move up to No. 1, neither wants to yield the perception of being at least No. 2. The Alamo Bowl will provide a nice annual measuring stick for the two conferences.

The most newsworthy part of a "Heath and Well-Being" initiative the Pac-12 announced Monday was the conference's intention to reduce contact in football practices.

From the news release:
Football Contact Reduction: The Pac-12 will codify into a formal policy the existing practices across the Conference as they relate to limiting contact in football practice. The final policy will be released at Pac-12 Football Media Day on July 26. Going forward, the Pac-12 will look at guidelines around contact in practice to ensure that student-athlete well-being is being closely monitored, both in the amount of contact and in providing our student-athletes and coaches with ample opportunity to teach and learn the correct tackling methods during the spring and preseason.

Commissioner Larry Scott joined a teleconference with reporters to discuss this and other issues that had been major topics during a series of summer meetings between coaches, conference officials and conference CEOs.

While Scott admitted, "You're not going to eliminate injuries from athletics," he made it clear the Pac-12 wants to do more to protect football players from head trauma injuries. Scott says the conference will limit full-contact days in practice to "less than what the NCAA permits," while the schools have their own "self-imposed limits."

Also part of the new initiative will be a "Head Trauma Task Force," which "will study head trauma and find ways to limit damage and exposure to student-athletes."

The details will be forthcoming. The only question will be whether or not limiting contact in practice will affect the quality of play. It could conceivably put conference teams at a competitive disadvantage if other conferences don't follow the Pac-12 lead.

When USC was first limited to 75 scholarship because of NCAA sanctions, coach Lane Kiffin significantly reduced the amount of hitting in practice, something he later cited as hurting the performance of his defense.

Other topics Scott discussed:
  • Scott said he was not optimistic about the Pac-12 Network reaching a distribution agreement with DirectTV. Said Scott: "They've said they don't want to do a deal on the same terms that everyone else has. At this point in time, we're as frustrated as our fans are. We hope DirectTV will listen to their customers. Listen to our fans."
  • The Pac-12 Network turned a profit in Year 1. It will increase the number of live events it broadcasts in 2013-14 to 750 from 550 in 2012-13.
  • Scott wouldn't confirm new bowl contracts for 2014, the first year of the new College Football Playoff, but he did strongly intimate that the Alamo Bowl going forward will match the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Rose Bowl Pac-12 team vs. the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Sugar Bowl Big 12 team. That means the quality of the Pac-12 foe will be better. Previously, the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team played in the Cotton Bowl.
  • He said he was "not surprised" that it appears the SEC will adopt a nine-game conference schedule in the future. "There is going to be a higher priority on strength of schedule," he said. "That's the strength of your conference schedule, which is affected by the number of conference games you play, as well as the strength of the nonconference schedule. I think it's fair to say every conference has been looking in the mirror and asking how they stack up against that criteria."
  • He was asked if the Pac-12 has addressed recent proposals concerning the major football conferences breaking away and forming their own football division. Scott said, "There was some passing reference to it but we have not spent any time talking about that in any level of detail or how you get there."
  • Scott did strongly reiterate his support for scholarships that cover full cost of attendance, and said that would be a "litmus test" for the NCAA's ability to govern the richer conferences going forward.
All schedules are not created equal. Sometimes it's the luck of the draw and sometimes it's soft -- or hard -- nonconference scheduling.

And sometimes there are less tangible factors, such as bye weeks and fan expectations.

So who's got the toughest go this fall in the Pac-12? Here are two takes.

Kevin Gemmell: If you want to go by just the raw data, then California and Colorado share the "toughest" schedule based on the combined records of last year's opponents. The 2013 schedule for both teams includes teams that had a .588 winning percentage last year (Utah is close behind with its opponents' combined winning percentage at .584). Of course, that's only a starting point and nowhere near empirical.

ASU's early slate is rough and Stanford's late slate is brutal. Team for team, I think Stanford has the toughest go.


I think things might be tougher for Oregon State by virtue of the way the schedule plays out. This is something that is beyond the control of the players -- but the way the schedule sets up, it's going to take a great deal of maturity and level-headedness to navigate the 2013 docket.

When you look at their first seven games, they only face one FBS team that had a winning record last year -- and that's San Diego State at Qualcomm. The Aztecs have gone on a nice little run the past few years -- qualifying for three straight bowl games for the first time in school history -- so they might push back. Still, the Beavers should win against Eastern Washington, Hawaii, Utah, Colorado, Washington State and Cal. None of those are guaranteed wins, but you have to figure the Beavers will be the favorite in all seven.

Then things switch into a whole other gear down the stretch. They host Stanford and USC in consecutive weeks, then a bye, and two of their final three are on the road at Arizona State, home to Washington and then at Oregon to close out the season. The Beavers went 1-3 against those teams last year, with the only win coming against Arizona State (they didn't play USC). They go from facing five or six teams that will be hovering sub .500 to five straight against the top teams in the league.

If ever there was a time to harness the clichéd one-game-at-a-time-mentality, this is it. Oregon State will likely start in the preseason Top 25. Let's say anywhere from 15-20. As they keep winning, they will climb as others around them lose games. By the time they reach Stanford on Oct. 26, it's likely they'll be a top-10 team if they take care of business. Will they truly be one of the best 10 teams in the country though? We really won't know.

The saving grace of this stretch is they get Stanford, USC and Washington all at home. Though Oregon State is only 5-12 all-time against USC in Corvallis, they've won the past three at home against USC and the Huskies. Stanford topped OSU at Reser in 2011. They last won in Tempe in 2009 and Eugene in 2007.

The biggest issue for the Beavers is understanding that -- if they do jump out to a 7-0 start -- that record won't have the same gusto as it did last year when they beat Wisconsin at home and won on the road at UCLA, Arizona and BYU. I believe the Beavers to be a very good team. But if they buy too much into the early hype, 7-0 could quickly end up 7-5.

Ted Miller: I really like Kevin's nuanced response on this. Oregon State doesn't have the Pac-12's toughest schedule, but the combination of how it's put together as well as the Beavers expectations for the season -- a Top 25 finish -- make it dangerous. There will be no way for fans to feel good if the Beavers start 7-0 and then go, say, 1-4 down the stretch, even if 8-4 is a respectable finish.

As for which Pac-12 team has the toughest schedule, there's an easy answer: California. The Bears play three teams that will be ranked in the preseason top 10 -- probably the top five -- in Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford. They also play five other teams that will be widely viewed as having Top 25 potential: Northwestern, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington and USC.

Yet, I'm going with Stanford because I want to embrace nuance!

Stanford's schedule is rugged, particularly at the end, when the Cardinal play Oregon, USC, rival California and Notre Dame over the final four weeks. But it's more than that.

Stanford coach David Shaw -- wisely -- says that the Cardinal have the same goal every year: Win the conference, go to the Rose Bowl. "Because that's the only thing we can control," he says. What he's intimating is the process of picking the teams to play for the national title -- at present and in the future four-team playoff -- includes a subjective element.

But, really, Stanford's goal this season is simple: Perfection. And, falling short of that, the Cardinal would settle for a national title.

This team has the talent to not only play for the final BCS title, but to beat the SEC -- let's be certain that's half of the championship tilt -- at its own game: Defense.

Yet the challenges are abundant. For one, there's seven teams with Top 25 potential. Second, there's that useless Week 1 bye. Third, Stanford plays Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah in South Division cross-over games, missing Arizona and Colorado. That's hardly ideal. North Division rival Oregon misses Arizona State and USC. That is ideal.

(I won't even mention the seeming obsession of some vocal Stanford fans for their "weekenders" against the Southern California teams, which thereby gives the Northwest schools an automatic advantage in the division race. Folks, you should ask your coach what he thinks about Stanford playing USC and UCLA every year).

Stanford's foes, according to Kevin's data, had a .575 winning percentage in 2012. That's slightly below the numbers for Cal, Colorado and Utah, but those three teams have a far bigger margin for error. They each just want to get back to a bowl game.

Stanford is only playing for THE BOWL GAME.