Looking ahead to the second half
College football is passing the halfway point of the 2012 season, the sport's version of the All-Star break. The BCS marked the occasion by releasing its first ratings, which means both the calendar and the computer are telling us the season has an outline, but not an identity.
The back half of the season promises to fill in that outline. It promises to be a nonfiction thriller.
The BCS standings point at the SEC and the Pac-12 as the reservoirs of power in the game. They supply seven teams in the top 10.
Neither No. 1 Alabama nor No. 3 Oregon has worked up a sweat in the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide's slimmest margin of victory, 19 points, is a nose ahead of the Ducks' low margin of 17 points. The Tide's Nick Saban and the Ducks' Chip Kelly may draw up different X's and O's on the whiteboard. But the attitudes they instill in their respective teams are identical.
Kelly's motto of "Win the Day" has become so ingrained in Oregon football that it is painted on the fašade of Autzen Stadium. Bright yellow T-shirts sporting the motto in big white letters are available at The Duck Store outside of Autzen. Saban, in his sixth season in Tuscaloosa, has fitted his players with a similar set of blinders.
It's no secret. If Alabama and Oregon continue to pile up victories as they did in the first half, they likely will play for the BCS championship in Miami. That level of domination isn't likely. Both teams have three ranked opponents ahead of them plus a conference championship game. Alabama must play No. 6 LSU on the road. Oregon must play No. 10 USC on the road. Look forward to Nov. 3 -- both games will kick off that day.
For No. 2 Florida and No. 5 Notre Dame, the rest of the season resembles an Oreo. Both the Gators and the Irish have a lot work left in October (No. 7 South Carolina and No. 11 Georgia for the former; at No. 9 Oklahoma for the latter), and a road game against a highly ranked traditional rival on Thanksgiving Saturday (at No. 14 Florida State; at No. 10 USC).
And between those chocolaty outsides, a nice cream filling. The Irish's other three November opponents have a combined record of 6-12. The Gators play Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette and FCS Jacksonville (Ala.) State. If Notre Dame and Florida survive October intact, it will be interesting to see how sharp they stay and how much the empty calories of their schedules cost them with the BCS computers.
Kansas State has risen to No. 4 on the strength of the Big 12's depth. But like the Big Ten of old -- trust me, kids -- the Wildcats may suffer because of that depth. Everyone is beating up on each other. Already, only Kansas State remains undefeated. If the Cats can run the table, it would help them if the four ranked teams on their schedule remain that way.
No. 9 Oklahoma, the league's other top-10 team, can climb up the ladder by defeating Notre Dame on Oct. 27. But the Sooners already have lost to the Wildcats.
Kansas State also has the advantage of a backstory. Bill Snyder, the Wildcats' curmudgeon of a head coach, has become a lovable curmudgeon in his second go-round in Manhattan. If there's a crowd at the top, don't underestimate the possibility that poll voters will push the 73-year-old and his team toward Miami.
The Wildcats' visit to No. 13 West Virginia also will have an effect on the Heisman Trophy race. Quarterbacks Collin Klein of Kansas State and Geno Smith of West Virginia have reached the season's halfway point and remain on an unusually short list of Heisman contenders. It is so short that an unheralded player or an unusual one may climb into the race.
Keep an eye on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. He is, by all accounts, everything a head coach could want: skills, grades, leadership. As the Irish continue to reclaim their place among the sport's powers after an absence of several years, the spotlights that refocus on the Irish will be trained on him.
The Big East is the opposite of the Big 12. No. 15 Rutgers, No. 16 Louisville and No. 21 Cincinnati represent one-quarter of the 12 teams that remain undefeated. That will change on Oct. 26, when the Bearcats travel to Louisville. While the Big East may not be confused with a BCS contender, the league may revel in the fact that Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which are ditching after this season for the ACC, are both 2-4.
In the Big Ten, the best storylines revolve around the schools in the NCAA hoosegow. Can Ohio State, 7-0, run the table? Can Penn State, which has won four straight after an 0-2 start, continue its inspirational play? The rest of the league is starving for success and could do without attention. But we have to ask: Of the four Leaders Division teams eligible for the postseason, can anyone other than Wisconsin win a Big Ten game?
Arizona fired Mike Stoops a year ago last week. By acting quickly, athletic director Greg Byrne got a jump on the rest of the field and secured Rich Rodriguez to replace Stoops before the season ended. No coach has been fired yet this season, but there are a few who are limping and quacking.
Any day now, firing season will commence. Hiring season will follow. Unlike for games, the scheduling is uncertain. But the second half of the season surely will bring that as well.