Friday, December 3, 2010

Something Must Be Done

Whatever the truth may be about Cam Newton, Auburn, Mississippi State, recruiting, etc., apparently will have to wait until after the 2010 football season is in the books.

As Kalani Simpson observes for FOX Sports, the NCAA isn't going to interfere and keep Newton from playing in tomorrow's SEC championship game — or, apparently, the national title game.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. I mean, we aren't too far removed from the Reggie Bush experience, and that is something I don't think any college football fan is eager to repeat.

I won't go into detail on that — and I'm sure no one associated with Auburn needs to be reminded of the Bush experience.

Southern California (Bush's alma mater) played Texas for the title that year. Undefeated Auburn was ranked third and had to play Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. I knew some disappointed Auburn fans who called it the Consolation Bowl — but it didn't seem terribly consoling to them.

If Newton is allowed to play tomorrow — and, presumably, in the national title game — and then it turns out that he, like Bush, must forfeit his Heisman (assuming he wins it, and most folks, at this point, are treating that like it's a given) and Auburn must forfeit its title (if it beats Oregon), unbeaten TCU will be in the same position as Auburn was then — deserving of a spot in the national title game but denied one because of the inappropriate actions of an underclassman.

But what choice do we have? There isn't enough time to hear the charges in full and whatever defenses may be offered. There isn't enough time for a jury or a panel of some kind to consider the evidence and render a just verdict before kickoff.

Indeed, there seems to be only one choice, and that is to let Newton play tomorrow. To do otherwise simply wouldn't be fair — to Newton, to Auburn or to South Carolina.

But, whether this eventually turns out to be Reggie Bush Revisited or simply Much Ado About Nothing, something needs to be done — unless we want recruiters bidding for Heisman prospects as if they were wannabe senators from Illinois.

Idle: #3 TCU, #4 Wisconsin, #5 Stanford, #6 Ohio State, #7 Michigan State, #8 Arkansas, #11 LSU, #15 Missouri, #16 Oklahoma State, #17 Alabama, #19 Texas A&M, #21 Utah, #22 Mississippi State.

All times are Central.

  • #24 Northern Illinois at Miami (Ohio), 6 p.m. on ESPN2: Northern Illinois might be one of the best teams that hardly anyone has been talking about.

    NIU is in the Top 25 in both offense and defense, but the offense is especially good, ranked 17th in the country. Miami, by comparison, is 85th.

    Miami's defense, like NIU's, is in the Top 30. But I'm skeptical that it could make up for Miami's offensive deficiencies, so I pick Northern Illinois to win.
  • #1 Oregon at Oregon State, 2:30 p.m. on ABC: In Oregon, they call this the Civil War. The rivalry between the two schools has been fought for more than a century.

    Unless one of these teams is playing in a bowl, this is ordinarily the season finale for both schools.

    As it is, though, Oregon will be playing in the postseason. The Ducks are currently undefeated and ranked #1. Oregon State, on the other hand, is 5–6. The Beavers need a win to become bowl eligible, which is motivation enough, I suppose, since Oregon State has gone bowling in the last four seasons and I doubt the Beavers really want to end their streak.

    Just being bowl eligible is not a guarantee this season, though. As I understand it, there are already enough bowl eligible teams to fill all the bowl slots — and there may be a few more after this weekend's games. If so, then some bowl–eligible teams will be left out in the cold. There seems to be no way around it.

    But it seems likely to me that, if Oregon State can defeat the top–ranked team in the country on the last Saturday of the regular season, the Beavers can count on being in a bowl. That's pretty inspirational.

    And, to a casual observer, the situation may look pretty good. The game is being played, after all, at Oregon State.

    But the last time Oregon came to Oregon State, the Ducks scored 65 points — which is pretty close to what they've been averaging in many games this season.

    Prior to that, though, Oregon State won five straight meetings at home. And, in this series, home has been important. Since 1997, the home team has won all but two of the Civil Wars.

    I don't think the home team will win this time ... but you never know about these rivalry games. That old saying about tossing the records out the window really does apply, even if it seems like a worn–out cliche.

    Nevertheless, I think Oregon will win and go on to face Auburn for the national title.

  • SEC championship — # 18 South Carolina vs. #2 Auburn, 3 p.m. on CBS: Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant used to tell his players to "act like you've been there before" when they scored a touchdown.

    In that spirit, Auburn has been to the SEC championship game before. This is the Tigers' fourth appearance.

    On the other hand, this will be South Carolina's first trip to the SEC title game, but, even though the modern SEC competes in divisions and these teams don't face each other every year, this is not the first encounter between these two schools.

    In fact, they met earlier this year — at Auburn — and Auburn won, 35–27. And Auburn won the four previous meetings since they became conference rivals.

    It would be tempting, for several reasons, to assume that South Carolina will lose this game, too. But let's not be too hasty.

    Yes, the records suggest that 12–0 Auburn will beat 9–3 South Carolina. Yes, the recent history of the series also favors the Tigers. And it is also true that the once–dominant SEC East, which Carolina will represent in tomorrow's game, is not what it was.

    But that brings up an interesting point.

    Non–divisional opponents face each other on a rotating basis. Some years, a team's non–divisional schedule may seem light compared to other years.

    But I think South Carolina's schedule in 2010 — the usual SEC East opposition, which includes Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, plus three of the toughest teams in the SEC West (defending national champion Alabama, presumptive national title competitor Auburn and Arkansas) — may have been one of the stoutest in the nation.

    It's true that Newton has Auburn's offense ranked in the Top 10 while Carolina's languishes at #48. But Carolina's defense is 33rd in the country following its challenging season, which is better than Auburn's (#58).

    When it gets right down to it, yes, I think Auburn will win. But I wouldn't be surprised if Carolina pulled off the upset.

  • Utah State at #9 Boise State, 2 p.m. on Boise State hasn't lost to Utah State since 1997, and Utah State hasn't won at Boise State since 1996.

    The numbers don't suggest any kind of change is likely. Boise State's offense and defense are among the nation's best. Utah State's are among the nation's worst.

    The only way I see Utah State winning this game is if Boise State is in some kind of funk over last week's overtime loss to Nevada. Otherwise, I expect Boise State to win ... big.

  • Big 12 championship — #13 Nebraska vs. #10 Oklahoma, 7 p.m. on ABC: When Nebraska beat Oklahoma last season, it snapped a four–game OU winning streak that included a win in the 2006 Big 12 championship game.

    Before that, Nebraska took full advantage of the fact that the Cornhuskers were enjoying a surge while the Sooners were stumbling, winning seven out of eight in the 1990s. Sometimes during that stretch, Nebraska was merciless, rolling up wins of 73–21 and 69–7.

    The marquee matchup in this game unquestionably will be when OU's 12th–ranked offense has the ball, and it must face Nebraska's fifth–ranked defense. But the outcome may depend on what happens when Nebraska's 31st–ranked offense takes on OU's mediocre defense (63rd in the country).

    In the second half of the season, I'm inclined to think Texas A&M was the best team in the Big 12 South and deserved to play Nebraska for the league crown. But the Sooners got the nod, even though they lost to A&M in the final weeks of the season.

    With its historic rivalry as a backdrop, I think this may be the most entertaining game of the day. And I pick Nebraska to win it.

  • ACC championship — #20 Florida State vs. #12 Virginia Tech, 6:45 p.m. on ESPN: Florida State always seems to get the better of Virginia Tech.

    They compete in different divisions in the ACC so they don't play each other every year, and they haven't been in the same conference very long.

    But, even though their time as conference rivals has been brief, they have met for the ACC crown before — in 2005. Florida State prevailed, 27–22. Before they were in the same conference, they met in the Gator Bowl following the 2001 season. Florida State won that one, too.

    And they met in the Sugar Bowl following the 1999 season. Florida State rolled to a 46–29 win.

    They faced off as regular–season, non–conference opponents every year between 1988 and 1991. Guess what? Florida State won those games, too.

    In fact, since 1976, Virginia Tech has beaten Florida State only once — at Virginia Tech in 2007.

    The defenses are pretty evenly matched, which means the game could well hinge on offense. If that is so, Virginia Tech should be due to end its frustration at Florida State's hands — this time, anyway.

  • #14 Nevada at Louisiana Tech: Nevada has beaten Louisiana Tech five straight times. The last time Tech won was in 2004, when the teams opened the season at Louisiana Tech.

    Like Oregon State, Tech could be bowl eligible with a win. But the numbers don't favor that. Nevada's third–ranked offense should be too much for Tech's 114th–ranked defense. Tech's offense should be able to score on Nevada's defense, too — but probably not as often.

    Consequently, I pick Nevada.

  • Rutgers at #23 West Virginia, 11 a.m. on ABC: West Virginia has beaten Rutgers 15 straight times.

    West Virginia's defense is third in the nation, easily capable of handling Rutgers' 107th–ranked offense.

    I'll take West Virginia.

  • UNLV at #25 Hawaii, 9:30 p.m. on Hawaii is clearly better on both sides of the ball.

    The recent history of this series has been competitive, but I'm inclined to think Hawaii will win this one easily.
Last week: 16–4

Season: 209–46

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