Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who Will Be Playing in Miami?

Saturday’s one-point loss to Iowa has doomed Penn State’s hopes for a national title, says Sam Ross Jr. in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Practically the same thing happened to Penn State nine years ago, he writes. Then ranked second in the nation, the Nittany Lions lost to Minnesota by the same 24-23 score.

"The 1999 Penn State team couldn't recover," Ross says, "losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Michigan State."

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated writes that Penn State’s loss was a good thing for the Big Ten, in the aftermath of a couple of poor performances by Ohio State in the last two national championship games.

"The majority of the country did not want to see Penn State in the BCS title game," Mandel writes. Saturday’s loss, he says, means "the issue is moot."

Gennaro Filice writes, in his FanNation blog, that Penn State’s "national title hopes are officially cooked."

Filice admits that Penn State can still win the Big Ten title. And he concedes that it’s possible that no team from a BCS conference will finish the season unbeaten.

However, "due to the Big Ten's perceived inferiority this season, Penn State's lone blemish has far more significance than a single notch in the loss column," he writes.

The loss to Iowa, Filice says, is a "knockout blow."

Is it?

Well, a lot of things can happen in college football.

A single loss by a single point doesn’t have to destroy a team’s chances of playing for the national title — although it’s usually best if it happens early in the season, when the team has a chance to make its case in several games, rather than late in the season, when there aren’t many opportunities left to repair the team’s image.

Lord knows, I'm no fan of the BCS. But it's the system that's in use and, at this stage, I think the die may be cast — that there may be only one berth in the national title game that Penn State has a theoretical — albeit remote — chance of grabbing.

If that’s the case, it’s going to be extremely difficult for Penn State to make up that much ground in less than a month.

  • I believe one of the slots in the national championship game will go to the winner of the SEC Championship clash between Alabama and Florida in Atlanta on Dec. 6.

    The conference schedule hasn’t been played out yet, but both teams have clinched their division championships and will face off in December.

    Of course, a lot of things could happen to remove the spotlight from this game. Alabama (10-0) still has to play its in-state rival, Auburn, on Nov. 29. The Tigers are only 5-5 this year, but rivalries are different from ordinary games.

    Likewise, Florida (8-1) has to face its in-state rival, Florida State (7-2), the same day.

    And, this Saturday, Florida has to play its final regular-season conference game against South Carolina (7-3).

    But if Florida and Alabama can clear their last regular-season hurdles, I expect the winner of their game to play for the national championship in Miami in January.

  • Logic tells me that the other team in the national championship picture will be the team that finishes atop the Big 12 South.

    Right now, that would figure to be 10-0 Texas Tech, which has a well-deserved week off next weekend after defeating previously unbeaten Texas last weekend and then following that with a win over once-beaten Oklahoma State on Saturday.

    The Red Raiders can’t relax too much, however, because, after beating the Longhorns and Cowboys at home in Lubbock, they have to travel to Norman, Okla., a week from Saturday to face Oklahoma.

    Some more bad news for Tech. Oklahoma also has the week off to prepare for the showdown.

    And what a showdown it should be!

    Texas Tech has a richly deserved reputation for scoring, but the Sooners have done a pretty fair job of putting points on the board, too. Oklahoma has been held to its season-low of 35 points twice — and the Sooners have scored more than 50 points six times.

    But the Sooners' defense has been prone to give up a lot of points at times.

    If Tech can beat OU, the Red Raiders should finish the regular season unbeaten — their final opponent is 3-7 Baylor on Nov. 29.

    But OU could cause problems. If the Sooners win, it’s possible that three teams — OU, Texas and Texas Tech — will finish the season tied atop the Big 12 South.

    For that to happen, Oklahoma would have to follow the win over Tech with a win at Oklahoma State on Nov. 29 — and the 8-2 Cowboys have been no pushovers this season. They should be rested and ready — all they have to do between now and the 29th is dispose of 5-5 Colorado.

    But, if it does happen, Mandel writes, the tiebreaker would be determined by which team has the highest BCS ranking.

    "The voters would decide who gets to play for the Big 12 championship," Mandel writes. "How the heck are they supposed to do that? Would they elevate the Sooners over a Texas team they lost to? Would non-conference wins be part of the decision?"

    If OSU knocks off OU, that would open the door for Tech and Texas to share the division title. If that happened, Tech would win the spot in the conference championship game, based on their head-to-head victory over the Longhorns.

    But, because they lost recently to OU, the Red Raiders would probably be out of the national title picture by that point. And, in an ironic twist, the Longhorns might be back in it.

    Clearly, it would be a whole lot easier on everyone if Tech just beats Oklahoma and goes on to play in the Big 12 championship game, probably against Missouri.

    Which raises another point. What happens if the Big 12 South champ stumbles in the conference championship game against Missouri?

    Mathematically, it’s conceivable that Missouri won’t emerge as the Big 12 North champion. The Tigers still have to face Kansas on Nov. 29. The Jayhawks trail the Tigers by a game in the standings, but they could overcome that by winning their head-to-head matchup.

    But, for Kansas to sneak in past Missouri, the Jayhawks would probably have to win their other remaining game, which is against Texas — and that doesn’t appear to be too likely for 6-4 KU.

    The other contender in the Big 12 North is Nebraska. The Cornhuskers could leapfrog the Tigers (who won their head-to-head match in early October) if they sweep Kansas State and Colorado.

    But that would require Missouri to lose to not only Kansas but also 2-8 Iowa State beforehand.

    So it’s unlikely but possible that Missouri won’t represent the Big 12 North in the conference title game.

    Still, you never know what’s going to happen in the Big 12 Championship game.

    Well, Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram seems to know what's going to happen.

    "If Tech continues to match the poise and precision it showed Saturday while dismantling No. 8 Oklahoma State 56-20 the Red Raiders will get [to the BCS title game]," he writes. "And deserve it."

  • If the unexpected happens, and a legitimate national championship contender doesn’t emerge from the Big 12, it seems to me that the next most likely prospect for the slot against either Alabama or Florida would be Southern California.

    USC (8-1) has to face a couple of teams that are struggling to win enough games to qualify for a bowl bid — 5-5 Stanford and 5-4 Notre Dame — before wrapping up the regular season against crosstown rival UCLA (3-6).

    To me, it looks like a longshot for USC to get into the national title game, but if the Trojans sweep those last three games, they’ll have to wait and see what happens in the Big 12, like everyone else. USC plays in a conference that doesn’t determine its championship in a postseason title game.

  • In the extremely unlikely event that Tech, Texas and Oklahoma all drop out of the running and USC loses to one of the apparent creampuffs remaining on its schedule, the latest BCS standings suggest that the next team in line would be 10-0 Utah.

    Utah has two regular-season games left — San Diego State (1-9) this weekend, and 9-1 Brigham Young the next. If BYU beats Utah, the Utes are out of the running.

    It’s hard for me to imagine the Utes playing Alabama or Florida for the national championship. If circumstances start to eliminate the teams at the head of the list, my guess is that the pollsters would elevate Penn State — and put the Nittany Lions in the championship game ahead of Utah.
Anyway, there’s clearly some drama remaining in this college football season.

I doubt that Penn State is on its way to Miami in January — but Pasadena isn't bad as alternate destinations go.

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