Let's just come right out and say what the nation is thinking today.
|Pittsburgh nearly lost to I-AA Furman this season, but it's likely headed to a BCS bowl.(AP)|
- Texas' junior varsity should be in the Bowl Championship Series before the Big East champion.
- The best bowl game in Phoenix won't be Utah-Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, it will be Notre Dame-UCLA in the Insight Bowl. No, really. It will.
- As average as the Irish and Bruins might be, neither needed overtime to beat I-AA Furman this year. Pittsburgh did. At home.
- That is assuming embattled Panthers coach Walt Harris is actually around for the Fiesta Bowl. His agent wanted clarification in midseason on Harris' contract status. Pittsburgh administration basically told Bob LaMonte to take a number and have a seat over there in the corner.
- It could have been Boston College, of course. But the Eagles decided that -- with a $14 million payday on the line -- it would lose by 26. At home. To Syracuse.
- Naturally, the game was decided by someone named Diamond Ferri. No, that's not a premium cruise ship. It's an Orange starting safety who was forced into action at tailback. Ferri turned in a performance for the ages -- 141 yards, five tackles and an interception for a touchdown.
Ferri saved Syracuse. The Big East? We'll see. The Big East having an automatic BCS bid this year has to go down as one of the colossal blunders of a colossally flawed system. Remember Nebraska and Oklahoma in title games without actually winning their conference title? Remember the consensus No. 1 team in the nation (USC) groveling for table scraps -- aka a shared national championship?
Now, the BCS (insert Bad, Crude Slight here) gives us the Grandaddy of Them All -- the Big East's grandfather clause. The league retained its automatic berth in the offseason after the ACC ripped it asunder. A noble gesture, but, as we now see, a bad, bad result.
BC coach Tom O'Brien spoke for all of us when he said, "I'm glad it's over."
|Dodd's Power Poll|
|7. Boise State|
|13. Virginia Tech|
|17. Florida State|
|20. Oklahoma State|
|23. Boston College|
|Non-BCS Top 10|
|2. Boise State|
|6. Miami (Ohio)|
|7. North Texas|
|9. Northern Illinois|
|10. Bowling Green|
O'Brien vowed never again to play a Big East member "for what we went through" in changing conferences. Membership in the ACC, apparently, has its privileges.
Except that it's not over for the Big East just yet. Syracuse, Boston College West Virginia and Pittsburgh woke up Sunday in a four-way tie at 4-2 in the league. The highest-ranked team in the BCS between Pittsburgh and Syracuse gets the bid. We're not sure the BCS ratings go that low.
All Pittsburgh has to do to win the tiebreaker -- not necessarily the hearts of the nation -- is avoid a blowout loss Saturday night at South friggin' Florida. Think you can handle that, Panthers? We'll see.
Just to make sure everyone has this straight: Syracuse has beaten Pittsburgh head to head. Despite that, Pittsburgh can lose and still win the Big East.
Only the Sun Belt, among I-A's 11 conferences, has performed worse than the Big East this year. The Sun Belt's top two teams (North Texas and Troy) each had four losses. BC, West Virginia and Pittsburgh each have three losses. Syracuse has five. Fledgling I-A member Connecticut (7-4, 3-3) actually finished with a better overall record than Syracuse, beat Pittsburgh and finished a game behind the mediocre logjam.
Going forward, the outrage shouldn't be directed at any mid-majors that get to BCS bowls. Like Utah, they will have to achieve a certain amount of excellence to qualify. The Big East's only qualification is that it knows the right people.
The commissioners cut the Big East a break allowing it to keep its automatic bid through the 2005 season. After that, all bets are off. In fact, the Big East's status is one of the touchiest subjects among the commissioners now that the new TV deals have been signed.
It's clear that even with newcomers Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida replacing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, the Big East is a notch below the other five major conferences. For example, what's to differentiate that lineup from, say, the Mountain West?
With 10 BCS spots available beginning in 2006, there is an easy answer to the Big East situation. Put in a melting pot with the Mountain West, WAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA and MAC. Let the highest ranked team out of that group get a guaranteed BCS berth.
Coming into the weekend, BC was the league's highest ranked BCS team at No. 21. There might be none in the BCS top 25 on Monday. Above the Eagles were the champions of Conference USA (Louisville), WAC (Boise State) and Mountain West (Utah).
Syracuse grabbed the Big East's first automatic bid in 1998 with three losses. The only teams in BCS bowls with more than two losses going in were Stanford in 1999, Purdue in 2000, Florida State in 2002 and Kansas State in 2003.
That's 28 berths in seven years of the BCS, five of those berths populated with teams with at least three losses. Two of them from the Big East.
This is a league ... well, decide for yourselves the exact point when hilarity surpassed parity:
- Syracuse (6-5) could have clinched the league outright for itself on Saturday had it not lost two weeks ago at Temple.
- That's the same Temple that is being kicked out of the league because of chronic underachievement over the years. Who, you might ask, is the Big East to be passing judgment on bad football?
- That Temple loss was thought to have doomed Paul Pasqualoni, who many speculated was coaching his final game on Saturday. Like Harris, he led his team to a bowl but might not be around to coach it.
- Pasqualoni did what any coach would do when his situation -- hope. He switched Ferri to running back after starter Damien Rhodes was injured. Pasqualoni estimated that Ferri was in on 125 plays going both ways, several of them ending in cheap shots by the Eagles.
After his first touchdown run, Ferri was run into an asphalt track that surrounds the Alumni Stadium field. Later, he was run out of bounds and shoved over a metal bench on the Syracuse sideline.
"If they want to leave the Big East, we'll send them out with a loss," Ferri said after the game. "It wasn't pleasant. I think they were playing a little dirty."
Right about now, the entire BCS needs a shower.
Welcome to one of the tensest weeks in SEC history.
Nothing much changed in the polls, meaning that Auburn is on track to being shut out of the national championship game. If the Tigers beat Tennessee on Saturday, that would mark the first time a 12-0 SEC champion didn't get to play for all the marbles.
Oklahoma actually increased its lead over Auburn in both polls -- from four to seven points in the coaches and from five to 10 points in AP.
BCS expert Jerry Palm projects that short of an Oklahoma loss in the Big 12 title game, Auburn will have to finish 40 to 50 points ahead of the Sooners in the polls to move up to No. 2 in the BCS. For that to happen, Oklahoma will have win sluggishly and Auburn will have to blow out the Vols.
If not, then look for Atlanta to be burned down for the first time since the Civil War.
Scoping the nation
- Tennessee isn't exactly coming into the SEC title game on a roll. The Vols struggled to beat Kentucky 37-31 to finish the regular season. In its last four games, Tennessee has lost to Notre Dame at Neyland as well as allowing at least 29 points each to South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Wildcats almost achieved the upset with the nation's 114th-rated offense and the resignation of offensive coordinator Ron Hudson during the week.
- It's especially going to be bad if freshman quarterback Erik Ainge doesn't return from a shoulder separation. Third-stringer Rick Clausen struggled again, throwing two interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown.
- Boise State's last chance to get in the BCS hinges on Cal losing to Southern Miss on Saturday. Even then, it's not a certainty that the Broncos will move into the top six. Boise finished 11-0 after winning at Nevada 58-21. The 25-game winning streak is the nation's longest but the pollsters have reached their limit it seems. Boise dropped from 10th to 11th in the AP poll. It remained 10th in the coaches poll.
- To be fair, here's the case for Pittsburgh. We'll be brief. The Panthers have won five of their last six, winning at Notre Dame and the gutty Backyard Brawl on Thursday against West Virginia. The last time the school played in a New Year's Day bowl was 20 years ago. That was actually Jan. 2, 1984, the season after Dan Marino left. The immortal John Cummings played quarterback in a 28-23 loss to Ohio State. "It's all in our hands now," said quarterback Tyler Palko, who has improved immensely since a horrible showing against Nebraska earlier in the year.
- Harris has two years left on his contract. Pittsburgh AD Jeff Long maintained his stance over the weekend that he would not talk about the contract until after the season. "When Mr. LaMonte made his remarks, I said I hadn't given up on the players and this team because at that point we had six games left," Long told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And I'll say it again. We are still in the season and when it is over, coach and I will sit down and talk about the future. He had three full seasons on his contract before this year, so I am surprised we're talking about the short length of his contract."
- Behind BC on the gag meter has to be Iowa State. Facing a struggling Missouri team at home, all the Cyclones needed was a win to clinch a spot in the Big 12 championship game. Naturally it lost 17-14 in overtime. With 65 seconds left in regulation, kicker Bret Culbertson missed a 24-yard field goal to break a 14-14 tie. Missouri's A.J. Kincade then picked off a pass in the end zone in overtime to end it. Missouri had lost five in a row and hadn't won since Oct. 9. "It makes you want to throw up," said Iowa State linebacker Erik Anderson. "It's a sick feeling."
- Anyone else notice that it was more than fitting that the Big 12 North race ended on an interception? The Missouri win allowed Colorado to win the North after the Buffs defeated Nebraska 26-20 on Friday.
- What a long, strange trip it's been for the Buffs. Coach Gary Barnett almost lost his job after the drawn-out recruiting controversy. Then the team started out 1-4 in the Big 12. Its only victory in that stretch was over Iowa State. It won its past three over Kansas, Kansas State and Nebraska to win the division tiebreaker over -- who else? -- Iowa State. The Buffs have now been in the conference title game three of the last four years.
|End of the Big Red Empire?|
|Nebraska streaks that have ended since 2002:|
|24: consecutive wins over Missouri (2003)|
|26: consecutive home wins (2002)|
|33: consecutive nine-win seasons (2002)|
|33: consecutive years ranked in final AP poll (2002)|
|35: consecutive bowls (2004)|
|36: consecutive games unbeaten vs. Oklahoma St. (2002)|
|40: consecutive winning seasons (2002)|
|42: consecutive non-losing seasons (2004)|
|54: consecutive weeks in AP top 10 (2002)|
|348: consecutive weeks in AP top 25 (2002)|
- Some interesting post-game statements came out of that CU-Nebraska game. The Huskers saw their streak of 35 consecutive bowl games end. Meanwhile, the loss left a bad aftertaste to Bill Callahan's first season. The West Coast offense never got off the ground and the defense was worse. "I'm really glad they're home for the holidays, actually," Colorado defensive tackle Matt McChesney said. "They can sit at home, and I hope it feels good."
- Colorado assistant Darian Hagan had a private talk with quarterback Joel Klatt. Hagan was the quarterback that helped CU upset Nebraska in Lincoln in 1990. "They called me the Husker-killer. I passed the baton to Joel, and told him: 'Now, you're the Husker-killer. Remember this day. Fifteen years from now, Colorado fans will come up to you and pat you on the back for beating Nebraska.'"
- Finally, from that game, one of the most cryptic quotes of the season. "The way I see this is that great empires, they fall," Nebraska quarterback Joe Dailey said. "Great leaders, they fall. And great college football teams, they fall. Sometimes you need to start over again in order to really appreciate what happened in the past. That's exactly what's happened." That should go over well in Lincoln.
- When you think of the bad boys of college football, you automatically don't think of Cincinnati. The Bearcats came out during warmups at Papa John Stadium and stomped on Louisville's logo at the 50. That old Miami-Florida State stunt impressed no one and cost Cincy its dignity in a 70-7 loss.
- The Movement has regressed. Two of the five African-American I-A coaches are out of a job. New Mexico State's Tony Samuel was fired last week. San Jose State's Fitz Hill lost to Fresno State 62-28 in his last game with the Spartans after resigning earlier this month.
- Notre Dame's Ty Willingham is one of three African-American coaches remaining. How is Notre Dame, then, going to make a move on Willingham after only his third season when it gave Bob Davie five years?