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Monday, November 01, 2004

College Football Roundup

The college football scene continues to get more exciting, so here are my thoughts on this weekend's results:

1. The Sagarin-Commentators Divide. There were seven undefeated teams in Division I-A going into yesterday's games. ESPN had a feature in which they interviewed Jeff Sagarin, who opined that the numbers dictate that perhaps there will be only three undefeated teams by the end of the regular season. The ESPN commentators, among them Trev Alberts and Mark May, offered their views that there will be five undefeated teams at the end of the season. And while Alberts and May are bright guys, I doubt that they stepped foot in the math departments at Nebraska and Pitt, respectively. But, then again, Sagarin plays the probabilities, so it's not like he's always right either. This is purely food for thought, of course. Who will be right -- the nerds or the former players?

2. And Then There Were Six. I don't follow college football nearly as much as the fan blogs, and I certainly don't follow the ACC the way Dave Sez does (and nor do I know as much about the ups and downs of the Carolina Tar Heels the way Dave does). All I recall reading is that the Heels were disappointing this year, and that John Bunting, the Tar Heels' head coach, was in danger of losing his job.

But Saturday might have changed all of that, as the Heels upped their record to 4-4 (3-2 in the ACC) with a last-second 31-28 upset over fourth-ranked Miami in North Carolina's first-ever win over a top-five opponent. Those who might have been hanging Bunting in effigy earlier in the season might well want to erect a statue in his honor after the Heels beat the Evil Empire of the ACC, a result that few would have predicted.

The loss knocks the Hurricanes from the ranks of the unbeaten, probably dashing their hopes for a national championship, and leaving Division I-A with only 6 undefeated teams. Most interestingly, Miami, Florida State and Florida all lost yesterday, marking the first time since 1978 that all three teams lost in the same weekend. Miami end up in some bowl game named after a condiment manufacturer that isn't on New Year's weekend if it keeps up its roller-coaster efforts. It just doesn't appear that you're destined to hear Brock Berlin and national championship in the same sentence during the quarterback's tenure at Miami.

3. The Ivy League. The one great thing about this league is that it does fulfill the adage that on any given day, anything can happen. And what else can you say about a league where its four games were decided by 13 points? The two front-runners, Harvard and Penn, had all they can handle this past Saturday. Harvard went up to Hanover, New Hampshire and barely beat league doormat, Dartmouth, winless Dartmouth, 13-12. Penn hosted middle-of-the-pack Brown and had to rely upon a last-minute TD to edge the Bruins 20-16. Both Penn and Harvard remain undefeated in Ivy play, and they're headed for a showdown in Philadelphia on November 13 for what should be all the marbles. Unless, of course, Harvard beats Penn, and then, of course, Harvard plays in "The Game" against Yale the following weekend, with an undefeated season and title on the line. Princeton, meanwhile couldn't recover and faltered up at Cornell, losing 21-20. It says here that there are two schools that might be making coaching decisions at the end of the year, depending upon whether a) Dartmouth decides to stick with John Lyons, who has had some great seasons in Hanover, but none recently (ever since 1996, when Lyons led the Big Green to a 10-0 record, Dartmouth has boasted a record, through Saturday, of 23-49) and b) whether Princeton picks winning over a winner of a guy in Roger Hughes and elects to call his five-year tenure a failure. Don't look for Steve Spurrier or Rick Neuheisel in the Ivies any time soon (although Neuheisel was on Princeton's freshman roster for the Class of 1984, only to opt for hometown UCLA as a walk-on so that he could have a chance to QB a team in the Rose Bowl, which he did). It says here that Lyons gets reassigned within the athletic department and that Hughes survives at least for one more season.

4. The BCS. I think the BCS is getting it right in having its top four be USC, Oklahoma, Auburn and Cal, and you could make a solid argument that Cal is actually the #2 team in the country. Why? Because Cal defeated #21 Arizona State 27-0 this past weekend and was driving for a TD at USC earlier this season in a narrow loss to the Trojans. Cal's offense, with Aaron Rodgers and RB J.J. Arrington, but the Bears' defense is very good too. Now, many voters especially in the USA Today poll, think that Cal-Berkeley is better known for sprouts and hippies, but they can hit hard and generate offense in Strawberry Canyon, where Memorial Stadium is located (and it's a great place to watch a college football game). Still, #4 is pretty good no matter how you look at it. Following Cal or Wisconsin, Utah, Texas and Tennessee. Miami, that is, the Miami of Florida, has dropped to #10. Welcome to the ACC! Cal Bears fans haven't had to wait as long as Boston Red Sox fans, but the Bears haven't been the Rose Bowl in an awfully long time.

5. Upsets/Close Games. Lots of 'em, as #13 West Virginia barely beat Rutgers, Baylor edged #17 Texas A&M (which had to be looking ahead to Oklahoma), #2 Oklahoma barely survived #20 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, #11 Michigan barely escaped Michigan State in triple overtime, Maryland beat #5 Florida State 20-17, Northwestern beat #19 Purdue and Indiana beat #23 Minnesota. Now, I know it's Monday night, and I also know that this isn't new news for you, but you have to admit that the landscape in college football is very competitive. There have been season where the teams settle into a certain college football order by the eighth or ninth week, but this really isn't one of them. In the debate between Jeff Sagarin and the behemoths on ESPN, I'll take the math guy. And I'll predict this too: whoever gets to face Cal in the post-season will get waxed. Welcome to Pac-10 football, Wisconsin Badgers, as it just isn't about offense. They play defense in the Golden State, too.


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