So, is USC the #2 team to play Ohio State in the National Championship game? Probably, but Michigan still has a case to be made. We know, nobody really wants to see a game they already saw, and didn't Michigan blow their opportunity? Probably, but isn't Michigan a better team than USC?
This is a very strange year. We don't remember a year when there were so few really dominant programs that commanded a sense of inevitable victory.
USC is a compelling case study. For the previous three seasons, with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and friends, USC dominated the game. Not only did they win week after week, they won big, and against good teams. And more importantly, all that good winning led to the notion that they were unbeatable. But this year's team, with Dwayne Jarrett as the only verifiable superstar, looks beatable every time they suit up. If it wasn't Washington State, it was Washington making the Trojans sweat. And then the same Oregon State team that got throttled by Boise State goes and proves USC's beatability by beating them. Since the Beavers slipped the Trojans out of title contention, USC has made marked improvements. Beating Cal by two touchdowns was impressive, but holding them to 9 points was the play of champions. And although many have been saying that the game was closer than the score (44-24), we don't think USC's performance against Notre Dame this weekend did as much to bolster the Trojan's claim on the national title game as it debunked any lingering hopes that Notre Dame was a legitimate BCS contender.
Case study: Oklahoma. In 2003 Oklahoma was considered one of the best college football teams ever. Week after week they thumped everyone in their wake, until Kansas State returned the favor in the Big XII title game. The Sooners had been so revered the entire season that losing big to K-State wasn't an obstacle to them getting an invite into the National Championship game, where they lost, of course. This year, coming off an unacceptable 4 loss season, they have managed to finish up with only 2 losses--1 if you ask any whiny oakie. But still, is anybody really afraid of Oklahoma? They escaped Oklahoma State by a touchdown, and obviously have an offensive line that can make anyone the top rusher in the conference. But are they even very good?
Case study: LSU. The team that beat Oklahoma for the '03 National Championship has also managed a 2 loss season without knocking anyone's socks off. They haven't beaten anyone decisively since Arizona. Squeaking out another big win, this time against Arkansas 31-26, gives Tiger fans some hope. In truth, their two losses could have just as easily been wins, but several of their wins could have easily been losses. It's tough to point at LSU and find a powerhouse.
Case study: Texas. Last year's National Champion has followed through on our early prediction that without Vince Young Mack Brown will field the third or fourth best team in the Big XII--looks like 4th. And worse, this isn't even a good Big XII--the highest ranked Big XII team this year is only ranked at #12! And that probably won't even survive next weekend. Watching Texas lose to Kansas State in a high scoring shootout was somewhat satisfying, but watching them fold in a low scoring grunt and squabble rivalry game to Texas A&M 12-7 was quite pitiable. Does this send them to the Alamo Bowl?
Nebraska's probably the best team in the Big XII, but they keep chugging along almost entirely on the potency of Coach Bill Callahan's balls. In beating Colorado with his brains, where his team's execution can waver, at times erratically, Callahan deserves Big XII Coach of the Year honors. With some decent talent on that team Nebraska could be back in the national title hunt sometime in 2009.
And finally we should note that West Virginia's loss to South Florida effectively eliminates the Mountaineers from any BCS consideration in a year when many football pundits thought it lazy to rank them in the top 5 just by looking at their schedule. Teams scouting Rich Rodriguez to fill any of the many coaching jobs which opened up this weekend may want to take note of how often and how massively he can deliver disappointment.
Again we wail: Where have the titans gone? Is Ohio State the only giant left standing?