McMurphy's Law: What We've Learned During the Season's First Month
Four short weeks. That's all it took for us to realize how clueless we really were (and, yes, I'm including all of you reading this) about the 2010 college football season.
Since the season began Sept. 2, we've made some startling discoveries:
The ACC was severely overrated, the Pac-10 was vastly underrated, the Big East was even worse than advertised and, seriously, who had any idea that USC's Lane Kiffin would attempt more two-point conversions than a Pop Warner coach?
Also, who knew the "does 12-0 Boise State deserve to play in the BCS national title game" topic would be as heated and passionate as a debate on abortion, immigration, global warming, the separation of church and state and gun control all rolled into one?
The only thing we (now I'm referring to myself and the other 59 voters in the Associated Press poll) nailed so far are the nation's top three teams: Alabama, Ohio State and Boise State.
The same three schools to start the season are still there. Will they still be ranked one, two, three in January? If the first four weeks of the season are any indication, I seriously doubt it.
When the AP preseason poll was released in August, among the teams receiving votes included Central Michigan, Middle Tennessee, Central Florida and SMU. In all, the preseason poll consisted of 48 teams – none of which was named Michigan, ranked No. 19 this week, N.C. State (No. 23), Michigan State (No. 24) and Nevada (No. 25).
Other schools that were underrated in the preseason poll: Arizona (up 21 places to No. 14 this week), Stanford (up 18 to No. 9), Utah (up 15 to No. 13), Auburn (up 12 to 10), LSU (up nine to No. 12), South Carolina (up nine No. 20) and Oregon (up seven to No. 4).
While some must go up, others must go down.
Of the 36 schools receiving votes this week, seven preseason Top 25 teams are no longer receiving votes: Virginia Tech (preseason No. 10), Pittsburgh (No. 15), Georgia Tech (No. 16), North Carolina (No. 18), Georgia (No. 23), Oregon State (No. 24) and West Virginia (No. 25).
Other schools that were overrated in the preseason poll: Texas (down 16 to No. 21 this week), Iowa (down eight to No. 17) and Florida State (down seven to No. 17).
Here's a look at the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences after the first four weeks ranked by the number of non-conference victories against the six automatic qualifying Bowl Championship Series conferences and Notre Dame.
Record vs. BCS leagues: 10-4
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 3-4
Best wins: Arizona over Iowa, UCLA over Texas, Stanford over Notre Dame.
Worst losses: Cal to Nevada, Washington State to SMU, UCLA to Kansas State.
Quick take: UCLA, yes the same team with one of the league's worst losses, also has accounted for two of the Pac-10's three victories against ranked opponents. UCLA accomplished its Texas two-step by knocking over Houston and Texas in consecutive weeks. The Pac-10 does currently have four of the nation's top 18 teams, but the league has taken its share of lumps, including blowout losses by Washington State at Oklahoma State and Cal at Nevada. Strangely enough, the Pac-10 has had more success against the Big Ten (going a combined 2-1) than against the Mountain West and WAC (going a combined 2-4).
Record vs. BCS leagues: 7-2
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 2-1
Best wins: Alabama over Penn State, LSU over West Virginia, Auburn over Clemson.
Worst losses: Ole Miss to Jacksonville State, Tennessee to Oregon, Vanderbilt to Northwestern.
Quick take: SEC fans will remind you – and e-mail you "polite" reminders every now and then – that the SEC has won the past four BCS titles. The SEC very well might earn "one for the thumb" with a fifth consecutive BCS title. But so far, the SEC's list of non-conference victims is not overly impressive: Penn State, West Virginia, Clemson, (suspension gutted) North Carolina, Duke, South Florida and Louisville. Six of the seven BCS wins are against teams from the ACC and Big East, which is nothing really to boast about. And did I mention the struggles at Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss?
Record vs. BCS leagues: 7-3
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 2-2
Best wins: Oklahoma over Florida State, Nebraska over Washington, Kansas over Georgia Tech.
Worst losses: Kansas to North Dakota State, Texas to UCLA, Colorado to Cal.
Quick take: The Big 12 has two blowout wins against Florida State and Washington and Kansas' three-point home upset of Georgia Tech, but not much else in the terms of quality victories. The league's four undefeated, unranked teams – Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M – are a combined 14-0, but six of those wins are against teams from the Sun Belt, Mid-American or Football Championship Series (FCS) members. Although, Kansas State's season-opening win against UCLA looks a whole lot better right now.
Record vs. BCS leagues: 7-5
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 1-3
Best wins: Ohio State over Miami, Michigan over Notre Dame, Michigan State over Notre Dame.
Worst losses: Minnesota to South Dakota, Purdue to Toledo, Minnesota to Northern Illinois.
Quick take: The Big Ten PR folks boasted this week that seven league teams scored at least 30 points Saturday. They failed to mention, however, that the seven opponents consisted of five Mid-American members and two FCS schools. Oh yeah, they left out the part about two of the Big Ten teams that didn't score 30 lost. To Mid-American teams. Another telling factor: two of the league's best wins so far came against Notre Dame. Maybe that's why they're so eager to add the Irish as a Big Ten member – so league teams can have another automatic win besides Minnesota.
Record vs. BCS leagues: 4-8
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 2-5
Best wins: TCU over Oregon State, Utah over Pittsburgh, BYU over Washington.
Worst losses: UNLV to Idaho, New Mexico to Oregon, Colorado State to Miami, Ohio.
Quick take: Mountain West teams already are a respectable 4-8 against the supposedly better BCS leagues and Utah still has upcoming games against Iowa State and Notre Dame. As strong as the top of the league has been with TCU and Utah, the bottom of the league has been downright brutal. New Mexico is the worst non-Sun Belt/Mid-American team in the nation and Colorado State isn't much better. The biggest surprise, though, is BYU. After a season opening win against Washington, the Cougars have fallen down. By the time, they get back up they'll be an independent next season.
Record vs. BCS leagues: 4-9
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 2-6
Best wins: Boise State over Virginia Tech, Nevada over Cal, Boise State over Oregon State.
Worst losses: Idaho to Colorado State, New Mexico State to UTEP, Louisiana Tech to Navy.
Quick take: Boise State, the WAC's bell cow, has lived up to its preseason expectations, knocking off Virginia Tech and Oregon State. Does 12-0 Boise State deserve a spot in the BCS title? Go ahead, discuss amongst yourselves. Despite the overwhelming speculation that the Broncos would coast through their league schedule (see Steve Hill's cartoon below), Nevada has emerged as a legitimate challenge for Boise State on Nov. 26. The Wolf Pack already have non-conference wins over Cal, BYU and Colorado State. The rest of the league, except for Fresno State's win against Cincinnati, hasn't done much. However, Utah State did put a scare into Oklahoma, only to lose by seven.
Record vs. BCS leagues: 3-9
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 0-9
Best wins: Miami over Pittsburgh, North Carolina over Rutgers, N.C. State over Cincinnati.
Worst losses: Virginia Tech to James Madison, Georgia Tech to Kansas, Duke to Army.
Quick take: Not only does the ACC have the Big East to thank for providing one-fourth of its league members (Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College), but the Big East is the only other BCS league the ACC has defeated this year. The ACC is 3-1 against the Big East. Against the remaining BCS leagues, the ACC is 0-8 with an average losing margin of 19 points. Of the league's five teams ranked in the preseason poll, only Miami remains. However, N.C. State joined the Top 25 on Monday. The league's best remaining chance to boost its poor out-of-conference resume (and winless record vs. ranked teams) occurs during the last weekend in November when Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech each play their state rivals from the SEC (South Carolina, Florida and Georgia).
Record vs. BCS leagues: 3-19
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 0-7
Best wins: Northern Illinois over Minnesota, Temple over Connecticut, Toledo over Purdue.
Worst losses: Akron to Gardner-Webb, Ball State to Liberty, Bowling Green to Troy.
Quick take: Here's something no one would have predicted before the season: the MAC has as many wins (two) against the Big Ten this year as the Pac-10. Sure the MAC has had a lot more opportunities, but don't discount Northern Illinois beating Minnesota and Toledo's upset of Purdue. Also, the league nearly pulled off three other upsets but fell just short (Northern Illinois against Illinois, Temple against Penn State and Central Michigan against Northwestern).
Record vs. BCS leagues: 2-15
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 0-4
Best wins: Southern Miss over Kansas, SMU over Washington State, UAB over Troy.
Worst losses: Marshall to Bowling Green, UAB to Florida Atlantic, Memphis to Mississippi State.
Quick take: Not listed above in the worst losses category is the league's worst loss – Houston quarterback Case Keenum's season-ending knee injury in week three against UCLA. The loss of the league's dark-horse Heisman candidate was just another example of bad luck for the snake bitten C-USA. The league's 2-15 record could be much more respectable if four nail-biters could have gone C-USA's way: three-point overtime losses by UAB to Tennessee and Marshall to West Virginia and UCF's four-point loss at Kansas State and seven-point loss to N.C. State.
Record vs. BCS leagues: 1-10
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 0-5
Best wins: West Virginia over Maryland, West Virginia over Marshall, UConn over Buffalo.
Worst losses: UConn to Temple, Cincinnati to Fresno State, Syracuse to Washington.
Quick take: Instead of analyzing the Big East's well-documented struggles, it will be easier – and more effective – simply to list the 15 non-conference teams the Big East has defeated this year. Here goes: New Hampshire, Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Maryland, Indiana State, Stony Brook, Western Kentucky, Texas Southern, Buffalo, Norfolk State, Florida International, Akron, Maine, Colgate and Eastern Kentucky. One more thing: of those 15 juggernauts, only Maryland currently has a winning record.
Record vs. BCS leagues: 0-13
Record vs. AP ranked teams: 0-2
Best wins: Troy over Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic over UAB.
Worst losses: North Texas to Army, Troy to UAB, Middle Tennessee to Memphis.
Quick take: Like Conference USA, the Sun Belt has been oh-so-close to having a much better non-conference record. Sun Belt teams have lost six games by seven points or less to superior opponents, including three by three points or less: Troy 32-31 at UAB, North Texas 32-31 to Rice and Troy 41-38 at Oklahoma State. Also, Florida International lost by five to Rutgers and seven to Texas A&M and Middle Tennessee lost by seven at Minnesota.
Gumbel: NCAA Needs to Hold Schools Accountable
HBO Sports' Bryant Gumbel had some strong statements about the NCAA and how it deals – or more specifically doesn't deal – with schools that have players committing crimes.
"I'm no legal expert, not by a long shot, but I do believe that driving drunk, robbing a convenience store and hitting your girlfriend are all worse offenses than dealing with an agent," Gumbel said on HBO's Real Sports. "Most people would agree with that I think except, it seems, the folks in charge of college football.
"How else to explain the fact that the USC Trojans are currently on NCAA probation while the Florida Gators are not, even though Florida's program has seen 27 different players arrested during the short tenure of coach Urban Meyer. That's right, by NCAA standards, 27 arrests merit not so much as an official reprimand. But dealing with a prospective agent prematurely, as former Trojan Reggie Bush did, gets your program punished for four years.
"It's not just about USC. NCAA investigations are ongoing at the Universities of Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina for the same kind of premature conversation with agents that Bush had. And it's not just about Florida. Players at Pittsburgh, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Southern Mississippi, UCLA and elsewhere have also been arrested this year. But all of those programs are, by NCAA standards, in full compliance."
Gumbel suggests the NCAA should punish the schools that have players with legal issues.
"Look, no one's naïve enough to think football's ever going to be played by a bunch of choirboys," Bryant said. "It's not. But you'd think that NCAA officials could, at the very least, give coaches and athletic directors a reason to be as diligent about illegality as they are about eligibility – and right now they don't. Until and unless they do, the NCAA's idea of institutional control is anything but."
Born To Run – And Win
Looking for the recipe of a successful season? Simple, just find a great running quarterback. Maybe, it's not that easy, but four of the nation's top 15 rushers are quarterbacks led by the nation's leading rusher, Michigan's Denard Robinson with a 172-yard average.
Nebraska's Taylor Martinez is 10th (averaging 124 yards), Auburn's Cam Newton is 11th (121 yards) and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick is 15th (112.7 yards).
One thing the quarterbacks have in common? They all are directing nationally ranked, undefeated teams.
• No. 7 Florida at No. 1 Alabama: The winner of the last two Florida-Alabama games has also gone on to win the BCS national title. The previous two meetings, however, were in the SEC championship with Florida winning in 2008 and Alabama in 2009. The Gators are nine-point underdogs, ending the Gators' streak of 37 consecutive games as a favorite. The nine-point spread also is Florida's biggest underdog role since the Gators were two-touchdown underdogs in a 38-33 loss at Miami on Sept. 6, 2003.
• No. 9 Stanford at No. 4 Oregon: This marks the first time in 40 years that Stanford is involved in a game where the Cardinal and their opponent are both in the Top 10. This is the 12th matchup between ranked Top 10 Pac-10 teams since 1992 and the fifth involving the Ducks, who are 3-1 in the previous three. This is Stanford's highest ranking since 1992. Last season, Stanford upset the Ducks, 51-42, ending a seven-game losing streak to Oregon in the process.
• Wisconsin at Michigan State: The Badgers won last year's game, but good news for the Spartans is that the home team has won the last five meetings between Wisconsin and Michigan State. Expect a close one: the winning margins in the last three years have been three, one and eight points.
• Unbeaten teams from the Sooner and Longhorn states, both featuring two of the nation's 10 most explosive offenses clashing in October on national television? Well, enough about Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. This is about Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas. This game lost some luster when the Longhorns were literally run over by UCLA last week. Oklahoma, meanwhile, was hanging on for a two-point win at Cincinnati. Oklahoma's offense ranks 34th nationally, while Texas has the nation's 77th best offense, so expect a defensive showdown inside the Cotton Bowl.
• Texas A&M at Oklahoma State: The winner of Thursday night's ESPN contest between unbeatens likely moves into next week's AP Top 25 rankings. Both teams have taken advantage of weak non-conference schedules (Oklahoma State beat Washington State, Troy and Tulsa, while Texas A&M beat Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech and Florida International) to put up big offensive numbers. Oklahoma State ranks No. 1 nationally in total offense; Texas A&M is ninth.
What Caught My Eye
• Of the 120 FBS teams, six are still seeking their first victory: Akron 0-4; Eastern Michigan 0-4; Florida International 0-3; New Mexico 0-4; New Mexico State 0-3 and Western Kentucky 0-4. Of the hard-luck half-dozen, Eastern Michigan appears to have the best shot at victory Saturday, hosting Ohio (1-3). ... Alabama hasn't allowed more than 21 points in 16 consecutive games, while New Mexico has not allowed less than 20 points in 18 consecutive games. ... Big 12 teams have scored 11 defensive touchdowns, including three each by Iowa State and Nebraska. ... On ESPN's College GameDay's picks segment last week, Lee Corso went 6-3, Kirk Herbstreit 6-2 and guest picker Picabo Street 6-3. Season totals: Corso 27-9 (75.0 percent), Herbstreit 21-10 (67.7 percent) and ESPN's guest pickers 27-9 (75.0 percent).
• On Wednesday, it will mark exactly nine years since New Mexico State registered its last shutout, 31-0, against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 29, 2001. Before that shutout, the Aggies had not shut out an opponent since Sept. 21, 1974, an NCAA record streak of 283 consecutive games without a shutout. So since Sept. 21, 1974, the Aggies have registered exactly one shutout in their last 388 games during a 37-year period. By the way, on Saturday, New Mexico State plays host to Boise State and the nation's 13th-highest scoring offense.
• Kudos to the Pac-10 for making a unique choice as its Offensive Player of the Week. Normally, this award always goes to a quarterback, running back or wide receiver, but on Monday, the Pac-10 selected UCLA center Ryan Taylor. I believe Taylor was probably the first Pac-10 center to earn league player of the week honors since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. ... Twenty-five of the 120 FBS teams remain undefeated. But that number is guaranteed to dwindle by at least five after this weekend's matchups: Florida (4-0) at Alabama (4-0); Stanford (4-0) at Oregon (4-0), Wisconsin (4-0) at Michigan State (4-0), Texas A&M (3-0) at Oklahoma State (3-0), Michigan (4-0) at Indiana (3-0).
Final Thoughts From The Road
A week after attending my first game at Seattle's Husky Stadium, I was in Boise last week. Quite simply: Bronco Stadium is one of the most scenic – and most underrated – venues in college football. The view of the Boise Mountains and Table Rock Mountain is breathtaking as is the view atop Table Rock Mountain overlooking the city. The stadium only holds about 34,000, but the school has plans to expand it to 50,000-55,000, making one of college football's biggest home field advantages even tougher on opponents. The only thing bluer than the Bronco Stadium turf was the sky. Not a single cloud in the sky during my first – and certainly not my last – trip to beautiful Boise.
And Now, Steve Hill's View of the College Football World
Brett McMurphy is a national college football writer for FanHouse. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or please follow at Twitter.com/BrettmcmurphY