With Boston College back to reality, second place in the BCS standings boils down to the argument that has shaped much of the 2007 season: the best of the Southeastern Conference against the best of the Pacific-10.
By Pat Forde
Dating back to Les Miles taking shots at the Left Coast in July, the talk was LSU (2) vs. USC (3). Then the Trojans recused themselves and made room for Oregon (4). Now, with .023 BCS percentage points separating the Tigers from the Ducks for the all-important runner-up spot in the rankings, the debate flares anew:
Which team is coming through the tougher league?
The entire conference muscle-flexing argument is tedious, vague and prone to more partisan foot-stomping than a debate on global warming. But since conference power might really matter come BCS selection Sunday (Dec. 2), it’s worth examining.
The Dash matched up the top 10 teams from the SEC with all 10 members of the Pac-10, in relative pecking order. Envision an SEC-Pac-10 Challenge on a neutral field: five days of doubleheader games in, say, Kansas City.
To see who would win—or at least be favored—The Dash went with the Sagarin Ratings, in part because they’re less subjective than the polls and in part because the mere mention of computer rankings makes some of my ESPN.com colleagues break out in hives.
Oregon-LSU: Ducks favored by 0.5 points.
Arizona State-Florida (5): Sun Devils by 1.8.
USC-Auburn (6): Tigers by 0.5.
Cal-Georgia (7): Bulldogs by 2.4.
Oregon State-Alabama (8): Crimson Tide by 4.8.
UCLA-Kentucky (9): Wildcats by 5.9.
Washington-Tennessee (10): Volunteers by 6.6.
Arizona-Arkansas (11): Razorbacks by 9.7.
Washington State-South Carolina (12): Gamecocks by 10.4.
Stanford-Vanderbilt (13): Commodores by 7—or a few National Merit Scholars.
The Pac-10 would be favored (by a little) in the top two. The SEC would be favored (by a steadily increasing amount) in the following eight.
So the logical conclusion would be that the Pac-10 is at least as good at the top, and perhaps better, while the SEC separates itself via quality depth.
Specifically, there is scant discernible difference between Oregon and LSU.
Both will play nine league games—if LSU wins the SEC West, as expected, and plays in the conference title game. Both have one shock-and-awe nonconference win over a current top 15 BCS opponent: Oregon by 32 at Michigan, LSU by 41 at home over Virginia Tech. Both lost to an opponent that was ranked at the time: Oregon by seven at home to then-AP No. 6 Cal, LSU by six in triple overtime on the road at then-AP No. 17 Kentucky.
LSU fans will point out that the Tigers have played twice as many ranked teams (six) as the Ducks (three). Oregon fans will respond that the only reason LSU has played so many ranked opponents is because voters keep overhyping SEC teams.
Oregon fans will point out that the Tigers have needed big breaks and close scrapes to win lately. They haven’t won a game by more than seven points since September, while the Ducks have only one win by single digits all year. LSU fans will respond that it’s a lot easier to wallop the likes of Stanford and Washington (both 3-6) than Auburn (7-3) and Alabama (6-3).
The argument doesn’t need to be settled now—there are four weeks of games between now and judgment day. But with Oregon idle Saturday and LSU playing Louisiana Tech, this should be the same squabble next week. And unless Kansas or Oklahoma or Missouri or West Virginia picks up BCS ground or Ohio State loses, LSU vs. Oregon—and by extension SEC vs. Pac-10—could be the defining argument for the rest of the season.
Best And Worst, By Record
Best undefeated team: Ohio State (14). Not a terribly difficult call.
Worst undefeated team: Hawaii (15). Not too tough to call, either.
Best one-loss team: LSU. Coin flip over Oregon, after seeing both play in person.
Worst one-loss team: Boise State (16). Loses coin flip with UConn. (The Dash still believes that the nation’s worst one-loss team is better than the nation’s worst undefeated team; it’ll be decided in Honolulu Thanksgiving weekend.)
Best two-loss team: Virginia Tech (17). Because, unlike Michigan, the Hokies haven’t lost to a I-AA team. And unlike Georgia and USC, they haven’t lost at home to an unranked team.
Worst two-loss team: Virginia (18). Five wins by two points or less, and a 20-point loss to Wyoming. Forgive The Dash for not getting too excited.
Best three-loss team: Florida. By a little over neighbor South Florida. All three losses came to teams currently in Top 25.
Worst three-loss team: Western Kentucky (19). But the Hilltoppers will definitely take 6-3 in their first year of transition to I-A.
Best four-loss team: South Carolina. Victories over Georgia and Kentucky give it the edge over Kansas State (beat Texas) and Oregon State (beat Cal).
Worst four-loss team: Florida Atlantic (20). The good news is that the Owls are 3-1 in Sun Belt play and still in the fight for the New Orleans Bowl. That’s got to count for something.
Best five-loss team: Colorado (21). The Buffaloes beat a top-five team (Oklahoma) and have played a big-time schedule (Arizona State and Florida State nonconference).
Worst five-loss team: Memphis (22). The Tigers are 0-2 against the Sun Belt and three of their four wins are by a total of seven points.
Best six-loss team: Washington. The Huskies are 3-6 against the toughest schedule in the country and remain the only team to beat Boise State since 2005.
Worst six-loss team: Nebraska (23). Sure, New Mexico State, Louisiana-Monroe and Army are probably worse—but at least they haven’t quit like the Cornhuskers.
Best seven-loss team: Mississippi (24). The Rebels have played five teams currently in the Top 25, and actually scared a couple of them.
Worst seven-loss team: North Texas (25). Mean Green provided the only wins of the season for both SMU and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Best eight-loss team: Iowa State (26). When you’ve upset in-state rival Iowa and jeopardized the Hawkeyes’ chance of earning a bowl bid, you’ve at least done something worth celebrating.
Worst eight-loss team: Notre Dame (27). Because Louisiana-Lafayette, Colorado State, Northern Illinois, SMU, Marshall and Duke don’t have an NBC contract.
Best nine-loss team: Minnesota (28). Three losses by three points or less for gory Gophers. It’s all they’ve got to hold onto right now.
Worst nine-loss team: Idaho and Utah State (29) will settle this on the field in Moscow on Nov. 24. Be there. Or not. (Florida International is absolved for having scheduled Penn State, Maryland, Miami and Kansas in nonconference play.)
Kentucky, You’re On The Clock
Now that Navy (30) has beaten The Program Ruined by the Scourge of Humanity, Ty Willingham, (31) (more on that later, as you might have guessed) for the first time since the Kennedy Administration, we have a new poster program for futility within a rivalry.
Step up and own it, Kentucky (32).
The Wildcats have lost 22 straight to Tennessee (33), the new longest active losing streak in an annual series. Sure, that’s an eye-blink of misery compared to what the Midshipmen endured—but try telling that to Wildcats fans.
Last victory was in 1984. The last Kentucky coach to beat the Volunteers, Jerry Claiborne, has gone to the Great Locker Room in the Sky. Since then, Bill Curry, Hal Mumme, Guy Morriss and Rich Brooks have all gone oh-for-Big Orange.
Along the way have been multiple moments of memorable misery:
Tennessee 24, Kentucky 22, 1987. Losing coach: Claiborne. Down 24-20, Wildcats run Mark Higgs into the line four times from inside the 5-yard line in the final minutes, fail to score. Volunteers take safety on final play. Kentucky misses bowl game.
Tennessee 34, Kentucky 31, 1995. Losing coach: Curry. Cats cough up 15-point third-quarter lead.
Tennessee 38, Kentucky 35, 2001. Losing coach: Morriss. Cats blow 21-0 lead and fumble away potential game-winning drive in Tennessee territory late in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee 37, Kentucky 31, 2004. Losing coach: Brooks. Vols score 15 fourth-quarter points to pull out comeback victory, including the winning touchdown with 38 seconds left.
Tennessee 17, Kentucky 12, 2006. Losing coach: Brooks. Cats win the game in first downs, total yards, time of possession and turnover margin but not on scoreboard. Potential winning drive scuttled inside Tennessee 5 by delay of game penalty.
Between those heartbreakers have been many blowouts. Curry’s teams were outscored 100-0 in 1993 and ‘94. Mumme never held Tennessee to fewer than 56 points in four tries. But Kentucky has managed to keep the Vols under 40 for six years in a row, so that’s progress of a sort.
This season’s game: Nov. 24, in Lexington. If not this year, the streak might reach Navy-Notre Dame standards.
Until then, let’s get back to the mockery that has become the Fighting Irish.
The Scourge might be the world’s worst recruiter. And he’s believed to be responsible for the Hollywood Writers Guild strike. And it was probably his idea for Scott Boras and A-Rod to hijack Game 4 of the World Series.
But even a knucklehead like The Scourge would have tried to kick the winning 41-yard field goal instead of asking the miserable Notre Dame offense to convert a fourth-and-8 with 45 seconds left from the Navy 24. Hell, Dashette Veronica Varekova (34) would have sent out the field-goal unit with a snap of her well-manicured fingers.
Charlie Weis (35)—whom The Dash hears is one helluva recruiter—blew off the field goal. And when 5-foot-9, 196-pound sophomore linebacker Ram Vela (36)—what was his recruiting ranking coming out of high school?—launched himself over a blocker to help take down Evan Sharpley well, it was time to second-guess that decision.
Or, if that option proves unpalatable, Notre Dame fans can go back to blaming it all on The Scourge. Who beat Navy three times. And whose intolerable 21-15 record in South Bend is now just .003 percentage points worse than the guy with the 10-year, $30-million-plus contract.
And Now For Something Truly Scary
For another example of why the SEC could use a dose of perspective, check out this rifle-wielding Arkansas fan (37). Disturbingly good aim, too.
Putting Out An APB For
Former Nebraska defensive tackle Rich Glover (38), who certainly wouldn’t recognize the Cornhuskers’ defense that gave up 76 points to Kansas on Saturday. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the 1972 Outland and Lombardi trophies winner, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week’s APB subject, Notre Dame linebacker Wes Pritchett from the 1988 national champions, is alive and well and sent an e-mail to The Dash. Pritchett reports the following:
“I went to work on Wall Street in 1993 in NYC for Kidder, Peabody [& Co.] in a training program to trade and sell mortgage back securities. I currently live in Atlanta, Ga., and am Senior VP at Countrywide Securities, where I am an Institutional Fixed Income Bond Salesman, specializing in mortgage-backed securities. I am also very involved in real estate. I am currently developing a specialized large-lot green neighborhood in Charleston, S.C. In addition, I own numerous commercial buildings in the Charleston area and buy and sell foreclosed houses in the Atlanta area. I have two young sons, Lawson Kenneth Pritchett born 9/2/04 and Marshall Charles Pritchett born 1/24/06. I married Megan Lawson Pritchett on 7/21/01.”
Friends of Pritchett also report that he occasionally hits golf balls and softballs prodigious distances.
The Dash spent quality time in Oregon for the first time last weekend and came away quite impressed. Pretty cool when you see people walking off the light rail system in downtown Portland with their skis on their shoulders. But on to the pertinent stuff:
When thirsty in Portland, The Dash recommends sucking up a few in-house microbrews at McMenamin’s (39). The Hopicidal IPA was especially righteous.
And when thirsty in Eugene, The Dash recommends a pint of local microbrew Mirror Pond Pale Ale at Rennie’s (40), a classic college joint near campus. The Rennie’s Lemonade came highly recommended and wasn’t bad—but this is a beer-centric column. Get your fruity drinks—even ones with about four types of alcohol mixed in—elsewhere.
(The Dash thanks the eager and hospitable Ducks fans who showed off their town to a first-time visitor. Good show, guys.)
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.