Sunday, November 09, 2008

Top 15 (Plus One)

I often view the rankings as travesty; I regularly see teams being penalized for losing close games on the road, for instance, when that should not be the case. I believe the rankings should reflect who would likely defeat whom at a neutral site. With that in mind, I present my thoughts on how the rankings should look, with comments following. In order, with records listed:

1 Florida 8-1
2 Texas 9-1
3 Oklahoma 9-1
4 Texas Tech 10-0
5 Alabama 10-0
6 USC 8-1
7 Boise State 9-0
8 Oklahoma State 8-2
9 Penn State 9-1
10 Ohio State 8-2
11 Georgia 8-2
12 Missouri 8-2
13 TCU 9-2
14 LSU 6-3
15 Utah 10-0
16 BYU 9-1

I know that Florida stumbled badly earlier in the year at home, but I now think they would beat anybody on a neutral field--and often at an opponent's site. Other than that, I don't think the SEC is as strong as it usually is. Alabama looked extremely impressive winning at Georgia earlier this season, but Georgia has subsequently shown that mediocre defense is their norm rather than the exception.

The Big 12 is an incredible conference this year. I don't think Texas Tech beats Texas or Oklahoma on a neutral field. Of course, I will have to admit my mistake if they manage to win in Norman.

USC has shown that their loss to Oregon State was perhaps not as much of a fluke as they would like voters to believe, as the only teams they have really dominated in conference play are the weak schools in the state of Washington.

Based on low opponents' scores, I feel Boise State is the real deal. They aren't just about great offense. Since they have already won on the big stage as well, I feel they could beat a great many schools from the "power" conferences.

Oklahoma State should not be ranked as far down in the national polls as they are. Their loss at Texas Tech was really the first time this year that they have not been in position to compete at the end, and their only other loss was a close one at Texas. Surely they would defeat many other teams around the nation.

Penn State and Ohio State come from a weak conference. The Buckeyes barely won at what has proven to be a very average Wisconsin, and the Nittany Lions barely won in Columbus. Remember also that Ohio State looked pathetic at USC early on.

TCU is one I am not quite sure about after the game against Utah. The previous three weeks led me to believe they were a Top 10 team. Although I predicted that Utah would beat the Horned Frogs due to a loss of some composure in Salt Lake City, I did not foresee a virtual meltdown. If they bounce back from that, though, I think TCU is the class of the Mountain West, and the best team on a neutral field.

LSU. Yes, the Tigers played Alabama close despite throwing three interceptions in regulation, but that simply shows to me that the Crimson Tide are not quite deserving of the top ranking. Georgia won handily in Death Valley, and LSU was never in the game at Florida. Nevertheless, the SEC is not so bad that the Tigers' three losses should relegate them to a ranking of 19 or 20, as the national polls have done.

Utah is quite good. But they aren't a Top 10 team, and I don't say that as a BYU fan. I just don't see anything that indicates they would beat the teams I have ranked above them if they were to meet in a bowl game.

And then there is BYU (not Ball State--beating nine weak teams does not make one great; consider Tulsa, who failed miserably at also-ran Arkansas). The game against San Diego State was a step forward, although the Aztecs admittedly have problems. If SDSU had been more consistent on offense, I would have compared their performance to that of Wyoming when they visited Provo. The Cowboys failed to score any points against the Cougars, but that was due to turnovers, which the BYU defense has not produced lately in numbers similar to earlier in the year. The remainder of BYU's season will be determined by the ability of the Cougar defense to return to form. That may be difficult due to the number of injuries currently sustained. At this point, I am not confident that BYU would beat Utah. Thankfully, the game will not be played for two more weeks.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Blessing In Disguise?

As painful as the recent loss to TCU was, this could be best for the conference, and thus BYU's future, in the long run.

BYU had its way in conference play the last two seasons. Although some of the victories were too close for comfort, the only statistic that most who determine important matters in college football will remember is that no one beat the Cougars. I was wondering if another team anywhere in the country had gone undefeated in their conference the last two years. Ohio State lost to Illinois last year, and mighty USC lost two conference games in each of the last two years. Neither the Big 10 nor the Pac-10 have been considered recently to be in the same league as the SEC or the Big 12, so BYU's dominance of the Mountain West--and, before that, other teams going undefeated in conference play--can only lead many to suspect that the overall strength of the conference is not on par with those of leagues that currently comprise the group of automatic BCS qualifiers. One could make the argument that different teams going undefeated proves its strength, and I agree with that argument. However, others will likely say that one team "got hot" and dominated other good-but-not-great-schools.

Frankly, the best scenario for the Mountain West is now to have Utah beat TCU, and then BYU beat Utah. If each team has no other losses, that would leave TCU with two (one coming against Oklahoma on the road), and BYU and Utah with one each. The SEC and Big 12 might be able to match that, but could any other conference?

A conference with three strong teams, plus a couple of decent schools like Air Force and New Mexico--although the Lobos admittedly don't look quite as solid this year as they have in recent seasons--would need to be given consideration as an automatic qualifier in the BCS. I certainly think such a league would not take a back seat to the Big East, and an argument could be made that the ACC would not be significantly better, either--as long as Florida State and Miami are in their current state of less-than-national-championship caliber.

To further strengthen their position, though, the Mountain West Conference should allow Boise State to join their club (I would have added Fresno State as well, but I understand that is out of the question because the Bulldogs accept academic non-qualifiers). The Broncos have proven they are not a flash in the pan. Not only would this strengthen the MWC, but it would likely keep BSU from periodically coasting into a BCS bowl (which may well happen this year) as they annually have to deal with BYU, TCU, Utah, and Air Force. Current reasoning among non-automatic BCS qualifiers is that any team in such a conference essentially needs to go undefeated to reach a BCS bowl game. The MWC would force a re-evaluation of that logic with the addition of one more strong team. The reason conferences with champions that automatically qualify for the BCS do not have to go undefeated to be considered quality teams is that it is expected that the level of competition in their leagues would make an undefeated season rather unlikely. To illustrate, nobody bats an eye when SEC teams are in the Top 10 at the end of the year with two conference losses, because the league is that good from top to bottom. Could anyone feasibly expect to regularly see an undefeated MWC champion if the top half of the group includes BYU, TCU, Utah and Boise State, and then Air Force and New Mexico are thrown in for good measure?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Accurately Predicted, Sadly

This falls under "I hate it when I'm right". I wrote in January about the difficulty I foresaw in running the conference table a third consecutive season. I asserted that BYU would win its non-league games this year, but that the task would be even harder to go undefeated in the Mountain West again.

I think Bronco Mendenhall is an amazing coach, but I hope the 32-7 loss to TCU, and Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson's admission that his staff had been preparing for BYU since January--along with the TCU tackle dummy wearing a BYU helmet--illustrates what I wrote about teams targeting the Cougars. Mendenhall is great, but not perfect. I hope he will see the value in deflecting attention to other conference teams where he can, talking about how good they are, etc. and not coming up with slogans like "Quest For Perfection" that make other teams so overjoyed when they finally beat BYU. Or was I the only one who noticed TCU's defender in rapture after sacking Max Hall and recovering a fumble late in the game when the outcome was hardly in doubt?

I suppose if Mendenhall could always get his team to walk the walk to match the talk, he could disregard how the opposition feels about things. So far, however, I haven't seen a coach anywhere who can do that all the time. I continue to believe he improves his team's potential for success by publicly showing humility, even as he builds up his troops behind closed doors.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rankings And Championship Musings

I was asked today what I thought about Penn State leap-frogging BYU and Texas Tech into the #6 spot in both polls (the person asking knew it was my nature to analyze anything affecting BYU sports). At first glance, I suspected a bias toward a "traditional" power, and perhaps an awareness by both sportswriters and coaches that BYU entering the Top 10 this early could create problems for some at the end of the season, à la 1984. Comparing BYU and PSU, though, shows that both have played only one away game thus far. Both away opponents, Washington and Syracuse respectively, have struggled. While BYU squeaked by the Huskies, Penn State crushed the Orange--no pun intended. The Nittany Lions just beat a lower-ranked team at home, and the results were about what one might expect, so I would hope that did not influence voters' opinions. However, they may have taken the victory over Oregon State, who just beat USC, into consideration. I think, given the Beavers' previous home triumph over the Trojans, that should not mean much. Nevertheless, I cannot find fault with choosing PSU over BYU.

I was shocked to see all four losing Top 10 teams fall below BYU. Most surprising was USC ranked at #9. I don't agree that losing a conference game on the road is an indication of significant weakness; league schools are the ones who best know how to attack a rival. Perhaps the Trojans were penalized for not being sufficiently prepared to avoid a repeat loss at Corvallis. Still, I expect USC to jump back above BYU in a week or two unless the Cougars look extremely impressive. A shutout of Utah State with a score similar to the UCLA game would be a good start. Regardless, USC's remaining tougher games are all at home. They will likely work their way back into the title game, perhaps at the Cougars' expense, against Oklahoma, which is in the same fortunate situation regarding their stronger opponents. LSU will lose at Florida; Alabama will lose at LSU; Missouri will lose at Texas or in the Big 12 championship; Texas will lose at Oklahoma; Penn State will lose at Ohio State; and Texas Tech--please. They do get Texas at home but will likely lose; they may well lose before that at Texas A&M; and they will most certainly lose at Oklahoma. If BYU is exceptionally strong through the remainder of their games--routing TCU at Fort Worth would compare nicely to Oklahoma's 35 points in Norman--and USC struggles at home against a couple of teams, the Cougars might get into the title game. Nevertheless, the best I see for them this year, is a #3 ranking, with the Sooners and Trojans duking it out in the BCS Championship game.

This actually brings up another interesting discussion, of course. Here's the scenario: BYU finishes with a Top-5 ranking, wins their BCS bowl game--like Boise State a couple of years ago, the opponent might be better, but BYU will find a way to win--and enters the 2009 season again in the Top 10 (I'm certain there will be those who simply can't resist ranking some SEC teams higher). If BYU wins at Arizona State, they will play in the championship game. They play at home, and will beat, an improving Florida State team, TCU, Air Force, and Utah. They do play at New Mexico, but they always find a way to win in Albuquerque. And Max Hall will win the Heisman Trophy.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

New Post--BYU vs. UW Comment

I guess I am "repenting of my oath" not to write any more. I continue to see hits to this blog (not many, of course), and I do still have the urge to write. I am not quite as overwhelmed as I was previously, but I nevertheless can't bring myself to do this on a regular basis. So, anyone who has occasionally checked this blog for an update can now expect to see something new from time to time.

I didn't like the officials' call on Jake Locker after scoring the touchdown with two seconds left to give the Huskies a chance to tie. They later issued a statement to the Washington coaching staff claiming that their hands were tied by an increased emphasis on this rule this year. If that is the case, I anticipate seeing more of that this season, and a revision of the rule next year. I remember that when the celebration rule was first instated, there was universal disgust with the application of it, and it was subsequently revised.

Nevertheless, it was as though the TV commentators were nearly certain of the longer extra point attempt being unsuccessful, which it ultimately was due to BYU blocking it. I almost wish that it hadn't been blocked, that the attempt had gone through, and that the game would have gone to overtime so we would not be subjected to all this crying about it--and I don't mean by Washington fans, actually; it is the media like ESPN claiming the game was lost on this call that bothers me.

What is the probability of a 35-yard field goal, straight down the middle, failing in college football? Even with the problems BYU had in the kicking game last year--the Cougars attempted fewer field goals than any other team due to Mitch Payne's injury, if I remember correctly--I would like their chances in that situation. The likelihood of such a kick being blocked is even less than the ball simply missing the mark.

Ultimately, Bronco Mendenhall's analysis was spot-on. He had said at halftime that the game would be won with execution. At the end of the game, he said there were plenty of calls that could have been made that weren't, the officials' call was not wrong, and BYU made the play they needed to win the game. I am impressed with them for blocking that kick. I frankly suspect that BYU would still have won the game in overtime; their offense was more consistent than that of Washington. For the Cougars to not even let it go to overtime by producing the surge necessary to end the game is noteworthy, and deserves far more attention than it has received.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Final Post

I have very reluctantly concluded that I do not have the time necessary to continue writing about BYU sports. Articles about athletics usually need to be posted in a timely fashion, but my work schedule and other priorities prevent me from being able to write in such a manner.

I have often felt the urge to write, but knew that by doing so I was using time that I might otherwise spend with my children. My efforts to do my "real" job well, and to put myself in a position to advance and so ensure the coverage of my children's future education expenses, leaves me with very little time during the week. Thus, my only free time comes on Saturdays. By letting go of my passion for commenting on Cougar sports, I can hopefully interact more with my children. The likely alternative will have me looking back after they are grown and wishing I had done things differently.

One of the reasons I have less free time than some might, is that my oldest child is autistic. He is "low-functioning" (a term that anyone who is somewhat familiar with autism will recognize), and thus requires attention for things that other children his age would not: he is unable to bathe himself, put on his own clothes without direction, or brush his teeth, among many other things.

The reason I started blogging is that it is said that one should do something for which one is passionate. I had hopes to bridge this blog to a website, http://www.cougarpassion.com, for which I intend to maintain rights to the URL. If circumstances in the future change for me, allowing me to do something that requires timeliness, I will work on that again. Until then, if I do have occasional free time, I have decided to write a book on life with my autistic son. If nothing else, it would provide people a glimpse into a situation for which, in the experience of my wife and myself, many have some interest but very little knowledge.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you who have read this blog. Obviously, a person who writes wants to see people reading it. I appreciate those of you who have done so. Thanks again.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

BCS in 2008?

It seems that everywhere I turn, I see people talking about BYU getting into a BCS game next season. Bronco Mendenhall has stated--admirably, in my opinion--that his goal is to elevate the program from the conference champion that plays a middling Pac-10 team in Las Vegas, to one that goes to top-tier bowls, and then eventually finds itself in a position to once again compete for a national title. The not-so-subtle message is that, after consecutive years as conference champion, the Cougars should expect nothing less than a BCS bowl in 2008. Players of course repeat this mantra, and media such as the Sporting News and the New York Times are picking up on the idea as well.

This frankly concerns me greatly. Coach Mendenhall has conceded that the current path to a BCS game will likely not include even a single loss--although, this past crazy year, the Cougars may well have gotten there if they had lost only to UCLA. What he hasn't acknowledged is the improbability of BYU going undefeated in the Mountain West Conference a third straight time.

BYU will win at Washington early on. Tyrone Willingham's crew could be more formidable later in the year (and I hope they are, since I am a fan of Coach Willingham, and his job is on the line), but I suspect they will not be ready to pull out a win versus a good team at the beginning of September. I believe the Cougars will also beat UCLA again; surely Bronco and Robert Anae will confer on how to better attack the stingy Bruin defense. Certainly Utah State and the other non-conference opponent will not prevail against BYU either.

But league play is a different animal, at least this year. I don't think that any team will be superior to BYU, but that isn't necessarily the point. The great Cougar teams of the past went undefeated in consecutive seasons only once in the Western Athletic Conference, and the teams to do that were National Championship level: 1983's version with Heisman Trophy runner-up Steve Young lost a close first game and ended up ranked #7, and the 1984 squad of course won it all.

The WAC of the early 1980's was not nearly as strong as the MWC is now. For instance, the 1983 Cougar team defeated Utah 55-7, and New Mexico 66-21. Such poundings are unimaginable now. In fact, BYU needed all they had (and more, some say) to beat both clubs this past year. The Cougars have home-field advantage against New Mexico this coming season, and that is probably sufficient to ensure a win. However, Utah should once again field a potent team. That matchup will take place in Salt Lake City, but location perhaps isn't as important as the task for any team to win a quality rivalry game in successive years, especially if the teams are evenly matched.

None of this conversation even takes into account the big bulls-eye on BYU that gets enlarged substantially with national discussion of their lofty aims. It isn't bad enough that the BYU game is the one that virtually every other team in the league already circles on their schedules. Being viewed as possible Top-10 and BCS material will produce a tear-down-the-goalposts fervor by most opponents to knock the Cougars off their pedestal.

The 2008 team should be very good. The offense will be closer to that of 2006, and the defense should be acceptable despite the loss of many seniors. But I don't think they will be good enough to run roughshod over each challenger. All things considered, I wish Mendenhall and others would do everything they can to not put themselves in the spotlight. Talk about their ambitions behind closed doors, but stress the level of competition in public. I understand that it is a lot to ask, but I do very much want to see them get into a BCS bowl. Anything that facilitates that result is worth the effort, because I don't think they are quite there yet.

In 2009, though. . . Rise and Shout.