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.

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