November 2, 2009

Monday with Mike: Potential BCS matchups

While everyone fixates on who is going to be in the national title game, let's take a look at the other potential BCS matchups.

The BCS exists to match the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation. Unfortunately, the marching orders aren't to necessarily have great matchups in the other four games. That quartet is worried about selling tickets and getting good TV ratings.

To be eligible for an at-large selection, a team must win at least nine games and finish in the top 14 in the final BCS standings.

Eight of the 11 conferences -- all but Conference USA, the Mid-American and the Sun Belt -- have legitimate BCS hopes as the calendar turns to November. Here's a league-by-league look:

ACC: Virginia Tech's loss to North Carolina removes the Hokies from the BCS discussion. That leaves Georgia Tech and Miami, with the Yellow Jackets right now in the driver's seat in the league race. The Hurricanes almost always get good TV ratings, but this is not a team whose fans travel well. The Orange Bowl would love Miami. One problem: The Orange Bowl is contractually obligated to take the ACC champ if that team isn't in the national title game, and with Tech the potential champ, no way does the Orange Bowl want a Georgia Tech-Miami rematch. The call: Georgia Tech (the champion) to the Orange Bowl.

Big East: Not to be indelicate, but the BCS bowls don't really want the Big East champ, so why in the world would they want the Big East's No. 2 team? Right now, Pittsburgh looks as if it will be the No. 2 team. The probability is extremely low a BCS bowl would extend a bid to a 10-2 Pitt team. If Pitt wins the league, the probability is exceedingly low that an 11-1 Cincinnati team would get an at-large bid. The call: Cincinnati (the champion) to the Fiesta Bowl.

Big Ten: Two Big Ten teams will be in the BCS. The question is which two from among the trio of Iowa, Ohio State and Penn State. The league champ is obligated to the Rose Bowl unless it is in the national title game. An unbeaten Iowa could get to the title game, leaving the Rose Bowl to pick the No. 2 team from the Big Ten. If Iowa wins the league but is in the Rose, the No. 2 team will be in one of the other three BCS bowls, most likely the Fiesta or Orange. These teams' fans travel, and Ohio State and Penn State also are good TV draws. The call: Two teams -- Iowa (the champion) in the Rose Bowl and Penn State in the Orange.

Big 12: The only way the Big 12 gets two teams in the BCS this season is if Texas loses in the league championship game. Otherwise, it's Texas in the national title game and everybody else looking for the best fit with the "lesser" bowls. The call: Texas (the champion) to the national title game.

Mountain West: An unbeaten TCU has a great shot at a BCS bid. A once-beaten TCU likely would be in the Las Vegas Bowl. The call: TCU to the Sugar.

Independents: A 10-2 Notre Dame would be a lock to get a BCS bid. Anything less and it's the Gator Bowl because it's extremely unlikely a 9-3 Irish team would be in the final BCS top 14. Would a 10-2 Irish team be deserving of the bid? Not necessarily. But the Irish in a BCS game would ensure a sellout and turn on a lot of TV sets. The call: None.

Pac-10: USC's loss means the Pac-10 could get two teams in the BCS. The league champ is obligated to the Rose Bowl unless that team is in the national title game. USC is enough of a draw -- in terms of tickets and TV ratings -- that a 10-2 Trojans team would be in the BCS, likely the Fiesta Bowl. If someone other than Oregon wins the Pac-10, it gets extremely dicey as to whether the league would get two BCS bids. One thing that would work against the Ducks in that case: Their loss to Boise State and the likelihood that they probably would be five or six spots behind Boise in the BCS standings. The call: Two teams -- Oregon (the champion) in the Rose and USC in the Fiesta.

SEC: Like the Big Ten, the SEC is going to get two -- the conference titlist and the title game loser, as long as that loser doesn't have more than two losses. If the loser does have at least three losses, it's extremely likely that another SEC team -- one with two losses -- would get a BCS bid. The call: Two teams -- Florida (the champion) in the national title game and Alabama in the Sugar.

WAC: Boise State has a shot at an at-large bid, even if it finishes behind TCU in the standings. The Broncos are going to remain in the top 10, and their win over Oregon looks better by the day. To get to the BCS, they need USC to lose again, for Notre Dame to have three losses and for the second-place Big Ten team to have three losses. Still, an unbeaten Boise State team could end up playing at home in the Humanitarian Bowl. The call: None.

Any volunteers?
Tennessee has a great shot at finishing second in the SEC East in Lane Kiffin's first season as coach.

The Vols followed up a narrow loss at Alabama with a dominant victory over South Carolina on Saturday. The victory moves them to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the SEC, but the Vols own the tiebreaker over Georgia and South Carolina within the division and could finish 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the league. Tennessee has games left against Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, with only the Ole Miss game looking as if it will pose any problems. That means a Chick-fil-A Bowl -- or even Outback Bowl -- appearance is a possibility.

Given that the Vols finished 5-7 last season, Kiffin deserves a lot of credit. He's immature at times and seems to revel in being the "look at me, look at me!" guy, but he and his staff have the Vols playing much harder and much smarter than last season. Still, before everyone goes overboard and says "Tennessee is back," a couple of things to consider.

The defense has been excellent this season, no surprise when you consider Monte Kiffin -- one of the great defensive minds in football history -- is the coordinator. Thing is, the defense was excellent last season, too, ranking third nationally in total defense (263.5 yards per game) and 10th in scoring defense (16.8 points per game). The numbers are actually worse this season (13th in total defense, at 281.6 yards per game, and 22nd in scoring defense, at 17.8 points per game). Still, given the remaining opponents, the defense should end up at about '08 level.

The defense should be good next season, too. The Vols have just three senior starters on defense, and junior strong safety Eric Berry seems likely to turn pro, considering he's seen as a sure top-10 pick. The Vols will lose both starting tackles and their best linebacker (Rico McCoy), but there is enough talent to expect more good defensive numbers.

Offensively, though, there could be some issues. This season's offense is markedly better than last season's, by almost 110 yards and 12 points per game. And Kiffin and his staff have made Jonathan Crompton into a competent SEC quarterback -- something that didn't seem remotely possible six weeks ago. But six seniors started on offense for the Vols against South Carolina: Crompton, four starting linemen and tailback Montario Hardesty, the best offensive player this season -- and a guy the former staff criminally underutilized.

Backup tailback Bryce Brown has proved to be an SEC-caliber running back as a true freshman this season, so the talent drop-off from Hardesty will be negligible. But what about the line? And, more important, what about the quarterback? It's hard to fathom, but the Vols actually will miss Crompton. Next season's starting quarterback isn't on campus this season; it will be either a true freshman or a junior college transfer. There will be playmakers at wide receiver and in the backfield, but will there be room to run or a quarterback who can get those playmakers the ball?

The upshot: Tennessee has been a pleasant surprise this season. But while the Vols are going to have another excellent recruiting class, to expect them to be back among the elite next season is going too far out on a limb. The Vols should be back to where they want to be in 2011, not next season.

Come on, get serious
What's this -- Ohio State's Jim Tressel calling for an onside kick and a flanker-reverse pass in the same game? What in the world would Woody Hayes think?

Hopefully, Hayes would be thinking, "That's shameful."

The idea that Tressel would pull both ploys -- both worked wonderfully, by the way -- in the same game is fine. But it's the opponent that's bothersome: New Mexico State.

Why the trickery against a bad New Mexico State team? That wasn't needed against the Aggies. Instead, why not save it until this Saturday, against Penn State -- you know, a good opponent.

Weak, coach. Extremely weak.

Grid bits
A huge second half propelled Illinois to a 38-13 rout of Michigan. The Wolverines led 13-7 at halftime before the Illini roared back behind 313 second-half rushing yards. The victory gives Illinois back-to-backs victories over Michigan for the first time since 1957 and '58. In addition, the loss dropped Michigan to 5-4. Unless the Wolverines win next week against Purdue, they could be sitting home again for the holidays. After Purdue, the Wolverines finish up against Wisconsin and Ohio State. A 6-6 record looms -- an improvement over last season's 3-9, no doubt, but not was expected after the Wolverines opened 4-0.

How about the job June Jones is doing at SMU? The Mustangs are 4-4 after Saturday's 27-13 victory over Tulsa, an upset engineered by a freshman quarterback making his first college start. Kyle Padron threw for 354 yards in guiding the Mustangs to the win. SMU has three eminently winnable home games left -- Rice, UTEP and Tulane; the one remaining road game is against Marshall. It's conceivable SMU finishes 7-5, which would be the most victories since the school reinstated football in 1989; the most wins since is six, in 1997. SMU hasn't gone to a bowl since 1984 but is in great position to nab a bid this season.

Minnesota overcame 17 penalties for 157 yards -- school records in both categories -- in beating Michigan State 42-34. The Golden Gophers rolled up 505 yards of offense and were 10 of 18 on third-down conversions.

If I'm Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, I'm worried about my defense. Sure, the Yellow Jackets rolled to a 56-31 victory at Vanderbilt, but they let a pitiful Vandy offense roll up 397 total yards, including 218 on the ground. The only team Vandy has run for more against this season is Western Carolina, a bad FCS team. Tech is ninth in the ACC and 61st in the nation in total defense, allowing 360 yards per game. As for Vandy's point total, the Commodores had scored just 40 points in their preceding four games and had scored just 39 in their five games against Big Six opponents this season.

We talked about the importance of selling tickets and turning on TV sets when we discussed the BCS earlier. That means this number -- 33,541 -- can't make BCS officials happy. That's the attendance at TCU's home game Saturday against UNLV -- almost 11,000 short of capacity. A team that went into the game ranked sixth in the BCS draws 11,000 short of capacity for homecoming? Weak.

Remember the preseason talk about Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead being a sleeper Heisman Trophy contender? Goodness. He has 15 TD passes and 13 interceptions after Saturday's 33-20 loss at Auburn. Ole Miss is 5-3 and still has losable games left against Tennessee and LSU -- and the Mississippi State contest isn't a gimme, either.

All hail Kent State. The Golden Flashes beat Western Michigan 26-14 Saturday for their third victory in a row. Temple is getting a lot of attention -- and rightly so -- for its six-game winning streak, but Kent State is the Owls' main competition in the MAC East race. The teams meet Nov. 21 at Temple, and the MAC East title very well could be on the line. Kent doesn't do much on offense, but like Temple, it wins with defense - especially against the run. Kent State is 5-4 overall and 4-1 in the MAC, and the one conference loss came by one point to Bowling Green in a game in which BG scored the winning touchdown with five seconds left. Kent State let a 12-point lead slip away in the final five minutes.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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