Two of college football’s top 10 teams were upset Saturday but neither loss seriously affected the national title picture. As well as Missouri had played in going 7-0 and reaching No. 5 in the rankings, few people believed it was good enough to challenge seriously for a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game. The same was true of Texas Tech. Kliff Kingsbury returning to his alma mater at age 34 (he looks about 14) to lead the Red Raiders to a 7-0 start was a cool story but cracks were already showing in the veneer when the Raiders barely escaped West Virginia a week ago.
This season’s Big Four continued to roll along. If this were Year One of the new college football playoff the 13-member committee would only have one real decision to make as things stand right now: Ohio State or Baylor for the fourth spot. Alabama, Oregon and Florida State all crushed conference opponents on Saturday. So did Ohio State and Baylor but their conferences are so second-rate it is tough to decide which has played weaker competition.
Of course if the committee-to-be had to make a choice between Ohio State and Baylor, the Bears would have no chance.
The committee would come out of the room looking very serious, talk about what a great job Coach Art Briles has done at Baylor, tell the “student-athletes,” how proud they were of their performance and then tell the world that Ohio State would be playing a semifinal against Alabama.
Why? Because for all the talk about wanting people on the committee who really know football, almost all of them also know TV ratings. Ohio State sells, Baylor does not.
All of that, though, is for next year. This year, with the BCS mercifully wheezing toward the demise it should have met a year after it started 15 years ago, the computers and voters could have a problem if Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State end up undefeated — which is possible. Two teams will play for the national championship; two will play in a meaningless BCS game.
The latter two will be very unhappy. Here’s another possible twist: Alabama and Oregon are far more likely to lose than Florida State or Ohio State. The Buckeyes play no one — and that includes Michigan — the rest of the season. Florida State has to play at Florida, which isn’t very good, and then the ACC championship game, which should not be a problem whether it’s against Miami or Virginia Tech.
Alabama, on the other hand, still has to play LSU in two weeks, at surprising Auburn and the Southeastern Conference championship. Oregon has to go to Stanford and play Oregon State in one of those rivalry games that’s always dangerous.
If Alabama and Oregon both lose and Ohio State and Florida State don’t, the Buckeyes and Seminoles will most likely play in the title game. Baylor — even if it wins out — has no chance, especially in a Big 12 that is every bit as second-rate as the ACC and Big Ten. Alabama and Oregon might be the two best teams in the country — even with one loss apiece — but probably would not get a chance to prove it.
That’s all speculation for now. This past weekend, with the powers cruising, was one for some little guys to earn some attention and kudos.
Among them: Duke. Yes, Duke. Arguably the worst football program in the Football Bowl Subdivision when Coach David Cutcliffe arrived six years ago (the Blue Devils were 22-125 overall in the 13 previous seasons, including 9-91 in ACC play) Duke is now officially respectable.
For most schools, being bowl-eligible two years in a row is no big deal. For Duke, believe it or not, it is a first — ever.
Virginia Tech can moan and groan — accurately — about all the mistakes it made in its stunning 13-10 loss to Duke at Lane Stadium on Saturday. But the fact is the Hokies could have made all those mistake a few years ago against the Blue Devils and still won by four touchdowns. Duke beating Virginia Tech, regardless of circumstances, is roughly the equivalent of Navy beating Notre Dame — it simply shouldn’t happen. And yet, on Saturday, it did for the first time since 1981.
Speaking of Navy-Notre Dame, the Midshipmen have to make the trip to South Bend but they will do so coming off an important win over Pittsburgh. Pitt is a typical ACC team — not very good, not awful — but it is certainly a tough out for Navy. The Midshipmen came from behind at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon and, in a perfect cinematic ending, place kicker Nick Sloan made the winning field goal at the buzzer. What made the finish melodramatic was that Sloan had to live all week knowing his missed extra point in overtime was the difference in Navy’s 45-44 loss at Toledo a week earlier.
With the Pitt coaches reminding him of that miss, he calmly drilled the kick from 30 yards to win the game.
Let’s also give some credit to Minnesota, which won for a second straight week with Coach Jerry Kill watching from the press box and not coaching. Kill, who is trying to find a way to get his epileptic seizures under control, took a leave of absence two weeks ago. Since then his team has pulled two upsets: first at Northwestern, then beating Nebraska on Saturday. That makes the Gophers bowl eligible, but far more important, it is a tribute to the players and coaches who have carried on so well in Kill’s absence.
And last, but certainly not least, kudos to Western Connecticut State running back Octavias McKoy, who rushed for 455 yards — seriously — in his team’s 55-35 win over Worcester State on Saturday. McKoy carried 43 times — meaning he averaged 10.6 yards per carry — in breaking the single-game rushing record for all NCAA divisions.
McKoy probably won’t go on to an NFL Hall of Fame career like LaDainian Tomlinson, who holds the FBS record of 406 yards, but he will always have the memory of one remarkable October afternoon to look back on long after he stops playing football.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.