College football gives us a season to forget

By John Feinstein
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barring something unforeseen, college football's so-called national championship game is going to match Texas against the winner of the SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida.

This is an outcome that has seemed pre-ordained since August. Those three teams have been at the top of the polls all season, and even if some SEC coaches think the Gators and Crimson Tide have received some timely officiating help, all three remain undefeated. Next week, Florida plays Florida International, and Alabama plays Chattanooga. Seriously. Texas plays a real team -- Kansas -- but the Jayhawks are spiraling and will be fortunate to lose by anything less than three touchdowns.

Three other teams are currently undefeated: TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State. None has any chance to compete for the national championship unless Texas stumbles in the next three weeks or Alabama or Florida somehow lose their regular season finales against Auburn and Florida State, respectively.

Once, you would look at teams such as Auburn and Florida State in underdog/spoiler roles and think they were dangerous. Not anymore. In fact, the lack of depth in the major conferences this year is shocking. Exactly seven teams right now are truly worthy of playing in BCS bowl games: Florida, Alabama, Texas, TCU, Cincinnati, Boise State and Georgia Tech have proven themselves to be teams worthy of playing somewhere other than the Bowl or the New Mexico Bowl. The only team with a chance to join that group is Pittsburgh, which lost to a very mediocre North Carolina State team and still has to play West Virginia and Cincinnati.

There are 66 teams in the BCS, and the case can easily be made that no more than five of them are really any good.

Think about it: The third-best team in the supposedly stacked SEC is LSU, which was fortunate to beat Louisiana Tech at home on Saturday. Everyone else is pretty mediocre. Mississippi failed very quickly to live up to its preseason hype, and teams such as Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina, Arkansas and even Kentucky are all pretty much the same. Tennessee is different if only because Lane Kiffin and his players are far more interesting off the field than on it. The league will probably have 10 bowl-eligible teams in large part because they play laughable nonconference schedules and then split against each another.

Not long ago, the Big 12 was right up there with the SEC. Now, it has one good team and then a group of Sun Bowl hopefuls. Oklahoma's season fell apart when Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford got injured in the season opener. Oklahoma State is 8-2, but the Cowboys were clobbered by Texas and lost to a Houston team that lost Saturday to Central Florida. At least Oklahoma State played some decent teams -- Georgia, Houston -- outside the conference. It deserves to play in the Holiday Bowl.

The ACC has been a joke for a while now. Seriously, if the ACC and the division I-AA CAA were to play a challenge series, who would you bet on? The ACC is a real 1-2 this year (William & Mary over Virginia; Richmond over Duke; Maryland, in overtime, over second-division James Madison) and the only ACC team you'd call a lock to win its game would be Georgia Tech.

Those who said Paul Johnson couldn't succeed with his option offense in a big-time conference are not talking much these days. There was irony in Georgia Tech's 49-10 thrashing of Duke on Saturday because two years ago, Mike Krzyzewski called Johnson to make a personal plea to get him to take the Duke job. Johnson apparently knew what he was doing.

Duke's so-called "improvement" is more a measure of the fall of the ACC than anything else. If you want to say Clemson is the second-best team in the ACC, fine, but remember the Tigers lost to Maryland. Take that a step further: What are the ACC's most impressive wins by anyone other than Georgia Tech? Florida State over Brigham Young, and North Carolina State over Pittsburgh -- that's the list.

Of course the ACC's list of nonconference wins is a lot more impressive than that of the Big Ten, which has beaten no one. Ohio State, which is going to the Rose Bowl more or less by default, lost at home to what we now know is a mediocre USC team. Penn State's toughest nonconference game was against Temple. Iowa needed two blocked field goal attempts to beat Northern Iowa. Michigan over Notre Dame? Please.

Ohio State won the conference by beating a Penn State team that has had little offense all season and by barely beating Iowa even though the Hawkeyes had to play a freshman second-string quarterback. Looks like it will be another thrilling Rose Bowl.

Whomever comes out of the Pac-10 scrum will probably handle Ohio State the way the Pac-10 almost always handles the Big Ten. Southern Cal has truly been exposed in recent weeks, giving up 102 combined points to Oregon and Stanford. Oregon looked great in beating Southern Cal then did a swan dive a week later against Stanford. The best team anyone in the Pac-10 has faced this season is Boise State, and the Ducks were soundly beaten in that game back in September.

The Pac-10 is the deepest conference in the country. It has a half-dozen solid teams, but none that belong in the top 10 or perhaps even the top 15.

The forgotten BCS league always seems to be the Big East, which might have more good teams than any league other than the Pac-10. The Big East has one legitimate national title contender (Cincinnati) and another very good team in Pittsburgh. West Virginia, Rutgers and South Florida are okay, but the top two, which play Dec. 5, are the only teams worth more than the Meineke Car Care Bowl. (Say that three times fast.)

Then again, there's still uncertainty even about the top two. Cincinnati was life-and-death to beat Connecticut a couple weeks ago and fortunate to slip by West Virginia. And, after dominating the Big East last season, the Bearcats were soundly beaten by a four-loss Virginia Tech team in the Orange Bowl.

Bottom line: There may be just three college football teams that matter. And two others who appear worthy of playing for a national title -- TCU and Boise State -- have no chance of doing so.

But cheer up. The Eagle Bank Bowl is just 43 days away.

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