By John Feinstein
Monday, September 27, 2010; 11:42 PM
For all the propaganda about how wonderful the Bowl Championship Series is because it gives college football's regular season so much meaning, here's what the 2010 season may boil down to: style points.
Sort of like in figure skating. The judges may have to decide whether Boise State's triple lutz - Virginia Tech, Oregon State and Nevada - was more impressive than Ohio State landing a triple salchow - Miami, Wisconsin and Penn State - even though it might have missed a double axel somewhere along the line.
As Brent Musburger might say, "Seriously, folks, this is what it's all about."
The constant derision of Boise State's schedule has become laugh-out-loud funny. (More on the seemingly invisible Horned Frogs of TCU later). Let's pause here for a moment to review this past Saturday's schedule in the all-powerful Big Ten.
The league had an 8-2 record. Pretty impressive stuff. Here were the eight teams that its teams beat: Ball State, Central Michigan, Bowling Green, Temple, Eastern Michigan, Akron, Northern Colorado and Austin Peay - which at last glance was best known for playing pretty good basketball and for producing the greatest student cheer in college sports history back in the glory days of high-flying forward James (Fly) Williams: "Fly is open - Let's go Peay!"
That aside, while the Big Ten rolled up six wins over teams from the Mid-American Conference, it also lost twice to teams from the MAC: Purdue to Toledo and Minnesota to Northern Illinois. So while those who work for the four-letter network cluck on about Boise State facing New Mexico State, San Jose State and Utah State later in the season, are we supposed to be impressed by a Murderer's Row that includes Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana? For that matter, does anyone think Penn State is really any good or that Northwestern would seriously challenge any sort of serious team?
The Big Ten has six ranked teams, which is more the result of this sort of scheduling than anything else. Penn State's most impressive win to date was its comeback victory Saturday over Temple.
The Big Ten isn't alone. Let's not forget the eminently forgettable ACC and the should-be-forgotten Big East. As completely mediocre as the ACC is from top to (almost) bottom - Duke is far worse than mediocre; the allegedly improved Blue Devils are giving up 49.5 points per game, a figure that is that low only because the Blue Devils held Elon to 27 - it is far better than the Big East.
Rutgers just lost at home to a depleted North Carolina team, and defending league champion Cincinnati's greatest achievement to date is coming close before losing to Oklahoma. Moral victories in games between teams from BCS conferences do not count.
There have also been two head-to-head ACC-Big East confrontations on Thursday nights. Two weeks ago, N.C. State easily beat Cincinnati, and last week Miami went into Pittsburgh and won a virtual walkover. Being worse than the ACC takes work, but the Big East is pulling it off.
The Big 12 has several potentially good teams. Oklahoma has embarrassed Florida State and beaten a good Air Force team but gets its first true test Saturday against a Texas team that should be smarting after an embarrassing home loss to UCLA. Nebraska has looked very good early, but it is tough to get too fired up after wins over Western Kentucky, Idaho, Washington and South Dakota State.
The best - and most "arresting" conference in the college game - is (again) the SEC. Six of the 12 teams are deservedly ranked, and Alabama has won 18 straight games after its escape at Arkansas. The next two games - Florida at home and at South Carolina - will probably go a long way toward deciding if the Crimson Tide will play for the national championship again. There's also Auburn down the road in November.
Quick quiz for you SEC fans: Who was the last team to beat Alabama? That would be Utah, which whipped the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl two years ago. Utah plays in what league? That would be the Mountain West. The Utes are currently 4-0 but still have to run a gauntlet as tough as any team in any league with the possible exception of the SEC: a three-week stretch that begins Oct. 30 at Air Force and is followed by TCU at home in what should be one of the games of the year and a trip after those two emotional games to Notre Dame.
TCU is also 4-0. Its only loss in the past two seasons was to Boise State in last year's Fiesta Bowl, also known as the If You Aren't from a BCS Conference You Can't Play Any of Us Bowl. The Horned Frogs have to play Air Force in late October and then make the trip to Utah. If they win those two games, they will likely go undefeated and really leave the BCS boys in a quandary if Boise State can win out. After all, look what happened the last time Alabama had to play one of those non-BCS conference schools with a "weak" schedule.
As the season goes on, the drum-beating for the BCS schools will grow louder. If Alabama and Ohio State keep winning, the network pundit/BCS apologists will breathe easier. But if one or both lose or if - heaven help us - Boise State and TCU should end up as the only unbeaten teams when the dust clears, well folks, you better dust off your tuxedos because ESPN might bring back Dick Button to tell you that, while Boise State and TCU might have performed perfectly, there just wasn't quite enough risk in their programs. "A few too many toe loops by the Broncos and Horned Frogs," he'll tell us.
Meantime, a couple of things worth noting involving actual football: Navy plays at Air Force on Saturday, going for an unbelievable eighth straight victory over the Falcons. Air Force has been extremely impressive so far and has been pointing to this game for 12 months since Navy escaped in overtime in Annapolis last season.
And finally: Serious kudos to Georgetown, which has owned the Patriot League cellar in recent years the way Duke controls the same spot in the ACC. The Hoyas are now 2-0 in conference play after Saturday's 17-7 victory over 2009 champion Holy Cross. Imagine: Georgetown off a fast start and no sign of St. Leo's on the schedule.
For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com