Don't count on 'Bama-Florida championship matchup
October 14 Guest Column
Only twice in the Bowl Championship Series' 14-year history have both the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in its initial rankings wound up meeting for the national title.
Won't happen this year, either. At least, not likely.
Positioned behind Alabama in the standings released Sunday is Southeastern Conference rival Florida, the Gators' trumping No. 3 Oregon by a scant .0099 of a point on the strength of a more taxing schedule and higher computer ratings almost across the board. Behind them in order: Kansas State, Notre Dame and once-beaten LSU, fortified by Saturday's 23-21 win over previously unbeaten South Carolina.
The template is different than it was a year ago, when two SEC teams - LSU and Alabama - started out 1-2 and held serve for all but the two weeks immediately following the Crimson Tide's 9-6 loss in Baton Rouge the first weekend in November. 'Bama was back in the championship picture before Thanksgiving, and wound up dominating the Tigers in their BCS title-game rematch in New Orleans.
Whether this year's passing-challenged Florida team survives the regular season hinges largely on Saturday's game against South Carolina (and then a Nov. 24 trip to Florida State). The Gators wouldn't run into Alabama until the SEC championship game.
Their BCS hopes, and Alabama's for that matter, seemingly couldn't survive a loss there - either because the BCS rankings would be compiled only a day later or voters simply would rebel against the prospect of another all-SEC rematch.
So stand by, Oregon. That is if the Ducks don't get nicked Thursday at Arizona State or later in trips to Southern California and Oregon State.
Notre Dame still must travel to Oklahoma and USC. Kansas State most go Saturday to West Virginia, then to Texas Christian and Baylor on successive weekends in November.
So yes, it's early, though the early-October pecking order merits some attention. Twelve times in 14 years, at least one of the initial 1-2 teams reached the BCS championship game. Twenty-six of the 28 championship qualifiers in that time started in the top six.
(By the way, the only other time besides last season that the mid-October top two reached the championship game: in 2005, when USC and Texas went wire to wire.) Itemized deductions ...
Item: The Geno Smith Heisman Express doesn't run off the tracks at Texas Tech. But it slows a bit as the West Virginia quarterback manages just a single TD pass - while Tech's Seth Doege tosses six in a 49-14 rout of the Mountaineers.
Deduction: Can we move past our early fascination with offensive pyrotechnics and reaffirm that defense is the backbone of serious championship contention?
Four of the top six teams in the BCS' inaugural standings - Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame and LSU - rank among the nation's top eight in scoring defense. Kansas State ranks among the top 20. And even Oregon has shown some defensive chops, allowing less than three yards a rush and just a couple of TD passes while forcing seven interceptions and five fumbles in Pac-12 routs of Arizona, Washington State and Washington.
'Bama continues to set the bar. Close to half of the plays that > Missouri ran against the Crimson Tide on Saturday - 26 of 56 - gained nothing or went for a loss. Seventeen of the Tigers' 24 rushes netted only a couple of yards or less.
The 181.2 yards a game allowed by the Tide to date would be the lowest in the NCAA's bowl subdivision since 1986.
Item: Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel accounts for 576 yards and six touchdowns against Louisiana Tech, and the Aggies need every bit of it in a 59-57 shootout.
Deduction: The redshirt freshman quarterback from Kerrville, Texas, is crowding West Virginia's Smith for marquee space. Manziel has run for better than 100 yards in four of his past five games, thrown for 280 yards a game and ranks second in the country in total offense (Smith is fourth).
A lot can and probably will change as the Aggies wade deeper into their SEC schedule, starting Saturday vs. LSU. At the moment, though, Johnny Football is on pace to become the first major-college player to pass for more than 3,300 yards and run for more than 1,300 in a season.
Item: Montee Ball rumbles for a career-high 247 yards and three TDs as Wisconsin overruns Purdue 38-14.
Deduction: The Big Ten - very noticeably absent from the BCS rankings - needs a team other than NCAA-sanctioned Ohio State or Penn State to assert itself, and the 5-2 Badgers are the league's best bet. They've averaged better than seven yards a rush and totaled 1,076 yards in comfortable wins vs. Illinois and the Boilermakers the past two weeks, and their remaining schedule is navigable (ending with Ohio State at home and a trip to Penn State).
Michigan? Assuming no slip against Michigan State this week, the Wolverines still must travel to Nebraska and Ohio State.
Item: South Carolina, Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio fall in addition to West Virginia, paring the number of major-college unbeatens to an even dozen.
Deduction: An attaboy, nonetheless, to Louisiana Tech, which went toe to tie with Texas A&M in its two-point loss in Shreveport, La. The Bulldogs have something of an unenviable symmetry, featuring the nation's highest-scoring offense but also the second-most porous defense (allowing 555.5 yards per game).
They still may not lose again, drawing their most problematic remaining opponent - Utah State - at home Nov. 17.
A half-hour down I-20, meanwhile, nobody has come within two touchdowns of Louisiana-Monroe since the Warhawks opened their season with an upset of Arkansas and overtime and five-point losses to Auburn and Baylor. Look beyond the rankings Saturday to track their Sun Belt Conference showdown with 5-1 Western Kentucky.