December 3, 2010

Mailbag: Tradition no longer a factor

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Tradition is a treasured part of college football, and there may be no locale where it is valued more than in Pasadena, Calif., the site of the Rose Bowl.

Originally slated as the "Tournament East-West football game" to match powers from the Eastern side of the country against a West Coast team, the Rose Bowl paired Pac-10 (before that, Pac 8) teams against Big Ten opponents for decades.

But with the formation of the BCS, its tradition was compromised. Miami and Nebraska played there for the 2001 national championship. Oklahoma made an appearance after the 2002 season. Texas completed its 2004 and '05 seasons there.

In each of the past four seasons, the game has had its traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup. There's a good chance that won't be the case this season. And as we see in this week's mailbag, some aren't happy about it.

The new world

Is there any chance that the old Rose Bowl traditionalists can break the contract and get a Big Ten/Pac-10 showdown this season? I would love to see Wisconsin, who I think is the only team that could beat Oregon, vs. Stanford. Wisconsin vs. TCU... not so much.

This season, if a team from the Big Ten or Pac-10 (such as Oregon) plays for the national championship, the Rose Bowl is contractually obligated to take a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference if one is in the top four of the final BCS standings.

TCU is No. 3, so if Oregon defeats Oregon State and Auburn beats South Carolina on Saturday to clinch spots in the BCS championship game, TCU is headed to the Rose Bowl, almost certainly to play Wisconsin.

Though it's my understanding that the Rose Bowl must host an eligible team from a non-automatic qualifying conference, perhaps a backroom deal could be worked out. Strange things seem to occur in bowl negotiations.

Perhaps TCU would be sent to the Orange Bowl and allow the Rose Bowl to gets its traditional matchup and pair Wisconsin against Stanford. But that's highly improbable, maybe even impossible, and phone calls to Rose Bowl officials to ask specifically if that is even a remote possibility were not returned.

It's easy to understand why someone from the Great Lakes region and/or the West Coast would prefer to see a Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup in the Rose Bowl. But I think a Wisconsin-TCU matchup would be intriguing as well. The Badgers' powerful offense and TCU's excellent defense makes for a great strength vs. strength showdown, but the "David vs. Goliath" angle is even better.

Wisconsin looks to be playing as well as any team in the nation. The Badgers have outscored their past four opponents 235-84. Meanwhile, if one of the top two teams slips up this weekend, some think TCU's unbeaten record would get the Horned Frogs into the national championship game.

Those who like underdog stories will support TCU. They will hope the Frogs can knock off an opponent from the big, bad Big Ten and further show the flaws in the BCS system. Those who follow the Big Six conferences and have tired of teams such as TCU, Utah and Boise State crashing the party would want Wisconsin to steamroll the Frogs and show they don't belong in elite bowl games.

Either way, it's great theatre.

Decided on the field

Let's say West Virginia and Connecticut win Saturday. Chances are that West Virginia will be ranked and Connecticut will not. I have two questions. No. 1: Has a league ever sent a team to a BCS bowl with another league team ranked higher? No. 2: Has a league ever sent a team to a BCS game unranked?
Portland, Maine

West Virginia is 24rd in this week's coaches' poll, and UConn is unranked. As you point out, it's quite possible that the regular season could end with the Mountaineers higher-ranked but the Huskies in a BCS game.

Actually, that's not uncommon. It's just that usually it's the result of an upset in a conference championship game.

In 1998, No. 9 Texas A&M went to the Sugar Bowl over No. 3 Kansas State because of an upset victory in the Big 12 championship game. That same season, No. 6 UCLA went to the Rose Bowl and No. 5 Arizona settled for the Holiday Bowl. UCLA beat Arizona 52-28 and won the Pac-10 title, but the Bruins fell in the polls when they lost to Miami 49-45 on the last game of the regular season.

In 2001, 12th-ranked LSU went to the Sugar Bowl over No. 8 Tennessee by virtue of a 31-20 upset of the Volunteers in the SEC championship game. But the truly weird occurrence that season was that No. 4 Nebraska faced Miami in the national championship, while No. 3 Colorado - which had won the Big 12 championship and destroyed the Huskers 62-36 - went to the Fiesta Bowl because it was ranked below the Huskers in the BCS. That led to some fine-tuning of the BCS process.

The next season, No. 8 Oklahoma won the Big 12 championship and went on to face Washington State in the Rose Bowl, while No. 6 Kansas State faced Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.

In '05, No. 8 Georgia won the SEC championship and went to the Sugar Bowl over No. 7 Auburn. That same season, No. 22 Florida State advanced to the Orange Bowl instead of No. 9 Miami. Florida State's ranking had plummeted because of three consecutive losses to close the regular season, but the Seminoles upset No. 5 Virginia Tech 27-22 in the ACC championship game.

One of the most curious BCS pairings occurred in 2007, when No. 8 Kansas was chosen for the Orange Bowl over No. 7 Missouri even though Missouri beat the Jayhawks on the final week of the regular season and won the Big 12 North.

In '08, No. 19 Virginia Tech won the ACC championship and went to the Orange Bowl, while No. 14 Georgia Tech went to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Georgia Tech's ranking had been boosted by a regular season-ending victory over Georgia.

UConn could make history this season, as no unranked team has played in a BCS game. The lowest-ranked teams were No. 22 Florida State in '05, No. 21 Stanford in '99 and No. 20 Pittsburgh in '04.

Winning matters

How is Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore's name ahead of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett on your Heisman list? Look at the stats. What quality win(s) does Boise have? This is just like the year Tim Tebow won over Darren McFadden.
Fort Lauderdale

Not a gracious loser, huh?

Though I had tremendous admiration for Darren McFadden, I voted for Tim Tebow in 2007. And I would do it again. And it's not like it was close: In '07, Tebow received 462 first-place votes to McFadden's 291.

As for this season, I think a lot of Mallett. He is a great quarterback and he has impressive statistics, having thrown for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns. But there is more to winning the Heisman than just gaudy stats. If that were the only criteria, Texas Tech might have had three or four Heisman-winning quarterbacks during the Mike Leach era.

You also have to consider strongly how a player performed in big games. Mallett threw three interceptions in a 24-20 loss to Alabama. Two of those picks came in the fourth quarter - one with Arkansas trying to protect the lead, another when trying to mount a comeback. He was injured and basically a non-factor in a 65-43 loss to Auburn; in that one, Hogs backup quarterback, Tyler Wilson threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns. Mallett's performance against Ole Miss' mediocre defense wasn't dominant, either.

That's not meant as a criticism of Mallett. Rather, it's just looking at both sides of the issue.

The top three on my ballot are Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Moore.

Moore has passed for 3,269 yards and 30 touchdowns. Some question his caliber of competition - a legitimate criticism - but Moore also passed for three touchdowns and led a game-winning drive in the final minute against Virginia Tech. Frankly, I have Moore ranked lower on my list than many others., a Web site that monitors all things Heisman-related, conducts a weekly poll of Heisman voters. Moore is second in the most recent poll. Mallett? He's eighth.

Uninvited guest

Boise State is 59-5 since 2006 and 36-2 in their past three seasons. They have lost two games at home in the past 10 years, but also have won two BCS bowls. Yes, the obvious problem is that they are a small-conference team with a weak strength of schedule. This being the case, is it possible the school would try to enter the Big 12? Do you see Boise attempting to join any other larger conference to boost its legitimacy?
Waukesha, Wis

It's not that easy. Boise State just can't go to the Big 12 and say, "Hey, we want to join. Let us in."

Next season, the Broncos leave the WAC for the Mountain West Conference, which seemed like a great move when it was first announced. But then Utah opted to accept an invitation to join the Pac-10 and BYU announced plans to go independent. Then, earlier this week, TCU announced it would join the Big East in 2011.

Just like that, Boise basically is right back where it started.

No doubt, Boise State - like Utah and TCU - would enthusiastically accept an invitation to a Big Six conference if one was extended. But as of yet, there is no indication that the Big 12 - or anyone else - will offer.

Next year, the Big 12 will play with 10 teams. Perhaps some time in the future, the conference will want to add two new teams and stage a conference championship game. And maybe BYU and Boise State would be targets. But who knows when or even if that will happen.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at
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