December 13, 2008

Mailbag: Bowl losses begin to test patience

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If Bruce Springsteen is a college football fan, he probably follows Rutgers. He is from New Jersey, after all.

But regardless of his fandom, the fans of several teams can relate when he sings, "You end up like a dog that's been beat too much till you spend half your life just covering up."

Sometimes, it's not even the fans of perennial losing teams who feel that way. Even the most successful programs might feel beaten down after a few losses in bowl games. In fact, some already might be covering up for the bowl season, as we'll see in this week's mailbag.

Bigger is better

From Evan in Columbus, Ohio: Last week, writer Steve Megargee listed Ohio State among the "winners of the weekend." Do you agree with that? Ohio State now has to go to the Fiesta Bowl against an opponent that many think is the nation's best team. I think the Buckeyes would have been better-served going to the Capital One Bowl and facing a beatable opponent in Georgia and gaining some national respect. Now, they are probably going to get blown out again and further dampen their national perception.

Ask yourself if you'd rather drive a Cadillac or Chevrolet. A Chevy is nice, but Caddies have more appeal. By getting a Fiesta Bowl invitation, the Buckeyes were upgraded to an Escalade.

No doubt, Ohio State came out a winner when chosen for a more prestigious BCS game. Had Oregon State not lost its final regular-season game, the Beavers would have gone to the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl would have chosen USC instead of Ohio State to play Texas.

No doubt, the Big Ten is thrilled, too. Having two teams in BCS bowls is like winning the lottery. The Fiesta Bowl pays out $18 million. The Capital One Bowl pays out $4.25 million. That's a lot more money to distribute among the conference members.

A loss to Texas shouldn't damage Ohio State's national profile because Texas is considered a national championship-caliber team. Winning the Fiesta Bowl would raise Ohio State's national appeal much more than winning the Capital One Bowl over Georgia, which has had a disappointing season.

And are you sure you'd rather play Georgia? Is it necessary to bring up Ohio State's bowl record against SEC teams (it's 0-9)?

Besides, the idea that some Ohio State fans would rather duck top-caliber teams in hopes of posting a victory over a lesser opponent is more damaging to the Buckeyes' reputation than a possible loss to Texas. I guarantee you coach Jim Tressel, linebacker James Laurinaitis, cornerback [/db]Malcolm Jenkins[/db] and running back Chris Wells would rather play in a BCS game.

Getting there is the first step

From Thomas in Fayetteville, Ohio: Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops have both been criticized for not being big-game coaches of late. How would losses in their bowls this season affect their legacies or possibly their jobs? I think they are two of the best all-around coaches in college football, yet Tressel is a little conservative.

Well, if they were coaching at Auburn or Tennessee, there might be a problem. But in my mind, their legacies won't be damaged. If anything they should be enhanced. Losing in BCS and/or national championship games is no disgrace.

I find it amusing when Ohio State's program is decried because the Buckeyes have lost in two of three national championship appearances under Tressel. Tell me what other program has appeared in three BCS national championship games. Oh, yeah, Oklahoma and the Sooners have lost two of three under Stoops.

But those coaches got their teams to the championship game. That has to count for something.

I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry, who lost three times in Super Bowls. Does that means he was a poor coach? No way.

If either coach were available, how long do you think it would be until every athletic director in need of a coach would be calling and throwing money at them. In fact, some ADs with coaches would be doing that.

I guarantee you a bunch of folks in Michigan wish Tressel would take a shot in the NFL, and many Texas residents wish the same for Stoops.

Tarnished legacies? Ridiculous. When their teams stop playing in BCS bowl games and no longer are contending for national championships, that could be an issue. Until then, it's a ludicrous thought.

As far as Tressel being too conservative well, those sweater vests are. But I also remember him calling for a long pass on fourth down for a winning touchdown against Purdue during the 2002 national championship season.

Picking on the weak

From Greg in Boise, Idaho: First, Utah should play Boise State and the winner should go to the BCS. I truly believe Boise State would beat Utah. And, personally, I think USC can beat any team ranked above them, and I'm not a USC fan. How do you know Boise State couldn't win the national championship? The strength-of-schedule stuff is bogus. Florida lost. Oklahoma lost. Texas lost. USC lost. Penn State lost. Nobody will really know who is No. 1 until there is a playoff.

You're preaching to the choir, Greg. There will not be a true national champion until it is decided on the field with a playoff.

I also agree that Boise State would have a good chance to beat Utah. That's a game I'd really like to see.

But I don't believe the Broncos would win a national championship. I don't think they would beat any of the teams you mentioned in a championship game, although I'm aware they defeated Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago and that this season they beat Oregon - which beat Oregon State, which beat USC.

I do believe that as the undefeated conference champion, they should at least be given the chance to play for the title. Teams such as Boise State and Utah should at least be given a chance. They won't ever get one until a playoff format is adopted.

Remember, the Giants weren't supposed to beat the Patriots in last season's Super Bowl, and we all saw how that turned out.

One is enough

From Scott in Charlton Heights, W.Va.: How quickly can West Virginia get rid of the VMI failure we posted at head coach and reclaim our position among the nation's elite? Yes, West Virginia lacks a national title, but we had been consistent in handling teams from the SEC and handed Oklahoma and Georgia stunning defeats playing in the spotlights of major bowls. We were on the cusp of becoming an annual nod for preseason top 10s and postseason top fives. Is there a coach out there right now who could come in and salvage this situation and can we get his number?

Wait a minute. Bill Stewart was the coach when West Virginia posted that stunning upset of Oklahoma, so it's not like he's grossly incompetent. I mean, the Mountaineers did go 8-4, which is obviously not up to recent standards. However, it's not that bad either.

Besides, the Mountaineers lost running back Steve Slaton, fullback Owen Schmitt, receiver Darius Reynaud and seven defensive starters from the '07 team that finished 11-2. Surely, at least some decline was expected.

And don't forget about that near-miraculous comeback against Cincinnati. Of course, it was disappointing for West Virginia fans that the Mountaineers lost in overtime, but scoring 11 points in the final 19 seconds of regulation to force overtime was amazing. Give Stewart credit that the Mountaineers did not give up.

Alas, we are talking college football here. And the demands are as high as coach's salaries, so your frustration is understood. Tommy Tuberville's "resignation" at Auburn serves as a reminder that all college football coaches walk a tight rope. One misstep and they could be done.

Don't look for a change on the West Virginia sideline anytime soon. Though nothing can be assumed in college football, Stewart should return next season. But if the Mountaineers have a substandard showing in '09 which is possible, considering star quarterback Pat White will have completed his eligibility Stewart's job could be in jeopardy.

If it comes to that, Tuberville might be available, and he would be a tremendous choice. Texas Tech's Mike Leach always will be a name to watch for any high-profile job opening. And there is also this guy at Michigan

Never mind. Bad idea.

Two sides to two sides

From Julius in Pasadena, Texas: Since the league complains all the time about not having an extra game to get a BCS boost, why doesn't the Pac-10 become the Pac-12? They could grab Boise State and Utah to boost the conference, split into two divisions, then maybe be viable enough for the conference champion to head to the national title game.

It's a thought, but are your Texas brethren really that fired up about the divisional format right now?

A conference championship game would give the Pac-10 champion a chance for a boost. It could also knock you out, too, as Nebraska learned in 1996, Kansas State learned in 1998 and Texas learned in 2001.

If the Pac-10 did plan to expand, I would think it would try to add Utah and BYU. It would make geographic sense. The Pac-10 has two teams in Washington, two in Oregon, two in Arizona, two in Los Angeles and two in the San Francisco Bay area. Two in Utah would seem the logical step.

Besides, BYU has a better all-around athletics program than Boise State. Utah and BYU might be a package deal.

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