Undefeated? If so, then what?

This may be the most ridiculous thing I post on this blog (but I doubt it). When a national championship is determined, at least in part, by voters, perception matters. It only matters for, at most, four teams in a given year – as that’s the absolute most that can possibly have an argument that they should be in the national championship game – but it matters.

Don't laugh.

I will not address the odds of any team in the Big East going undefeated this season. I will say that I wouldn’t count on any team in the Big East going undefeated in conference play, let alone overall.

Getting closer to my point, no Big East teams are in the preseason top 25, this year. Much is made of how unfair the preseason polls are and how much influence they have. While I do believe they have some influence, it is negligible. People point to teams like Boise State that rise to a certain point, then hit the glass ceiling once they approach the teams ranked ahead of them in the preseason poll. They forget to mention that the teams ranked ahead of them are generally USC, Oklahoma, and/or an SEC team or two. No one addresses that those teams stay ahead of Boise State because they’re better than Boise State.

What I’m saying is simply this: If Vanderbilt or Mississippi State go undefeated, they will play in the national championship game. There’s just no way that a team can go through teams like Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, etc., and not be considered to be the #1 or #2 team in the nation… regardless of where they’re ranked in the preseason.

So, my point, if a Big East team goes undefeated this season, what are their odds of playing in the national championship game?

A few factors are at play. First, how strong is your schedule? Second, how much does your team lend yourself to getting ESPN commentators to say that you are better than you actually are? ESPN commentators always act like there is an “unbeatable” team, which is ridiculous. No Big East team is likely to be thought of that highly, but if you get a few big plays, a few blowout victories, then Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler tend to overlook your close wins. Third, which is something of an offshot of #2 (which sounds gross), how entertaining is your team to watch? It matters.

First, the teams that would shock the world if they went undefeated… but still wouldn’t gain any respect

Maybe I’m wrong on this, but I think the diehard college football fans are those that root against Boise State, Nevada, etc. The reason? Those teams don’t play anyone, and, whether they’re good or not, do not deserve to be in the discussion of the national championship game. If they beat every team by 30-50 points, then we’d talk… but they don’t. That’s what Louisville would have to do this year to gain any respect. Louisville plays Kentucky, UNC, and a collection of high schools.

The odds of a Big East team playing in the Superdome are good but, unfortunately, not for the national championship.

Rutgers has a relatively easy nonconference schedule. UNC is the toughest opponent with Ohio being second. No one is going to give a team credit for beating Ohio, and they’re not likely to give much credit for beating UNC (remember, we’re talking about the hypothetical of comparing this team to other teams finishing in the top 10). If Rutgers were to go undefeated, I think ESPN would blow up with praise. The only decent year Rutgers has really ever had, in 2006, ESPN loved Rutgers. That Rutgers team came very close to playing in the BCS, but in the end, finished with two losses against mediocre Cincinnati and Pat White-less West Virginia. ESPN loves northeastern teams. An undefeated one would get favorable press, but there is zero chance of Rutgers playing in a national championship game even if it goes 12-0.

The only team with less of a chance than is UConn. It has no buzz going into the season, will most likely play a boring style of play, and its toughest games are against Vandy and Iowa State. ESPN is in Connecticut. Connecticut is in Connecticut. This shouldn’t be understated because, if you listen to ESPN Radio, you will always hear them give the, “You know one team who is better than people realize is. . . ” treatment to UConn. Still, UConn has to give them something to work with. Their style of play (close wins all around) and 1-AA schedule give UConn no shot at gaining the benefit of the doubt.

Syracuse goes on the road to USC. Couple that with Syracuse’s history – which seems like ancient history at this point – and the “Syracuse is back!” storyline that would develop… and Syracuse probably could gain an extra spot or two. The rest of Syracuse’s schedule figures to be very weak (Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Toledo, and Tulane)… so Syracuse will be a novelty, but will be a tough sell to the general public. One extra bonus for Syracuse is that a few games in the Carrier Dome with an undefeated team would make for good television.

Exciting offense? Check. Anything else? Not really, in Cincinnati’s case. UC doesn’t get a lot of love even in Cincinnati. The entire state of Ohio belongs to Ohio State. That’s just pretty much the way it is. This is important because if no one has ever cared about your team, it’s pretty difficult to get someone to advocate on your behalf. When you also factor in a schedule that includes a down Tennessee team (a tough game, but at the end of the day, if you’re claiming you’re the best team in the country, it helps to beat a team with less than five losses… which UT probably will have), Miami (Ohio, not Florida), Akron, and NC State. NC State may end up being the best team on the Cincinnati schedule… which is probably an indictment of the UC schedule.

No way are they going undefeated… but if they did, they would convince a few people along the way

If you beat Notre Dame, people will always notice. If you beat Notre Dame in the first game of the season, you’ll definitely find yourself in the top 25 immediately (and probably get your next game nationally televised). USF, you have this opportunity. Unfortunately, you follow it up with Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP. That looks bad on paper, but it may work to the Bulls’ advantage as it gives them a three-week tune up for what figures to be their biggest conference game left in the season… a home date against Pitt. But still. Notre Dame isn’t Notre Dame any more. If USF gets in the picture, it’s likely to bring out a lot of, “Everyone knows Notre Dame sucks” arguments. Moving on, with two of its last three games against Miami and West Virginia, two opponents that have some horsepower, the Bulls would probably get some favorable press going into the end of the season. Those complainting that the “Big East doesn’t have the athletes of the SEC” can also be swayed because USF is A) in Florida and B) has SEC-level academic standards. (I’m not criticizing. Trust me.)

Remember, the media likes tired matchups for the national championship. This does not help the Big East.

Pitt hasn’t made any threat of a national championship run in any current college student’s lifetime. Still, those who are on television, whether they’re actually old enough to remember them or not, will always recall the Tony Dorsett days. This season, I don’t think Pitt’s going to exactly look like Air McNair’s offense, but they should be more exciting than usual. Notre Dame, Utah, and Iowa are the big matchups. While Notre Dame is a good “get,” I firmly believe that, in college football, respect is won in the south… not in the midwest or in Utah. Pitt doesn’t go south for its non-conference matchups. Pitt would get some healthy press – Mark May is still on ESPN, right? – but the Panthers would probably need a break or two to play for a national championship.

West Virginia plays LSU. LSU is ranked #4 in the preseason poll and that’s not a preseason ranking like Notre Dame gets every year. LSU generally backs up its preseason ranking on the field. A win over a top tier SEC team does wonders for . . . well. . . anyone. Assuming there are four undefeated teams at the end of the year (extremely unlikely, but run with me here), let’s say they are teams from the Big 10, SEC, Big 12, and TCU. Chances are, the Big 10, Big 12, and TCU won’t have a win over a top-level SEC team. Even though that is meaningless in reality, it’s huge in the “verbalizing why one undefeated team gets the benefit over another.” Critics will point out that WVU played Marshall, Norfolk State, Maryland, Bowling Green, and a weak Big East schedule. (Even though the last part remains to be seen, remember that even when the Big East is tough, the media still says it’s weak). West Virginia’s problem is that it needs to have a traditional power in the national championship game for it to have any shot to be allowed in. In 2005, ESPN nearly shut down when it looked like the national championship game might be Missouri vs. West Virginia (two explosive offenses… instead we got LSU beating the shit out of Ohio State). If West Virginia goes undefeated, it would have a fair shot of playing for the national championship… but only if matched up against Oklahoma, Alabama, etc.

No matter how good they are, even if they go undefeated, there is very little chance that almost any Big East team plays for a national championship this season. The national championship will always be a mythical title as long as there are 100+ teams and only 12 games to figure out who should play for it. The Big East title is a legitimate title. The winner has to play every other team that competes for it. For the eight Big East teams, just win the conference, and you’ll win the right to hear everyone how bad you really are. It just makes winning the Sugar Bowl that much sweeter.

This entry was posted in Cincinnati, Louisville, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn, USF, West Virginia. Bookmark the permalink.

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