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October 12, 2007

Season still hard to figure out

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. This week he heads to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry.
Previous mailbags
Oct. 5: Looking for love
Sept. 28: McFadden continues to shine
Sept. 21: Sometimes the system works
Sept. 14: Tigers on top?

Trying to figure this season will drive you crazy. Michigan loses to Appalachian State. USC loses to Stanford. Mike Gundy loses his temper. Connecticut, Kansas and Cincinnati lose wait, they haven't yet lost.

Madness. Sheer madness.

So, is it crazy to think USF and Boston College are indeed among the nation's five best teams? Is it crazy to think Missouri can win the national championship? Is it crazy to think Penn State can lose four or five more games?

Anything appears possible.

But perhaps the unpredictability of this season, the fall of traditional powers and the rise of upstart programs finally will convince the college football hierarchy that a playoff is necessary to determine a national champion.

Now, that's crazy.


Parity, or insanity?

With USC going down (to Stanford), and the new top five having teams such as Cal, USF and Boston College, is it officially time to announce parity in college football? Or is it time to say the polls are crazy if USF, BC and Cal are among the top-five teams in the country?

Gary in Pittsburgh

First of all, let me say that I like the polls, but only as a vehicle for creating interest which was the original purpose when The Associated Press poll was established decades ago.

Opinions shouldn't be used to crown a national champion. I'll admit I thought Ohio State would beat Florida last season (and so did most others), and that's why college football needs a playoff.

But that's another matter entirely.

To answer your question, I believe there is more parity in college football than ever. There are hundreds of wonderful football players around the country, and scholarship limitations ensure they can't be horded by a few traditionally elite programs.

How else does one explain Appalachian State defeating Michigan, Stanford beating USC or Colorado beating Oklahoma?

Just in the past two weeks, eight teams ranked in the top 10 have lost. In fact, nine teams in the preseason top 10 have at least one loss.

The only teams that were ranked in the top 10 two weeks ago and haven't lost are Cal (which did not play last week) and LSU.

Of course, LSU had to come from behind at home to defeat Florida, which the previous week had lost to Auburn, which earlier this season lost at home to USF.

Does that mean USF would beat Florida? Probably not. But it does reinforce the parity question and underscores that USF deserves to be ranked in the top 10.

But can the Bulls and teams such as Boston College and California stay there? As we've seen, that's not easy to do. There's too much parity.

SEC forecast

Who do you see meeting in Atlanta for the SEC championship? Which team do you think will be the biggest surprise at the end of the year?

Harry in Charleston, S.C.

I'm anticipating a rematch in Atlanta. But I'm thinking it will be Florida facing LSU again instead of South Carolina.

I know the Gamecocks are leading the SEC East by a game over Florida and that my opinion won't be popular anywhere in South Carolina (except maybe Clemson), but that's the way I'm leaning.

Starting Oct. 27, South Carolina begins a rugged three-game stretch that includes trips to Tennessee and Arkansas before a showdown with Florida in Columbia. Florida has Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt before facing South Carolina.

Though both face tough opponents before Nov. 10, I expect the Florida-South Carolina game will determine the SEC East championship.

South Carolina is no pushover, which it showed last week in throttling Kentucky. Last season, it took a last-play blocked field goal for Florida to escape the Gamecocks' upset bid in Columbia.

But the loss of star linebacker Jasper Brinkley has to be felt at some point by the Gamecocks, and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Smelley is inconsistent and unproven. Of course, Steve Spurrier is on the sideline - and for that reason alone South Carolina could win.

Still, at this point I'd expect Florida to win another close one against the Gamecocks.

Championships in Columbia?

Missouri looked national-title good against Nebraska last weekend. Should the Tigers' defense continue the trend of getting better each week and upset Oklahoma on Saturday, do you see MU as the Big 12 champions and possibly a national-title contender?

Michael in Missouri

A lot of college football media project Oklahoma into the BCS title game. Therefore, if Mizzou beats the Sooners in Norman, it should stand to reason the Tigers would deserve the same consideration.

Missouri has beaten Illinois, which is a top-20 team, and its dominating victory over Nebraska had to raise eyebrows. A victory at Oklahoma likely would propel the Tigers into the top 10. But they still have Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Colorado, Kansas and Kansas State remaining. If they can get through that stretch unscathed, the Tigers would have a strong case for playing in the championship game. Still, to get there, they likely would need losses by a few unbeaten teams ranked ahead of them LSU, California, Boston College, Ohio State and USF.

Also, Missouri would probably also have to beat Oklahoma again in the Big 12 championship game.

More than a one-man show

What will it take for the Arkansas Razorbacks to get some recognition from everyone as a team rather than just Darren McFadden?

Mark in Fayetteville, Ark.

Beating a strong opponent would be a good start.

Thus far, the best team 3-2 Arkansas has beaten is Troy. True, Troy leads the Sun Belt Conference, but SEC teams are expected to pound Sun Belt teams.

Arkansas was in the top 20 before losses to Alabama and Kentucky games the Razorbacks led in the fourth quarter.

Win those games and Arkansas is in the top 10. Instead, the Hogs are unranked, and McFadden's Heisman Trophy candidacy is the biggest story in the Ozarks.

The Razorbacks' schedule still includes Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina and LSU all nationally ranked so they have a chance to get national recognition in the second half of the season. Those games will determine whether McFadden wins the Heisman, too.

Let the computers decide?

I am not writing to lobby for West Virginia, especially after the way they played at USF, but to ask since it is obvious that there is way too much personal bias in the human polls, why not let the computers decide who should be ranked? Why not just base it on the numbers?

Caleb in Columbus

The computers do play a big role in the BCS rankings, which are the rankings which truly matter. But as long as rankings are used to determine who will play for national championship, there should be some human element involved.

For instance, a computer can tell you that California beat Tennessee. But a computer cannot figure in that Tennessee was without LaMarcus Coker and that Erik Ainge had a broken finger.

Quite often, teams get better as the year progresses and sometimes it's because players return from injuries. A computer cannot factor that into the equation.

A playoff would render those issues moot. But that's another matter entirely.

Hopeful in Happy Valley

Although Penn State has started off a little rough, do you see them rebounding and maybe running the table?

Jaye in Erie, Pa.

Anything is possible with JoePa at the helm, but I don't see the Lions beating Ohio State on Oct. 27 - and they could lose a couple more.

Penn State's five remaining Big Ten opponents are a combined 25-5. There are no pushovers in conference play, and keep in mind that the Nittany Lions have not beaten an opponent with more than two victories.

In fact, the four teams Penn State has defeated Florida International, Notre Dame, Buffalo and Iowa are a combined 5-19.

Penn State will blast Temple on Nov. 10, but other than that, every game on the schedule is treacherous.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.

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