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December 5, 2008

Mailbag: Does defense still win titles?

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The cliché that defense wins championship is older than Bobby Bowden. It's even older than Joe Paterno. Yet that adage is being challenged this season as explosive offensive teams gain attention and computer points.

For example, Oklahoma has turned heads by scoring at least 58 points in each of its past five games. But the Sooners also have allowed an average of just more than 30 points per game.

Similarly, Florida has been called by the best team in the country by many observers primarily because the Gators have scored at least 42 points in seven consecutive games.

So, is a solid defensive team still held in the same esteem as it was in Bowden's and Paterno's youth? Apparently not.

Well, that at least one man's opinion as revealed in this week's mailbag.

Is 'Bama the best?

Ryan in Chesapeake, Va.: I will say that I am biased, but how come nobody is saying anything about Alabama being the best team in the country? They are probably the most physical team in the country, but because they don't have such a high-flying offense like Texas Tech or Oklahoma, it's hard to get style points. Can you explain?

I'm not sure what you mean, Ryan.

At last check, Alabama was ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll with a whopping 62 of 65 first-place votes. Alabama also leads in the coaches' poll with 58 of 60 first place votes, so clearly the coaches think it is the best team. The Tide also is No. 1 in the Harris Poll. And the Tide tops the BCS standings, so the computer likes them, too.

What more do you want?

Admittedly, there are those who think Florida will win the SEC Championship Game, but that's not a knock on Alabama. Rather, it's just a show of respect to Florida, which has the third-highest scoring offense in the country and a defense that has played well since a Sept. 27 loss to Ole Miss. I believe that combination will be difficult to beat.

Obviously, you disagree and that's fine. The beauty of sports is after all the guesses and conjecture, the superior team can be determined by the results on the field. Well, except in the Big 12 – but that's another matter.

Big 12 BCS questions

Jessie in Chicago : Am I the only person who realizes that Missouri is guaranteed a BCS berth with a win over Oklahoma? If this happens, how will it affect the BCS?

Don't worry, Jessie. You are not alone.

Yes, if Missouri upsets Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, the Tigers indeed will go to a BCS bowl. In fact, they will head to the Fiesta Bowl to face either Ohio State or Utah.

In that scenario, Texas, which is third in the BCS standings, almost certainly would advance to the BCS national title game to face the SEC champion. I say "almost certainly" because there's always the chance USC – assuming the Trojans beat UCLA on Saturday − could reel in enough votes in the human polls to move ahead of the Longhorns, but it's unlikely.

In the scenario you're presenting, the other BCS bowls – Orange and Rose – probably won't be affected. USC and Penn State will square off in the Rose Bowl in a traditional Pac-10 vs. Big Ten matchup, and the ACC champion will face Big East winner Cincinnati in the Orange.

If Oklahoma loses, the Sooners likely would fall to the Cotton Bowl to face Ole Miss.

Now, Oklahoma is the smart pick to win the Big 12 title over Missouri, which has three losses. But Missouri has a productive offense that's almost as dangerous as Oklahoma's. If quarterback Chase Daniel has a good game, the Tigers could pull the upset.

West Virginia respect

Robert in Las Vegas : Why is it so hard for the so-called "experts" to give West Virginia teams the credit they deserve?

Let's see … last year at this time, West Virginia was ranked No. 2 in the nation by the "experts" and needed only to defeat Pittsburgh to play for the national championship.

Pittsburgh 13, West Virginia 9.

This season, the Mountaineers were the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East. They've lost four games.

Exactly what credit are they not getting? They've been ranked high, picked to win the conference and have fallen short. That cannot be blamed on the "experts."

Maybe they've been given too much credit.

The Vick pick

Karl in Roanoke, Va.: I have to strongly disagree with your pick of Michael Vick as the greatest player in the Big East. While I am a diehard Mountaineers and Pat White fan, I am not going to declare that I believe he is the best player to ever play in the Big East, either. I just do not get the Michael Vick infatuation everyone has. Can you explain it to me? Pat White's stats in his first two years surpassed Vick's in almost every category possible while playing in almost five full games less. The year Vick did lead Tech to the national championship game was a perfect storm. Tech, I believe, had two Division I-AA teams, only played three teams with winning records and beat no team of any prominence. In Vick's pro career, he led Atlanta to only one winning season. Even though he was drafted No. 1 overall, he didn't turn out to be the best quarterback in the draft that year. The highest quarterback rating he ever had was 18th. I truly hope you will give me a good response because I just do not get it when it comes to Michael Vick.

OK, here goes:

No. 1: Statistics don't always define a player's greatness. New Mexico State's Chase Holbrook led the nation in passing in 2006, but outside of Las Cruces, he wasn't considered great.

No. 2: Virginia Tech was 22-1 in two seasons with Vick as its starting quarterback. Also, your memory fails a little. When the Hokies faced Florida State for the national championship in 1999, they played one Division I-AA opponent (James Madison) and beat four teams with winning records. All four teams were nationally ranked when they lost to the Hokies.

Vick was the most electrifying player in college football and his presence was the chief reason for the Hokies' success. He ran for 97 yards and a touchdown and passed for 225 yards and another TD in the national championship game against Florida State. Some forget Virginia Tech led 29-28 going into the fourth quarter.

No. 3: Any pro stats are irrelevant because the issue was the best player in the Big East.

Worthy of a shot?

Michael in Elkins, W.Va.: The teams you mentioned in the MAC, WAC and whatever don't get a chance at the championship because they don't play anybody. Sure, Boise State beat Oklahoma a few years ago, but I am sure you will agree with me that it was a one-in-a-million shot.

I agree that usually teams from "non-Big Six" conferences aren't challenged as often, but this season looks different to me. And Boise State's win over Oklahoma wasn't a one-in-a-million shot for the lower-tier conferences.

In 2004, Utah went undefeated and beat Big East champion Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. Along the way, the Utes defeated Texas A&M of the Big 12, Arizona of the Pac-10 and North Carolina of the ACC.

But let's keep the discussion current. Few doubt USC's strength, but I'd argue Utah played a more difficult schedule than the Trojans.

True, USC did face Ohio State, but Utah defeated Oregon State, which defeated USC. The Utes also beat TCU, and Oklahoma pointed to its non-conference win over the Horned Frogs as one of the reasons it deserved to be ranked ahead of Texas in the BCS standings.

In addition, Mountain West teams were 6-1 against the Pac-10 this year. In fact, MWC teams were 9-5 against "Big Six" opponents.

The ACC isn't a powerful conference this season. Neither is the Big East. But if teams from those conferences were undefeated, like Utah, they would be in the discussion for the national championship. Utah isn't – and it's because of the conference it's in. That's not fair.

I don't think Utah or Boise State would win the national championship. But I think they should at least get a shot. We never knew Boise State could beat Oklahoma until they got the chance to play.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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