Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't forget about USC


If you love college football, folks, this Thursday through Saturday is the time to grab a turkey leg and a slice of chocolate pie and sit yourself down in front of the idiot box.

Because for all the insanity that's transpired the past 13 weeks, for all the annual dissing and hissing and pissing about the BCS, now is when things get really interesting.

The final two weekends of the college football season are the best — hands down. Of course, the bowls usually leave much to be desired (USC-Texas in January of '06 was an exception), and that's why a four- or eight-team playoff would add a thrilling ending to the season.

But that doesn't mean college football isn't still great the way it is. Consider this — since USC lost to Oregon State way back in September, no one has said a thing about the Trojans except to mention that if the Beavers win out, culminating in a victory Saturday over Oregon, they'll play Penn State in the Rose Bowl instead of USC.

But here's the kicker. Even if the Beavers silence the quacking Ducks, the Trojans could end up in the national-title game. That's how bizarre, and fun to watch, this sport is.

Here are a few things that could happen to propel USC back into the title game, although nobody outside of L.A. thinks it deserves the honor considering the anemic Pac-10 schedule it's played:

— First off, let me set the stage: USC trails Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida (in that order) in the BCS standings.

OK, here's what could happen in the next two weeks.

Scenario 1: Alabama (13-0) vs. USC (11-1) — Obviously, the Trojans win out against hapless Notre Dame and UCLA. Alabama beats Auburn and then disposes of Florida in the SEC title game, leaving the Gators with two losses (see ya!). Either Texas or Oklahoma loses this week — the Sooners being the mostly likely victim when they travel to play Oklahoma State; Texas hosts Texas A&M — and the team that wins falls to Missouri in the Big 12 title game.

That would leave Florida, Texas and Oklahoma all with two losses. Sure, Texas Tech would finish with a single loss, but the Red Raiders stand seventh in the BCS standings and surely won't get a boost from their final game against Baylor. USC, meanwhile, won't fall in the standings with two more wins despite the morbidness of its remaining opponents.

Just like that, the Trojans would be back competing for a national title. (Hey, at least the Buckeyes aren't returning.)

Scenario 2: Texas/Oklahoma vs. USC (11-1) — This is much less likely to happen, but after the craziness that dominated the college-football world at the end of last year, I'm not ruling anything out. Florida and Alabama both have losable rivalry games Saturday. The Gators travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, host Auburn, which has won six consecutive games in the series. If both teams lose, followed by a Florida win in the SEC title game, both SEC teams would effectively be out of the title game with two losses.

That would leave the door open for USC ... Or, and I just thought of this, how about a Texas-Oklahoma rematch in the title game? Yep, it could happen. If both teams win this week and the team with the higher BCS ranking — mostly likely the Sooners — wins the Big 12 title game, the one-loss squads could face off in a rematch of the high-scoring thriller back in October. (USC, of course, would need one of them to lose to climb the ladder to No. 2 in the BCS.)

Got all that? I know, it all sounds so unlikely, but with Thanksgiving just a day away and my stomach grumbling, my mind shifts back to the absolute bedlam that overtook the college-football universe a year ago.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I was sitting in my aunt and uncle's den, having decided to watch No. 1 LSU take on huge underdog Alabama instead of accompanying the boys to see "American Gangster." (As I'll always tell people, you can watch a movie anytime; DVRs, TiVos, all that mess doesn't do live sports justice.) Anyway, I watched in awe as the Razorbacks, led by super human Darren McFadden, came back to defeat the Tigers on their home field in triple overtime. Having suffered their second loss, I was positive the Tigers were out of the national-title picture. So were all the TV heads, radio heads, print pundits.

Then, just a week later, I watched in amazement as No. 1 Missouri was rolled over by Oklahoma, ending the Tigers' chances, and West Virginia — a huge favorite at home against Pittsburgh — pulled a choke job that won't be forgotten anytime soon in bitter Morgantown.

All of a sudden, in a matter of an hour, LSU was back in the title game thanks to two improbable losses. Ohio State, its season having ended two weeks earlier, was already a lock to play in its second consecutive championship game. The Buckeyes, I'm sure, just didn't expect another SEC opponent (and we all know what happened).

But that's beside the point. What should be learned from 2007 is that all this talk of SEC vs. Big 12 is, simply, premature. Sure, it's very likely. Heck, I'm sure the BCS head honchos want it, so they can call those two conference title games "semifinals" — although the Big 12 game wouldn't be one, since two-loss Missouri is in it.

Just don't count out the Trojans. We'll know after this weekend if we can do that, and we'll have everything sorted out in just over two weeks.

Until then, however, enjoy the madness, because in the BCS era these are the two greatest, most dramatic weekends of college football.

And they give people like myself, with too much time on my hands, a chance to think up all the possible scenarios that could be the result of Upset City.

These upcoming games, folks, are the current college-football playoffs.

1 comment:

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