We’re at that part of the college football season when teams start to get it together, make progress, and increase their performance level substantially, while others remain at the same level and attempt to get by on the reputation they’ve built with their previous record and reputation. Deciding who is the best team has never been an easy job, and because it is entirely possible that the “best” team at the end of the season may not have been there early on, and may have lost a couple of games on the way to their arrival, the current system is designed to generate television revenue, not a true national champion. Well, that’s what the influence of money does to everything in this country.
There are some excellent examples of teams which are just now coming together, much better than they were earlier, capable of beating the best team in the field, but which, because of the way the system recognizes success, will not get a chance to prove themselves. My Arizona Wildcats are a good example of that. The Wildcats have given tough games to several ranked teams this season, and have lost by single digits to UCLA, USC and Stanford. Their wake-up call came against Washington State, followed by their break-out game the following week as the Wildcats dismantled and destroyed Oregon in a way that no other team has done since, well, since the Wildcats did it in 2007. Tucson is the place where Oregon goes to die and several elements of Arizona’s up and coming program, including Rich Rod’s coaching, the running game led by Kadeem Carey, the development of the skill and mental awareness of the quarterback, B.J. Denker, and the increasing ability of the defensive secondary and the line, all came together last Saturday allowing the Wildcats to lay a 42-16 whipping on the formerly 5th ranked Ducks, their worst conference loss in a decade. In Rodriguez’ first year, the Wildcats breakout game came in week three, when they clobbered Oklahoma State, then handed USC a loss toward the end of the season. They are one of several teams that have improved enough to complete with, and beat, the big boys down the stretch, and if there were a tournament, would be in it to win it.
So, as we look at the BCS standings this week, I’ve compiled a list of who is over-rated, and who belongs in a higher spot than they got. The politics of NCAA football is fantastic when you look at how things are arranged.
Five Under-rated Teams
There are some myths out there, perpetrated by the sports media, mainly in the Eastern US, that some conferences and some teams are just tougher than others. The SEC, as usual, comes out on top of those myths. A lot of it has to do with the money that is spent on promotion, and creating a stir to generate television ratings. Conferences with balanced competition, and a lot of good teams don’t get a lot of attention because the teams beat each other, and it becomes virtually impossible for someone to finish unbeaten. That is the essence of college football, as far as I am concerned. These underrated teams all come from balanced conferences, and they are listed in order of the most under-rated.
1. Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a lot of haters, including most of the SEC. But the Buckeyes have Urban Meyer, a long winning streak, and are headed toward a conference championship game that should elevate them into the BCS title game if they win it.
2. Michigan State. The team that the Buckeyes will face is one of the top teams in the country, probably deserving of being #3 or #4, right behind an Ohio State team that arguably should be #1 or #2.
3. Arizona State. The Sun Devils have quietly put themselves in the lead of the Pac-12 South, and overall, of the conference. If they win over rival Arizona this weekend, they will host the conference title game. This is the best football conference, top to bottom, in the country.
4. Wisconsin. Another Big 10 team that is a lot better than most people think, I’d love to see how well any SEC team would do, ANY SEC team, in Madison, in November.
5. Stanford. Two losses in the Pac-12 is typical. It is a much tougher conference, team for team, than any other. The Cardinal and the Sun Devils should both be in the top 10.
And an honorable mention in this category to Minnesota, Arizona, Fresno State and Northern Illinois.
Five Over-rated teams
This is the other part of the myth. These are teams that generate money by name and when they are pitted against each other. But they play in leagues, and against non-league schedules, that are full of patsies.
1. South Carolina. Steve Spurrier has the most over-rated team in the NCAA. Period.
2. Florida State. No comment necessary.
3. Alabama. By the time the season is over, counting the SEC title game, only two of the Tide’s opponents will be in the top 25.
4. Clemson. Clemson is here for the same reason that Florida State is here.
5. Auburn. The SEC west is just not that good, people. Beating Mississippi State and Ole Miss, or even Texas A&M and LSU, is just not that big of a deal. Lots of other teams have done it.
The Hard Luck Teams of 2013
I feel sorry for these teams. They are good, they deserve better than they will get as far as bowl game compensation goes, and they’ve had circumstances they’ve had to overcome, but they’ve pushed ahead and played their best every week. They’ll be contenders in the near future.
Northwestern. The Wildcats had some injuries in their first loss to Ohio State, and they’ve lost a succession of very close games. The ball hasn’t bounced their way, but they are better than teams like Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and other teams that help pad records in the SEC.
USC. The Trojans are a team everyone loves to hate. Had they started out the season with a decent head coach, they would be well on their way to the Rose Bowl, and perhaps to the BCS title game.
Washington. Playing in the Northern division of the Pac-12 is not fun if you are building a program, and you’re good, but you need a place to step up. With Stanford and Oregon on the schedule, the Huskies had a tough season.
Notre Dame. Expectations ran high after they went unbeaten last year, but people don’t realize that an independent schedule with a lot of traditional games against good teams makes the Irish schedule one of the best in the country, week after week.
Texas. I consider them a hard luck team because they really needed a season that would allow the athletic director to plan for their coach’s retirement. They may have exceeded those expectations, though a 60 point drubbing by a hopefully completely healthy Baylor at the end of the season may put the retirement party back on the calendar.
Keep in mind, discussion is open, but this is MY site, and this is MY opinion.