Andy Cotton: And The National Champion Is...

I just heard from my daughter for the first time since she left the country three weeks ago where she's spending part of her junior year in Italy, a land with a dearth of driving ranges. It's quite fitting - almost too clichéd to believe - that our first interchange since she left is a desperate e-mail. The subject line reads "ATM Card... Help!" Apparently it isn't working.

She's out of money, eating off of strangers' plates, considering begging. She is just about a street person. Very dramatic. Would I please make her ATM card work, and, by the way, send more cash for future food.

Though some facets of the parental experience remain constant, my kids are mostly grown-up. My little family of dependants has devolved into an old cat and two Rhodesian Ridgebacks: Jasper and his younger sister Petra. For those of you who followed me in the Chronicle and wonder what happened to my two boxers, well, sadly, they both died. Pets totally will break your heart.

I mention this only to set up my topic; good prognostication is a difficult business. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible. If it were so easy, well, why watch? If I left out ten shoes, each tagged with the name of a college team, Texas, Ohio State, Miami and so on and observed in what order Petra destroyed them, that would be as good a way of figuring out which team will be the National Champion in January as any… likely better than many.

In lieu of giving my shoes to the dog, my latest theory is all about the schedule. Toss out all the BCS computer mumbo-jumbo. For big conference football it’s all about wins. Don’t lose. Very bad form. Call it the official BillSynderification of college football. You can bet when Uncle Bill scheduled Fresno State five years ago a loss was the last thing on his mind.

This is one of several reasons why Texas will not win a national championship this year. Since the end of last year I’ve been hearing Longhorn folk proclaim this year is the year for Texas because this year the schedule really is a snap. I don’t see it. Texas just beat a decent SEC team in a hostile place, all that really matters. The Horns pretty much have a month off before they play again in Dallas. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of conjecture.

One of these years Texas will beat OU. Maybe the Sooners will become complacent, maybe UT will get lucky. Maybe they’ll be the better team. For the sake of argument, lets say this is the year. Starting with OU, Texas plays five straight losable games. That schedule doesn’t look so easy to me. The sixth is against an improving Kansas team in Lawrence. Assuming - a big leap of faith - the Longhorns beat Oklahoma, more losses still loom. That might make them 10-1 and number two in the country, but here comes the Big 12 Dr. Pepper thing. The league eats it young. Two losses will make for a fine season, but no crown. Even Orangebloods must admit this is a highly optimistic view on a long season, without addressing at all some clear personnel problems that may or may not be fixed as the season progresses.

No pixie dust for the Sooners either. As impressive as Stoops has been, his teams have displayed a disturbing tendency to play their best football in October and then slide downhill. This year the heart of the Sooner schedule is in October. They finish with three intramural games against the hapless Aggies, Baylor and Nebraska. Did I really say Nebraska? I did. OU could end up 11-0. But I doubt it. Road games in Manhattan and Stillwater make 9-2 sound more plausible. And what would Bob’s old pal, Bill Synder, think of an early season joust with Oregon, the second best team in the Pac 10? Tisk-tisk. Memories of LSU Tigers pouring through that vaunted offensive line, giving Jason White the worst beating I’ve seen since K-State bludgeoned Major Applewhite to death on the new grass of DKR a few years ago give me some pause also.

LSU really screwed up my schedule theory. I can’t understand how any team from the SEC can only lose one game. It’s easily the best top-to- bottom conference in the country. And it has a championship game too. So I toss out all SEC teams. Nothing personal. Just science.

The Big Ten is always a wild card. The names are impressive and the school bands are always swell. Ohio State has been winning every game they play, no matter who they play, by three points for years. The Buckeyes have defied reason, growing even more conservative since that crazy gunner Woody Hayes left our realm. They are, for sure, dull as hell, but that doesn’t mean they won’t finish the season with one loss. I don’t know if the Big 10 is any good. The conference is invariably overrated. It annually features the most tedious games; so boring I’d rather watch a weed grow from some mulch in my yard. But one loss is one loss. Big 10 teams also have the huge advantage of not having to play that twelfth game. I don’t like the Big 10, so no national championship for them

A primary reason why Florida State and Miami have so dominated the college game the past decade goes to the heart of my theory: They don’t play anybody, unless its by mistake… ever. Not to discount the boatloads of talent they’ve fed the pros, but annual "games" against the likes of Duke, N.C. State, Rutgers and Temple, don’t exactly provide realistic chances to lose games or players. Both can pencil in nine wins before the season starts. That is a big boost. With Florida State already disposed, Miami should finish 11-0. Again, no friend-eat-friend championship game. Hello home game in January.

That leaves the Pac 10, or, USC. The Trojans play nobody and they don’t have to risk it all with a roll of the dice tournament. The league is down and USC won’t play the second best team, Oregon, at all. Cal is a trendy call, but I have a hard time buying into the concept that an egghead school like Cal can really be good at football.

Two 11-0 glamour teams (i.e. not Fresno State) don’t leave much in the way of scraps for the rest of the football world.

Petra ate all the shoes. USC was left for last.

For ten years Andy Cotton wrote the Coach's Corner for the Austin Chronicle, where he was voted Austin's Best Sportswriter three times and was runner up twice. During his tenure at the Chronicle he covered all the major sports including tennis, golf, major league baseball, the NBA and, of course, the University of Texas. He has authored a book on the mini-tours of golf called It's Not Fun… Life Below the Radar of the PGA Tour.

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