This stage of the season provides many of the most intense and enjoyable games available, as conference rivalry contests ratchet the stakes up another notch, and powerhouse programs grab their turf at the top of the national scene. The computer rankings, meant to instill some order and objectivity into the process of determining the top teams, have actually created chaos. As a result several teams possess, in their minds at least, valid arguments for why they should be ranked higher.
What about the Texas Longhorns? Following a rout of Baylor, UT has compiled a 9-1 record (note: all W-L marks stated will only include wins versus I-A opposition unless specified), with four victories over teams with winning records. Texas' top games are road conquests over Kansas State (6-2) and Nebraska (6-4), handing both their only home defeats! Texas' only blemish, of course, came against Oklahoma, ranked fourth, which gives Texas a strong case for its high ranking.
Two programs at the heels of the Horns, Georgia and Notre Dame, possess their own premises for being ranked higher, but are those arguments cogent? The Georgia Bulldogs (8-1 record), filling the No. 6 spot, can point to a victory at Alabama (8-2) as a reason why they should be considered equal to Oklahoma (8-1 and No. 4), the only other team to defeat the Crimson Tide. Considering the Bulldogs' only loss is against Florida (7-3 W-L), their case is furthered, considering OU lost to a 6-4 Texas A&M team that had suffered four straight home defeats to BCS conference teams. The argument for the ‘Dogs is dumped though when realizing the Sooners have also beaten Colorado (7-3 mark) and tagged Texas with its only defeat. Georgia's wins against normally strong Tennessee, South Carolina, and Clemson are comparatively unimpressive, since those three programs have combined for a mere 16-13 record in 2002.
Based on the above, Texas also surpasses Georgia this season. Unquestionably, a loss to Oklahoma should be less penalized than one to Florida, this season anyway. And Texas' wins at K-State and Nebraska equal, at minimum, those of the Bulldogs.
Notre Dame, breathing down Georgia's neck, has vanquished several solid opponents, including Maryland (7-2 record), Michigan (8-2), Pitt (8-2) and FSU (7-3). On this alone, the Irish possess maybe a stronger case than any team in the nation to be ranked No. 1. The huge "but" in the equation though is the green-clad Irish lost at home to mediocre Boston College. After losing to West Virginia (decent, but no powerhouse itself) last weekend, the Eagles are saddled with a middling 5-4 record. Such a loss seems to warrant Notre Dame's current No. 7 BCS rating despite all those standout victories. Ty Willingham's team also seemed to rely immensely on Irish luck the first several weeks of the season, and that ran out in South Bend two weeks ago. His team then narrowly averted a second straight defeat versus frail Navy (8-game losing skid) last Saturday.
Now that it appears Texas should not be ranked any lower than No. 5, can a case be made for Mack Brown's squad to be ranked higher? You'll recall our comparison between OU and Georgia and that the Sooners (like the Horns) stack up better than the Bulldogs overall. Compared with Texas, some fans (not limited to Sooners') will readily point to Bob Stoops' squad's head-to-head conquest in Dallas and consider it a vivid display that Oklahoma is better. The "not so fast my friend" observers may counter that Texas only lost to a superb 9-1 and fourth-rated team in the nation, while OU lost to a team barely above .500. Yes, Texas A&M had home field "advantage," but how much of a plus is that really these days? The Aggies lost to Nebraska most recently at Kyle Field, and had lost four straight there to teams from BCS conferences. Lone home wins this year came against lightweights Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech. Since mid-2000, A&M had only won once in College Station against teams from BCS conferences with a winning record! Additionally, R.C. Slocum's squad entered the OU game crippled and left even more mangled, with five starters in street clothes and three more lost during the game. Superb defensive tackle Ty Warren was among the wounded and missing. Add to that the fact a true freshman quarterback led the comeback win, and it's obvious Oklahoma should be penalized significantly for the loss.
Considering all the above (and including OU and Texas' other key wins), we can understand why the AP poll (the best of the bunch, in my opinion) actually ranks the two teams in a dead heat, both amazingly with 1,590 points. OU and Texas essentially are interchangeable, making it difficult for either to complain excessively at their neck-and-neck positions in the BCS.
It seems we can only make one more legitimate comparison in our attempt to determine if the Longhorns deserve a higher position in the BCS than fourth or fifth. Though both Ohio State (No. 1) and Miami (No. 2) have shown several moments of weakness this year, they stand alone as unbeaten. Both have earned enough skins (even if having to save their own a few times) to be undisturbed at this stage as the top two. [I agree though with a message board poster, who states that even if the Buckeyes have earned a top position, they are not necessarily the strongest team.] OSU has struggled mightily on the road against subpar opponents, but still has an 11-0 record to its credit. And the biggest individual feather the Buckeyes own is their 25-7 win over Washington State, giving the Cougs their only blemish of the season. Meanwhile, Miami, which has looked only average for extended periods of a few contests in 2002, still is the reigning champion and has beaten five teams with winning marks. Those include three road wins with large margins of victory (a concept the BCS computers foolishly fail to consider): by 25 over Florida, 23 over Tennessee, and 17 over West Virginia. It's likely that boredom combined with other teams giving their best shot at the defending champ has caused lengthy periods of struggle with the likes of Temple and Rutgers this fall. One gets the idea based on the above noted road routs though that the Hurricanes still possess the most powerful squad in the NCAA.
So, the one possible legitimate jump available for Texas is over Washington State. Mike Price and his Cougars have defied the notion they cannot muster two straight excellent years by running up an 8-1 record (9-1 all games) this year. Is their No. 3 rating warranted though? As you have seen, I prefer to look closely at the quality of the opponent the subject team has lost to, and one can't find a better one than Ohio State–WSU's only defeat. Next, we analyze the Cougs' key wins: 48-38 at Cal (6-4 record), 32-21 over Oregon (6-3), 44-22 over Arizona State (6-4, but had just won three straight, including over the two Oregon teams), and most importantly, 30-27 in OT over USC. The latter win, in fact, has prevented the Trojans from being able to argue their own case for being in the national title mix. USC is ranked ninth, which is the highest among teams with two losses. It's interesting to note that the Trojans' only other loss is at Kansas State–the same place where Texas won a few weeks later.
To sum: Washington State's only loss came to the No. 1 team in the nation. Texas' lone stumble came to the No. 4 team, that some will argue is actually the better of the two. The Cougs' biggest win is at home over 7-2 USC, rated No. 9. The Horns' biggest win probably is at Kansas State (6-2 versus I-A), rated No. 12. [Maybe the Wildcats should be even with the Trojans in light of their win in Manhattan.] If WSU deserves to be ahead of UT, it's by a microscopic margin. Any of the three of OU, UT and WSU could be shuttled between positions three and five without grounds for excessive screaming from the trailers–not that it would prevent such shouts. That's all part of the mess from the BCS.
Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears weekly on InsideTexas.com.