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Mailbag: Indulging The November Chaos

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With each passing week in this crazy season comes more and more email to my inbox. Keep it coming. As always, I make a point to respond to everyone through email or on the site. I will never use anyone's full name on BON unless explicitly authorized.

Note: This Mailbag response wound up longer than intended, but with several of the questions getting at Big Issues which will define what happens at BON over the next month, I thought it worth the while to tackle each in some detail right now.

Actually PB I am hearing that in a scenario like that [referencing this post --ed.] the Rose Bowl would grab Ohio State and Texas would head to New Orleans to play the SEC 2nd place. That makes more sense because remember, the Pac 10 took Illinois last year when they lost a B10 team to the national title game.

--L.B.

Another reader mentioned the same thing in the comments of that post, so apparently this meme has legs, but I still contend it doesn't make much sense. Though I don't doubt the Sugar Bowl would happily host Texas, the fact is that if the Sugar and Rose lose automatic tie-ins to the national title game, they have one first-dibs pick to fill the vacancy. Looking at this from each bowl's perspective:

Sugar Bowl:  In the scenario I laid out, the Sugar Bowl has lost Florida or Alabama to the BCS Title Game. Whatever they might like about a Texas berth, the opportunity a highly ranked 12-1 Alabama or 11-2 Florida offer to preserve the bowl's SEC tie-in becomes a very strong consideration. And perhaps decisive when considered in conjunction with the...

Rose Bowl:  Facing a similar situation last year, the Rose Bowl decided to reach for Illinois for three reasons: (1) Selecting the Illini preserved the Pac 10-Big 10 match up. (2) Though selecting Illinois meant passing on Georgia--2007's most attractive at-large candidate--the Sugar Bowl (the other first-dibs bowl after losing LSU to the national title) could take the 'Dawgs and preserve its SEC tie-in. (3) The top at-large candidates behind Georgia were middle market teams Missouri and Kansas.

The scenario is different this year. Whereas the Rose and Sugar would for the same reasons be compelled to agree that the top at-large SEC team (Bama or UF) would fill the open spot in New Orleans, the Rose Bowl doesn't have the same incentives to reach for the Big 10's second-best team--Ohio State. Consider the marks against selecting the Buckeyes:

  • Given OSU's back-to-back appearances in the higher stakes national title game, the Buckeye fan base likely won't be quite the postseason traveling hoard that it normally is.
  • Ohio State has already traveled to L.A. once this year--to play USC.
  • If USC wins the Pac 10, it's a stated objective of the BCS to avoid regular season rematches.
  • In my imagined scenario, the Rose Bowl's alternate selections are juicier than Mizzou/Kansas; they could grab a mega-school--namely, Texas.

I'm not sure where the "Sugar would take Texas" rumor is coming from, but in the event a Top 10-ranked Bama or Florida were available and the Rose had a spot to fill, I'd bet the farm Texas would be Pasadena-bound.

I want you to know that I have read your blog a long time and really enjoy your analysis of the team which is more enjoyable to read than anywhere else I have found. But PB enough with this speculation stuff! There are three games left on the schedule and if Texas does not WIN its last three games then all of these situations cannot happen. We need to focus on our business first!

--Evan A.

First, many thanks for the kind words. But Evan, let me offer a different take on your point...

Though you're absolutely right that Texas needs to focus singularly on its upcoming three opponents, it's the coaches who mustn't waste any time playing the What If game. But for the rest of us? BON and sites like it are our online water coolers, where us diehards can indulge all these fantasies which may or may not come to pass. And judging from the numbers--this site's two most highly trafficked days in its four year history were Sunday and Monday of this week--I'm pretty sure it's what fans want to chat about. I could write "All that matters is our upcoming games" and leave it at that, but that would only divert the conversation over to the Fan Posts. However valid your point from the team's perspective, for us fans... the November chaos is here, we're in the middle of it, and it's fun to think through the different ways it could play out.

One final thought for you: I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say that this team has grabbed a special place in our fanatic hearts, improbably positioned where we are in a season when most of us thought the team would be fortunate to win 1 or 2 of the last 4 games. At this point, I'm like an adopted puppy just home from the pound; even if I could tell my tail to stop wagging, I'm too excited to try.

A suggestion from a Penn State fan: Can you next time preface all those statistics and fancy tables with a disclaimer? I suggest: "As a fan of a team suddenly on the outside looking in, the following attempt to belittle a frontrunner is totally biased."

Seriously dude, your blog is one that lots of fans of other teams read but it won't be if in moments like these all you do is try to show that Penn State sucks. Have you even seen Penn State play a game?

--D.M.

I received a second email from a pissed off Penn State fan, but it was incoherent, borderline psychotic, and more insult than accusation. This email, by contrast, is mere distortion.

Let's get the basics out of the way: Despite this assault on my supposed attempt to "show that Penn State sucks," it's worth noting that the post in question doesn't actually, you know, disparage Penn State. It is nothing more and nothing less than a rebuttal to Black Shoe Diaries' published explanation for (A) voting Penn State #1 and (B) dinging the Big 12. The conclusions never reach beyond that goal and--given a fair reading--actually suggest that there exists a reasonable case to be made for the Nittany Lions at #1.

So while this seems a good time to say that I have watched Penn State play several times this year, do in fact think highly of the team, and did not in my post seek to do anything more than undercut BSD's attack on the Big 12... since there very much seems to be a brouhaha in the making, let me use this opportunity to note that Penn State fans could be starting to invite some of this heat to their own kitchen--both BSD's unsubstantiated dismissal of the Big 12 and this email illuminating examples.

Black Shoe Diaries' editor expressed on Tuesday his amusement with "how threatened the rest of the country is by Penn State." To be fair, Mike was responding to heckling from A&M blogger Beergut (a BON legend for his ability to stir the hornets' nest), but if I can sympathize to the quote for that reason, it strikes me as a second convenient opportunity--in conjunction with the original post which prompted this email--to urge Penn State fans making their team's case to avoid indulging in the very same kind of woofing that leads them to wonder why some feel irrationally threatened by Nittany Lions' presence in the national title conversation.

The best thing a Penn State fan worried about unjustified exclusion from the title game could do would be to make the strongest possible objective case for the Nittany Lions' inclusion, while doing so without low-blowing the other candidates in a manner that invites to the table the weakest, most maddening arguments against Penn State.

I don't say so to serve any kind of pretentious lecture on BSD--Mike and RUTS run a kickass Penn State site, the popularity of which is no accident. But my team is one among several whose fans will be talking about PSU's worthiness over the coming weeks. And if the debate comes down to unbeaten Penn State versus unbeaten Texas Tech, or unbeaten Penn State over a one-loss team on their heels, the Nittany Lion faithful will get more mileage from substantial cases for Penn State than they will lazy attacks on their challengers.

My post, dear emailer, highlighted the craptasticness of Penn State's opposing offenses but concluded nothing about the quality of Penn State itself. Rather, it challenged the PSU faithful not to dismiss with equal unfairness the Big 12 defenses which--I contend--are made to look bad by a unique offensive peak within one conference. If Penn State fans are sick of lazy anti-Penn State arguments, they shouldn't make lazy anti-_______ themselves.

I listened to the podcast tonight and was impressed-very good job. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong but I sensed from you some of that attitude that defined your summer writings about 2008 being a building block to 2009. Are you back to square one in that regard or am I interpreting you wrong?

I ask you because it seems on your BON writings like you think everything is still wide open for this year too. Thanks for staying sane after a tough loss. Not everyone has.

--Kyle L.

To be honest, a big part of "staying sane" after such a crushing loss has been the direct result of becoming a "what if" busybody. (The alternative was to go dark, but the last thing I needed was free time to think about the loss in Lubbock.)

With that said, the prep for next year and push to be at peak ability for any opportunities that open up this year aren't mutually exclusive. To begin with, whatever therapeutic value there may be in my playing the "what if" game, the "Texas to KC and/or Miami" scenarios are not so fantastical that everyone but the delusional should give up hope. Last year we saw national champion LSU's place in the title game come down to hoping West Virginia dropped their finale to Pittsburgh. In Morganstown! What were the odds?

For that matter: What are the odds Blake Gideon drops that easy interception? How many times out of ten does Ole Miss win this year's game in Gainesville? Would you bet on Oregon State in a rematch with USC?

My point is that though folks who are noting "Texas needs a lot of help" are right, if the Longhorns aren't victims of a letdown themselves, the number of dominoes that need to fall and the odds that they won't are not so great that a rational fan should give up hope.

You're also right that I think this final stretch has implications beyond this year, but I want to qualify that sentiment: It's not just that I think Texas needs to treat the season's last three games as a final grooming period for any 2009 title run, but also the Longhorns need to be properly positioned for any openings that arise from November chaos this year.

If in three weeks Texas is the South's representative in Kansas City? We need to be the best team we've been all year, fully prepared to win convincingly the title bout with the North Division champ. And if on the national level we get that string of breaks that opens a spot for Texas in Miami... Oh, my. What an opportunity. It would be a shame if in the final three weeks Mack Brown and his staff didn't finish developing this particular squad to its fullest potential, where it could most competitively challenge Alabama, or Florida, or Penn State, or whomever the Longhorns faced.

The final part to my answer, then, is that in pushing hard to improve down the stretch to prepare for any 2008 title opportunities, even if the requisite Kansas City/Miami dominoes never fall... the benefits will carry over to 2009, when the Longhorns look like they can be title contenders again. As such, Mack Brown and his staff should push this offense to take a leap forward over the next three games--bringing along Fozzy Whittaker and Malcolm Williams, for example--in preparing for a 2008 November surprise or a season long run for glory in 2009.