Expect Cal to Fall (Unfairly) During Week Off
Few teams in college football’s Top 25 are regarded with such cynicism as the University of California. Several, in fact, are clearly overrated. The real tragedy, though, is that five one-loss teams currently ranked behind California will be playing this Saturday while the Golden Bears finally enjoy a well deserved off week. Unfortunately, Cal’s inactivity will almost certainly be punished. I expect at least three teams to leapfrog Cal in the rankings in the next week.
No. 13 Arkansas has an easy home game against Louisiana-Monroe. Aside from the big win against Auburn, Arkansas hasn’t been tested – or rather, they haven’t passed any test. Other wins have come against such schools as Southeast Missouri State, Utah State, Vandy and Ole Miss, none of whom are serious challengers. To be fair, the Razorbacks did beat a decent Alabama team, but were blown out by 36 against USC. Arkansas has a solid team that still has too many second- and third-tier opponents on their schedule to make them deserving of the move up they’ll enjoy this week. Later, though, with games against Tennessee and LSU, the Backs will likely fall.
No. 17 Wisconsin has been tested even less than Arkansas. Somehow the NCAA gods spared them match-ups with Ohio State or any strong school outside the Big 10. Their only test so far was a two touchdown loss to Michigan. Wins have been against non-powers Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego State, and a few down Big 10 squads. Saturday, the Badgers should have their way against a lowly Illinois team and move up in the polls – quite undeservedly so.
No. 18 Boston College should trounce Buffalo this weekend. That school has managed only one win all year despite playing in the anemic Mid-American Conference. BC’s schedule looked like a pretty tough one at the beginning of the year, what with games against perennial powers like Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech. The latter three, however, have been unmasked as mediocre teams this year. Still, BC has been solid. A win over Buffalo will move them ahead of California, which isn’t fair by itself. But of all the teams poised to pass the Bears, BC is the most deserving of an uptick.
No. 22 Texas A&M should be able to handle 4-4 Baylor this Saturday, and A&M’s resulting 8-1 record might be enough to move the Aggies ahead of Cal in the rankings. Wins over The Citadel, Lafayette, Army and Louisiana Tech have padded the Aggies’ record, but don’t count on writers and coaches remembering that as they contemplate the traditional football school’s position relative to the newly strong Golden Bears. While Texas A&M could move ahead of Cal this week, their remaining games against OU, Nebraska and Texas should move A&M back down the chart by season’s end.
No. 23 Missouri has been a surprise winner this year, thanks in large part to an absurdly easy schedule against such teams as Murray State, New Mexico, Colorado and Ohio (not to be confused with the Buckeyes of Ohio State). Missouri lost its most serious test against the aforementioned Aggies two weeks ago. This week, they should be beaten by Oklahoma and kept from passing Cal. If the Tigers do manage an upset, though, they just might deserve a major move north in the rankings.
No. 24 Wake Forest should have a cake walk against the pathetic North Carolina Tarheels this Saturday, and just might move ahead of Cal as a result. Wake lost its toughest game against Clemson and beat nobodies such as Liberty, Duke, Syracuse, and Connecticut. If this were a basketball tourney, that record might be impressive. In college football, however, it would be an embarrassment not to win those games. It’s not hard to imagine the voters losing sight of this reality to move Wake Forest ahead of Cal, although I think that’s still not very likely thanks to the tendency of voters to track their picks.
Meanwhile, several highly touted teams are living off of their reputations this year. Take Notre Dame, for instance. I’ve always pulled for the Irish, but there’s no denying that this year’s squad is overrated. Not only did it take last minute heroics to beat a UCLA team weakened by the loss of its star quarterback, Ben Olson, but the Irish have also been lackluster against Georgia Tech, Michigan State and a feeble Stanford team that hasn’t managed a single win in eight games. Notre Dame's big test against Michigan was a humiliating 26-point loss. Meanwhile, the rest of Notre Dame’s schedule is set up to virtually guarantee victories – the Irish play all three military academies and North Carolina before finally playing USC to close out the season. Not a very intimidating schedule, but it will probably be enough to keep them ranked way higher than they deserve.
West Virginia and Louisville are unbeaten teams that between them have not played a single currently ranked opponent. They meet this week, so one will finally take a loss, but is likely to remain overrated since the loss will come at the hands of a still undefeated team. And this week’s face-off is the last real challenge for either team, so they are both likely to finish the season with gaudy stats inflated by weak opposition. The computers that tabulate one third of the BCS rankings at least recognize this. The fourth ranked Mountaineers are only 14th according to the computers, while No. 8 Louisville slipped a spot to No. 9 according to the computers. Since the issue of computer rankings has come up, it’s interesting to look at how the teams stack up when things like strength of schedule are taken into account:
1. Michigan (tie)
1. USC (tie)
3. Ohio State
Conspicuously missing from the Top 5 are West Virginia and Texas. Of course, NCAA football games are played on the field, so it makes sense to temper the rankings with human input. The computer results simply illustrate that teams like the Mountaineers and Longhorns have gotten a lot of wins the easy way – by scheduling patsies. Texas, of course, played Ohio State, but lost decisively. It picked up big wins against Sam Houston, Rice and North Texas – not exactly a murders’ row of college football teams. Their win against Nebraska last week counts for a lot, though. Unlike West Virginia, at least Texas has been tested, and passed at least once.
Still, you can count on Cal losing ground in the human rankings while they finally get their week off. The Pac-10 never gets any respect.