Re-Assessing at the Break
October 10, 2016 by Jonathan Lowe • Print Story •
For most teams, it's the halfway point of the season. Many questions have been answered. Houston could not complete the unblemished season that they needed to compete for a national semifinal spot. Tennessee ran out of stunning comebacks. That was just Saturday amongst the contenders.
There are so many more questions to answer over the next six (to seven) weeks of action. And not all of them concern committee selections and semifinal prestige. In case anyone has so quickly forgotten about the end of the Les Miles era at LSU, there are futures on the line. So what else is out there that needs to be settled between now and Thanksgiving?
Champion Contention: Can the Baylor/West Virginia winner save face for the Big XII?
That's assuming a lot. If both can actually make it to the holiday unbeaten (their matchup takes place on December 3rd), they'll have to go through Oklahoma and TCU. It's not impossible for both teams to get through, but I wouldn't count on it. In case they do, they will need some help. The SEC, ACC, and Big Ten are squarely ahead in the selection pecking order. If Washington finds a loss down their homestretch, then we can have a discussion. But we're a ways off from that. Speaking of the Huskies ...
Champion Contention: Will Washington's schedule come back to haunt them?
This was the question that has haunted Baylor the last three seasons. The Bears may not have finished that last two seasons undefeated, but that program's biggest bug-a-boo was the fact that they had one of the (if not the) worst non-conference schedules in the FBS. They haven't shaken that reputation yet (this year's schedule included Northwestern State, SMU, and Rice). But now, they're at least sharing that rep. The Huskies OOC slate was Rutgers (Sagarin ranking #119), Idaho (Sagarin ranking #144), and Portland State. Oh, and all of those game were played in Seattle. Utah and Arizona State lie in wait for UW ... but will that be enough?
New Years' Six Contention: Which Broncos have the better shot at a bid?
With Houston's loss to Navy, Boise State slides in as the odds-on favorite to return to one of these Primetime bowl games (they won the 2014 Fiesta Bowl). But don't sleep on another set of horses from Kalamazoo. Western Michigan completed their sweep of Illinois (Northwestern, Illinois, Northern Illinois) to reach 6-0 at the halfway point. If they continue to win, you'd think that they would be next in line behind those Bronc in Blue.
Both teams have feisty opponents in front of them. Boise goes to Hawaii and Air Force, while hosting a BYU team that just won at Michigan State. Western will take on Akron and a surprising Eastern Michigan before a possible season-ending division title game against Toledo. At this point, I give the edge to Boise. However, with the wild nature of the MAC and Mountain West, don't tell Houston to wander too far.
New Years' Six Contention: Which league will be most represented?
Last bowl season, the six Committee bowls rewarded four Power Conferences with multiple bids (the Pac-12 was represented by only Stanford). Leading the way was the Big Ten, which got three teams in. The year before that, the SEC managed to fill three slots out of the available twelve. These two conferences lead the way to invoke that distinction come New Years' Eve and January 2nd. At this point, I'd say that the Big Ten has the lead on this by a neck. We know that Michigan and Ohio State could easily take up two spots. Question is, will Wisconsin and Nebraska ultimately keep up? In the SEC, Alabama should be a shoo-in at this point. Texas A&M have risen up to 2nd rank. But will Tennessee (which needs to beat 'Bama this week) or another contender from the East Division finish strong enough for consideration? That ol' Jacksonville Party might go a long way in deciding that question.
Room to Breathe Contention: Which bowl bids could give a coach some more time?
There are a few possibilities with half (or just over) the season to play.
* All of a sudden, Cincinnati has fallen off of the table. The Bearcats are 0-3 in conference and at the bottom of the AAC's East Division. Could Tommy Tuberville be in trouble?
* Steve Addazio still can't win an ACC game. Boston College is 0 for their last 11 in-conference attempts. There's an opportunity to break the skid next week. But if the Eagles can't get by Syracuse, a conference win actually seems unlikely (their last four ACC opponents are currently 17-5 overall). A couple of conference wins could have the athletic department exhaling a bit more.
* Purdue last went to a bowl game in 2012. Okay, that's not a very long dry spell, even in today's college football. The 6-30 record over the next three seasons, though, can turn a dry spell into the Mojave Desert. Darrell Hazell has the Boilermakers off to a 3-2 start, and three wins are a possibility. Getting back to 6-6 is not the most satisfying result, but it might extend the time to build to better goals.
* To say Notre Dame has underwhelmed would be putting things lightly. Is it possible that they were overrated? Sure. But losing at home to Duke wouldn't sit well with the worst of Fighting Irish squads. With Stanford, Miami, Virginia Tech, and USC still on the schedule, the season's second half could be long in South Bend. Could it be a last for Brian Kelly?
Fuzzy-Feeling Contention: Which bowl-bound team is the best story?
There are a few contenders here as well. Colorado has been languishing ever since they moved to the Pac-12. This is the season it may finally be coming together. I wondered if Craig Bohl would turn things around in Laramie. Actually, I had him on the hot seat as the year began. But if there's one thing this coach knows, it's success. The 4-2 (2-0 in the MWC) Cowboys are proof of that. I always seem to find glee when Wake Forest does well. The proverbial lost sibling on Tobacco Road doesn't make a lot of noise on the football field, which makes bowl bids even sweeter in Winston-Salem.
However, if you want to talk about dead and buried, you might want to bring up Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are three wins away from securing their first winning season since 1995. Even better, they may be two victories from producing their first bowl bid since 1987. Long one of the doormats of FBS, EMU (4-2) has already quadrupled their win total from all of last season. With three very winnable games on the schedule (vs. Miami (OH), at Ball State, vs. NIU), this program could have a celebration a generation in the making.
This week, halftime will be over for most of college football nation. There's still a lot of time for everything to get sorted. One thing is already known. It'll be a lot of fun for us to watch it play out.