On college football

Good time for half truths

CAM NEWTON 2,138 total yards CAM NEWTON
2,138 total yards
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / October 22, 2010

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Halfway through the season, we have some trends but no definitive answers.

We also have some surprises and some “here we go again’’ items.

Same tune, different year: BCS bashing is in vogue, among sportswriters, in Congress, and even by the President of the United States.

The given is that major college football needs a playoff of some kind — two teams, four teams, 16 teams, choose one — to decide its national champion.

No such system is in place, so we have the BCS, which uses a combination of human polls and inhuman computers programmed by humans. The first BCS rankings of the season came out Sunday and had Oklahoma, Oregon, and Boise State listed at No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3.

Normally, that wouldn’t be that big a deal. Oklahoma is unbeaten, started the season ranked No. 7 in the polls, and has beaten quality teams such as Florida State, Texas, and Cincinnati.

The problem is that the two human polls used by the BCS — the Harris Interactive poll and the USA Today coaches’ poll — have Oregon and Boise listed as No. 1 and No. 2.

After the fiasco of seven years ago — when Southern Cal was No. 1 in both human polls but didn’t play for the championship because the computers spit out LSU and Oklahoma — BCS officials tweaked the system so that the two human polls would count for two-thirds of the votes and the computers for one-third.

Only in BCS math — which has always been fuzzy — is one-third greater than two-thirds.

This is a fixable problem.

Adopt a rule that says if both human polls have the same teams, the computers are not necessary.

Case closed.

What also can work — without a full-fledged playoff — is taking the winners of the four BCS bowl games and ranking them, with the two top teams meeting for the national championship. The skeleton of this is already in place, and it’s called a “Plus One’’ system.

Yes, it would lead to clamoring for the four winners to meet in semifinals, but in the slow-moving world of the BCS, you only take baby steps.

For now, we have a system that is a breeding ground for controversy. That is good in one sense, but ultimately it is unsatisfactory.

■Looking good (better than expected): OREGON — It was ranked No. 11 in the preseason and regarded as the best team in the Pac-10, but not much more than that. Under Chip Kelly, the Ducks have gotten better and better, and they are entertaining as well — not a bad combination. Of all the potential BCS title-game matchups, Oregon-Alabama is the most intriguing. And it is very possible.

MICHIGAN STATE — The Spartans were unranked in the preseason polls; they didn’t even receive one vote in either. Now they are 7-0 and eighth in the polls, with a chance at the Rose Bowl. They are even a long shot for the BCS title game. What helps is that Ohio State is not on the schedule and the most challenging road game could be at Iowa next week. After that, it’s Minnesota and Purdue at home (winnable) and Penn State on the road (also winnable). The Spartans have a Cinderella aspect, as coach Mike Dantonio recovers from a heart attack and because of their come-from-behind trick-play win against Notre Dame. But they must not look beyond tomorrow’s game at Northwestern, which could be a major pothole.

THE SEC WEST (yes, West) — Auburn, Alabama, and LSU remain national champion contenders. Contrast that with the normally powerful SEC East, where Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee have stumbled and even new-face South Carolina has suddenly developed a case of “upset-itis’’ with its last-second loss last week at Kentucky.

■Not looking so good: THE SEC EAST — See above.

THE BIG EAST — Pittsburgh and Connecticut struggled from the start, and Cincinnati also got off slowly, but West Virginia is a solid 5-1, its only loss a respectable game at LSU (20-14). The Mountaineers could run the table and finish 11-1, which would put them in a BCS bowl (probably Fiesta or Orange).

TEXAS — The Longhorns dropped early games to UCLA and Oklahoma, but may have gotten past the rough patches — they beat Nebraska last week — and could run out the slate. That could get them into a BCS game (perhaps the Fiesta).

MICHIGAN — Crossroads time for the Wolverines, who won their first five but have dropped their last two. The Wolverines started out in a similar fashion last year and finished 5-7. A similar collapse could cost Rich Rodriguez his job.

Heisman update: Alabama’s Mark Ingram and Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor have dropped out of view, while Auburn’s Cam Newton has jumped into the picture. Boise’s State’s Kellen Moore remains a viable candidate as long as his team continues to win.

Globe’s Top 10

1. Boise State

2. Oregon


4. TCU

5. Auburn

6. Alabama

7. LSU

8. Michigan St.

9. Stanford

10. Iowa