What does second half offer?
What this college football season needs is an optimist, someone who can step back, assess the long list of sputtering front-runners and injured Heisman favorites and still see the potential that lies ahead. There has been a drought of dominance, a dearth of dazzle, and no player or team has come up with a BeDazzler big enough to make the whole season sparkle.
Halfway through, is 2009 half-full or half-empty?
We're not ready to substitute rhinestones for helmet stickers. And it may be that college football spent the first half of the season looking for love in all the wrong places. Take two preseason darlings. Oklahoma is a .500 team. Ole Miss is 2-0 in conference play. Unfortunately, it's Conference USA. The Rebels are 1-2 in the SEC.
An optimist may look at this college football season and see a marathon, a bunch of runners jostling, strategizing, waiting for someone to break out and be chased. Florida, Alabama and Texas, the top three teams in the first BCS standings, figure to be there. Which teams can run with them? Certainly no one can run against them. The strength of all three teams is defense.
Of the seven remaining unbeaten teams, only the No. 2 Crimson Tide have performed at a championship level week in and week out. And let's face it, Nick Saban's brand of football does not dazzle, unless you get a charge out of seeing opposing offenses expire from asphyxiation.
Alabama has narrowed the gap between it and No. 1 Florida. Already, the possibility looms that an SEC championship game on Dec. 5 between the undefeated Crimson Tide and the undefeated Gators might be the first game in a five-week doubleheader. The second would be in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7.
Both Alabama and Florida have defenses that cause offensive coordinators to consider more secure careers, like selling Saturns. Alabama's offense has found a way to move the ball every week. Early in the season, quarterback Greg McElroy belied his inexperience with a string of productive games. As defenses began to befuddle him, tailback Mark Ingram has emerged as a Heisman candidate.
The Gators' Heisman winner, quarterback Tim Tebow, has compensated with guts and guile for what he has failed to provide in yards and touchdowns. As Tebow continues to recuperate from the concussion he suffered at Kentucky on Sept. 26, his play should improve. Florida's lack of a downfield threat and its lack of playmaking on special teams (ninth in punt returns last season, 100th this season) stand out in contrast to the Gators' championship seasons.
The biggest obstacle to a Florida-Alabama doubleheader resides in Austin. The Horns of this dilemma have only two home games remaining. However, Texas' toughest remaining game as measured by the BCS standings is at No. 15 Oklahoma State, where Mack Brown is 5-0.
After Texas, the most important state to the BCS standings might be Oregon. The reason is not because the 5-1 Ducks are No. 11 and poised to become the king of the once-beatens if they defeat No. 7 USC on Oct. 31. No. 4 Boise State's toughest opponent is Oregon, which it defeated 19-8, and No. 5 Cincinnati's best victory to date came at Oregon State, 28-18.
As long as the Ducks and Beavers keep winning, they bolster the case that the Broncos and Bearcats, respectively, can make. However, Boise State, Cincinnati and No. 8 TCU all may fall behind No. 6 Iowa, the team most thankful that the BCS forbids its computer geeks from including margin of victory. The Hawkeyes have one- and three-point victories over Northern Iowa and Arkansas State, respectively.
But the Hawkeyes also have three double-digit victories over teams in the current BCS standings, and two of those came on the road (at No. 13 Penn State, at No. 21 Wisconsin, vs. No. 22 Arizona). The only other team in the BCS top 25 with even two double-digit victories over the others is Alabama (No. 14 Virginia Tech, No. 24 South Carolina).
That statistic is fluid; the standings will change every Sunday. But the Hawkeyes will continue to climb if they win at Michigan State on Saturday. Iowa is 0.0001 behind No. 5 Cincinnati, which plays Louisville. On strength of schedule alone, the teams will swap places. Iowa's Nov. 14 game at No. 19 Ohio State should serve as a boost as well.
Of course, if the Spartans beat the Hawkeyes, you will need Robert Langdon to decipher the Big Ten race.
If six of the seven unbeaten teams lose, then a once-beaten team will reach the championship game. That has happened in each season since the FBS moved to a 12-game schedule in 2006. The winner of No. 7 USC's visit to No. 11 Oregon will be in the mix. The Trojans need a boost in the computers, where they are languishing at No. 11.
A once-beaten LSU, currently No. 9, would mean the Tigers won at Alabama on Nov. 7 and in the SEC championship game. It's difficult to imagine another one-loss team finishing ahead of them, save for Florida. Tripleheader anyone? Florida beat LSU on Oct. 10. If the Tigers win the rematch, and there are no other unbeatens, who's going to say it couldn't happen?
LSU has given no indication that it's good enough to play for the crystal football. At least not yet. That goes for plenty of the other top contenders, too. College football fans head into the second half of the season waiting to be dazzled.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.
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