We all have our own separate, special terms for those we recognize to be first. These are just a common few used to describe those who dominate the competition and stand tall at the pinnacle of their respective fields, whatever it may be.
With college football however, the universal term we have all come to use to describe what we consider to be the best has evolved to be quite plain and simple. There's no need for extra adjectives or meaningless synonyms to help describe whom or what we refer to as the best. When it all boils down, when we want to know who is the sitting pretty atop the rankings, we refer to see who is Number One. When we know that, everything else falls into place, and we come to satisfy ourselves with placing all those behind in the appropriate order.
Unfortunately for us though, order has been the last thing established this season in determining who is number one in college football. As to add to the controversy of it all, formerly second-ranked Texas was able to leapfrog USC this week to take the top spot in the BCS ranking, all the while remaining #2 in a number of other polls, including the AP.
With that being said, the question that has come to rise amongst all the BCS drama, amongst all the predictions, schedule strengths, theories and expert opinions is -- who has honestly earned the right to be number one?
Unlike professional leagues, of whom we are all aware define their top ranked teams based primarily on record alone, college football unfortunately has to deal with the controversial issue of how to rank teams with identical records.
As of week 8, six different teams (USC, Texas, Virginia Tech, Alabama, Georgia, and UCLA) have yet to lose, remaining unbeaten at 7-0. Strangely though, aside from the BCS rankings, no other poll even has the half dozen teams grouped together as the top six in the nation. As a result, many have been prompted to consider the controversial question of how can a team with a loss be ranked ahead of an undefeated team?
As we all already know, that's where strength of schedule comes into play. Of the six teams with unscathed records, only half seem fitting for Rose Bowl contention, let alone the number-one ranking. Based on that concept alone, I force myself to scratch Alabama, Georgia, and UCLA out of the mix, due to the fact that they just don't have strong enough schedules to make up for the obvious dropoff in talent following Virginia Tech.
The remaining undefeateds, or the Big Three as I have come to call them, have been playing in a league of their own this season, and foregoing only a few instances, have handily crushed their opposition. Compromised of obvious frontrunners USC, Texas, and Virginia Tech, the Big Three are the only obvious and realistic contenders for the number one spot in the nation, as well as the only realistic contenders to visit Pasadena.
Unfortunately, with the trio of teams having similar records and talent, the ability to name an obvious clear-cut pick as the number one team is practically impossible. So here's where one looks at the teams' schedules:
|Virginia Tech Hokies||Texas Longhorns||USC Trojans|
|@ N.C. State W; 20-16||Louisiana Lafayette W; 60-3||@ Hawaii W; 63-17|
|@ Duke W; 45-0||@ (4) Ohio State W; 25-22||Arkansas W; 70-17|
|Ohio W; 45-0||Rice W; 51-10||@ (24) Oregon W; 45-13|
|(15) Georgia Tech W; 51-7||@ Missouri W; 51-20||@ (14) Arizona State W; 38-28|
|@ West Virginia W; 34-17||Oklahoma W; 45-12||Arizona W; 42-21|
|Marshall W; 41-14||(24) Colorado W; 42-17||@ (9) Notre Dame W; 34-31|
|@ Maryland W; 28-9||(10) Texas Tech W; 52-17||@ Washington W; 51-42|
|Boston College||@ Oklahoma State||Washington State|
|@ Virginia||@ Kansas||@ (21) California|
|North Carolina||@ Texas A&M||(24) Fresno State|
Of the three, I would have to pick the Longhorns schedule as the weakest. The Big XII is simply horrible this year, serving as one of the worst conferences in all of college football. No team, not even Oklahoma has anything to offer, as for the first time in years, the Red River Shootout was a joke. Gameday didn't even go to Dallas to preview the action, picking the PSU/OSU game instead. Simply put, Texas has been killing everyone in the Big XII, coming out with heavily lopsided wins in such a weak conference. Of Texas' seven wins, only two stick out in my mind -- the impressive 52-17 blowout over Texas Tech last weekend, as well what I consider the Longhorns' only big win this season -- their 25-22 win on the road against the Buckeyes.
USC's schedule on the other hand is a bit more respectable, as their 2005 trip to perfection has been marked by a few speed bumps against some tough PAC 10 opponents. With that being said however, the Trojans have already won the hardest part of their schedule, with those games consisting of close road games in Oregon, Arizona State, and Notre Dame. Against the Ducks, the Trojans were simply proven that they were human, and actually capable of losing. Against the Sun Devils, the Trojans were actually exposed, and if not for a few plays here or there, quite easily could have lost. Against the Fighting Irish, things got so bad for the Trojans that they actually had to cheat to win. All in all, the only real remaining threat (if you even honestly even call it that) to USC's flawless record is a December 3rd encounter with fellow undefeated Cali team UCLA.
Moving on to the last of the big three, Virginia Tech's schedule stands out to me as the toughest. As bias as it sounds, I don't see the other top two teams' schedule as being more difficult, especially if you throw in the inevitable ACC Championship game for Tech with Florida State. Going into the bowl season, if the Big Three remain undefeated, the BCS could be dramatic more than ever, as the Hokies would have accumulated tough road wins against underrated teams in N.C. State, West Virginia and UVA, as well as big home wins against Miami and Boston College.
With the Rose Bowl more than two months away, in my mind I consider it far too early to be predicting who's already in and who's out with so much football left to play. As the season winds down, teams are now starting to feel the pressure of maintaining their records as they truly realize how much is at stake each and every Saturday. Also with being undefeated, the three teams will be allowed less room for error, as opponents will be especially gunning to be the first to take them down. Given that combination of factors, I wouldn't be surprised to see an unexpected upset pop up soon. These upcoming weeks will really serve as a gut check for the trio of teams and come bowl season, hopefully any and all ranking controversy will be out of sight, and we will actually be able to see who really is number one.