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October 30, 2009

Mailbag: Perfection not always enough

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Perfection isn't always good enough.

Even an undefeated team gets criticized. They're "lucky." Opponents are "weak." Winning margin isn't high enough.

The word "overrated" has become overused. In recent seasons, it has been used most often in connection with the Big Ten. That's unfair. After all, if the Big Ten champion wasn't losing to the eventual national champion, it was facing USC in the Rose Bowl.

Still, some feel the overrated tag hasn't been used enough this season.

Double standard

From: Jay in Pittsburgh: Is there a double standard in the Big Ten? In 2007, Ohio State was constantly criticized for having a weak schedule and still being ranked No. 1 through much of the season. Last season, there were complaints of Penn State being overrated and having an easy schedule. Where are the complaints about Iowa? They beat Northern Iowa, Arkansas State and Michigan State by a combined six points, and they actually move up in the polls. I think this deserves an explanation.

The key word you used is "beat." Iowa did beat those opponents, and that's the bottom line.

In fact, the victory over Michigan State impressed me. On the verge of defeat, the Hawkeyes mounted a clutch 70-yard drive in the final 90 seconds to pull out a 15-13 victory on the road.

They deserve credit for that. In fact, the FBS opponents Iowa faced are a combined 33-19.

Of course, that "strength of schedule" could be somewhat misleading. Iowa faced Arizona before Nick Foles was named the Wildcats' quarterback. Wisconsin, which Iowa beat 20-10, has five wins but has faced marginal competition. The same could be said for 5-3 Iowa State, which Iowa dominated 35-3.

The Hawkeyes' road won't get much harder for a while, with home games against Indiana and Northwestern in the next two weeks.

The true test comes Nov. 14 against Ohio State in Columbus. That game could determine the Big Ten championship. It certainly will determine whether the Hawkeyes can be taken seriously as a national championship contender.

Iowa's schedule and close calls undoubtedly are the reason the Hawkeyes are merely ranked No. 8 in the coaches' poll.

That's a lot different than Penn State last season. The Nittany Lions were ranked third in the BCS standings despite facing a less-than-demanding schedule. Yet they would have reached the championship game had they not lost 24-23 to Iowa.

So, to answer your original question - no, I don't see a double standard.

What if ...

From: Michael in Bangkok: Let's say Florida, Alabama, Texas and Iowa all suffer a loss by the end of the season to a good team in a close game. And let's say Cincinnati, Boise State and TCU win out. Who plays for the national championship and why?

Under the conditions you set, I'd guess it would be the SEC champion against Cincinnati.

Cincinnati would seem to have an advantage because the Bearcats would be champions of the Big East, a "major" conference.

Although Cincinnati is ranked behind TCU and Boise State in the current BCS standings, an undefeated Bearcats team would've beaten West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The Mountaineers (21st) and Panthers (15th) are ranked in the BCS this week, and both could climb in the standings before they face Cincinnati. Those wins could give Cincinnati a significant bump.

Boise State won't face another team in the BCS standings. TCU still plays Utah, which is 16th in the BCS standings, but the rest of its schedule is cotton-soft.

USC and Oregon could finish with one loss. But how could a one-loss Oregon go ahead of an unbeaten Boise State, which beat the Ducks? USC is currently ranked fifth in the BCS standings and would get a bump with a win over Oregon on Saturday. But if unbeaten Cincinnati was passed over for USC, which lost to a Washington team that may finish with a losing record, there would be an outcry of favoritism that could not be denied.

After all, Cincinnati has a 10-point road win over Oregon State; USC beat Oregon State by six in Los Angeles. That doesn't seem like a big difference, but in the BCS, where the best resume wins, it adds to Cincinnati's argument.

The championship game opponent likely would be the SEC champion. Even if Florida or Alabama have one loss, you said it would be to a "good" team. To me, that means a team with a winning record (perhaps Alabama to LSU or Florida to South Carolina). Not only would that not be a bad loss, but the SEC champion would have the advantage of a victory over a ranked opponent in the conference championship game.

ACC outlook

From: Kunal in Atlanta: Who now has the edge in the ACC? Can Georgia Tech rise above? Or will Miami or Virginia Tech prevail?

Georgia Tech already has risen to the top of the Coastal Division standings, and barring a major collapse, the Yellow Jackets will stay there.

The 11th-ranked Yellow Jackets are 5-1 in the ACC, with conference games remaining against Wake Forest (4-4) and Duke (4-3). By winning those two games, Georgia Tech would advance to the ACC championship game, likely against Clemson.

Virginia Tech, the preseason pick to win a third consecutive ACC championship, also could finish 7-1 in league play. But Georgia Tech has the tiebreaker based on its 28-23 victory over the Hokies two weeks ago.

So, as long as Georgia Tech avoids a stunning upset, the Wreck will be ramblin' down to Tampa, Fla.

Coleman under the radar

From: Jake in Springfield, Ind.: Is Ohio State strong safety Kurt Coleman the most underrated player in the nation? He has more tackles than USC's Taylor Mays and more interceptions than Mays and Tennessee's Eric Berry put together. Where's the love for Coleman?

How can a guy who has earned All-Big Ten recognition and been named to some preseason All-America teams be considered underrated?

Coleman is good. He has been for three seasons as a Buckeyes starter. He's having an exceptional year, with 52 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. I think he'll have a successful pro career.

But statistics doesn't always reveal the best players. If they did, Texas Tech quarterbacks almost always would win the Heisman and be the first players taken in the NFL draft.

Berry and Mays are incredibly talented, great players who have earned and deserve all their accolades. Not being mentioned alongside them doesn't necessarily translate to underrated status.

If anyone is underrated in the Big Ten, it may be Iowa sophomore strong safety Tyler Sash, who has more tackles and more interceptions than Coleman. But Sash won't be underrated for long.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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