Well, we have another new No. 1 team this week—Missouri. I have been saying for weeks that Kansas would lose a game so I guess I am not a total dunce when it comes to predictions. LSU losing to Arkansas was a surprise, but not completely. And go figure, Tennessee will play in the SEC Championship game and Alabama beat them 41-17! But think about this startling fact. Coach Houston Nutt resigns from Arkansas, under intense state-wide pressure, after Arkansas beat the No. 1 team in the land on the road and finished with eight wins, a very respectable season. (I think Arkansas will regret losing Houston Nutt.) Then about twenty-four hours later Houston Nutt is the new coach at rival Old Miss. Now the merry-go-round moves again. Will Tommy Tuberville get the contract extension he deserves at Auburn or will be bolt to Arkansas or Texas A & M perhaps? And what will Les "The Mouth" Miles do at LSU? Is he singing "Hail to the Victors" in the shower these days? I think so. We shall see.
So Missouri is now the No. 1 team, a dubious honor in this season, and yet they are 3-point underdogs to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game this Saturday. (Only Oklahoma has beaten them this year. It is hard to beat the same team twice but the betting odds, which reflect where folks will put their real money, say OU wins again!) If Mizzou wins they play for the "mythical" championship for the first time ever. West Virginia has a better path to the final game with only Pittsburgh left. They are favored by 28 points to win their game. The team waiting in the wings is Ohio State. If Missouri or West Virginia falls then OSU gets another shot at the championship after getting blown out by Florida last year. (This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for OSU. You have to give Jim Tressel a lot of credit. He is a fine coach.)
Having said all of the above I think the two best teams in America are teams with two losses: USC and Georgia. This brings up, of course, the whole clamor for a playoff system of some sort. I have very mixed reactions to this argument and rather like the confusion created by a season like this one. It makes fans even more interested in every game. College football is unique in this way and every game really matters, unlike the professional sports. I know there is a great deal of hypocrisy with the NCAA’s arguments against a playoff system but I still wonder if we really need one. This much I do know: This is a great, great sport and fans get so much out of it in so many great places like Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Columbia, Morgantown, College Station, Fayetteville, Boise, Pullman, Eugene, State College, etc. Think of how folks feel at Missouri right now. Who would have thought they could play for No. 1 when this season began? Columbia is alive right now with football fever. I love that town and will openly root for the Tigers.
And who would have thought that Rich Rodriguez, the coach at West Virginia, would turn down Alabama’s huge offer last December, and now be coaching a team in the final game of the year with a shot to be national champions? This is the kind of stuff that makes this such a great sport. And it is still played by amateurs, even though a lot of money is involved in the game for the schools and their athletic programs.
Finally, what can I say about Auburn beating my beloved Crimson Tide for six years in a row? Congratulations to Coach Tuberville and their excellent football program. They have built a fine program and the tide has turned, in more ways than one. Alabama fans would never have expected Auburn to dominate this historic series but a confluence of problems, almost all Alabama’s fault, and the sheer excellence of Tuberville and Auburn’s program have put Alabama in a deep hole. I think the Tide will come back and be a powerhouse again, so long as "the idiot factor" of some zealous fans does not impact the program adversely. I do believe Nick Saban will win and I do believe the problems in Bama’s program this year were a part of the process of rewiring the whole program and getting people to buy into Saban’s approach to winning. This team has some players who did not get it and nothing like football underscores the concept of team playing as one man. You win as a team and you lose as a team. Alabama was not a team this year, even though they had brilliant moments in September and October. When Saban says "We will get it done at Alabama" I believe him. The euphoria is over and the hard work is ahead. Now we will see what the coach many love to hate will do under really great pressure. I think this guy thrives in these circumstances so we shall see. He must win or the nature of things will even lead to his leaving in four or five years. That is the way the modern game is played by the schools who have the winning traditions. I don’t feel sorry for these coaches. They are paid well to win or lose. They know this going into a job.