What is it about weak conferences and the teams that lord over them? Both USC and Penn State had shoe-in bids to the BCS title game and both blew it. Is it playing down to the competition? Clearly, there's something to be said about a tough conference slate. Look at the teams from the Big XII South and the SEC: brutal matchups week in, and week out, and the teams that emerge are warriors.
Thank the football gods that Penn State went down to lowly but gritty Iowa, 24-23. The Hawkeyes' win came thanks to a last second field goal... and the pigskin was delivered through the uprights by a former walk-on. Frankly, this makes the playoff argument more dubious; would these games be nearly as pressure-packed and exciting if there wasn't so much on the line, particularly in November? And isn't there something to be said for the notion that maybe Penn State was feeling the pressure, and choked?
Of course, USC's in a better position to recover from their early season blunder. It's just timing, but for better or worse, voters gives extra consideration to teams' late performance. However, USC's strength of schedule will likely be too weak to overcome. Not many were watching when the Trojans out-defensed No. 21 Cal, winning 17-3, but it was a significant game in the national title picutre. For USC to have any chance at all, they needed to make a statement against the last ranked team on their schedule... and they failed to do that. Unless both SEC and Big XII champs come out with more than one loss, USC's looking at a likely Rose Bowl berth.
One has to wonder: what could Florida have done with Southern Cal's schedule, or Penn State's schedule? In the SEC, Florida has destroyed two Top 10 teams by a combined score of 100-31, will play two more Top 25 teams (South Carolina and Florida State) before their date in Atlanta, and have a doozy of a finale remaining against No. 1 Alabama.
Five ranked teams. Three in the Top 10. Two in the Top 5. Not to mention that Vanderbilt was ranked earlier in the season.
And don't forget the Crimson Tide, who've put up a sterling 10-0 record in the SEC, dominated Georgia and knocked off LSU in Death Valley. Forget style points. Like Pete Holiday said, winning trumps all.
I'm guessing the teams in the Pac-10 and Big Ten incubators are pretty glad not to have the Gators and the Saban Wrecking Crew running roughshod over their hatchlings. But the flip side to that coin is this: are the Gators and Tide tough, in part, because of their SEC heritage? Would they -- could they be so tough in such a weak conference? We'll never know.
The happy conclusion here is that in 2008, the problems are solving themselves -- so far. The Southeastern Conference controls its own destiny. All the SEC East and West champs have to do is win out, and they will play in Miami for their respective coach's second crystal football in the BCS era.