Posts Tagged ‘South Carolina’

Weekly links … NCAA Tournament style

 

Reminiscing about last week’s NCAA Tournament games and I can’t help but think how fun it was to watch South Carolina defeat Duke.

Of course, it is fun anytime Duke goes home the first week of the tourney but it was especially fun because all the Duke excuse makers were out in full force.

You see, it was somehow unfair for Duke to have to play South Carolina in the state of South Carolina.

But for some reason, it never is unfair for Duke opponents to have to play the Blue Devils in the state of North Carolina. How many times has Duke had two quasi-home games in the NCAA tourney?

Yet somehow it was really unfair for Coach K and his team to have to play in a different state.

Duke couldn’t play in the home state this year because the tournament was pulled from North Carolina due to that weirdo transgender bathroom law.

Do they have guards outside the bathroom checking your gender before you are allowed in? What a dumb law.

Anyway, South Carolina and star guard Sindarius Thornwell outclassed Duke. And Frank Martin outcoached Coach K.

South Carolina became America’s Team for a night as most people around the nation enjoyed watching another Duke early exit.

Go Mercer! Go Lehigh! Go South Carolina!

Isn’t Duke an elite program? Well, elite programs should be able to win anywhere.

End of story.

 

Interesting tidbit I dug up: Wisconsin has won more NCAA Tournament games than anyone else over the past four years.

The Badgers are looking for their 14th NCAA win in that time span when they face Florida on Friday.

Normally, I wouldn’t care who wins a game like this. Especially since my bracket has already met the shredder (thanks, Villanova).

Oh yeah, it was Wisconsin causing my bracket to become full of red ink with its impressive victory over Villanova.

But I now realize it is time for the Badgers to go home. Not their fault but I learned that the slimy politician guy named Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin.

Ryan is the dingbat who is somehow coming up with a worse health care plan than the disaster known as Obamacare (the one time Donald Trump is right). I wouldn’t trust that Ryan clown to correctly put English muffins in the toaster. Heck, my mom calls him a jackass.

Go Gators! Make Paul Ryan have a horrible Friday night.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/wisconsin-looks-to-keep-run-going-versus-florida/

 

Thursday is the night that all of those Gonzaga fans will become really sad.

The Bulldogs don’t have enough ball-handlers to deal with the “Press Virginia” defense that West Virginia is famous for. The Mountaineers have forced 724 turnovers — nobody else even has 600 — and I see them creating havoc all game long.

Gonzaga also is the team with all the pressure on it. The Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and even coach Mark Few admitted that the Final Four thing will continue to hang over the program until it reaches one.

Well, I don’t see Nigel Williams-Goss and his teammates even reaching the Elite Eight. I see Gonzaga’s season coming to an end on Thursday.

Here is the stellar preview — http://newsok.sportsdirectinc.com/basketball/ncaab-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAB/matchups/g6_preview_19.html

 

 

 

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I warned San Diego State on these pages back on Feb. 28 that it wouldn’t make the NCAA tournament if it didn’t claim the Mountain West’s automatic bid.

Apparently, the Aztecs didn’t get the message.

San Diego State lost to Fresno State in the conference tournament on Saturday and you can guess what happened on Selection Sunday.

Yep, that solid streak of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances reached an end.

So the Aztecs will be playing in the NIT — stands for the Not Interesting Tournament — on Tuesday night against IPFW instead of being in Dayton for the First Four.

I really can’t find any fault with the selection committee for not choosing San Diego State. I’m stunned that some other teams got into the field – looking at you Syracuse, Michigan, Tulsa and especially you Vanderbilt – but not surprised that the Aztecs were passed over.

We all know the problems with the resume – start with only one Top 50 win and that oh-so-dreadful loss to San Diego – but the severe drop-off of the Mountain West finally caught up with the league. This is the first time since the conference’s inception that an outright winner of the regular-season crown didn’t make the NCAA field.

Those powerhouse days where Utah, New Mexico, BYU, UNLV assured the league was a Top 6 conference are long gone. San Diego State’s rise and those short stints of Wyoming and Air Force competing for the league crown only enhanced the Mountain West’s strength.

With so few of those 18 wins over Mountain West competition this season carrying any weight, there was no way to counter the sluggish early season issues San Diego State experienced.

And when the Aztecs blew that nine-point lead with 1:04 to play against Boise State two weeks ago, there was only one conclusion: The conference tournament was now must-win for San Diego State.

But they didn’t win it and so the reality is the Aztecs get included on the list of snubs.

South Carolina … Monmouth … St. Bonaventure … Saint Mary’s … Valparaiso … San Diego State.

I analyze those snubs and I don’t get how Vanderbilt (19-13) is part of the field. A win over Kentucky never did so much for a school.

Or Michigan with its 4-11 record against Top 50 teams. If you really get to play 15 teams of that caliber, you should be able to win more than 26.7 percent of those games if you are truly an NCAA tournament team. I would expect Utah State to go 4-11 – or maybe 5-10 – if it were presented with that many of those games.

All the pumping-up chatter heaped upon Syracuse was sickening last week. The argument was that the Orange shouldn’t be penalized for not having coach Jim Boeheim – suspended for cheating, by the way – at the beginning of the season. Well, Boeheim was there on the sidelines for each of Syracuse’s final six games and the squad went 1-5. Repeat: 1-5. And into the field they go.

And Tulsa. Probably shouldn’t pick on Tulsa because it is exactly the type of school that would normally be on the side of the shaft. Fans of the Golden Hurricane themselves were probably surprised they weren’t passed over. But sorry, never expected Tulsa to make it into the field.

Give me Monmouth over any of those four schools. Then we can debate and argue and pick hairs about the rest of the snubs.

Something tells me always-angry South Carolina coach Frank Martin must have gone ballistic to see Vanderbilt in the field and not his team. The Gamecocks beat the Commodores in their lone meeting.

Wait, lots of team beat the Commodores – 13 losses and somehow Vanderbilt goes dancin’.

I just don’t get it.

Anyway, San Diego State is a 2 seed in the NIT so that lets everyone know they weren’t close to making the field. The NIT traditionally takes the NCAA committee’s First Four Out and makes them the No. 1 seeds.

So that would make the Aztecs team No. 73 or 74 when it came to deciding on the 68-team field.

All San Diego State can do now is show up and play in the NIT. The last time the Aztecs failed to reach the NCAA tournament – in 2009 – they advanced to the NIT Final Four.

And getting to New York is the only way the Not Interesting Tournament becomes interesting.

It’s time to get ready for the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship game on Monday night.

Of course, the first thing you have to do is make sure you know which teams are playing. So I will just rely on the banter that went on throughout season and do the obvious thing.

Check to see which SEC school is playing in the big game.

You know, because the lame banter on ESPN all season told us how the SEC West was the greatest division of all-time. Not just better than other college divisions but better than the meek NFC South and perhaps as good as the NFC West.

So gosh, I can’t wait to see which SEC West team is playing in the big game. (see stellar preview here — http://cbpost.sportsdirectinc.com/football/ncaaf-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAF/matchups/g8_preview_2.html)

OK, ridiculously high-paid Nick Saban, is your Alabama squad playing in the title game?

I don’t hear anything, Nick. Oh yeah, silence. Kind of like when you walk down the halls and can’t acknowledge the lowly support people.

So sounds like no Alabama in the title game.

How about Mississippi State? Are the Bulldogs in the national title game?

Wait, did I just mention the Mississippi State Bulldogs and national title game in the same sentence? About 100 LOLs are in order for that.

We know playing in a Starkville city league title game would be a high-water mark for Mississippi State so, yeah, we know the Bulldogs aren’t in the most important game of the season. Duh.

Sure was a lot of television hype about Mississippi State, as there was for the school right down the road.

Wait, now we’re checking to see if another Mississippi school reached the title game. Ummmmmm, what was the name of that song by The Who?

Won’t Get Fooled Again?

Yeah, no surprise to see the Ole Miss Rebels nowhere near a big game. They pay their way in to see big games, they sure don’t play in them.

Well, at least since Archie Manning ended his college career in 1970.

Hmmmm, Auburn maybe? No. This year’s edition of the team wasn’t anywhere as fearsome as last year’s squad, which did reach the title game before losing to Florida State.

OK, how about LSU? No chance. Les Miles has lost the touch and he’s on his way to being a Mack Brown – someone that never recovers after losing it and eventually the school pushes out.

Oh yeah, Texas A&M. Oh no, Johnny Football is not there. That means Kevin Sumlin is back to being an OK coach and not wearing the genius tag the college football media wanted to put on him the past two seasons.

Perhaps it was all Johnny Manziel’s doing after all.

That leaves Arkansas. OK, that’s not happening. More of a chance of Bobby Petrino crashing the venue with a motorcycle than the Razorbacks being in the title game.

Hey, maybe it is an SEC East team then.

Florida used to play in big games, right? Oh, not anymore. Tennessee used to be a power. Oh, it hasn’t been good in more than a decade.

Looks like Missouri was the top team in the East. Wait, the Tigers just showed up and remember, they were supposed to get crushed because they were joining a more stout conference. Starting to realize the SEC isn’t all that tough, huh?

How about Steve Spurrier and South Carolina? Looks like the Gamecocks weren’t all that potent. And not Georgia either. The Bulldogs seem to win a lot of games but fail often when it comes to winning important contests.

We won’t discuss Vanderbilt or Kentucky. We’re trying to pinpoint a team making the national championship game, not one that would be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Mid-American Conference.

What do you know – it turns out the Big Ten has a team in the game. A conference criticized for underachievement over the past decade. And Ohio State got to the title game by beating Alabama.

Uh oh, little Nicky is going to be terror back on campus.

The other team is Oregon of the Pac-12 so it is official. The SEC was shut out of the national championship game.

All the worthless chatter, all the meaningless hype, all the shameless promotion … it all meant nothing.

The SEC wasn’t the best conference, it was the most overhyped and underachieving.

They will be watching the big game on TV – just like the common folk.

And the common folk can use the following info as a lesson: Nothing the college football talking heads say mean a thing. Nothing. Nada.

If you haven’t already figured this out, the college football establishment can’t wait for Boise State to either be upset or trampled by a traditional power in a BCS bowl game. The power brokers certainly don’t want the Broncos anywhere near its so-called national title contest.

They would be elated and popping champagne corks if Louisiana Tech could somehow upset Boise State on Tuesday night.

The latest example of “Boise State can’t win by winning” is comments by ESPN college football analyst Robert Smith.

Smith, a former Ohio State star, isn’t impressed with the little boys from somewhere out West. His dig was that he doesn’t think Boise State could beat Virginia Tech if the two teams were to meet again now. I’m still trying to figure out how that is even relevant to the national title discussion.

This isn’t a comparison between two teams that didn’t play – the main reason all these meaningless analysts have jobs in the first place. Boise State and Virginia Tech actually played each other. The Broncos won.

Since this is college football and not an NFL home-and-home division rivalry, I don’t understand how a non-BCS team beating a ranked team once in a season isn’t good enough.

All I know is Boise State and Virginia Tech played under the same exact circumstances in terms of a season-opening game and time to prepare. In fact, the game was held close in proximity to Virginia Tech where Boise State had to fly 2,000-plus miles to play in front of a largely pro-Virginia Tech crowd.

Seriously, Smith couldn’t come up with anything better to analyze Boise State’s BCS chances?

Making the situation funnier – or perhaps sadder – is when October began, all we heard over and over from the shallow folks at ESPN was that Virginia Tech wasn’t that good this season and Boise State’s victory over the Hokies was no longer impressive.

Yeah, Boise State can’t win for winning.

On the other hand, I’m glad to know Smith is suddenly such a deep thinker. Can’t wait until two or three weeks from now when he says things like …

–“I’m not so sure South Carolina could beat Alabama if the two teams played today…”

–“I’m not so sure Kansas could beat Georgia Tech if the two teams played today.”

–“I’m not so sure Mississippi State could beat Florida if the two teams played today…”

–“I’m not so sure Iowa State could beat Texas if the two teams played today…”

–“I’m not so sure Missouri could beat Oklahoma if the two teams played today…”

And of course, the one you know the former Ohio State star can’t wait to say:

“I’m not so sure Wisconsin could beat Ohio State if the two teams played today.”

One thing I learned long ago as a sports reporter, anytime an athlete or coach begins a sentence with “I’m not so sure,” they usually aren’t so sure. In other words, they weren’t prepared to answer the question or hadn’t done their homework.

If Smith is going to accept money to be an analyst, it would be nice to see him develop his abilities to where he could actually enlighten people. Perhaps doing a little homework before a show would help.

But remember, ESPN hires these guys because they were big-name football players – Smith was a fabulous NFL running back with the Minnesota Vikings – and not because they spent years developing their craft or are experts in what they are discussing.

Since Virginia Tech is rolling now with six straight wins, I can’t wait until the eve of the ACC Championship Game when ESPN requests Smith to break down the game. You just know this famous line will roll off his tongue.

–“I’m not so sure James Madison could beat Virginia Tech if the two teams played today.”

This is a good Saturday for the college football fans across the country. Three of the top four conferences have huge games that will shape the league races and help the national championship picture come into focus.

This Sunday’s NFL slate is pretty lackluster – Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers on Sunday night in what better be Brett Favre’s final visit to Lambeau Stadium is the one must-see game – and helps narrow the football focus to Saturday.

Top-ranked Oregon (7-0, 4-0 Pacific-10) got the college football weekend rolling with a 60-13 pounding of UCLA on Thursday night. LaMichael James continues to run wild and quarterback Darron Thomas has proven to be a big passing upgrade over Jeremiah Masoli, who was booted out of the school in the offseason for his repeated off-field issues.

The Ducks are looking powerful and are easily the best team in the Pac-10. If they can keep their defense in line, they can go undefeated and land a spot in the BCS title game.

A Saturday Big East game that would be third-rate based on records – Rutgers (4-2) at Pittsburgh (3-3) – also jumps into the national spotlight due to the serious injury suffered by Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand last weekend.

LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle in a game against Army. The school has set up a trust fund to help provide care for LeGrand – “Eric LeGrand Believe Fund” and the Scarlet Knights will wear a sticker saying “Believe” on their helmets.

The Pittsburgh players have signed a banner for LeGrand and it will be displayed before the game at Heinz Field in a nice sportsmanship gesture. I expect Rutgers to put up an incredible battle in honor of their fallen teammate.

Now here are some comments about the big games in the Big 12, the SEC and Big Ten:

Big 12

Oklahoma (6-0, 2-0) sits atop the BCS standings – which means absolutely nothing in mid-October – and should get a supreme test by visiting undefeated Missouri (6-0, 2-0).

I’m still attempting to figure out how good the No. 3 Sooners are. They looked great while pounding Florida State and they defeated Texas in the annual clash but that early-season struggle to beat Utah State still baffles me. Utah State is not a good team and scored seven points against San Diego State and six against Louisiana Tech.

No. 18 Missouri is looking for its first 7-0 start since 1960 and coming off a dominating road victory at Texas A&M. The Tigers had some luck in remaining undefeated as two San Diego State defenders ran into each other to allow Missouri to score a late game-winning touchdown.

No. 17 Oklahoma State (6-0, 2-0) is the only other unbeaten Big 12 team. The Cowboys also have a big game Saturday against No. 14 Nebraska (5-1, 1-1), which suffered a hit to its national title hopes by losing to Texas last weekend.

SEC

The last two undefeated teams in the Southeastern Conference hook up with No. 5 Auburn (7-0, 4-0) hosting No. 6 LSU (7-0, 4-0) in a major SEC West showdown.

The winner of this game becomes a leading contender for a national championship game appearance though both teams still have to play defending national championship Alabama in November. The No. 7 Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1) lost to South Carolina two Saturdays ago and could play itself into the SEC title game by beating both squads.

Auburn is led by multi-talented quarterback Cam Newton, an incredible athlete who leads the SEC in rushing as well as being a top passer. The Tigers put up 65 points against Arkansas last week.

As for LSU, you almost want to see this game come down to the wire to see what kind of time-management mistakes Tigers coach Les Miles makes this week. Eventually, Miles’ Pop Warner-type blunders will cost LSU an important game.

Big Ten

An important game in the Big Ten race features No. 10 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) visiting No. 13 Iowa (5-1, 2-0).

The Badgers are coming off a huge upset of then-No. 1 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1) that kept them in race and they have a nice running back combination in bruiser John Clay and elusive James White.

Iowa features one of the nation’s top defenses – the Hawkeyes finally allowed their first rushing touchdowns of the season last Saturday against Michigan – and need a win over Wisconsin to set up another showdown next weekend against Michigan State.

The Spartans (7-0, 3-0) play Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) on Saturday as they try to keep their best start since 1966 going.

One other game

It certainly isn’t a huge game and it also is one that will be hard to find on television (that very bad Mountain West Conference television deal at play) but San Diego State can close in on being bowl-eligible by beating hapless New Mexico (0-6, 0-2).

The Aztecs (4-2, 1-1) haven’t played in a bowl game or had a winning season since 1998. The upperclassmen on the roster want nothing better than to smack the Lobos around a bit. This was the score two years ago when San Diego State last played New Mexico in Albuquerque:

New Mexico 70, San Diego State 7.

That’s not a misprint. It was the worst loss in the Aztecs’ history and one that made it obvious that Chuck Long was never going to turn San Diego State into a winner. The Lobos’ head coach that night – Rocky Long – is now San Diego State’s defensive coordinator.

The magic number for Boise State’s football team on Saturday night is 45.

The No. 3 Broncos play overmatched San Jose State and the Spartans played at Alabama earlier this season, losing by 45 points (48-3) to the Crimson Tide.

It’s not often that Boise State and Alabama have common opponents to compare scores. Since Boise State has scored 50 or more points against all three unranked teams it has played this season, you have to think there’s a pretty good chance the Broncos (5-0) will beat San Jose State (1-5) by more points on the road than mighty Alabama did at home.

Alabama had the nation’s longest winning streak until losing last Saturday to South Carolina. Boise State now has the longest current consecutive victories streak at 19.

A one-loss Crimson Tide squad will be back in the national championship mix in early December if Alabama doesn’t stumble again. Boise State figures to stay in the hunt as well unless it loses a late-season Western Athletic Conference showdown with Nevada.

It is probably about time Boise State tops the 60-point mark and lets Kellen Moore throw five or six touchdown passes to bolster his Heisman Trophy case. Coach Chris Petersen has substituted liberally in the second half of games to get playing time for younger players as opposed to continuing the assault against overmatched opponents.

San Jose State is beat up and battered while playing a Murderer’s Row schedule thus far this season. Boise State is the fifth ranked opponent the Spartans have played, joining Alabama, Wisconsin, Utah and Nevada.

The Spartans have never beaten Boise State in 10 previous meetings and certainly don’t have a chance this time. San Jose State averages just 10.3 points per game while going up against a program that ranks in the top five nationally in both total offense and total defense.

With Boise State leaving for the Mountain West Conference after this season, the Broncos will likely never have to visit Spartan Stadium again. That’s never a bad thing.

My last visit to the place was in 2006 when San Jose State mauled San Diego State by three touchdowns. Two weeks earlier, I covered a game at Wisconsin.

It was like going from the top of the college football universe to the bottom in just 14 days. That includes everything from the stadium to the atmosphere to the location (San Jose State plays off-campus) to even the postgame interview situation.

San Diego State’s postgame interviews were held in a three-sided pop-up tent behind the north end-zone stands. Complete with fans and stadium workers walking by.

Felt more like covering a junior-college game than a major-college contest.

So the NCAA tournament is off to its usual exciting start. Better enjoy Thursday and Friday as much as possible.

It appears greed is about to wreck the March Madness we all know and love. The same folks that refuse to fix the postseason football mess are on the verge of wrecking the one major college sport that is doing it right.

Say good-bye to the scintillating 65-team tournament that owns the sports landscape through the month of March. These geniuses – I mean, greedy fat cats – are intent on expanding the NCAA tournament to 96 teams. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” phrase means nothing to college administrators when they can add millions of more dollars to their already-overflowing coffers.

It probably will be announced sometime this summer so consider yourself forewarned.

Gone will be those exciting first two days where a shocking upset stands out forever – you know, like 15th-seeded teams beating No. 2 seeds (Santa Clara over Arizona, Richmond beating Syracuse, Coppin State over South Carolina and Hampton upsetting Iowa State).

We’re talking Hampton the university, not Hampton the hotel chain.

We nearly saw another one of those moments as this year’s tournament got under way as 15th-seeded Robert Morris gave an incredible effort against 2 seed Villanova before losing in overtime.

Under the 96-team format, the shocking upsets become a thing of the past. You see, the top 32 teams (the 1 through 8 seeds in the current format) all get byes into the second round. So there will now be a bunch of lackluster opening-round games that detract from the Cinderella element that makes the NCAA tournament so exciting and appealing.

Look at Murray State’s buzzer-beating victory over Vanderbilt. The Racers were seeded 13th and the Commodores were a 4 seed. In a 96-team field, Vanderbilt would have had a bye and Murray State would have been playing a 20th-seeded team. The Houston Chronicle put together a mythical 96-team bracket last week and the 20 seeds included schools like Illinois State and Weber State. (see http://images.chron.com/content/news/photos/09/03/08/NCAAbracket96.pdf).

Murray State beating an Illinois State or Weber State doesn’t mean a thing. But beating Vanderbilt did – it was the Racers’ second-ever NCAA tournament win and the school’s first since beating North Carolina State in 1988.

Thousands of people all over the country began Googling Danero Thomas, who knocked down the winning shot to instantly become a Murray State hero for the ages. Murray State is the talk of the sports world on Thursday afternoon and Thomas was the second biggest star of the first eight games — Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette, who added to his legacy with an epic performance against Florida, is the only player who can claim a better showing.

Know this: Nobody would be talking about Danero Thomas and the Racers if they had edged Weber State.

It’s been nice to see some coaches speak out about the idiocy of expanding the tournament. Others are very quiet for a very good reason – a 96-team tourney adds to job security.

Yet when you factor in that only two No. 11 seeds (LSU in 1986 and George Mason in 2006) have ever reached the Final Four, why do we need a tourney that included four No. 19 seeds or four No. 24 seeds? Only one No. 8 seed has ever played in the NCAA title game and that was 25 years ago when the famous 1985 Villanova squad upset powerful Georgetown.

But get prepared for the watered-down version of the tournament next season, where the first two days are no longer worth skipping work to watch TV. Fake sore throats will drop significantly next March and work production will rise.

I am fine with limited expansion – from 65 to 68 teams. Why have just one play-in game when you can have four? But I don’t want to see eight of the one-and-done conference qualifiers all playing each other to reach the field.

How about the last four at-large teams making up half the participants? For example, this year Minnesota might have been playing Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a play-in game under such a scenario. If you want to make those winners play 5 seeds in the first round and let the No. 1 seeds continue to play the weakest four teams not in the play-in games, that’s fine with me. Just work something out to where the tournament only grows by three teams.

But any expansion over 68 teams is appealing only to the people who will being raking in the cash of two extra days of contests. Making the tournament a 96-team entity subtracts from the quality of games and the excitement. Do we really want to see 13 of the 16 Big East teams in the field?

Of course, these type of decisions are never about what the fans might want. Just look at how the BCS (Bowl Corruption System) annually ignores the overwhelming call for a football playoff system and humors us by bragging about how great their (very, very flawed) system is.

The greedy fat cats will do what they want – just as they always do.

But in this case, it will weaken one of the top sporting events of all-time.

Boise State’s football program suffered a huge loss on Wednesday.

Oh, it had nothing to do with some type of signing-day recruiting snafu, and everything to do with its defensive coordinator departing for a bigger stage.

Justin Wilcox, who had done a standout job in four seasons guiding Boise State’s defense, left for the bright lights and stature of the SEC. Wilcox agreed to a three-year contract as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator.

It’s a big move for new Volunteers coach Derek Dooley and a big loss for Boise State. Wilcox’s bank account will prosper and it’s the right type of move for a 33-year-old up-and-comer who should eventually become a head coaching target.

Broncos coach Chris Petersen is the prime reason why Boise State is a legitimate Top 10 program but the big difference between Boise State at the end of this decade and the beginning of it was its defense. The Broncos used to be a gimmick team that had to outscore teams when the 2000s began. But in the last four years, Boise State’s defense has always been as good as its high-powered offenses.

This past season, the defense ranked 14th nationally in both total defense and scoring defense as the Broncos went 14-0 and won a BCS bowl for the second time in four seasons.

Ask Oregon about Wilcox’s schemes. The explosive Ducks weren’t even able to get a first down until the middle of the third quarter of the season-opening contest dominated by Boise State’s defense.

Or ask TCU, which struggled mightily against Wilcox’s unit in the Fiesta Bowl. The run-oriented Horned Frogs – who finished fifth in the nation in rushing offense — accumulated just 36 rushing yards in Boise State’s 17-10 victory.

Defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski will replace Wilcox as Boise State’s defensive coordinator and the program’s traditionally soft schedule – that’s what membership in the Western Athletic Conference does – should guarantee that the defensive performance will continue to be solid.

As for Wilcox, it will be interesting to see how he fares at Tennessee. Those yearly conference matchups with lightweights like San Jose State, New Mexico State and Utah State will be replaced by yearly games against SEC East members Florida, Georgia and Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina. SEC West teams Alabama and LSU are on the 2010 slate and Oregon is one of the nonconference opponents.

For sure, that’s a significantly tougher schedule than what Wilcox is used to facing. But that’s why only the NFL is considered a tougher football league than the SEC.

Justin Wilcox did fine coordinating a defense against the middle rung of the major college football scale. Now it’s time for him to find out how he’ll do at the upper reaches.

I was studying a list on Monday and there was something that didn’t immediately mesh with the eyes.

It was college football’s latest poll and the first four teams rolled off the tongue with ease — Florida, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana State.

Then I hit a speed bump — or was that an earthquake? The fifth school listed just seemed out of place.

It was Boise State.

The Boise State Broncos in the same grouping of elite programs like the Florida Gators, Texas Longhorns, Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers? What kind of list could this be?

Seeing Texas in there kept me from tripping up and assuming Boise State had joined the SEC. It definitely took a while for the eyes to accept what it was viewing.

But it is indeed true — the little guys from the Western Athletic Conference are ranked fifth in the country as September turns into October. It is the highest ranking Boise State has ever received and it gives the Broncos a legitimate chance at making a run at playing in the BCS title game.

Yes, I said BCS title game. There’s no question an undefeated Boise State team will play in one of the lesser BCS bowls after this season but there’s a real possibility of the Broncos doing the unthinkable and playing in the season’s biggest game.

Remember how undefeated Utah was shortchanged last season and then routed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl? Notice how topsy-turvy this college season already has been with a slew of upsets? Notice that the teams ranked sixth through ninth (Virginia Tech, USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State) all have one loss?

Maybe you are aware that No. 1 Florida and No. 4 LSU play each other on Oct. 10. And that Florida has later games with Georgia and Florida State and a potential tough road game at South Carolina.

Perhaps you’ve noticed LSU’s tough upcoming slate. What if they get caught up in the Florida showdown and lose to a tough Georgia team this Saturday? And even if they beat Georgia and Florida back-to-back, the Tigers still have November road games at Alabama and Mississippi.

Alabama also has to travel to Ole Miss in addition to the tough game with LSU. And don’t forget, the SEC plays a conference title game so at best, only one of the three SEC teams is going to be undefeated when the Dec. 5 title game at the Georgia Dome concludes. And in the tough SEC, it’s possible every team could have at least one loss.

Texas has an easier road to the BCS title game than the SEC teams do, particularly if Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford still isn’t ready to play when those two teams meet at the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 17. Otherwise, the Longhorns’ best chance to lose is the Halloween Night visit to Oklahoma State (something about Halloween in Stillwater, Okla., sounds really scary to me).

Meanwhile, Boise State will be feasting on the powder-puff schedule (the Broncos host lower-level UC Davis this Saturday night) and racking up the victories. The Oregon team the Broncos handled easily in the season-opening game now has its act together (the Ducks lambasted Cal 42-3 last Saturday) and Boise State’s victory over the Ducks will only become more impressive if Oregon wins the Pac-10 title.

So barring a slip-up somewhere down the road, there certainly is a chance of Boise State playing in the national title against one of the aforementioned national powers.

Now how would that be on the eyes?