Thrill of Victory

BCS title chase, Heisman race highlight season's last two weeks

College football’s regular season will be mostly winding down the next two weekends, which of course only gets us ready for the most exciting part of the year: conference title tilts and bowl games. Here are a few things to keep an eye on down the stretch.

1. What happens at the top of the BCS?
One of the inane defenses that the BCS creators have for naming a champion without going through a playoff is that playoffs are unnecessary because at the end of the regular season, things always seem to sort themselves out. Many of the regular seasons have borne the creators out, though I think it’s more due to good fortune that upsets seem to happen at just the right time rather than any wisdom in the system itself. But if history sets a precedent, this last couple of weekends will be quite interesting.

For starters, the three undefeated teams eligible for the title – Oregon, Kansas State, Notre Dame – all have tough schedules. K-State ends the season with a 4-5 Baylor team that’s tougher than its record indicates, and a hot Texas squad. Oregon faces two ranked teams in Stanford and Oregon State, and while the Fighting Irish should dispose of mediocre Wake Forest, it could have a lot of trouble against a talented USC squad. Odds say that at least one team is going to trip up somewhere, and who knows, maybe even all three could.

If the latter happened, BCS chaos would ensue; especially with Kansas State and Notre Dame not having to play title games while Oregon and the two Southeastern Conference teams (Alabama, Georgia) nipping on their heels. For those of us who want a playoff, we can only hope for such a scenario.

2. Johnny Football or Collin Klein for Heisman?
In a year where just about all of the preseason Heisman favorites have fallen by the wayside, college football’s most prestigious award will likely go to one of two quarterbacks – Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Kansas State’s Collin Klein. Not to discount what Klein has done – he’s completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, averaged about 10 yards an attempt, run 154 times for just shy of five yards per carry, and most importantly kept his team undefeated against a challenging schedule – but I like Manziel better.

“Johnny Football” leads the SEC in rushing, ranks third in passing, leads the league in total offense by 58 yards per game, and has thrown just six interceptions (though Klein has just three himself). While Klein has played against a challenging schedule, the freshman has amassed his stats playing in what most consider the country’s toughest league – and unquestionably, the nation’s toughest defensive league. And did anybody have a more impressive game all year than Manziel did when he threw for 253 yards and rushed for 92 in A&M’s upset over Alabama last weekend?

My guess is that it’ll go to Klein for two reasons. First, if there’s some question about who deserves the award, voters often go for the best player on best team – and there’s no question that Klein is the leader of what is the nation’s No. 1 team at the moment. Second, experience is almost always a factor – a freshman has never won the award, and only one sophomore (Tim Tebow) has done it.

But just as circumstance has put Klein in this position, it could also take it away: I’ve already noted that K-State isn’t a slam-dunk to win its last two games, and should that happen, perhaps Manziel could make history.

3. Will Mike Leach survive at Washington State?
It takes an incredible coach to lead Texas Tech to 10-straight winning seasons that include a pair of Cotton Bowls and win almost twice as many games as he loses in that span. It takes an even bigger jerk to get fired with that track record, but that of course is what happened after one of his players, Adam James, alleged abuse at the end of Leach’s 2009 season.

Of course, everyone loves a winner, and so Leach figured to get hired by somebody, somewhere, but the fact that it took nearly two years for someone to pull the trigger made a lot of people wonder what other stuff may have happened behind the scenes. In other words, was that an isolated incident? Leach didn’t help public perception, either, by filing a lawsuit against Texas Tech once all was said and done.

Washington State took a chance on Leach this off-season, and more red flags were raised when star receiver Marquess Wilson quit the team before last week’s game, alleging “physical, verbal and emotional abuse” by the coaching staff. Leach reacted just as he did at Tech, digging in his heels and refusing to admit to or apologize for anything. This came not long after Leach forced his linemen to face the media after a blowout loss to Utah, even though the media hadn’t requested most (or any) of them, and one left in tears.

Teams will bend over backwards to try to find reason for keeping coaches who win; remember how difficult it was for Ohio State to fire Jim Tressel, or Tennesee to get rid of Bruce Pearl? But Leach’s biggest problem may be that the Cougars are 2-8 at this point of the season; should the Cougars lose to Arizona State and Washington to finish the season, it may not look good for Leach since the PAC-12 and the school are investigating the matter.