So, college football coaches, what’s a national title worth to you?
We know it’s worth a whole lot of offseason work, countless hours staring at film and long weeks away from home on the recruiting trail.
We know it’s worth the pressure of making tough decisions, even some that will be highly unpopular with players, fans and school administration.
We also know that it’s worth sometimes taking risks, doing something you perhaps normally wouldn’t do, all in hopes of winning that elusive crystal football.
But, with all of the glory and (potential) big bucks that can come with it, is winning a BCS title worth risking the health of your star player?
In the next two weeks, two coaches, Bob Stoops of Oklahoma and Florida’s Urban Meyer, will be faced with difficult decisions: let their injured quarterbacks play (and risk further, possibly more serious injury), or bench them (and risk losing games that could derail any hopes of a national title)?
And this is why most of us are not college football coaches. I, for one, would not want to have to make the call between risking a player’s future and playing to win a game that could determine not just the fate of your season, but your coaching career, too.
Some would say it’s a simple choice: you never risk the long-term health (or career) of a young football player just for the sake of winning a game. It’s only a game, after all.
But what makes Stoops’ and Meyer’s decisions more difficult is that the players themselves – OU’s Sam Bradford and Florida’s Tim Tebow – desperately want to play. And their teammates want them on the field, too, for huge upcoming matchups.
Oklahoma, which lost its opener to BYU (the night Bradford was injured) gets a road test Saturday at Miami. If the Sooners lose this, they’re likely out of the national title discussion.
And Florida (who is off this week), travels to No. 4 LSU next weekend in a game that has produced the last three national champions. It’s been simple math lately: whoever wins the LSU-Florida game, wins the BCS title.
Even if the coaching staffs (and medical consultants) agree that Bradford and Tebow shouldn’t play in their respective big games, that’s not going to stop the players themselves from doing everything they can to get on the field.
For the first time in a while, it appears injuries may just help determine college football’s national champion.
So, coach Stoops and coach Meyer, what will it be?
To week five we go...
Looking back (how my picks fared last week)
Overall: 10/18, 41/63 (65%) on the season
Top Five: 3/5, 12/20 (60%) on the season
Upset Special (Stanford over Washington): 1/1, 3/4 (75%) on the season
Top five games you can’t miss this weekend
A week after shocking USC in Seattle, Washington laid an egg at Stanford, falling 34-14 to the Cardinal. So, that whole top-25 ranking thing was fun while it lasted. But Washington still looks like a good team, and you can’t pretend like the win over the Trojans never happened.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, is coming off another “squeaker” victory against Purdue last week. The Irish have not looked pretty since an opening week win over Nevada, but they’re finding ways to win.
This game should tell us which team has the best chance to make something worthwhile of their remaining season.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Washington 23
With Penn State losing at Iowa last week, the door is wide open for Ohio State to establish itself as the team to beat in the Big Ten. Everything points to the Buckeye’s cruising to a victory this week in Bloomington (OSU hasn’t lost to Indiana since 1988), except the fact that Indiana nearly came out of the Big House with a win over Michigan last week.
No, the Wolverines do not have the talent of the Buckeyes, but that game still showed us something about Bill Lynch’s team. This game will be closer than you think.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Indiana 24
Thanks a lot Cal. Way to turn what could have been the marquee matchup of the season so far into a ho-hum, No. 7 vs. No. 24 matchup. Cal’s embarrassing loss last week to Oregon makes this game more about which team is more likely to fade away into a hugely disappointing season than any BCS implications.
This one will likely come down to the production Cal can get out of Heisman candidate Jahvid Best, who was held to just 30 yards against the Trojans a season ago. Cal has lost five straight against USC. This would be a good time to snap that streak.
Prediction: Cal 28, USC 26
Speaking of ruining what could have been an elite matchup, Miami stumbles into this weekend’s game with Oklahoma after losing last week at Virginia Tech. Can you say: too much hype? The ‘Canes were welcomed back to college football prominence again, only to lose to the Hokies.
All the sooners, who have rebounded well after losing their opener to BYU, will have on their minds is whether starting quarterback Sam Bradford can play or not. Frankly, if he’s not 100 percent, the Sooners will be better off starting backup Landry Jones.
Prediction: Oklahoma 21, Miami 17
Normally, the whole “don’t look ahead” speech would apply to LSU, which faces No. 1 Florida next week. But this is the SEC. And this, Tigers, would be the Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia hasn’t been dominant, just getting past South Carolina, Arkansas and Arizona State, but LSU hasn’t exactly been perfect, either. The Tigers were very close to losing both of their road contests against Washington and Mississippi State.
Bottom line: someone here is ranked a little too highly. Saturday, we find out who.
Prediction: Georgia 30, LSU 21
Tough to really consider this an “upset” in the traditional sense, until you realize that the Spartans have gone from pre-season Big Ten contender to a surprising 1-3 record. The Wolverines, however, are riding high and talking about pushing Ohio State and co. themselves. Michigan nearly got nipped by Indiana last week. Their in-state rival gets them this week.
Prediction: Michigan State 35, Michigan 28
For your viewing pleasure (other notable televised games)
Pittsburgh at Louisville (Fri. 8:00 EST, ESPN2): Pittsburgh 27, Louisville 17
Wisconsin at Minnesota (Sat. 12:00 EST, ESPN): Minnesota 26, Wisconsin 23
UCLA at Stanford (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Stanford 34, UCLA 26
Florida State at Boston College (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC):Florida State: 38, BC 24
NC State at Wake Forest (Sat. 3:30 EST, ESPNU): NC State 21, Wake Forest 13
No. 15 Penn State at Illinois (Sat. 3:30 EST, ABC): Penn State 20, Illinois 14
No. 21 Ole Miss at Vanderbilt (Sat. 7:00 EST, ESPNU): Ole Miss 29, Vanderbilt 28
Auburn at Tennessee (Sat. 7:45 EST, ESPN): Tennessee 20, Auburn 13
Colorado State at Idaho (Sat. 10:30 EST, ESPNU): Colorado State 31, Idaho 26
Heisman hunt (one player to watch this weekend)
Kellen Moore (QB, Boise State)
Sure, he’s a long shot. But Moore’s numbers are undeniable: a 68.6 percent completion rate for 932 yards, 10 touchdowns and the nation’s best quarterback rating (175.8). This week, Moore and the Broncos face a UC-Davis defense that has allowed over 200 yards passing in each of its three games. You do the math.