College Football Cinderella Watch
by Trevor Whenham - 09/18/2007
When it comes to sports, and particularly college sports, practically everyone loves a Cinderella. George Mason was immortalized by their Final Four appearance, Utah's BCS appearance made Urban Meyer a superstar, and Boise State won the hearts of the country with their amazing upset of Oklahoma. With the success of the Broncos last year, this college football season started with more of a focus on the potential BCS-busters than ever before.
Unfortunately, things have not gone according to plan. Boise State was surprisingly ineffective and outclassed by Washington. TCU has had a disastrous two weeks, with a disappointing loss to Texas being followed up by an incomprehensible upset by Air Force. Southern Mississippi looked totally outclassed by a pretty underwhelming Tennessee team. Those three teams, along with Hawaii, were looked at as the teams with the best chance of breaking up the party at the end of the year this year. Hawaii is still alive, but their case was hurt badly by a very narrow one-point overtime victory as 28-point favorites over Louisiana Tech. While a Cinderella story seems unlikely this season (only one non-BCS team, Hawaii, is ranked, and just two more - Boise State and Air Force - even got votes in the latest poll), there are still a few programs that would beg to differ.
There is one major problem that faces those hoping that the BCS takes another hit this year - there are only three remaining teams in non-BCS conferences that have an undefeated record. Even with the newfound love and respect of the minor conferences, a team would almost certainly have to be unbeaten at the end of the year to make a BCS bowl. Here's a look at each of the three unbeaten teams to see if they might have what it takes to rock the college football establishment.
1. Hawaii. Despite the near setback, and the problems of perception that created with observers, the Warriors are still alive in the chase for post-season glory. Provided that the team plays well for the rest of the season, their early problem could be forgotten, or at least forgiven. Poll voters may recognize that the team faces very ugly travel, and therefore has more to overcome than most teams. The biggest problems the team has going for it are the perception that their offense is a gimmick and the weakness of their schedule. On the plus side, though, they have a very high profile quarterback in Colt Brennan. If he keeps putting up the massive numbers then the team will stay in people's minds. In order to pull it off, Hawaii will have to do two things - play flawlessly until the end of the season, and crush Boise State and a suddenly more challenging Washington team to end the year. Undefeated with two big wins on the record at the end of the year could be enough to get June Jones and his boys to the promised land.
2. Air Force. If the undefeated Falcons can get past BYU this coming weekend then they could be a team to keep an eye on. They have the ideal ingredients - as a service academy they have a story that people will rally around, new coach Troy Calhoun has breathed new life into a program that was stagnating, senior quarterback Shaun Carney has four years of playing experience and he doesn't make a lot of errors or bad decisions, and the schedule is relatively easy, with only Notre Dame remaining as a major conference caliber team, and the Irish are obviously not at their best. Coming into the season six wins would have been an improvement and a success, so undefeated seems like an impossibility, but there's a chance it could happen based on what they showed against TCU. We'll revisit this team again if they beat BYU.
3. Tulsa. The Golden Hurricanes have had a very good start to the season under regime of new head coach Todd Graham. After an easier-than-expected win against UL Monroe, Tulsa came out on the right side of a crazy 55-47 shootout against BYU despite being 6.5 point underdogs. The team is talented and exciting to watch, and senior quarterback Paul Smith is again showing what anyone who has watched him for the last three years already knows - he's pretty good. Graham took over a team that was very well coach by Steve Kragthorpe, who is now in Louisville, and as a former defensive coordinator for the team before heading to Rice for a year, Graham was ready to hit the ground running. It's no surprise, then that this team looks pretty good. Despite all that, though, this team is doomed. All you have to do is look at the schedule. This coming weekend they travel to face in-state rival Oklahoma. Though anything is possible, and a win as 20-point underdogs against a team that looks as good as Oklahoma would be a huge boost for the cause of a team that has a very winnable schedule remaining after Saturday, the Sooners are not going to make the mistake of underestimating an opponent twice in nine months. Tulsa will make a good showing, and they may very well open some national eyes, but there will be, at most, two undefeated non-BCS teams by this time next week.