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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC and Notre Dame prove that football rankings can be wacky business

Fighting Irish started the season unranked in the Associated Press media poll and the Trojans were No. 1. Notre Dame is now at the top and will play for a national title, and USC stumbled.

November 28, 2012|Chris Dufresne

Notre Dame began the season unranked in the Associated Press media poll and is now No. 1; USC started No.1 and is now unranked.

Oops, sorry, and welcome to my jungle.

Pro pundits can pick the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl and still be right when the team is 7-7 in December. In the college ranks, Louisiana State in 2007 became only the second champion since 1869 to finish a season with two losses.

Louisiana State Coach Les Miles is quick to remind everyone that both of the Tigers' 2007 defeats were in overtime, prompting his quip, "We're undefeated in regulation."

Yeah, and so is Oregon this season.

You think handicapping this is easy?

Consider: College's national champion, in 142 years, has averaged 0.2 defeats per season.

Picking winners and losers in this sport is tougher because the playing field is so absurdly uneven you have to compare apples to Orange Bowls. The thin space separating victory and abject failure is roughly Kansas Coach Charlie Weis' vertical leap.

Notre Dame is in this season's national title game because it won five games by seven points or fewer and survived two overtime games and a couple of questionable calls. At 12-0, though, no team deserves it more to be playing for the Bowl Championship Series title.

Only in this sport can Notre Dame be five ball bounces from the 7-5 record some people say should get USC Coach Lane Kiffin fired.

Georgia is 11-1 and one victory against Alabama from playing for the national title. The Bulldogs have played a schedule Southeastern Conference fans would have laughed at if it had been played by Boise State.

Some of this is Georgia's fault, some of it is not. It was not the school's decision to be playing Alabama this weekend for the first time since 2008 — it was a quirk of the SEC's scattershot draw. Georgia was actually supposed to play Alabama this regular season but got to sub out the Crimson Tide for Missouri after the Tigers and Texas A&M joined the SEC. Georgia is also not to blame for the incredibly unbalanced SEC scheduling format that allowed the Bulldogs to also avoid Louisiana State and Texas A&M.

However, Georgia can be criticized for its nonconference schedule of Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Georgia Southern (from the Football Championship Subdivision) to go with the annual Georgia Tech rivalry game.

Fun was had at USC's expense when this week's AP poll revealed the Trojans to be ranked No. 6 in their own seven-team state, yet you could just as easily imagine USC and Georgia swapping records if they swapped schedules.

SEC fans don't like this kind of number crunching because it peels back a layer of the league's seemingly impenetrable shield.

The record of Georgia's eight SEC opponents this year is a cumulative 24-40, and the record of the Bulldogs' three Football Bowl Subdivision nonconference foes is 13-22. Georgia Southern was an FCS opponent. The five SEC teams Georgia didn't play this year are a combined 25-15.

Georgia lost its only game against a ranked opponent by 28 points at South Carolina. USC lost five games by 40 points, four of them to current BCS Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 16. The Trojans' other defeat was by three points at Arizona. USC also was in every game into the fourth quarter.

It is fair — and probably accurate — to suggest poor coaching was a key factor in the Trojans' losing so many close games. It's also fair to suggest USC had the championship talent preseason voters thought it had.

Johnny Manziel speaks

Texas A&M lifted the season-long media embargo on redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, just in time for the quarterback to probably win the Heisman Trophy on a network (ESPN) heavily invested in seeing Manziel's lips move.

Here's what we learned this week about Johnny Football: He's bright, smart, funny, articulate and set to turn 20 on Dec. 6.

Still, college's control-freak coaching establishment chose not to let Manziel talk until Nov. 26.

"It's nice to be able to talk to y'all," Manziel said to reporters on a conference call after his release from Audio Attica.

Manziel has let his numbers do all the screaming: He has 4,600 total yards in 12 games, and in a league, the SEC, that was expected to dismember first-year member Texas A&M.

Manziel, who is a modest 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds, said he always made himself bigger when creating his profile for NCAA video games.

"Typically, I would have made him look like someone like Cam Newton," he said of the 2010 Heisman winner.

Manziel called his season, "incredibly, incredibly surreal. It's beyond my wildest imagination."

MAC attack

The Pac-12 Conference title game can't catch a Friday night break: Last year's inaugural game was marred by the fact that South "champion" UCLA didn't deserve to be in it. The Bruins proved it by losing to Oregon and finishing 6-8 after their bowl loss.

This year's UCLA-Stanford matchup is substantially better, aesthetically, but is being challenged by a Mid-American Conference title game featuring Kent State (11-1) and Northern Illinois (11-1). Because of the Big East's implosion, Kent State can suddenly earn an automatic BCS bid if it finishes in the top 16 in the final BCS standings.

The Golden Flashes are No. 17, one spot behind UCLA. Kent State needs to win the MAC, and its followers are also cheering for Stanford to win the Pac-12. Kent State is seeking to become the first MAC team to earn a BCS bid in a season in which it lost to Kentucky by 33 points.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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