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Trying to dissect BCS, Broncos



Usually we focus here on one subject, putting the extras into the adjacent capsule. But this week has to be an exception, with two subjects that can't wait.

First, there's the neverending disaster known as the Bowl Championship Series, giving us another farcical ending to what otherwise has been another terrific college football season. Second, closer to home, there's the inexplicable behavior of the Denver Broncos, who can't beat Oakland, Miami or Jacksonville (combined record: 14-22) at Invesco Field but can go on the road and knock off two playoff contenders, Atlanta and the New York Jets (combined record: 16-8).

That said ...

BCS chaos. As predicted, the BCS has encountered its worst-case scenario, regardless of what happens Saturday in the regular season's final games. Alabama, now 12-0 and ranked No. 1, could secure an unquestioned berth in the BCS Championship Game by beating Florida for the Southeastern Conference title. If the Gators win instead, they presumably will play for the national crown.

Beyond that, it's craziness.

All along, BCS proponents have argued their method puts maximum value on the regular season, particularly its biggest games. Yet now that system's computers have decided Oklahoma is more deserving than Texas (both 11-1), despite the fact Texas convincingly beat OU at the neutral Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 45-35, when the Sooners were favored by a touchdown. Not only that, but the Longhorns' only loss came on a last-second touchdown at Texas Tech, also 11-1 and now ranked No. 7.

Oh yeah, then there's Southern Cal, which should be 11-1 after an all-but-certain thrashing of UCLA this Saturday. Yet those nasty computers tell us the Trojans aren't as good as Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma or Florida. But wouldn't it be better to know for sure?

Many observers, including Springs native Chris Fowler at ESPN, believe the BCS system has failed. As Fowler was saying on the network, he actually saw the Texas-Oklahoma game in person, as well as Texas-Texas Tech, and he has Texas at No. 2 on his ballot for the Associated Press national poll.

Fowler has joined the growing chorus talking about how wonderful an eight-team tournament would be. You might have seen the 16-team proposal in this space last month, but eight would be totally acceptable. Just one set of potential first-round matchups: Oklahoma vs. Penn State, Florida vs. Texas Tech, Texas vs. Utah, Southern Cal vs. Alabama.

Yes, that includes three from the Big 12, but so what? If the idea is to give the eight best teams a chance, why disqualify a 11-1 team from a power conference?

Instead, the computer will give us the two BCS finalists, and the big bowls will pick their teams after that. Many worthy teams will be screwed, not to mention the nation's fans.

Baffling Broncos. Hard enough to believe Denver is 7-5, but so much harder to believe the Broncos lead San Diego (4-8) by three full games in the AFC West. That's a magic number of two, and the Chargers still have road games at Kansas City and Tampa Bay before the Denver-San Diego finale on Dec. 28.

One key factor: Denver is 3-0 against the NFC, having beaten New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Atlanta; San Diego is 0-3, having lost to New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina.

Around the NFL, skeptics call Denver the worst division leader by far, though whipping the Jets would indicate otherwise. But the Broncos' maddening inconsistency lifeless one week against Oakland, focused and determined seven days later against the Jets is beyond easy analysis. One guess: When quarterback Jay Cutler is engaged and sharp, the Broncos play at a higher level. When he appears disengaged and lackadaisical, the team struggles.

The defense still is much too soft against the run, but the patchwork linebacking corps has shown signs of improvement, with such unlikely contributors as Wesley Woodyard and Jamie Winborn. Whenever cornerback Champ Bailey returns, that'll make a difference.

Who knows, Denver might even win its first playoff game at home. First, though, that AFC West race won't be over until it's officially over.

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