In response to my post about Tulsa coach Todd Graham’s “if Boise State and Hawai’i can, why not us?” pitch for his team to play in a BCS game if it runs the table, Jerry Hinnen writes
… Senator Blutarsky proves the point I made last January about Hawaii: all the work done by Boise the year before to legitimize mid-majors’ right to crash the BCS party has been undone. It’s not that I mind the skepticism regarding Tulsa’s legitimacy for a BCS berth, but they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, either–sure, the defense sucked last year, but if it improves to the point where they’re blowing teams out 55-20 on a weekly basis, I’m not sure that or their schedule should matter. It’s simply about how good they are, and anyone who paid close enough attention last year would have realized that a Hawaii team that needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech just plain wasn’t. (Good, I mean.) A better schedule would be nice, but if even the likes of the Golden Hurricane romp all over it, the JCCW’s official position is that they’ll deserve their shot. Too bad that thanks to Hawaii, it seems a whole lot less likely they’d get it.
I’m not sure if I’m being misconstrued here or not. If Jerry’s point is simply that an excellent mid-major school deserves a shot at a BCS game, no argument here. If he’s saying that Tulsa shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand because Hawai’i crapped the bed last year, well, that depends.
Look, the lesson that Hawai’i should have taught the pollsters is that while it’s nice for a school to go undefeated with a nice, shiny toy of an offensive system, you’ve got to make some objective effort to look at the journey a school takes to get there. And for a school in a non-BCS conference, I can only see two ways to judge that: either by playing a credible schedule, or by dominating opponents on a week-in, week-out basis. Hawai’i did neither last year. But a lot of voters (and certain pundits at a certain sports network) were blinded by the record and the offensive stats. There should be a better way to evaluate than that.
So what are the reasonable expectations for Tulsa in ’08? Well, whatever credibility it garners shouldn’t come from the schedule, which I’ll charitably call mediocre. (Compare Tulsa’s to Utah’s and Fresno State’s for some perspective on this point.) So that leaves on-field dominance. Is it likely that Tulsa will score a lot of points this year? Sure – after all, the Golden Hurricanes were first in total offense last year. But defensively, as I noted in my initial post, this team was less than impressive. The good news for 2008 is that Oklahoma isn’t on the schedule (Tulsa yielded 62 points to the Sooners last year); the bad news is that Tulsa only brings back five starters on defense this year.
Jerry says that if Tulsa rattles off a stretch of 45-20 wins, that’s a likely indication of the team’s worthiness for consideration. Assuming for the sake of argument that’s true, what’s the basis for that premise in the first place? Tulsa lost four games last year. It was smoked by the only ranked team it played, it lost to UCF twice and was beaten by a 4-8 UTEP squad. It held teams to twenty points or less only three times last year. From such things greatness should not presumed.
Bottom line here is that Hawai’i shouldn’t be a bar to non-BCS conference schools’ participation in the big games. Should Fresno State run the table with who it plays this year, there won’t be any need to parse the results. But a source of healthy skepticism? Absolutely. There should be some context to going undefeated as a member of C-USA. So don’t blame me for knocking Tulsa. I’m not the one who brought up the “if them, then us” pitch in the first place.