It’s time to start thinking about the Nokia Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Better yet, it’s time to start thinking about who will be there. The top three teams in the initial BCS rankings control their own destiny right now. BCS number one Oklahoma has the inside track. The Sooners are the top team in the initial BCS poll for the 3rd consecutive time, and have reached the top of the poll for four straight years. The Sooners still have to contain Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and then win the Big XII championship in December. BCS number two Miami and number three Virginia Tech play each other. The winner of that contest has “Sugar Bowl” written all over them. Miami, however, still has to play South East Conference power Tennessee.

There are a quite a few one-loss teams that are very much still in the race. The BCS number 4-7 teams Georgia, Florida State, Ohio State and Southern California are all clinging to the hope that at least two of the three BCS unbeatens fall in the coming weeks. Of those four teams, USC has the easiest games remaining while Florida State has the toughest road. Potential pothole games remain for each of those teams.

Non-BCS undefeateds Northern Illinois – BCS number 10 – and number 14 Texas Christian are not likely to overcome their weak strength of schedule rankings and end up in one of the top two slots. Northern Illinois, however, can do much for its BCS bowl at-large chances by beating Bowling Green this Saturday.

Is the BCS fair? Competition for the two at-large BCS bowl slots is fierce. How fierce, you ask? Competition is so fierce that schools of mid-major conferences are threatening lawsuits if their teams are not given better access to them. A school is eligible for an at-large bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the final BCS poll. In the history of the BCS system, only two non-BCS conference schools have done so. Yet non-BCS conference commissioners are appealing to Congress and just about anyone else who will listen that they are being unfairly denied access to these bowls. The commissioners threaten anti-trust lawsuits if things are not changed.

The problem, as I see it, is not the BCS. The problem is the relative competitive weakness of the mid-major conferences to the major conferences. Every week, schools in the SEC play top-notch opponents in hopes of not getting knocked off. On the other hand, schools in the Mid-American Conference play also-rans who don’t pose any real threat on the field. Why should the BCS reward nine wins over bad teams instead of rewarding 6 or more wins over solid competition? If the MAC, Western Athletic Conference and Conference USA want more access to better bowls, their teams have to start winning regular season games against BCS conference teams. Winning is the way to earn access into bowls, not litigation.

Coach of the Half-Year

Some coaches have performed so well over the first half of the season that they have made various “Coach of the Year” watch lists compiled by the several national honors committees. Although there are many coaches that have shined this season, a handful of coaches have separated themselves from the rest.

In the Pac 10, first year head coach Bill Doba has transformed Washington State from an afterthought into conference co-leaders along with UCLA. In the Big XII, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has distanced his Sooners from perhaps everyone in the country. No team is more complete than Oklahoma this year. Larry Coker of Miami and Frank Beamer of Virginia Tech are also strong candidates from the Big East conference.

Although Texas Christian University’s Gary Patterson has done a nice job with the WAC-leading Horned Frogs, the mid-major that boasts the most realistic candidate for coach of the year is Northern Illinois of the MAC. Joe Novak, after losing his first 23 games as a head coach, has NIU into the Top 15 with wins over three BCS teams.

Michigan State’s first-year head coach John L. Smith is probably the favorite for national coach of the year honors. The Spartans are now tied with Purdue atop the Big Ten conference standings. CBS picked the Spartans to finish 9th in the Big Ten.

Coaches on the Hot Seat

This season, we’ve already seen three coaches fry when the hot seat became too hot. Moreover, another coach has chosen retirement rather than face the humiliation of being terminated at the end of the season. More coaching changes are sure to come in future weeks.

John Mackovic was fired at Arizona after going 10-18 in two plus seasons and starting this year 1-4. Compounding Mackovic’s problems was a player revolt last season.

At Army, head coach Todd Berry was fired after an 0-6 start to the season. Berry went 5-35 at the helm at Army. This season, the Cadets are averaging on 63.8 yards per game and less than two yards per carry, which both rank dead last in the NCAA. Army has just one win in the past 17 games.

At Duke, Blue Devils athletic director Joe Alleva decided he had enough of Carl Franks’ losing in Durham. Franks was fired after going just 7-45 while losing 29 straight ACC games.

Football fans in Starkville, Miss. look forward to having a new head coach next season as Miss. State head coach Jackie Sherrill, under pressure from Bulldogs fans and administrators, announced his retirement at the end of the season.

Some high profile coaches on the hot seat may not have to worry about having a job next year. Texas’ Mack Brown and Florida’s Ron Zook will likely return to Austin and Gainesville next season.

Michigan Fight

Although 15th-ranked Michigan has two losses already, the Wolverines control their own Big Ten destiny thanks to their Iowa and Wisconsin losses last week and a come-back-from-down-21 win against Minnesota. Michigan vaulted into the top 5 earlier this season with dominating wins against the likes of Houston and Notre Dame. However, the Wolverines dropped back-to-back games at Oregon and Iowa.

Michigan was at the brink of disaster at Minnesota, but an amazing 31-point 4th quarter brought Michigan back from inevitable doom. This week Michigan takes on the Purdue Boilermakers, who are undefeated in conference play. Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr is not making the mistake of taking Purdue lightly – the Boilers nearly beat Michigan last year, narrowly losing 23-21.

Purdue is already the fifth nationally-ranked team that Michigan will have played this season. If the Wolverines are able to make it past Purdue, they will still have to face 12th-ranked Michigan State and 8th-ranked Ohio State. If Michigan defeats Michigan State, their season finale against Ohio State very well may be for the Big Ten championship.

Only a month ago, Michigan was being written off for two consecutive losses. Now they’ve fought their way right back into the thick of things.

Tipton can be reached at

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