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Brad Rock: Running up the score is a necessity

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 16 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

I like to blame the Bowl Championship Series for a lot of things, like global warming, the proliferation of big box stores and the existence of Carrot Top. I know, it's irrational. But it makes me feel better.

My current BCS rant is tied to the number of shocking scores turning up these days: Air Force 72, Nicholls State 0; Louisiana-Monroe 58, Texas Southern 0; Boise State 48, Miami-Ohio 0; Fresno State 51, UC-Davis 0; Southern Mississippi 52, Akron 0.

And, of course, BYU 54, Tulane 3.

Oh, the humanity!

Still, none of the aforementioned schools should be blamed for embarrassing their opponents. They're just doing their jobs. A lot of them, such as BYU, even tried to keep the score in check by playing the subs. On the other hand, the BCS is fully culpable. It's the mechanism that caused all this to happen. The system goes like this:

A. Smaller Football School sees itself getting hosed in regards to revenue.

B. Smaller Football School organizes a plan to earn a place in a big-revenue (BCS) bowl game, maybe even play for the national title.

C. Smaller Football School soon discovers it not only must schedule and beat Giant Football School, it must also obliterate any lesser school. That way it can attract national attention, as well as votes in the rankings, and thus appear worthy to play in a BCS bowl. But winning all its games is not enough. Hence, you see scores like Louisiana-Monroe 58, Texas Southern 0.

Smaller School can't just beat another Smaller School, it has to vaporize it.

That point was driven home this past week to the University of Utah. Coming off a perfect season and a final No. 2 ranking last year, the Utes might have expected to be positioned nicely this year. They had lost some great players, but done nothing to make their stock drop, except schedule a couple of lowly regarded teams — Utah State and San Jose State — to start the season.

The Utes won both games, 35-17 and 24-14, respectively. They are now on a 16-game win streak, the nation's longest. But that's not good enough for the voters in the AP poll, because the Utes are dropping even as they win. They started the year ranked 19th, rose two spots after beating USU, then fell to 18th after beating San Jose State.

They haven't been impressive in their wins, but still, it's a cold place where undefeated teams drop in the rankings.

Conversely, BYU rose from 20th to ninth by beating No. 3 Oklahoma, then climbed to seventh after slaughtering Tulane. Fair enough. The Cougars saw the need and the opportunity, and seized it. They should try to beat Utah State by at least 30 points and not feel a bit of shame.

It's their duty.

Problem for schools like BYU and Utah is that they have to convince skeptical voters they belong. Had the Cougars beat Tulane by seven, they might have stayed where they were in the polls, or even dropped.

Last year's Utes didn't get ranked in the top 10 until Week 9, which curtailed their bid to play in the national championship game. In part, that's due to the fact they didn't annihilate everyone they played.

One reason the 2004 Utes even made it to the Fiesta Bowl was because they beat almost everyone by shamefully lopsided scores. If they had eked out three-point wins over Wyoming and San Diego State, they'd have struggled to even qualify for BCS status.

The need to score big isn't entirely on non-automatic qualifying conferences like the Mountain West. The system puts pressure on larger leagues, too, where the teams actually have a chance to play for a national title. Thus, they schedule non-conference games they can dominate: Kansas 49, Northern Colorado 3; Michigan State 44, Montana State 3; Kentucky 42, Miami-Ohio 0; Tennessee 63, Western Kentucky 7; Texas Tech 55, Rice 10; Cincinnati 70, Southeast Missouri State 3.

Defending national champion Florida has thus far played Charleston Southern and Troy, winning by a combined score of 118-9.

Scheduling has become highly technical. No longer is it like the line from "Napoleon Dynamite": "Hey, wanna play me?"

Now you carefully select every game, because it's not just winning, but who you beat and how good it looks.

All of which doesn't really explain why Stephen F. Austin felt compelled to beat Texas College 92-0 last week. In smaller division football, there's a playoff system, so if you win all your games, you're the national champion.

In SFA's case, winning by almost 100 points was just for the fun. But in the Mountain West, it's not about fun.

You do it because you have to.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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