The importance of the regular season Whatever issues players, coaches, fans, pundits, politicians and commonsense enthusiasts may have with the Bowl Championship Series [BCS], which determines a national champion, Musburger notes that its convoluted ranking formula has rendered every game with remote BCS implications incredibly important. “That’s the best byproduct of the BCS era,” he says. “[The BCS] turned college football into a national sport, where somebody up in Oregon is as interested in the SEC [Southeastern Conference] as somebody who lives in Birmingham, Ala. We did not see that coming.”
Conference musical chairs The Pac-10 Conference is now the Pac-12, with Colorado joining from the Big 12 Conference and Utah arriving from the Mountain West Conference. Boise State takes Utah’s place, fleeing the Western Athletic Conference (WAC); Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii will follow them out the WAC door in 2012. BYU has left the Mountain West and will play as an independent for the time being, while TCU will play in the conference for one last season before joining the football-poor/basketball-rich Big East Conference. Nebraska leaves the Big 12 for the Big Ten Conference — but despite the defections that leave the conference with only 10 teams (and no conference championship game), the Big 12 won’t change its name. Confused? “Get a scorecard,” Musburger quips.
Now You Know: The late Irvine “Cotton” Warburton, USC star quarterback in the early 1930s, is both a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and an Oscar winner — for editing 1964’s Mary Poppins.
Whither the Florida Gators? Musburger points to the Florida Gators — winners of national titles in 2006 and 2008 and one of college football’s most consistent winners over the last decade — as a team in transition. “You have [former Texas defensive coordinator] Will Muschamp replacing Urban Meyer as head coach and you have [former … well, former everything] Charlie Weis coming in to run the offense, so they’re going to have some changes to their offensive style. It might take Will a couple of years to get organized down there.”
Ohio State takes its lumps Under normal circumstances, Ohio State would be a top-five shoo-in. But in the wake of NCAA-imposed penalties — and the subsequent scandal which prompted the late-May resignation of coach Jim Tressel (the loss of whom, Musburger says, “can’t be overstated”) and the departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor — the team will be without four starters for the first five games of its 2011 campaign. “It’s hard to measure the impact of that, even though those games are the softest part of its schedule,” Musburger says. “[The players] will not have had a lot of minutes when they get to their most important games.”
A Pac-12 battle for the Heisman Musburger goes against conventional wisdom with his pick of Oregon running back LaMichael James over Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, already billed as the no-argument No. 1 pick in next April’s NFL draft. He frets about the Oregon blocking, but he has even more concern about the changes in Palo Alto, Calif. “Without [former coach] Jim Harbaugh and all the guys they lost on the offensive line, Luck is at a little bit of a disadvantage,” Musburger notes. His sleeper pick? Alabama running back Trent Richardson, who claimed the starting job as his own when former Heisman winner Mark Ingram left for the NFL.
College football as an escape Musburger doesn’t explicitly come out and say that he’s rooting for Alabama. But he clearly hopes that, in the wake of the devastating tornado that left Tuscaloosa reeling this past April, the Crimson Tide can provide a brief respite from the rebuilding effort on autumn Saturdays. “You know how important college football is to those fans down there and how much they look forward to those few hours every week. Hopefully the team can take their thoughts off the problems at hand.”
And your National Champion will be … Musburger believes the SEC champ will defeat Oklahoma in the BCS championship game, scheduled for Jan. 9, 2012, in New Orleans. He’s just not sure who that SEC champ will be. “If LSU is there, it’s like a home game for them. For Alabama, that’s pretty close to home as well,” he says, acknowledging that he’s hedging his bet. “The SEC is the No. 1 football conference in the country. I honestly don’t know how anybody can disagree with that.”