There are good arguments about Florida being overrated, and then there is the one that ESPN's Michael Wilbon made on Pardon the Interruption this afternoon.
Wilbon: FLORIDA being No. 2 in the BCS poll, that, that's a joke! Bowling Green, Louisana-Lafayette, and Jacksonville State, three of their non-conference games. The fourth one is essentially a state-mandated game at FSU. They don't even leave home unless the state tells them to.
Kornheiser: They're No. 2 because of the conference they're in.
Wilbon: "But the conference is runnin' on rep. The conference ain't that good this year. The SEC is 4-5 against BCS schools in non-conference games. WE beat the SEC school we played, Vandy! Northwestern! Beat 'em! 1-0 against the SEC! Like that?
Wilbon is wrong in so many ways. Let us enumerate them.
Picking on Florida's strength of schedule. Florida played Bowling Green in its first game of the season, much as Florida has played a lesser and usually non-conference foe in its first game for a quarter-century. Since 1987, when the Gators opened against Miami (and lost 31-4, mind you), only two teams they have played in the first game of the season have gone on to win 10 games: Miami of Ohio in 2010, and Marshall in 2001. This is not nearly unique to Florida (Oregon opened with Arkansas State, Kansas State with Missouri State, and Notre Dame with Navy), and seems like a specious criticism at best.
And that's before one considers that a) strength of schedule is only sort of part of BCS formula, so it only "counts" as much as human pollsters and the formulas allow it to, unlike the 1998-2003 BCS system that counted strength of schedule for a quarter of the BCS ratings and b) Florida hasn't even played Louisiana-Lafayette or Jacksonville State yet. Shouldn't the Gators be praised for tearing into steaks and not devouring cupcakes early on?
"They don't even leave home unless the state tells them to." The state of Florida likely has never and will never tell Florida it has to play out of state, nor will it ever have the jurisdiction to do that; this is a terribly misinformed criticism based on the tired argument about Florida never traveling. And Florida's "state-mandated" series with Florida State is one that the two schools will likely never drop, lest they risk an alumni insurrection.
"The conference is runnin' on rep." What conference isn't? Pollsters and observers have half a season to judge teams on right now, and most of that half of the season has involved brand-name teams taking on non-conference chaff. The best inter-conference game of 2012 so far was Alabama's demolition of Michigan, which is the second-best Big Ten team by most estimations, and few are arguing that Alabama's not good (Kornheiser tries valiantly to get Wilbon to address that).
"The SEC is 4-5 against BCS schools in non-conference games." And it's list time!
SEC Wins in Non-Conference Games Against BCS-Conference Opponents
- Tennessee 35, N.C. State 21
- Alabama 41, Michigan 14
- LSU 41, Washington 3
- Missouri 24, Arizona State 20
That would be a win over a team that beat Florida State, a win over the best bowl-eligible Big Ten team, a win over a team that beat Stanford, and a win over a team that has an undefeated Pac-12 record. Also: All of those first three teams have been ranked, and Arizona State was close.
SEC Losses in Non-Conference Games Against BCS-Conference Opponents
- Clemson 26, Auburn 19
- Louisville 32, Kentucky 14
- Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 13
- Texas 66, Ole Miss 31
- Rutgers 35, Arkansas 26
The teams that have lost those five games are a combined 11-22 on the season. Four of those losses were to teams ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings this week. (The exception? Wilbon's Northwestern.) BREAKING: Bad teams are bad and tend to lose to good teams.
"WE beat the school we played, Vandy!" Northwestern beat Vandy at home by 10, and only because it scored 10 points in the last 2:01. Florida beat Vandy on the road by 14, though, to be fair, Jeff Driskel did score an insurance touchdown late. Not all wins are created equal! (Also, beating Vandy has never once in the history of college football been a thing to brag about.)
I don't want to pile on a guy who can't even figure out how to troll the very trollable Washington D.C. fan base properly, but Wilbon's been a D.C. columnist and an NBA guy for years and years, and I'd bet my ticket to Saturday's game that he hasn't been to very many Florida football games that didn't have a national title on the line in his career.
Calling Florida's No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings "a joke" and lamenting the non-conference schedule shows he has about as much familiarity with college football as an iguana has with quantum physics; the Gators are where they are because of their lack of a non-conference schedule, which has afforded them opportunities to take pelts early and often and climb the human polls.
At some point, pundits who are paid to speak on things like this will have the courage to say "I don't know" to their producers when throwing around pitches during daily meetings and landing on ones that they cannot argue effectively. For Wilbon, that point sure wasn't today.