As most Buckeye fans have heard, E. J. Underwood has opted to transfer to Campbellsville for his senior season. Thus ends a sad chapter for both Ohio State and the once promising young cornerback. When Underwood showed up on campus almost four years ago, his talent was unmistakable. He was considered an almost ‘sure thing' to be playing in the NFL after his junior season and was expected to lock down a starting position possibly as early as 2002 but certainly by 2003.
Something went wrong along the way. After seeing early playing time in 2002 due to Richard McNutt's bad ankle, the coaches (wisely) opted to play Chris Gamble opposite Dustin Fox. In 2003, Underwood had another golden opportunity to step up and help the team by relieving Gamble so he could play more offense – or Fox to allow him to move to his natural position of safety. Underwood had shown serious skills in the Spring Game, and the Buckeyes needed a boost after the loss of Maurice Clarett. Unfortunately, Underwood was cut by a piece of broken glass and unable to contribute. 2004 was again supposed to be his year. Nothing could keep this young man off the field other than himself, and it was inconceivable that he would not recognize and exploit his own potential. It was a foregone conclusion Underwood would reach the flashes of potential he showed against Cincinnati as a mere freshman. Underwood sat the bench. The Buckeyes needed him, but he apparently reached new lows through discipline problems and a lack of production.
This spring, Underwood was not to be seen in practices or the spring game. While teammates talked about his talent and how he had finally decided to get serious, there was almost a look of resignation in the coaches' eyes when asked about this young man. Now it becomes clearer why.
The Buckeyes could have used Underwood this fall. Had he been able to pull the tatters of his career and talent together for one outstanding season to lock down the cornerback slot opposite Youboty, there is absolutely no telling how ferocious the defense might have been. The NFL would certainly have sat up to take notice and might have given him top billing in the first day of the draft.
Still, at this point the most important item on the agenda for young Underwood needs to be recognizing that this is it. Campbellsville, an NAIA school in Kentucky, is his last chance to make the NFL. After that he will become little more than a trivia question to most Ohio State fans:
"Who was the most talented non NFL cornerback you have seen at Ohio State?"
Here is hoping Underwood recognizes his situation and flies right. He has just as much physical potential (perhaps more after three years of conditioning) as the day he arrived at Ohio State. Tressel's evaluation of his talent likely remains the same – he has all the abilities to be a star earning tens of millions of dollars. The NFL waits if he commits to doing what is necessary. A life sentence of asking, "What might have been?" looms if he does not.
The Near Death of the BCS
Every once in a while a television program goes around interviewing people who have had near death experiences. They talk about the bright lights and the out of body experience. They talk about thinking they were dead or dying only to revive suddenly.
Someone should call 60 Minutes or Dateline and tell them to interview the kingpins of the BCS. The last 18 months have not been kind on this organization. First there was the ‘title game' in New Orleans between LSU and Oklahoma that left out the best team again (see 1998, 2000, and 2001). LSU slapped the Sooners around like a rented mule, and fans were left to wonder why the BCS couldn't get it right. Then, along came the non-BCS schools making noise that they wanted a chunk of the pie. They boxed the ears of the organization, forcing them into concessions by creating a fifth BCS game that would rotate between major bowls and possibly force further desecration of the hallowed Rose Bowl. To make matters worse, the title match up that was expected to rescue them from the frying pan actually dumped them straight into the fire. Oklahoma was brutally exposed by USC with a beating was so bad OU players reportedly even started pleading for mercy from the men of Troy. Auburn would undoubtedly have provided a better challenge for USC, but the BCS wizards excluded them. Most recently ESPN and the AP polls have pulled out of the mix in determining the champions after accusations and allegations flew when the Coaches' Poll (whose votes were kept secret) dropped Cal from their expected date with the Rose Bowl. Questions regarding the authenticity of the final poll have abounded, especially after Mack Brown whined like a spoiled child and campaigned that his team deserved the slot.
So what comes next for the BCS? The fans have lost faith in the system. The media has been praying for its destruction since its creation and has now stopped praying and started digging a shallow grave.
Ultimately, I see a playoff on the horizon. Perhaps it won't come along in the immediate future, but it will come some day. With the addition of a 12th game – which means multiple teams will play 14 games with their conference championship and bowl – the university presidents have already suggested their interest is in money over academics and the health of the players. At some point a deal will be brokered that creates a lucrative plus one championship, and either will serve as the final incarnation of the BCS – or its death.
Aside from probably not being worth the paper they are written on, does it strike anyone else odd that Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State are all projected in the top 10? These three teams play one another, meaning at bare minimum each will have a loss. If one team is undefeated then one of the other two will be at best sporting two losses heading into the bowls. This of course is barring no upsets by a pesky program like Wisconsin or Minnesota or even Penn State. Toss in the schedules and while Iowa plays a cupcake nonconference slate, the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet up with the likes of Miami of Ohio, Texas, and Notre Dame (they might be down but the Domers are still dangerous).
Perhaps it's just me, but other oddities are:
· USC lost almost every assistant coach of note, including Norm Chow – the brain trust behind the operation. Four assistants are in their first season with USC while three other coaches are in just their second year as full time assistants in L.A. Yet the Trojans are expected to still finish No. 1? Name me the last program that replaced that many key assistants in a two year span but managed to win a national title. Sorry, I may have purchased a preseason magazine or two, but I'm not buying what they're selling. They do have a relatively easy schedule in a down Pac Ten as well as incredible talent, but coaching is still the key in college football.
· Tennessee, once again having more than its share of troubles, is projected in the top 5 by most polls, but the Volunteers have a brutal schedule. Look at this murderer's row – @Florida, @LSU, @Alabama, @Notre Dame, and in Knoxville against Georgia – all before the second week of November. If they somehow manage to avoid tripping they will still face a tough opponent in the SEC title game.
· Louisville is projected between 4 and 24 (depending on the poll) with most placing them between 10 and 15. While I don't disagree in the least that they are not a top 5 team, the way the current system is set up, the only thing that matters is wins, and Louisville will set a new Guinness Book of World Records in the cupcake schedule department. Miami of Florida has rotated off and in its place they pick up Florida Atlantic and South Florida. 12-0 without a single quality win is possible if not likely, and you can bet this would put them in the BCS game if the real big boys had even one loss.
· Texas is rated higher than Oklahoma. The odds dictate that sooner or later the Sooners will be handed a loss by their hated rival. Yet odds also were against John Cooper's 2-10-1 mark in The Game with Michigan. Considering Cooper was a better coach (though perhaps not a better recruiter) than Mack Brown, I'll believe Texas is able to defeat OU when I see it with my own two eyes.
So who would I pick as the No. 1 team? Honestly, I don't know. Here's a novel idea; instead of penalizing some teams and rewarding others for false expectations, why not let rankings be determined on the field of play and offer polls only after the first weekend of October?
Naahhh… That would make too much sense and wouldn't sell as many magazines.