So I was hunting through Michael's archives at Braves and Birds trying to find a comment thread where I was praising Valencia's lineup (lucky, not prescient... anyway, it's here). On my way spelunking around there, I spotted this post on a gem of an article by our favorite SI college football writer, Stewart Mandel.
The crux: 16 teams had a real chance to win the national title, in Mandel's opinion, based upon a number of reasons. One major reason appears to be mediocrity in the previous season:
While the past two seasons have played out largely as predicted, there have been three seasons since 2000 in which a team that finished with five losses the year before rose up to win a national title the following season: 2000, Oklahoma (7-5 the year before); 2002, Ohio State (7-5); and 2003, LSU (8-5). Auburn's undefeated 2004 team also went 8-5 the preceding season. All four teams started the year outside the Top 10. This year the Buckeyes, Texas, Notre Dame and USC sit atop the preseason coaches' poll, but the No. 1 team come January could just as easily be a lower-rated squad such as No. 11 Miami (9-3 in '05), No. 13 Louisville (9-3), No. 15 Michigan (7-5) or No. 17 Iowa (7-5).
That "five losses" bit should stick out like a sore thumb. Here's why. Of the 16 teams Stewart Mandel listed, half of them - EIGHT (!!!) - ended up with at least five losses in 2006. I'm no good at math, but I'd bet someone can put together a study as to what's more likely: bouncing from 5 losses to a national title, or going from 5 losses to mediocrity. Beer is on me if it's the former.
Some other fun facts:
- Mandel listed 4 ACC teams with a chance at winning the national title. None won the ACC. OK, nobody on earth picked Wake to win the ACC. But the 4 teams Mandel did choose... each and every one of them lost at least 5 games by the end of the season.
- Mandel only listed 2 SEC teams. Not listed is the eventual national champion. Listed is South Carolina, which finished 5th in the SEC East. Neither team listed made the SEC title game and neither played in a BCS bowl.
- Mandel picked a random non-BCS-automatic-qualifying conference team, Utah. The Utes lost 5 games and finished 3rd in that non-BCS-automatic-qualifying conference.
- 6 of the 16 teams had lost a game (putting them in dire position for qualifying for the BCS title game) by Saturday night, September 9.