College Football Polls a Mystery, but Reds Collapse Isn't

The conventional wisdom usually says that a baseball club has to win 10 in a row to take command of a playoff race, when all the club really needs is to win more often than not against clubs it sh

Jerry Dowling

The conventional wisdom usually says that a baseball club has to win 10 in a row to take command of a playoff race, when all the club really needs is to win more often than not against clubs it should beat.

Sadly, the Reds were unable to do even that during the two weeks of Sept. 4-17, and their playoff dreams are as good as hopeless because of it. Before we whisk away these reluctant contenders, it's worth a moment to review just how close this club came to making its final two weeks memorable, even if the National League's general weakness made it possible.

In the past two weeks, the Reds basically needed to break even in six combined games against contenders San Diego and San Francisco, then win two of three each against hapless Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Reds managed to win two of three against Pittsburgh, but only one of three against each of the others.

As a result, the Reds woke up on Sept. 18 with a 73-76 record, five games out of the wild card position. If the Reds had won in the amounts prescribed, they would be 75-74, no worse than three games down in the wild card.

If the Reds could have just won one more against the weaklings and snatched victory in two of those three jilting, late-inning losses to San Diego and San Francisco, they'd be 76-73, as little as one-half game out with seven games left against the Pirates and Cubs. The Reds would be right there, if they could only take command of a baseball game. But they're never real sharp on the little pieces of baseball that create their own opportunities or deny opportunities for the opposition.

A pitcher walks an opposing pitcher with the bases loaded. A batter doesn't know he can triple from his line drive because he doesn't look at the third base coach, so he stops at second and the Reds are denied a runner at third with one out. An infielder makes a throw he should pocket, wings wildly to first and the other side ends up with a runner at second because the right fielder doesn't back up the play.

Little, tiny mistakes pick and peck at a baseball club, turn sacrifice flies into inning-ending outs, turn double-play grounders into damaging at-bats by moving the opposing runner to third, turn easy outs into rally catalysts for the other club. Next thing you know, your club climbs a steep hill with little breath.

Injuries cost the Reds dearly, of course. Junior Griffey has missed two weeks after dislocating a toe trying to steal a home run from Barry Bonds. Eddie Guardado couldn't finish the season without surgery, and Gary Majewski probably was damaged when the Reds acquired him.

But the Reds, in the end, have fallen for reasons we've seen in the past several years. For all the powerful hitting of recent seasons and the dominant pitching we've gratefully witnessed at times this year, the Reds just don't often enough play a sharp game of baseball.

The Reds still can rally to a winning season and moral victory. The way they're playing, it isn't likely.

· · ·

It's often difficult to ascertain what, or if, the voters in college football polls are thinking. But this we can say with confidence: They hate second-ranked teams that lose at home.

After dropping Texas from No. 2 to No. 8 last week because of a home-field loss to top-rated Ohio State, the Associated Press voters banished Notre Dame from No. 2 to No. 12 after a 47-21 home-field loss to Michigan.

But the reasoning behind the vote never makes perfect sense. Evidently, for example, the voters don't think that much now about Notre Dame. But for beating a team the voters hold in such low esteem, Michigan is rewarded by those same voters with a huge leap from No. 11 to No. 6.

Fans of the most local college football team, the guys in Clifton, should view all of this with distant satisfaction, for the Big East stands to win big after the voters have confused themselves and each other. And if the Big East wins big, then the UC football program might win new life on the recruiting trail and the local sports agenda.

A perfect storm is brewing for the Big East to place a team in the national championship game, which puts UC in the national championship picture, if peripherally. The new USA Today poll places West Virginia No. 4 and Louisville No. 9. One of those teams is likely to finish the regular season undefeated, along with Southern California and no one else.

Reasonable minds can disagree about this and, undoubtedly, some voters do agree, but West Virginia has little business in the top 10 and definitely shouldn't be in the top five. West Virginia and Georgia should be fighting over those last couple spots in the top 10 because, unlike any other team in that group, they haven't even attempted to prove anything.

Ohio State, USC, Auburn, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Louisville and LSU all either play in tough leagues, have scheduled challenging non-conference competition or have already tried a highly-ranked opponent. Any of those, along with many others, would be 3-0, like Georgia and West Virginia, if they played soft schedules.

West Virginia has beaten Marshall, Eastern Washington and Maryland (all at home) by a cumulative 139-37. Georgia has beaten Western Kentucky and Alabama-Birmingham at home by a combined 82-12 and won 18-0 at South Carolina.

Georgia will prove itself one way or the other in the Southeastern Conference. But West Virginia will put its unbeaten record to challenge only once this year, going to Louisville on Nov. 2. All right-thinking college football fans should pull hard for the Cardinals, whose national title bid would make a great story.

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