Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 11/22/11
Remember those days of comfortable clarity early in the college football season, when the high-powered Oklahoma Sooners topped the AP rankings, when Florida State was ranked fifth and Florida not too far behind, and when nobody gave the University of Houston a second thought? Then they started playing. The Sooners got boomered. The state of Florida forgot how to play football, and Kansas State remembered. LSU and Alabama slugged it out and gave us very little clarity on which team is better. And from the college football backwaters of Conference USA, so quietly that no one really took notice, the Houston Cougars kept winning. Then last weekend happened. No. 2 Oklahoma State, upset. No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 7 Clemson: upset, upset, upset. It left college football fans with one definite answer that LSU is the top-ranked team in the land followed by one big murky picture for the five BCS Bowls, including the national championship. Perhaps no team is as enigmatic as those undefeated, 11-0, No. 8-ranked Houston Cougars, with their up-and-coming head coach, Kevin Sumlin, their up-tempo offense and their Heisman hopeful quarterback, Case Keenum. What should we think of this run-and-gun team who leads the nation in passing and points scored and who has beaten exactly zero teams currently ranked in the top 25? What should we think of the quarterback who last weekend set an FBS record for career completions and who isn't even thought of as a top-10 quarterback in the upcoming draft? Should we clamor for them to be considered for a BCS bid, like the annual ritual for Boise State, or should we write them off for feasting on inferior competition? "You can't be worried about that," Sumlin, whose last job was as co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, told FOXSports.com this week. "We play who we play. Perception and everything about a program, we can't control that ... We don't apologize for that; that's where we are in life. All we try to do is win the games in the schedule. At the end of the day, people will decide where we are." That, of course, is the problem. It's these unnamed "people" who, along with computers, decide which team is best and which is second-best. What it should be is players and coaches finding definitive answers on the football field. So these unproven, untested Cougars are just one more reason why college football needs to move to a playoff system, and let us carve some definite answers out of the constant state of ambiguity. Do I think Keenum and his Cougars would have an ice cube's chance in hell at beating or even playing with any of the teams currently ranked above them in the BCS? Yes, actually. I think they'd have exactly the same chance as an ice cube in hell. But it's a chance an undefeated team deserves. Just look at two Sugar Bowls from a few years back. In the one played after the 2007 season, then-undefeated Hawaii got trounced by Georgia. The next year, Utah finished its undefeated season against fourth-ranked Alabama and had a legitimate national title claim that no one was going to give them. Point is: You never know. Houston could be Hawaii; it could be Utah. An undefeated season is a worthy achievement, and deserves at least a chance against the big boys. Part of what Houston is looking at is the curse of playing in a mid-major conference, when your team's worth is never really definable on the national stage. The bigger point is that the system's broken. In what other sport can you go undefeated and not have a chance at the title? "We understand where we are," Sumlin said. "The only thing we can do is try to win our remaining games. As I've told our team the last five weeks, you're looking at a team that was not even ranked seven weeks ago. There's no reason for us to complain about anything. If you continue to win, you won't be ignored." But they will be ignored. We'll find a bit of clarity this Friday in Tulsa, when Houston tries to remain undefeated, playing its toughest opponent of the year. Tulsa is the only other Conference USA team with a 7-0 conference record but unlike Houston, Tulsa has played three ranked teams this year. (It lost each time, to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State.) Smart money says Houston goes undefeated, squeaks into a BCS bowl, and is overmatched by a bigger school from a wealthier conference. But the true test of this team and the true test of the Boise States, as well as the LSUs and the Alabamas is for the NCAA to open its eyes, scrap the current broken system and adopt a playoff model. Because only then can we find clarity. For now, though, as David Klingler, the former Houston great whose passing records have been challenged by Keenum, told me: "The problem is, we'll never know. Because nothing's settled on the field." You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave or email him at reidforgrave@gmail.com.
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