ATHENS, Ga. -- Florida's 31-30 loss at home to unranked Ole Miss raises two questions:
1. Did the Gators make a mistake by attempting a Tim Tebow run on fourth-and-inches instead of a field goal just shy of 50 yards?
2. How does Florida's loss Saturday change the way we view USC's defeat Thursday at Oregon State?
The answer to the first question is no. After West Virginia's loss at Colorado nine days ago, I wrote that the Mountaineers should have run their best play with their best player at the moment of truth. I still believe that. Tebow is Florida's best player, and his history suggests that he is nearly automatic on fourth-and-short. Florida dared Ole Miss to beat its best play, and the Rebels were up to the challenge.
The answer to the second question is more complicated. What should happen is that USC and Florida fall an equal amount because each team lost a game it shouldn't have against an inferior opponent. What probably will happen is that USC will be punished more severely for losing to a team in what is perceived as a relatively weak Pac-10. Florida, by virtue of its membership in the SEC, won't take as much of a hit because, as we sportswriter-types always tell you, anybody can beat anybody in the SEC.
While the SEC is the better conference top-to-bottom, it isn't so much better that it deserves a double standard. USC lost on the road to a program that has won three bowl games in the past four seasons. Florida lost at home to a program that hasn't played in a bowl game since Eli Manning's senior season in 2003. Had Florida lost to LSU or Georgia, that defeat probably wouldn't have killed the Gators' national-title hopes provided they could win out. The Ole Miss loss should. National champs should not lose at home to three-touchdown underdogs.
Of course, last year's national champ lost a pair of regular-season games, so none of this may matter by November. But I get the sneaking suspicion that pollsters will end up deciding who plays in the national title game by quality of losses, not quality of wins. Instead of style points, teams will be judged on who beat them. If the SEC champ has a loss to Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Alabama or Florida, bienvenido a Miami. If the Big 12 champ has a loss to Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri or Texas Tech, come on down. So where does that leave USC? We'll have to wait and see how Oregon State performs the rest of the season before passing judgment.