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Flip-flop (cont.)

Posted: Monday December 4, 2006 12:13AM; Updated: Tuesday December 5, 2006 1:46PM
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The only thing we know for sure is that on Nov. 18 in Columbus, Ohio State was three points better than the Wolverines. As of now, we have no idea whether the Gators will fare better Jan. 8 in Arizona. Anyone who says they do is making -- say it with me now -- an assumption.

Carr was 100 percent correct when he pointed out Sunday night: "[Florida] would not have moved ahead of us had USC won its game" It's true. No one would have bothered re-ordering No. 3 and No. 4.

But the pollsters don't operate in a vacuum. They knew exactly what the stakes were when they turned in their ballots, and quite frankly, I don't think they felt comfortable playing God. They didn't feel comfortable relegating a 12-1 SEC champion to the Sugar Bowl based solely on their subjective belief -- check that, their assumption -- that the Gators wouldn't give Ohio State a better game than Michigan did.

Many will contend in the coming hours and days that voters shouldn't be thinking about the championship matchup when casting their ballots. I say, how could they not? You can't ask people to vote in a poll that helps determine the title game and then expect them to somehow block out the impact their vote will have. There's also nothing against it in the criteria for either poll.

"The voters had the freedom to vote for any reason that they deem appropriate," said BCS coordinator Mike Slive, who is also the SEC commissioner . "Some of the [reasons] we may like and some of them we may not like. Some of them we agree with and some we may not. But that's the system that's in place."

Finally, I've got to imagine the voters were affected at least somewhat by recent history.

There was no shortage of sentiment in '04 that undefeated SEC champion Auburn deserved an Orange Bowl berth over undefeated Big 12 champ Oklahoma. But the pollsters weren't about to drop the Sooners to No. 3 for no good reason. As it turned out, they probably should have; USC throttled Oklahoma 55-19, leaving a whole lot of voters feeling like they made the wrong choice.

All the accompanying bellyaching from Tommy Tuberville and other SEC coaches may not have garnered Auburn anything more than a Golf Digest trophy, but it set into a motion a seismic ripple effect. For the past two years, we've had a recurring message beaten into our brains (including in a Sports Illustrated cover story earlier this season): The SEC is the best. The SEC is the toughest. The SEC should have a permanent seat in the national championship game.

That sentiment undoubtedly played a huge role in lifting the Gators into the title game. The respect the SEC has achieved is reflected in how many of their teams appear in the national rankings -- and it's because of those rankings that Florida's resume looked better than Michigan's on paper.

Of course, the SEC's reputation as the best conference this season is yet another one of those pesky assumptions. Fortunately, we now have the perfect litmus test -- the national championship game.

In one corner we have Ohio State, a team no one in the Big Ten was able to touch all season. In the other corner we have Florida, the cream of the SEC crop this season, going 12-1 against the likes of LSU, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas.

You say you're the best, SEC? Then let's see your champion go out to Arizona and knock off an Ohio State team that no one in the Big Ten -- or defending national champion Texas -- could remotely touch all season. At the very least, they better put a bigger scare into Troy Smith & Co. than Michigan did.

If they don't, there are going to be a whole lot of pollsters who wish they'd stuck with their original assumption.

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