A couple of hours before the start of Saturday night's SEC championship game -- before USC and UCLA had even kicked off -- a BCS official stood chatting with reporters in the back of the Georgia Dome press box and joked: "You know what we say in the BCS?" he said. "Never say, 'That won't happen.'"
A lot of people said that very thing about the Bruins' chances of knocking the Trojans out of the national championship picture on Saturday. And now that Florida has advanced to the title game under somewhat dubious circumstances, a lot of those same people -- particularly in Ann Arbor, Mich. -- are saying the same thing about the possibility of a Gators upset of No. 1 Ohio State.
That's what we do in college football: We make assumptions. We assume Miami will crush Ohio State in the 2002 national title game. We assume '03 Oklahoma is one of the greatest teams of all time right up until the moment it loses 35-7 to Kansas State. We assume '05 USC will cruise to a third straight national title. We assume Wake Forest will never in a million years play in a BCS bowl.
I've always wondered whether the day would ever come when people stopped making such blanket assumptions.
I think that day arrived Sunday.
For the better part of two months, the college football media and public operated under the assumption that Ohio State and Michigan were the two best teams in the country. Even after the Buckeyes knocked off the Wolverines on Nov. 18, we held true to that assumption, setting up the possibility of a rematch for the national championship.
But a strange and unprecedented thing transpired over the two weeks: The people who vote in the polls actually questioned their own assumptions.
Which is how it came to be that on Sunday, a surprisingly large amount of coaches and Harris voters suddenly -- and, if you were to ask any Michigan fan, inexplicably -- moved the Gators over the Wolverines onto No. 2 on their ballots. Did 63 coaches and 113 Harris voters watch Florida's SEC title win over Arkansas on Saturday night and suddenly decide, "I've changed my mind -- Florida is the second-best team in the country, not Michigan."
I highly doubt it.
I think it was the voters' way of saying, "You know what? Maybe it's not as sure as I thought." After all, it's not a question they'd have to give much thought to before because almost no one saw the second title-game spot coming down to a choice between the Wolverines and Gators.
So after USC lost and Florida beat Arkansas the voters did something previously unheard of in the annals of polling: They reevaluated their ballots.
This, of course, will touch off the latest subject of controversy in the illustrious history of the BCS. Three years ago, after the No. 1 team in the polls, USC, inexplicably finished No. 3 in the standings, the BCS folks opted to place less weight on the computers and give more voice to the humans. Now, after this year's bizarre 11th-hour shuffle, a new argument will undoubtedly arise to eliminate the human component altogether.
"I hope that, in the future, we can have a system where all of the answers are decided on the field," an understandably peeved Lloyd Carr said Sunday night. "We need to get away from anything that's not decided by the players themselves."
News flash, people: Even if academia's powers-that-be had a sudden change of heart tomorrow and instituted a playoff, there would still be someone, somewhere determining who plays in it. What the pollsters did Sunday was actually fairly reasoned by college football standards.
The fact is, we have no idea whether Florida is better than Michigan. They play in different conferences against different opponents. One runs a traditional offense where the quarterback hands off to a tailback and throws to a receiver; the other uses its backup QB and a freshman receiver as running backs.