Addressing the Utah situation, Ohio State's wasted talent and more
Stop saying the Trojans were robbed of a spot in the title game
Non-championship bowl games are indicative of almost nothing
What coaches elevated their stock the most during the bowl season?
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- You know the season has officially gone bonkers when, two days before the national championship game, 95 percent of my e-mails have nothing do with Florida or Oklahoma, and the coaches of three other bowl-winning teams have already proclaimed their team to be No. 1.
Regular readers know well by now that I am not an eight- or 16-team playoff proponent, but for the past two years have been fully onboard the plus-one bandwagon. After USC crushed Penn State in the Rose Bowl, I excitedly told a fellow writer, "See: Perfect year for a plus-one." Give me Oklahoma-USC and Florida-Texas in two New Year's Day bowls. The winners play a week later. The bowls regain some of their luster. We get an undisputed national champ. Everyone's happy.
And then Utah beat Alabama.
Stewart, given Utah's demolition of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the question that has to be addressed is just what will it take for a so-called mid-major team like Utah to ever be given a shot at a national championship given the system with which we are stuck? Being the only undefeated team in the country, including wins over four top 25 teams, isn't enough? While I can appreciate your annual defense of the bowl system as opposed to a playoff, even your favored plus-one system would have kept Utah out of the running.
Well first of all, I've officially given up trying to relay to people why there is not going to be a college football playoff anytime soon, no matter how many nasty e-mails and belligerent newspaper columns people write. Also, I can no longer bring myself to keep rehashing the same points I've written over and over and over again. You're just going to have to read the book (I'm not saying this to be a shameless self-promoter, it's just that it truly does take a 25-page chapter to fully explain all the politics and complexities of the BCS), or, for a more condensed version, this feature I wrote last year.
As for the plus-one (an actual, realistic solution that the commissioners have at least taken the time to consider), yes, it's true -- Utah probably would not have made the cut. And no, that does not seem fair. When all was said and done, the Utes were by far the most accomplished "BCS buster" to date, so much so that it's an injustice to even stick them with that label. They're just a plain, good football team, regardless of conference affiliation.
That said, hindsight is 20-20, and had a plus-one been in place when the final BCS standings were announced on Dec. 7, I don't think you would have heard much grumbling at the time about Utah's exclusion. The pollsters, and the public, are still very much in an educational process when it comes to how to evaluate teams like Utah in comparison with teams like Florida and Oklahoma. Until now, I think most people have just kind of lumped all the non-BCS conferences together, with the voters elevating any undefeated team just high enough to play in one of the games. But clearly, there was a much bigger gap between Utah and last year's Hawaii team than there was between Utah and this year's BCS-conference champions.
Under the current system, the best thing a program like Utah can do is keep building up respect. Technically, it's not the BCS that's precluding the Utes from winning the national title -- there's no BCS bylaw that says Mountain West teams are ineligible for the title game -- it's the voters. At the same time, the BCS has placed an unofficial stigma on such teams simply by drawing a line in the sand between the six auto-bid conferences and the others. But just as Miami and Florida State once built traditionally poor programs into national powers without the benefit of major-conference affiliation, Utah can, and has, started to do the same thing, and it should pay dividends in the polls in the years to come.
Now, with all that said, on to the question so many of you have asked me ...
Without even knowing the outcome of Florida vs. Oklahoma, what is your rationale for having anyone but Utah No. 1 on your final ballot? By virtually any metric, the Utes should be national champions. They beat four ranked teams (two in the top 10), finished unbeaten and played in a very tough conference. How, in good conscience, can you rank anyone else ahead of them?
The simple answer: Because I don't believe they're the best team in the country. How in good conscience can I rank them ahead of another team who I truly believe is better? I don't mean to discount the Utes' Sugar Bowl win. They flat-out dominated Alabama, with or without Andre Smith. But folks -- it was just one game, and not a championship game at that. I watched Utah play four times during the season (which, I'm guessing, is three times more than many voters did), and that was by far the Utes' best performance.
Prior to the bowls, I had the Utes ranked ninth. In the illustrious words of Social Distortion, I was wrooooooooong. (Yes: I just bought Rock Band 2.) I will be moving them up considerably in the final poll -- but not to No. 1. Why? Because both Florida and Oklahoma played at a higher level against tougher competition over the course of the entire season, and now one of the two is going to beat the other. While the Mountain West deserves credit for a fantastic season, anyone who thinks it was on the same level as the SEC or Big 12 is kidding himself. The fourth- and fifth-best teams in the Big 12 this year were Oklahoma State and Missouri. The fourth- and fifth-best teams in the MWC were Air Force and Colorado State.
Want a more quantitative analysis? In Jeff Sagarin's conference power ratings, the Mountain West finished the regular season No. 7. (Personally, I'd put it ahead of the Pac-10 and Big East.) As for schedule strength, according to CollegeBCS.com, Oklahoma's schedule was No. 2, Florida's No. 5, Utah's No. 61. According to Sagarin (which includes I-AA teams): Oklahoma No. 8, Florida No. 19, Utah No. 70.
I haven't made a final decision where to rank Utah (Thursday night's result will obviously play a factor), but it will probably be somewhere between Nos. 2-4.