Sizing up potential BCS controversies before Championship Saturday
We're only days away from the release of the final BCS standings. Not the final BCS standings for this season, but the final BCS standings ever. Naturally, the BCS will not go away without causing another controversy that could be easily resolved with a playoff similar to the one the lords of the sport have already concocted as a replacement for the BCS beginning in 2014.
It's fitting that this week has devolved into a shouting match between the Big Ten and the SEC about whether a one-loss SEC champ is more deserving of a national title shot than an undefeated Big Ten champ. The BCS was the brainchild of former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. And Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's undying devotion to the Rose Bowl helped delay the playoff for years even after current SEC commissioner Mike Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford had decided that the BCS needed a stake driven through its black, black heart. If either Auburn or Missouri is excluded from the title game because of a loss to a quality opponent, the SEC can thank the system it helped create. If Ohio State is unbeaten and gets knocked out of the title game by a one-loss Tigers team (either Auburn or Mizzou), Delany can blame himself and the Big Ten's university presidents. Had they voted yes on Slive and Swofford's plan in 2008, the winner of Saturday's Big Ten Championship Game between the Buckeyes and Michigan State would be headed to the four-team playoff.
Even if only two power-conference teams finish this season undefeated, this will not be an easy year like 2005, when undefeated Texas and USC really did seem like the cream of the crop. Florida State is a lock for the BCS championship if the Seminoles beat Duke in the ACC title game, but even Florida State must defend itself against charges of a schedule softer than Ohio State's. (The reason so few question the Seminoles is because Florida State won 11 of its 12 games by at least 27 points, and won the other by two touchdowns.) If the Buckeyes lose to the Spartans and the SEC champ gets into the national championship game, some team will likely have a compelling argument as to why it should have been included. Some team is going to go to bed angry on Sunday night. The question is, which team? And how will it's complaint stack up against other slights in BCS championship history?
Possible scenario No. 1:
• The scenario: Ohio State beats Michigan State, Florida State beats Duke and the one-loss SEC champion is left out of the BCS title game -- thus ending the league's streak of consecutive national titles at seven.
• The aggrieved: Auburn or Missouri. Lovers of grits everywhere.
• On par with: This won't be quite as bad as Auburn's gripe in 2004, because those Tigers went undefeated. It would be more similar to Miami in 2000. That year, however, was slightly more complicated. The Hurricanes (10-1) had beaten BCS No. 2 Florida State (11-1) at home, but they had lost to BCS No. 4 Washington on the road. Voters and computers placed the Seminoles in the title game against undefeated Oklahoma. Given what Miami did in '01, it's a safe bet that the Hurricanes would have put up a tougher fight than did Florida State in a 13-2 loss to the Sooners.
• Chances of happening: Highly likely. If it does, expect a lot of "it wasn't a REAL championship" talk from SEC country.
Possible scenario No. 2:
• The scenario: Ohio State narrowly defeats Michigan State ---or wins because of a bad call -- and either Auburn or Missouri wins in a blowout in Atlanta. Voters bail on the Buckeyes and boost the SEC champ into the title game.
• The aggrieved: Ohio State. People who call Coke "pop."
• On par with: This scenario might actually create more anger than any decision in BCS history. The Buckeyes would be 13-0. They would have just beaten a top-10 foe. They play in a major conference, and they would have a better strength of schedule than Florida State (a.k.a. the undefeated team that did make the title game). The only controversy that would come close is the one that turned the SEC into the BCS political machine it is today. In 2004, Auburn was 12-0. So were USC and Oklahoma. Because the Trojans and the Sooners had entered the season ranked higher, and because voters weren't as comfortable with juggling spots at the top of the poll as they are now, the Tigers were left out. Though LSU had won the BCS title the previous year, the SEC had not yet become THE. ESS. EEE. CEE. The next time an SEC team had a chance to make the title game, Florida coach Urban Meyer politicked hard and helped secure his team a championship berth. After the Gators proved they belonged by destroying Ohio State, the notion of the SEC as college football's superpower conference was born. In other words, Meyer, now the Buckeyes coach, could get shut out of the BCS title game by the very monster he helped to create.
• Chances of happening: Slim. First, I still don't think voters would abandon an undefeated power-conference team. Second, Missouri and Auburn seem too evenly matched to play a game decided by a huge margin.
Possible scenario No. 3:
• The scenario: Ohio State loses to Michigan State. Missouri beats Auburn and advances to the BCS title game.
• The aggrieved: Alabama (and possibly Oklahoma State and Ohio State).
• On par with: Though few would feel sympathy for the Crimson Tide, Alabama partisans could make a convincing argument that their team is the best one-loss squad in the nation. 'Bama didn't win the SEC West, but it didn't lose to Missouri, either. The Tide lost on the road to Auburn in a wild rivalry game on a play -- a missed field goal that was returned for a touchdown -- that had happened only four times before. Alabama fans would argue that the Tigers are better than South Carolina, which beat Mizzou in overtime at Faurot Field on Oct. 26. The level of anger at Alabama might be similar to the amount at Oklahoma State in 2011 or at USC in '03. Though this year's Crimson Tide (11-1) are probably better than the Cowboys (11-1) were in '11, Oklahoma State never got a chance to prove its worth. (As a matter of fact, the Cowboys' exclusion from the BCS title game flipped the Big 12 to Slive and Swofford's side of the playoff argument, and got the discussion moving at high speed.) Meanwhile, the '03 USC team (11-1) very well could have beaten LSU or Oklahoma -- the two one-loss teams that played for the BCS championship.
• Chances of happening: Not likely, but better than the chances of scenario No. 2. Michigan State is awfully good, and the SEC title game has historically been quite difficult to predict.
Possible scenario No. 4:
• The scenario: Ohio State loses to Michigan State. Duke beats Florida State. While dodging swarms of locusts, voters cast ballots that create a national title game between SEC champ Auburn and -- drumroll, please -- Alabama.
• The aggrieved: Everyone in the 49 states that aren't Alabama.
• On par with: College football leaders might have to skip right past the four-team playoff and go to an eight-team model if this happens. The torches and pitchforks would be out in force.
• Chances of happening: You saw the part about the locusts, right?
• Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois in MAC championship in Detroit (Friday): Quarterback Jordan Lynch and the Huskies can become the final BCS busters, joining Utah, Boise State and TCU as two-time party crashers. Falcons coach Dave Clawson has a good thing going, but Bowling Green must keep Lynch from running wild. He hasn't been held under 100 rushing yards since the Eastern Michigan game -- which NIU won in a 59-20 blowout on Oct. 26, when heroics were unnecessary -- and he's cracked the 300-yard mark twice this year.
• Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: The opening-day starter at quarterback got benched in favor of the guy who finished second in the preseason competition. Then the opening-day starter worked to reclaim the job, and the offense took off. So which team are we talking about here, the Cowboys or the Sooners? Oklahoma State figured out its quarterback situation quicker, and the offense has flourished with Clint Chelf running the show. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Trevor Knight seems to have given the Sooners the offensive identity they had been seeking since replacing the injured Blake Bell. But can Knight handle a Cowboys' defense that leads the Big 12 ,and ranks eighth nationally, with 29 takeaways?
• UCF at SMU: This game may not mean much in the grand scheme of things. If Louisville beats Cincinnati on Thursday night, the Knights win the American Athletic Conference title, as well as the Big East's last automatic-qualifying BCS berth. If the Bearcats win, UCF still probably wouldn't need to beat the Mustangs; win or lose, the Knights would likely have a higher BCS rank than Cincinnati. But UCF would probably like to go undefeated in its first year in a new league, so the Knights would probably prefer to just defeat an SMU team that may be playing without injured quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
• Texas at Baylor: Bryce Petty, the Bears' junior quarterback -- who has a chance to lead Baylor to an 11-win season -- told reporters on Wednesday that he intends to return for his senior season. Though he typically isn't asked to run much, Petty is quite athletic. If the Bears' offense bogs down against the Longhorns, Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk on the read option would be a fairly logical way to attack what has been the Achilles' heel of the Texas defense. Meanwhile, a Longhorns win would complete a pretty amazing comeback from two horrendous out-of-conference losses earlier this season. The forecast for Saturday in Waco calls for temperatures in the 30s and a "wintry mix," which sounds like a snack food but actually is a nasty combination of rain and snow. This game will be the last one in Floyd Casey Stadium. Baylor will move into a much nicer home on the Brazos River next year. If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, this game will have even more meaning, because it will be for the Big 12 title.
• Missouri vs. Auburn in SEC Championship Game in Atlanta: Guess which team this quote came from: "We've just got a bunch of guys that are playing for each other. We're hungry. Just from what happened last year, guys learned a lot from it and they're willing to go out there and fight for one another. That's really showing on Saturdays." You can't figure it out, can you? It came from Auburn senior defensive end Nosa Eguae, but it could have been uttered by any Auburn or Missouri player who was on either team's roster in 2012. Both teams endured awful seasons, and both resolved to never lose like that again. Now, they're playing for an SEC title and, depending on the results of other games and the whims of poll voters, potentially a spot in the BCS title game. No one expected either team to get this far, so they're playing with house money. That means they'll likely empty the playbooks and have some fun. So should we.
• Stanford at Arizona State in Pac-12 championship: The Cardinal steamrolled the Sun Devils in their first meeting on Sept. 21, but Arizona State has improved since then and is on the short list of teams no one wants to play right now. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan should be especially careful. The Sun Devils have returned five interceptions for touchdowns.
• Duke vs. Florida State in ACC championship in Charlotte, N.C.: State attorney Willie Meggs announced on Thursday that Jameis Winston will not be charged in a sexual assault investigation. For my full story from Tallahassee, click here.
• Ohio State vs. Michigan State in Big Ten championship in Indianapolis: This game will likely come down to whether the Spartans can stop the Buckeyes' rushing attack. Ohio State tailback Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller have run all season behind a pulverizing offensive line, and no one has slowed them much -- the Buckeyes' lowest rushing output was 192 yards against Wisconsin on Sept. 28. Meanwhile, Michigan State leads the nation in rushing defense. The Spartans have allowed 653 rushing yards all season. Ohio State has run for more than that in its past two games alone. Only Nebraska was able to run successfully on Michigan State, gaining 182 yards on Nov. 16. If the Spartans are as stingy as usual, they might make one of the teams in Atlanta very happy. But if the game against the Cornhuskers was representative of the way Michigan State handles a quality rushing attack, the Buckeyes have the edge.
Back when conference commissioners and their cronies were trying to defend the BCS, they came up with a catchy slogan: Every Game Counts. This was intended to highlight the ways the BCS protected the sanctity of the regular season by injecting more meaning into every single game. It was pure hogwash, though, and they knew it. That's why they created the four-game playoff that will begin next season.
But to prove just how silly that slogan was, let's examine this week's games to see whether they would mean more relative to the national championship in the BCS or the upcoming playoff.
• BCS: The following games definitely mean something in terms of the national title chase: Big Ten championship, ACC championship. The SEC title game might mean something, but only if one of the favorites loses in Indianapolis or Charlotte. It's conceivable -- but not likely -- that both favorites could lose, but then Alabama would probably jump into the title game against the SEC champ. Yay, BCS! That's it. None of the other games count toward the national title.
• Four-team playoff: The Big Ten and ACC title games would count because Ohio State and Florida State could clinch playoff berths and jockey for seeding. The SEC Championship Game would count because the winner would probably be in the playoff and the loser would probably be out. The Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game would probably count because a Cowboys' victory would give them a serious chance of making the playoff. If Oklahoma State lost, the Baylor-Texas game would count because a Bears victory would put them in the running for a playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 championship might come into play if the selection committee decided that the conference's depth countered the fact that the champ has two losses.
So there you have it. As we've always known, more games would count with a playoff than with the BCS.
You scoreboard watch where you can on Championship Saturday. Sometimes, you scoreboard watch in the can. In 2006, dozens of Florida fans crowded into a Georgia Dome men's room at halftime of the SEC title game to watch UCLA shock USC. They then returned to their seats and watched Urban Meyer's team beat Arkansas to earn the berth in the BCS title game that would have gone to the Trojans if they had beaten the Bruins.
This year, fans of an SEC team will scoreboard watch to see if Meyer's Ohio State team falters in the same way that '06 USC team did. Since the SEC title game will be finished, hopefully they'll watch somewhere other than the bathroom.
Those headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game need to carve out some time to visit St. Elmo Steakhouse. This Indy landmark serves up fine aged beef, and you're having a giant steak. But the real reason you're going is for the shrimp cocktail. Non-oxymoron jumbo shrimp come swimming in a cocktail sauce loaded with so much horseradish that Satan himself thinks it's a tad over the top. I had a horrendous cold when I covered the 2006 Final Four in Indianapolis. I could barely breathe all weekend. The only moments I breathed freely came after eating St. Elmo cocktail sauce. If you can't get in at St. Elmo, go next door to Harry and Izzy's. They share a kitchen, so you're getting a similar steak and an identical shrimp cocktail.