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Delany has no patience for arguments that a plus-one could ratchet up interest in the game even further. Yes, March Madness is sublime, he agrees, but the frenzy it creates comes at a high price. "Look what it's done to the regular season. There's only one game in the country that carries a premium: Duke--North Carolina."
Clamor for a playoff built steadily from 2000 to '04, as a series of worthy teams—Oregon, USC and Auburn—were excluded from the title game. But in '05 the blind squirrel found the acorn; the BCS got it right. No. 2 Texas' 41--38 win over top-ranked USC was one of the best college games ever. But since Longhorns quarterback Vince Young took over in the Rose Bowl two years ago, it seems that playoff partisans have been losing ground.
Last year, when it looked as if Florida might miss out on a berth in the championship game, university president Bernie Machen took up the playoff banner. When pressure was brought to bear on him last April, Machen recanted like Frankie (Five Angels) Pentangeli contradicting his sworn affidavit against the Corleones in Godfather II. ("I don't know nothin' about that.") On that occasion last spring, an SEC presidents meeting in Destin, Fla., Machen went in a passionate advocate for a playoff, only to walk out convinced that "the best way is to work within the BCS structure."
Machen declined to be interviewed for this story, anticipating, perhaps, that he would hear the following admonition: "You had it right the first time, sir."
FOR LSU'S Miles, Saturday's drama began hours before kickoff. At chapel in the team hotel, a player said to him, "Sounds like you're catching a plane on Monday."
Earlier that morning, ESPN had reported that Miles was headed to Michigan to replace the retiring Lloyd Carr. To quash a potentially major distraction, Miles called a team meeting to assure the Tigers that he wasn't going anywhere. He forcefully repeated that assertion in a hastily called press conference at the Georgia Dome. "I have a championship game to play," he said, "and I'm excited about the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it." He was talking about the SEC championship game, of course. Who could have predicted that he might as well have been talking about the BCS title game?
A victory over the Buckeyes would provide a consolation for Wolverines fans who thought they had Miles, a Michigan alum and former Wolverines assistant coach, locked up. It would vindicate his decision to stay in Baton Rouge. The game wouldn't be any tougher if the Tigers were meeting Ohio State in the final of an eight-team playoff. It would just be more meaningful.