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IT IS only good manners, before we take a hydraulic jackhammer to this FUBAR Bowl Championship Series, to congratulate its biggest beneficiaries. Felicitations, Ohio State, for having the good sense to be idle last weekend, while No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia were pratfalling their way out of the national title game. Don't take it personally, Buckeyes, if the rest of the country doesn't share your joy. People remember what happened last year when you made it to the game known as the 'Ship (Florida 41, OSU 14). ¶ And hats off to you, LSU, for retaining the Hat—coach Les Miles, he of the surgically attached Tigers ball cap. Miles looked to be Ann Arbor--bound until he declared two hours before the SEC title game in Atlanta that he wasn't going anywhere, then knocked off Tennessee 21--14. That win, coupled with the dual swoons of Mizzou and the Mountaineers, launched LSU's Bob Beamonesque leap from No. 7 to 1500 Poydras Street, a.k.a. the New Orleans Superdome.
Be patient, BCS loyalists counseled over the latter half of the season. This will all sort itself out. Instead, with the top two teams taking the pipe for the second straight week, the national championship picture took on all the clarity of an Etch A Sketch artist gone mad. Lining up for the coveted No. 2 slot, and the right to face the Buckeyes, were no fewer than seven squads with bona fide arguments. LSU, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech had just won their conference championship games. Georgia and USC are on fire. Kansas has but a single defeat, Hawaii none at all. The truth is, the 60 coaches in the USA Today poll and the 114 Harris poll voters, who slotted LSU into the title game (with help from the system's six computers), were all asked to do the same thing: take a wild guess. Right now, no one has the first clue as to who the two most deserving teams are.
There is only one way to find out, and it involves brackets—either a 16-team playoff (not going to happen) or a "plus-one," in which the top four teams in the BCS would square off in semifinal games, and then the title game, or "plus-one," would kick off a week later. (Because of TV contracts, that probably won't happen before 2011.)
Since its inception in 1998, the BCS has delivered plenty of unfulfilling resolutions. But no season in its 10-year history has cried out so desperately for a playoff. SI's modest postseason proposal features an eight-team field (chart, page 62) and is a compromise between a four-team plus-one, which doesn't go far enough, and a 16-team bracket that would be too taxing—not on the athletes but, rather, on the hearts of purists who contend that a playoff will sap the vitality from the regular season. The field would be determined using the final BCS rankings. The top four seeds would host first-round games. Three of the four BCS bowls would host the semifinals and the title game, and first-round losers would be slotted into other bowls. Now let's explain why, despite widespread appeal among fans, a playoff won't be coming to college football anytime soon.
How fitting that in the final game of the Season of the Upset, the Bayou Bengals will be ranked No. 2 yet favored over the Buckeyes. Pittsburgh's mind-boggling 13--9 win in Morgantown marked the sixth time in 2007 that a No. 2 team had gone down and the 13th time a top five team had been dumped by an unranked foe. True, West Virginia's star quarterback, Pat White, missed much of the game with a dislocated right thumb. But then, LSU survived the Vols with backup Ryan Perrilloux. The Tigers beat six top 20 schools, including defending national champion Florida; ACC champ Virginia Tech, 48--7; and SEC East champ Tennessee—which hammered Georgia by three touchdowns. For those reasons, and because both of the Tigers' losses came in triple overtime, voters saw fit to leapfrog them over the Bulldogs, Jayhawks and Hokies.
Buckeyes versus Tigers (a.k.a. the Vest versus the Hat) is the title game we thought we were going to get three weeks ago, before the season went wildly off the rails. It promises to be a chess match between native Ohioans. Miles grew up in Elyria, 23 miles west of Berea, where Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel went to high school. What this Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game won't be, the redundancy in its title notwithstanding, is a true championship.
YES, BCS coordinator Mike Slive told SI last week, the university presidents he serves "remain interested in continuing to explore" the idea of a plus-one. Translation: They are keeping an open mind about the possibility of someday, years hence, opening their minds. Hopefully, this season's train wreck will light a fire under their backsides.
A plus-one is being considered, Slive goes on, only because it fulfills three criteria: First, it won't devalue the regular season. Also, it won't damage the current bowl system—heaven forbid any harm befall, for instance, the Poinsettia, New Mexico or Motor City bowls! Finally, says Slive, a plus-one "keeps [football] a one-semester sport. There is a point where it needs to come to an end."
Let's examine these criteria in more detail:
1. The sanctity of the regular season. This concern for what is, we agree, the most urgent, impassioned, meaningful regular season in sports, loses something when it is put forward by people from conferences (ACC, Big 12, SEC) that have already devalued their regular season by tacking a title game to the end of it for the sole purpose of creating a fat payday.