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It's 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3. I am gradually becoming one with a plush love seat in the VIP section of the sportsbook at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. I am looking on in wonderment as the Houston Cougars squander a BCS bowl bid and Case Keenum plays his way out of the Heisman race. Here, inside the velvet ropes, I am insulated from the common herd, not because I'm remotely important, but rather because I stepped over the rope when the security guy wasn't looking.
But now the jig is up: an officious, balding fellow is asking my fellow squatters, "Excuse me, but do you have a reservation? These seats are taken"—reserved, for "diamond members." If I'd purchased one of those memberships—had I felt confident in my ability to bury it in my next expense report—I would've breezed past the simian bouncers on Friday night and into the nearby Pure nightclub, instead of settling for a virtual tour, during which I learned that Pure's recent guests have included Big Boi, Nicky Hilton, Mims & Chingy and Khloe Kardashian. Which is fine: I don't do well with celebrities, having once mistaken Avril Lavigne for a pro snowboarder at a Winter X Games Red Bull party. For some reason she wasn't flattered, as I would've been.
I bail before Chrome Dome can give me the bum's rush, gathering my possessions, including a $7 latte, with a studied dignity. (From the $14.99 per day Wi-Fi to the $25 it costs to set foot inside the health club, Caesars bows to few resorts when it comes to gouging its guests.) Beyond the ropes I snag a more Spartan chair considerably farther from the dozen or so televisions, and turn my attention back to the Conference USA title game. Southern Miss is dominating undefeated, seventh-ranked Houston, and Keenum is being outplayed by his counterpart, Austin Davis, who will finish with four TDs in a 49--28 win that keeps the Cougars out of a BCS bowl and costs C-USA roughly $13 million.
AS ADMIRAL STOCKDALE once inquired, "Who am I? Why am I here?" I cover college football for this magazine: Why, on "conference championship weekend," have I decamped to the Strip?
The slogan put forward by the BCS, Every Game Counts, has long since been exposed as the sporting world's version of the Big Lie. Even a modest playoff would inject huge interest and significance into late-season games that now have zero impact on the national title. A playoff would dramatically enhance the value of the regular season rather than diminish it, as BCS defenders insist despite clear evidence to the contrary. Seldom, if ever, has that ill-chosen tagline rung more hollow than last week.
Even if top-ranked LSU lost in the SEC championship game (the Tigers didn't, capitalizing on several sensational plays by sophomore defensive back--return ace Tyrann Mathieu to pull away from Georgia, 42--10), they were still all but guaranteed a slot in the BCS title game, to be played in New Orleans on Jan. 9. Their opponent would still be Alabama, a team LSU beat 9--6 on Nov. 5. Suggestion for an amended slogan: Every Game Counts, Except When It Doesn't.
Even if Oklahoma State—third in the BCS—put the wood to Oklahoma that night (the Cowboys did, handing the Sooners their worst loss in seven years 44--10), that still wouldn't persuade voters to vault Oklahoma State over Alabama and into the title game.
So I'd been dispatched not to Atlanta nor to Stillwater but to Sin City to execute, one editor suggested, "a Hunter S. Thompsonesque" essay searching for the meaning, in no particular order, of life, the BCS and the weekend's games. While I didn't end up huffing ether or ingesting peyote, I did deliberately use far too much wasabi on my sushi at lunch last Saturday. And while I don't smoke, I ended up hanging around with people who did.
On Friday night I fell into conversation with Steve Horn, an Oregon fan who'd ventured beyond the velvet rope to avail himself of a Marlboro Light. He had taken the over (66 points) for Friday night's first Pac-12 title game between the No. 8 Ducks and unranked UCLA, which was coming off a 50--0 rout at the hands of USC.
"UCLA runs a pistol offense, like Nevada"—whom the Ducks beat 69--20 on Sept. 10—"so I thought 66 was doable," says Steve, who talks me into making a halftime bet.