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Ness Notes

   by Larry Ness - 12/02/2008

Enough already about the BCS somehow ruining college football. Everyone agrees that some sort of playoff structure would be superior to the BCS but in what universe have college football fans been living in for the last century? College football has NEVER had a playoff system and my earliest memories (mid 1960s) are of some announcer claiming that such and such school had just been awarded the "mythical" national championship.

Nothing has changed. The current BCS system (in place since 1998) didn't replace a "working model," rather it was introduced to a produce a game in which the nation's top-two teams would meet in the season's final bowl game, with the winner being crowned that year's champ. Naturally, there will be times when not everyone (pollsters, coaches, fans, computers and even President-elect's) will agree on which two teams deserve to be in the title game.

However, that's not something new. The BCS did not create the situation, so how can anyone reasonably blame it? The bottom line is this and I hope Mr Obama is listening, since I'm sure with all that's going on in this country and around the world, a college football playoff system is at the top of his "to-do list" come January 20. The college presidents, the only people which matter in this process, have no intention of implementing a playoff structure. Case closed!

As far as our President-elect is concerned, I hope he moves on to issues like to the two wars we are in, the greatest economic disaster in the US since the 1930s or any number of the other mildly important issues of the day. As for everyone else, get over the fact that there is NOT going to be playoff in college football and just enjoy the controversy, as well as the games (a wager or two, may help?). It's NOT life-and-death and unless you've been 'hiding under a rock,' it's nothing new.

Let me address the current situation and then take you down a 'Reader's Digest' journey of some college football history. The Big 12 South ended its regular season with three schools all tied at 7-1 in the South Division. Three-way tie-breakers are tough in any sport and have been around a long time before there was ever a BCS. It's not the BCS' fault that Texas beat Oklahoma, Texas Tech beat Texas and then Oklahoma beat Texas Tech.

Why the Big 12 chose to use the BCS standings in its tie-breaking formula is I agree, a 'head-scratcher?' Why would the conference not decide its own division-winner? Why go to an outsider? If Texas has a complaint it shouldn't be with the BCS but rather its own conference. Isn't this just another example of someone "passing the buck?" I think so.

However, as I like to point out, this is nothing new. A recent BCS controversy arose in 2005 when USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all finished unbeaten in 2005. One team had to be left out of the national-title game. It turned out to be Auburn and the Tigers blamed the BCS. Now I don't want to confuse the issue with facts but why doesn't someone check with Penn State's Joe Pa, who at 82, has been around a little longer than the BCS.

Joe Pa could tell you about his 1968, 1969 and 1973 teams which all won an Orange Bowl at the end of those seasons to finish with records of 11-0, 11-0 and 12-0, respectively. However, all three of those teams failed to win a national title. He could also add his 1994 team to the list, which after winning Penn State's first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl, finished 12-0 but like the other three times, wound up second-best.

Texas claims its win over Oklahoma means it is deserving of a place in the Big 12 championship game but what about Tech's win over Texas? Back in 2000, Miami-Fla cried "foul" when FSU was chosen to play Oklahoma in that year's BCS title game. The 'Canes and Seminoles were both 10-1 at the time but Miami had beaten FSU 27-24 in the regular season.

I can see the logic to that argument but Miami conveniently forgot to mention that Washington was also 10-1 at the end of the regular season that year and had beaten Miami, 34-29. So why didn't the Huskies deserve to go over FSU and surely Miami, a team it beat? It gets back to my point about those three-way tie-breakers being almost impossible to decide fairly or without one team/school feeling as if it got 'screwed.'

Again, the BCS is NOT responsible for things like this. As far as "results on the field" counting for something, let me remind everyone of a little pre-BCS history that wasn't too long ago and most good college football fans should remember. Joe Pa's "partner in crime" these days is FSU's Bobby Bowden, as the two "grand old men" of college football battle at the top of the career wins list.

Bowden won his first of two national titles in 1993. His team finished 12-1 that year after beating an undefeated and No. 1-ranked Nebraska team in the Orange Bowl, 18-16. However, the argument that season over which two teams were the best was between FSU and Notre Dame. In fact, FSU was favored by more than two TDs in its Orange Bowl game with Nebraska. Notre Dame finished that season 11-1, after beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, which was still a "major" bowl in those days.

The catch is, 1993's "Game of the Year" was a November 13 contest in South Bend, when 9-0 FSU (ranked No. 1) met 9-0 Notre Dame (ranked No. 2). The Seminoles were seven-point favorites in that game but the Irish won 31-24. Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, the Irish were upset the following week by Boston College (41-39), on a last-second FG. When it came time to vote fo the nation's No. 1 team after the bowls, both the AP and the coaches went with FSU, ignoring Notre Dame's "win on the field." Sound familiar? I think so and remember, the BCS was still five years away.

My point is simply this. The BCS is not to blame for college football's inequities, as they've been around forever. You think the process of picking a national champion is bad now? Consider the year 1936 and then the year 1977.

The AP poll first came on the scene in 1936 and crowned its first national champion that year. Which school won? How about Minnesota, which finished 7-1. How much sense did it make to 'crown' the Gophers? Not much. Minnesota didn't even win the Big 10 title that year, Northwestern did. The Wildcats finished 6-0 in Big 10 play that year, while the Gophers finished 4-1 and I can't tell you why one school played five league games and the other six.

What I can report is that Northwestern beat Minnesota that year 6-0, yet after losing later that year to Notre Dame, the 7-1 Wildcats not only didn't finish ranked higher than the school it beat, Northwestern finished No. 7 in the AP poll. At 9-0-1 LSU was No. 2, 7-1-1 Pittsburgh was No.3, 8-0-1 Alabama was 4th, 7-1-1 Washington 5th and 7-0 Santa Clara 6th. The year 1936 pre-dated the Rose Bowl's agreement between the Big 10 and Pac 10 (then the Pacific Coast Conference), so neither Northwestern nor Minnesota went to a bowl game that year. By the way, the bowl season, as it were, consisted of just six games.

That's the way college football began its process of choosing a national champion and some forty years later, it was just as screwed up. Heisman winner Earl Campbell led Texas to an 11-0 regular season in 1977 and the Longhorns were the nation's undisputed No. 1 team, getting 49 of the 57 first-pace votes in that year's final regular season poll. Texas was a member of the SWC at that time and each year, that conference's winner would host the Cotton Bowl.

So how would the 1977 bowl season play out, so college football could determine its national champion? Oklahoma finished No.2 in that year's regular season poll and as the winner of the Big 8, was contracted to play in the Orange Bowl. Alabama was No. 3 and as winner of the SEC, was off to the Sugar Bowl. Michigan finished No. 4 and as the winner of the Big 10, headed to Pasadena. Now that's a great system, huh? Send each major conference champ off to a different destination!

Texas' best available opponent that year was No. 5 Notre Dame, an independent not 'locked in' to a bowl commitment. In short, Notre Dame upset No. 1 Texas 38-10, Oklahoma lost in the Orange Bowl and Michigan lost in the Rose Bowl. No. 3 Alabama did beat Ohio State 35-6 in the Sugar Bowl but AP voters and coaches alike leapfrogged Notre Dame from No. 5, all the way to No. 1, as Bear Bryant and Alabama were left to cry foul.

Yeah, the BCS has really ruined college football.

Good luck, Larry

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