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That was Then, this is Now!

   by Larry Ness - 12/06/2004

The year was 1979 and ESPN was in its first year of 24-hour sports coverage on television. College football's regular season ended that year with FIVE unbeaten teams (sound familiar?). However, there was no televised bowl selection show that year. Also, there was no major controversy as to which bowl game each school was headed to, nor who would play whom! A look back....

Woody Hayes' Ohio State team finished the 1979 regular season 11-0 and at No. 1 in the AP. Alabama (Bear Bryant) was No. 2, also at 11-0. USC (John Robinson) was the nation's No. 3 team at 10-0-1 and Bobby Bowden's Florida State team came in at No. 4 with an 11-0 season. Lavell Edwards led BYU to an 11-0 season but even in those pre-BCS days, the Cougars (then playing in the WAC) were not considered a legitimate national-title contender (that would change in 1984, though!)....

Let's dispense with BYU first. The Cougars went to the Holiday Bowl and lost to Indiana 38-37, a team coached by Lee Corso (how's that for a time-warp?). The Cougars ended their season 11-1 and ranked 13th in the final AP poll. As for the others, here's how it played out....

As winners of the Big-10, No. 1 Ohio State was matched up against Pac-10 champion, No. 3 USC. No. 2 Alabama, the SEC champ, hosted the Sugar Bowl where it played No. 6 Arkansas, coached by Lou Holtz (this is fun!). No. 5 Oklahoma (coached by Barry Switzer) finished the regular season at 10-1 and as winners of the Big-8, hosted the Orange Bowl vs No. 4 FSU (an independent). Just to round out the top-eight, No. 7 Nebraska (Tom Osborne) was sent to the Cotton Bowl where it met the host school No. 8 Houston (Bill Yeoman), which at 10-1 had won the Southwest Conference....

USC beat Ohio State 17-16 in the Rose Bowl, Alabama beat Arkansas 24-9 in the Sugar, Oklahoma beat FSU 24-7 in the Orange and Houston beat Nebraska 17-14 in the Cotton. Alabama finished 12-0 and claimed the national championship with USC (11-0-1) finishing at No. 2 Oklahoma (11-1) at No. 3, Ohio state (11-1) at No. 4 and Houston (11-1) at No. 5. Believe it or not, everyone survived!...

Fast forward to Sunday, December 5, 2004 a date that will live in infamy! At six-o'clock eastern, the world tuned in to ESPN's Bowl Selection Show or logged on at espn.com. I happened to be taking a walk on the beach in Malibu at the time but thanks to the magic of tivo, I can accurately report what transpired....

The show began with the unveiling of the final BCS standings and to no one's surprise USC was No. 1, Oklahoma was No. 2 and Auburn was No. 3. Kirk Herbstreit told us the BCS 'worked'! Of course Herbstreit said this because in his opinion. USC and Oklahoma are the nation's top-two teams. Trev Alberts chimed in that it was"fundamentally unfair that a 12-0 Auburn team could be left out". Of course Alberts believes it should have been USC and Auburn in the national championship game. We are only left to speculate whether Alberts would have felt it was "fundamentally unfair" if Oklahoma not Auburn, was the school on the outside-looking-in?...

While the drama surrounding which one of the three 12-0 schools would not get an Orange Bowl invite, the biggest controversy came when Texas edged out California for the final at-large BCS spot! What happened to Cal is NOT new and there's NO conspiracy!...

Cal fell victim to the so-called "human polls". While Texas was at home last Saturday night, its season finished at 10-1, the Golden Bears were in Hattiesburg playing Southern Miss. California out-gained Southern Miss for the game 546 yards-to-327 but won 'just' 26-16. Some Pac-10 loyalists argue that if Cal hadn't been 'robbed' of a late-TD, a 17-point margin of victory would have helped the Bears' cause....

Those people as missing the point! The problem for Cal was it led just 17-16 with under six minutes remaining, when a blocked extra-point prevented Southern Miss (a lightly regarded opponent) from tying the game at 17-all. Now what IS relevant, is Cal's performance vs Southern Miss, was NOT as bad as Texas' 27-23 'escape at Kansas back on November 13 (aided by a highly questionable penalty on Kansas!)....

Cal's eventual undoing was nothing more than BAD TIMING! Voters had long-forgotten the Longhorns' poor performance at Kansas, while Cal's 'struggle' vs Southern Miss was fresh in their minds. Texas was able to pick up 12 points in the final AP vote and 15 points in the coaches' poll. While Cal stayed at No.4 in both of those polls, the margin of total points narrowed enough for Texas' lead in the computer component to allow them to pass Cal in the final BCS standings and send the Longhorns to Pasadena!...

Cal was no LESS deserving than Texas of that final BCS at-large bid but the Bears were no MORE deserving either! As to the argument that Cal deserves to go to the Rose Bowl because the Bears represent the Pac-10, that's hogwash! First of all traditionalists, Cal DID NOT win the Pac-10 title, USC did! Secondly, your beloved Rose Bowl sold-out a long time ago when it "took the money" and joined the BCS!...

Is this any way to decide things? Of course not but it looks as if this system will be in place until at least 2010, so get used to it! As for me, I am heading back to the beach....

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