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College Football 2013: A 2003-04 Replay?
by Larry Ness - 10/09/2013
The latest AP poll (Oct 6) saw the top-5 teams unchanged for the fourth consecutive week. Alabama is No. 1, Oregon at No. 2, Clemson at No. 3, Ohio State at No. 4 and Stanford checking in at No. 5. That hasn’t happened since late in the 2004 season, when USC was No. 1, Oklahoma No. 2, Auburn No. 3, California No. 4 and Utah at No. 5. With college football’s four-team playoff format still a year away, the last thing the BCS needs in its final season of existence is a replay of that 2004 season, or for that matter, its predecessor, the 2003 season.
Setting the stage for the 2004 season was 2003, when USC, despite being ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls, finished No. 3 in the final BCS rankings, behind No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 LSU. LSU would beat Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game, to claim that title and as per agreement, the Coaches’ poll awarded the No. 1 ranking to LSU. However, the AP poll had no such agreement and named USC its national champion, the last time college football has seen a split national championship.
Things were only slightly better in 2004 but NOT if you ask the Auburn Tigers. The AP “opted out” of being one-third partners in the BCS rankings after the 2003 debacle. USC was the Coaches’ poll preseason No. 1 and Oklahoma came in at No. 2 Auburn, coming off an 8-5 season, was ranked 18th. USC and Oklahoma both won all of their games that season, never falling from the No. 1 or No. 2 spots, respectively. Auburn, stayed unbeaten as well and steadily moved up the poll ‘ladder,’ reaching No. 3 by late October.
However, with USC and Oklahoma never losing, the Tigers, even after winning the SEC championship game, couldn’t crack USC and Oklahoma’s stranglehold on the top-two spots in the final BCS standings. The Utes (of the MWC), were also unbeaten that year but no one was clamoring for them to be included in the BCS national championship game, as Utah would settle for becoming the first-ever school from a non-BCS conference to reach a BCS Bowl game that season. Utah would go on to crush Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl.
However, Auburn and SEC fans were surely not happy that the Tigers were left to play in the Sugar Bowl, where they beat Va Tech 16-13, while USC trampled Oklahoma 55-13 in the BCS title game, played that season at the Orange Bowl. The new four-team playoff format (set to be implemented next season), would have allowed for USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all to be included. That said, nothing’s perfect, as which school would have been the fourth school included that year? Texas (one-loss) finished 4th in the BCS rankings in 2004, Cal (one-loss) No. 5 and unbeaten Utah No. 6. The two schools left out, sure would have been ”crying foul.” Therein lies the inherent problem, even with a four-team playoff format.
Getting back to 2013, Alabama sure looks like a heavy favorite to “run the table” if it survives its Nov 9 home game with LSU. As for Oregon and Stanford, those schools meet two days before the LSU/Ala game, on a Thursday night at Palo Alto (think anyone will be watching?). The winner very likely (especially if its Oregon) will be unblemished by year’s end. Then we have current No. 3 Clemson and current No. 6 Florida St likely settling the ACC race Oct 19 in Death Valley. Ohio St (as we saw last Saturday night vs Northwestern), is no shoo-in to remain unscathed in the Big Ten but it’s sure not hard to believe that this year’s regular season (after conference championship games) could end with three or even more unbeatens.
If so, which two would get the prized invites to Pasadena on Jan 6? There is also the real possibility that we could have just one unbeaten and a handful of deserving one-loss teams, fighting over one spot. It’s not even mid-October yet and the hand-wringing has already begun.