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BCS...It's no worse than its predecessors!

   by Larry Ness - 07/22/2005

(second of a nine-part CFB series)

It seems like everyone loves to blame the BCS for all of college football's woes. It's the fault of the BCS that USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all made it through their respective regular season schedules unbeaten (not to mention Utah in the MWC!) and the season's national title game was forced to leave one of the three major unbeatens out!

It was the fault of the BCS that some AP voters (in their poll) and some coaches (in the coaches' poll), dropped California after its 'close' win over Southern Miss, allowing Texas to leapfrog them in the final BCS standings (and claim that final at-large spot).

I guess it's easy to hate a monolith? Kind of like "Hal", the computer-gone-mad in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, paraphrasing Marc Anthony, "I've come to praise the BCS, not bury it."

In truth, I'm not actually ready to praise the BCS but I am willing to give it a back-handed compliment. The BCS is NO WORSE than anything that's preceded it. While many today are highly critical of the BCS, it doesn't take too much research before realizing that many of college football's former national champions have been flawed. Since its inception, college football has always relied on opinion rather than performance, when choosing its national champion.

I won't even discuss the years prior to 1936, starting in that season because it was the year in which the AP first began its yearly poll, eventually declaring a national champion at season's end (well almost)! While the NCAA was smart enough to establish a national playoff system to determine its basketball champion as early as 1939 (you may have heard of the NCAA Tournament, better known now as "March Madness"), it has never been able to bring itself to develop a workable playoff system in football. The reasons are many, most of which are better described as excuses rather than reasons!

The AP was alone in choosing a national champion until the United Press joined the fray in 1950. Interestingly, the AP chose to hold its final poll prior to the bowl games for decades, thereby rendering bowl results irrelevant, in determining the national champion (a brilliant decision!).

Here's a list of four of that era's flawed national champions, due to that decision.

1). Tennessee won the AP title in 1951 finishing the regular season 10-0. Mich St was No. 2 at 9-0 and Maryland at No. 3, also 9-0. Michigan St didn't go to a bowl that year but Maryland beat Tennessee in the Orange Bowl that year, 28-13. However, Tennessee had already claimed that season's title. Boy is the BCS a bad system!

2). Michigan St was awarded the title after a 9-0 regular season in 1952 (again no bowl appearance). However, the people of Atlanta must have had a little to say about that choice, as Bobby Dodd's Georgia Tech team finished the 1952 season 12-0, including a 24-7 Sugar Bowl win over No. 7 Mississippi!

3). Maryland won a title in 1953 in the exact same manner in which it had lost a title in 1951. The Terps were voted No. 1 after a 10-0 regular season and their 7-0 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl didn't give Frank Leahy's 9-0-1 Notre Dame team a chance to move up from the No. 2 spot, with a vote after the bowl season.

4). In 1960, Minnesota claimed the No. 1 spot with a record of 8-1 over 2nd-ranked Ole Miss (9-0-1). Even worse, Minnesota went on to lose to Washington in the Rose Bowl 17-7 (finishing 8-2), while Ole Miss beat Rice 14-6 in the Sugar Bowl to finish at 10-0-1! You gotta just LOVE how well things worked in the days before the BCS!

If you think that's the only problems that era faced in deciding national champions, THINK AGAIN!

Ever heard of a RB duo called Mr Inside and Mr Outside? Well in 1944 and 1945, Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis led Army to consecutive national championships, going 9-0 both years. In 1946, No. 1 Army continued its winning streak until settling for that famous 0-0 tie against No. 2 Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on November 9. When Army (a four-TD favorite) 'only' beat Navy 21-18 later that month, the AP crowned 8-0-1 Notre Dame its national champion, depriving the 9-0-1 Cadets, a third straight title. Fair? I don't know but the BCS isn't starting to look all that bad, is it?

Things really get 'strange' in 1947. That year, Notre Dame won its second straight national title, finishing 9-0. Michigan also finished 9-0 that year, to finish No. 2. However, while Notre Dame had a ban on bowl games at that time, Michigan went to the Rose Bowl and beat No. 8 USC, 49-0. This is where it gets REALLY good!

An unprecedented "Who's No. 1?" poll was conducted by the AP after the Rose Bowl game, pitting Notre Dame against Michigan. The Wolverines won the vote, 226-119, but the AP ruled that the Irish would be the No. 1 team of record!

I REPEAT! The AP CALLED for a poll, the Wolverines WON the poll, yet the AP went with its ORIGINAL choice! I guess using that kind of logic, if Notre Dame had won the poll, the AP would have reversed its decision and declared Michigan No. 1. How's the BCS looking now?

I could go on and on with more examples (and I will discuss the 1964 through 1966 seasons in my Monday article on USC) but I'm assuming you get the point. I didn't even touch on the many seasons of co-champions, when the two competing human polls each had a different winner. The first of 10 seasons that produced co-champions came in 1954 (Ohio St won the AP / UCLA the UP) and the last of which came in 1997 (Michigan won the AP / Nebraska the ESPN-USA Today).

That 1997 season spawned the birth of the BCS. The BCS had hoped to pit a clear No. 1 versus a clear No. 2 but it is not an easy thing to do. Nebraska's inclusion in the BCS title game of 2001, after its season-ending 62-36 loss to Colorado rather than the Buffs or the Oregon Ducks facing Miami, caused major criticism of the process. When USC, No.1 in both human polls, was left out of the BCS title game in 2003, the @#$! hit the fan!

Ironically, 2004's increased emphasis on the human polls in the BCS formula, caused the year's biggest controversy, Texas leapfrogging Cal for that final at-large bid.

New developments for 2005 are the following:

AP lawyers wrote a cease-and-desist letter to the BCS right around last year's bowl season that included the charge that the BCS's use of the poll was "unlawful." The AP will continue taking weekly votes (first regular season poll is September 6)-including the controversial pre-season poll (appears on August 20)- as it pleases to promote newspaper sales and to crown a national champion (what a noble institution!).

The Coaches Poll, came under intense pressure to publish each vote but the coaches voted to only reveal their final poll. That decision caused ESPN to drop its association with the poll. That's actually pretty funny, as ESPN's college football crew throws more 'softballs' than Larry King, when it comes to the network's coverage of the sport!

The Harris Interactive CFB Poll (replacing the AP component in the BCS formula) begins this year. Its first poll will not appear until September 25, hopefully eliminating some of the pre-season bias that many (rightly) felt was patently unfair. It will be made up former coaches, players and members of the media.

I find the whole process somewhat amusing, as ANY system short of some kind of a playoff, has inherent flaws. National titles should NEVER be won on the basis of opinion. They should be won on the playing field. That's the beauty of competition. The BEST team doesn't always win at the end of a playoff season (in any sport) but the CHAMPION does!

Monday, I'll tackle USC chances for what people are calling a "Three-Pete."





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