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College football notebook (11/18)

   by Larry Ness - 11/18/2005

I'm not sure when or where the phrase "second-guessers" originated but it can certainly be well-applied in the world of politics and sports. I wouldn't dare offer any political opinions as I wouldn't want to offend our President, who is having enough problems these days trying convince us that he KNEW and KNOWS, exactly what he's doing. However, as to the world sports, I'm open for business.

In this case, let's talk college football. There are only three Saturdays left in the 2005 college football season and everyone is holding their collective breath, praying for a showdown between USC and Texas in the Rose Bowl on January 4. Clearly, if the two schools win-out, the matchup is set. However, if one loses, who knows what will happen?

I bring this up now because as usual, everyone seems to annually complain about the BCS. At least that is, since its inception in 1998. Prior to that, although many have seemingly forgotten, there were plenty of flaws in the way college football chose its national champion. The plain and simple fact then and now is that OPINION not PERFORMANCE, has decided many a national champion over the years.

If USC and Texas finish unbeaten, those two schools will be the only two unbeaten teams in the nation and one or the other will have been ranked either one or two for the entire year. It's rare when the regular season concludes with such a clear-cut picture.

Back in 1998, the first year of the BCS, the final Saturday saw three major unbeatens playing, Kansas St, Tennessee and UCLA. Only Tennessee won and naturally claimed one of the two spots in the BCS' first national title game. However, there were four legitimate choices for its opponent. Florida St, Kansas St, Ohio St and UCLA all had one loss. Florida St was chosen (many felt that Ohio St was the best choice) and the first BCS title game was a poorly played and boring 23-16 Tennessee win.

The following year there was little controversy, as Florida St opened as the nation's No. 1 team in the preseason and stayed at No. 1 all year. An undefeated Michael Vick-led Va Tech team was the nation's second-ranked team and was the obvious and clear-cut opponent in the title game. Many said the BCS got it right that year. The BCS didn't do anything RIGHT that year, it was a NO-BRAINER! However, it's my contention, that it is not the BCS' fault. As long as there is no playoff, any system used is at the mercy of a year in which there is no clear-cut No. 1 and No. 2 team to choose from.

Continuing on with my short history lesson. Oklahoma was 12-0 in 2000 but Florida St, Miami and Washington all finished with one loss. That year, Miami had beaten Fla St but lost to Washington. Who do you choose? The choice was Florida State and what resulted was an 'ugly' 13-2 Oklahoma win, leaving Miami and Washington supporters claiming they were 'robbed'.

In 2001 it got really ugly, as the choice to play undefeated and No. 1 Miami was Nebraska. Nebraska got beat in its final regular season game by Colorado 62-36 and didn't even play in the Big-12 title game. When Miami 'toyed' with Nebraska in the Rose Bowl that year (37-14), the uproar was pretty loud that No. 2 Oregon (in both polls) should have been Miami's opponent. However, forgotten in all of this is the fact the popular choice to face Miami in the title game was Colorado not Oregon, which went on to beat the Buffaloes 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl.

It was an easy choice again in 2002, as Miami was undefeated and the defending champs. The only team left 'standing' after the regular season to oppose them was Ohio St. The Buckeyes, double-digit underdogs, went on to beat Miami 31-24 in that year's title game. Isn't it interesting how things turn out when RESULTS count more than OPINION!

The last two years have seen more controversy. USC was No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' poll in 2003 but was left out of the title game which featured LSU and Oklahoma. Last year, although USC and Oklahoma were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all year, Auburn also finished its season undefeated and when USC handled Oklahoma so easily in the title game (55-19), it was only fair to wonder if Auburn wouldn't have been the better choice?

Which brings me back to where I started. With just a single game to determine the national championship and barring a clear-cut No. 1 and No. 2 prior to the selection process (like 1999, 2002 and maybe 2005), how can any system which uses opinion and computer rankings be expected to get it right.

As for some "second-guessing" of my own, let me remind everyone that after the 2003 debacle with USC, the 'cry' was that more emphasis needed to be placed on the "human" polls (AP and Coaches'). While the AP dropped out of the BCS formula this year (replaced by something called the Harris Interactive Poll, which has little or no credibility), let me point out to fans just how 'OFF' both the AP and Coaches' Poll have been this year.

Both polls started the year with USC and Texas as their top-two teams (tough choice). However, after that, these experts basically had no CLUE as to which teams were going to be good in 2005! Of the AP's preseason top-25, 10 are no longer ranked at all, entering this weekend's action. No. 3 Tennessee (4-5) and No. 15 Purdue (4-6) both own LOSING records. Three other ranked teams, No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 20 Arizona St and No. 23 Pittsburgh, are all 5-5. Currently, SEVEN of the AP's top-15 (and 11 of the top-25) were unranked at the beginning of the year by the nation's 'expert' sportswriters. The list includes (starting with the highest-ranked teams) 9-1 Penn St, 7-2 Notre Dame, 9-1 Alabama, 9-1 Oregon, 9-1 UCLA, 8-1 west Va and 10-1 TCU.

As for the Coaches' poll, 10 of its preseason top-25 teams are nowhere to found in its most recent poll, including No. 3 Tennessee, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 10 Iowa. Conversely, 10 members of its current poll were unranked at the beginning of the year. Maybe it's just me but that's some pretty poor guessing (I mean, predicting)!

I point this out now, only in case the USC-Texas showdown gets derailed. If it does, don't blame the BCS and in particular, the computers. The computer rankings make up only one-third of the process. The biggest margin for error will come from the subjectivity of the two "human" polls, one of which is the Harris interactive Poll. Latest word on that poll is that in now includes the entire cast of "Lost" (not counting "the others"). Is this any way to choose a champion in such a great sport?

BOWL SCENARIOS

The biggest flaw in the BCS system is the guaranteed bids for the league champions of the six BCS-affiliated conferences. Last year Pittsburgh was the embarrassing representative from the Big East and this year, with some upsets, things could be much worse. Does the BCS really need Florida State (with possibly four losses!) winning the first-ever ACC title game? Could West Va collapse again, leaving South Florida as this year's Big East representative?

Doesn't everyone want Joe Pa to win the Big-10? However, if Penn St loses at Michigan St, the Ohio St/Michigan winner is in. The BCS will commit 'suicide" if Texas loses in the Big-12 title game to either Colorado, Iowa St or Missouri. What happens if UCLA beats USC on December 3? And finally, how about a Georgia loss to Kentucky this Saturday and then Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team can go out and beat LSU in the SEC title game! Oh, the humanity!

Akron was the only bowl-eligible school to not go to a bowl game last year (South Carolina and Clemson's non-appearance were self-imposed). However, with 50 bowl-eligible teams already and 18 more with a chance, it's likely there will be many more bowl-eligible schools than there are bowl spots (56) available this year.

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