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Monday, November 7, 2011

To Be Settled in New Orleans???

The Game of the Century has come and gone. Come and gone without a touchdown…. Come and gone without a winner at the end of the fourth quarter. LSU won 9-6 at Alabama on Saturday night, retaining their #1 BCS ranking, on the strength of winning the coin toss in overtime and an Alabama penalty that pushed the Tide into a low percentage field goal range. LSU had the better score. Did they prove to the nation that they were the better team? 


The BCS and Associated Press rankings were released today. Only LSU and Oklahoma State are ranked ahead of Alabama in the BCS poll. Bama is #4, behind Stanford, in the AP poll. Oklahoma State has a December 3rd date with former #1 Oklahoma. Without the benefit of a conference championship game, Oklahoma would not likely have the opportunity to jump Bama (should the Tide win its remaining games), in spite of being the Big XII champion.

The BCS Championship Game is played at the end of the FBS schedule between the #1 and #2 teams in the BCS poll. While structured to be substantially favorable to conference champions, the rules are not set in stone that the participants need to be conference champs.

In 2003, for example, the Oklahoma Sooners were so strong (and unbeaten) in the regular season that they effectively mailed in their Big XII Championship matchup with Kansas State, knowing they would retain their #1 ranking and play for the BCS Championship. While the BCS formula has since given more preference to conference champions, there is no rule precluding a non conference winner from playing for the crystal football. There is no rule precluding two teams from the same conference from vying for the big prize.

Kansas State: 2003 Big XII champions; Big XII runner-up Oklahoma: 2003 BCS finalist 1

LSU and Alabama played 60 minutes of football and were tied, 6-6. Prior to 1996, this game would have ended in a tie. Under NCAA FBS overtime rules, each team gets a possession starting at the 25 yard line. The team with the higher score after both teams have had a possession wins. If tied, the process repeats.

Football is a game played on a 120 yard field, with 100 yards in between the goal lines. The overtime rules reduce the set of skills, to determine the outcome of a game, to (essentially) red zone offense and defense. The punting game, return game, and downfield passing game, among other aspects, are completely removed from overtime in college football. What can your team do on a short field? The answer determines the winner.

Rules are rules and LSU won by the rules, fair and square. But the rules under which both teams had to play, after regulation, snipped away 75% of the skills involved in the game of football by snipping away 75% of the field of play. Did America REALLY find out who the best team was on Saturday?

Why shouldn't these kids get another chance to experience this kind of joy? 2

Of college football’s Automatic Qualifier (major) conferences for the Bowl Championship Series, few would argue that the Southeastern Conference is the strongest conference in college football today. Arguments to the contrary lack any substantive evidence. George W. Bush was less than a year into his second term and current Alabama coach Nick Saban was a rookie Head Coach in the NFL the last time a school from outside the SEC won the BCS Championship, following the 2005 regular season.

What is arguable is whether or not a one loss SEC team should trump a one loss team from another conference in the BCS race. Past history has dictated so, provided the one loss SEC team was the conference champion. However, it is difficult for me to ignore the mental asterisk next to Alabama’s lone loss. Tied after four quarters…facing the undefeated #1 team in the country…never allowed LSU into the end zone. Should Stanford and Oklahoma State lose at some point this season, no other BCS conference school with one loss could make such a claim.

The last five BCS champions wore one of these helmets. 3

The immediate argument that an opponent of an all-SEC BCS title game would propose, understandably, is that a team that cannot win its own division does not deserve to be crowned king of the college football world. I would agree with that, without question, in any set of circumstances besides the once-per-generation circumstances that arose from Saturday’s game. A #1 team vs. a #2 team with no winner after regulation play from the best conference in college football….

I do not think a team with one loss, even an overtime loss, should leapfrog an unbeaten champion of a power conference. However, it is not a farfetched possibility for the other five (or possibly all six) major conferences to lack an unbeaten. Considering the razor-thin nature of Alabama’s one loss and the stature of Bama’s opponent and conference, a debate over whether Alabama is the best of the one-loss teams, conference champions or not, is a viable one.

Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt made a similar plea in 2007, but with less ammunition than a one-loss Bama team would have this year. 4


All of the arguments for or against Bama playing LSU for a rematch (assuming LSU remains unbeaten) will be silenced by the BCS. Does a conference runner up deserve a run at its conference champion for the national championship? Some can look at Bama’s loss on Saturday and ask, “Why?” I look at the circumstances surrounding this college football season and ask, “Why not?”

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