College football was a big winner Sunday. College football was a big loser Sunday.
Which statement is true? Both.
You won't get a one-word answer here, as I try to sort out the various "winners" and "losers." This is not that "Fact or Fiction" thing.
You also won't get a nine paragraph rant on the evils of the BCS. You've heard that before a hundred times and will hear it a hundred more. The BCS is what it is: a system created to inject more fairness in to the bowl system than existed before and select two teams to play in a "Championship Game," while keeping the forces pushing for a playoff at bay.
It failed this season. More importantly, it failed for the third time in the last four seasons. This time, though, with an important twist: the controversy is NOT which contender is most worthy to face the clear No. 1 ranked team. The No. 1 ranked team is nowhere to be found in the BCS game. And it's a much bigger BCS headache, because half the national title could be decided three days before the Nokia Sugar Bowl is even played.
Mr. Corso has been saying for two weeks that he strongly believed it was wrong for Oklahoma to be selected for the Nokia Sugar Bowl if it lost the conference title. I played devil's advocate. But you know what, the old guy had a point. Watching OU get pounded Saturday night (out-played, out-hit, out-coached), really brought home the issue.
But you can't blame the Sooners, any more than you could blast Nebraska two years ago, when the BCS formula placed the second place team in the Big 12 North second in the nation by five-hundredths of a point. Oklahoma is merely operating within the system we've got. The BCS had a chance two years ago to close the loophole allowing non-conference champions to advance to the BCS title game and could not reach a consensus. With only two (soon to be three) of the six BCS conferences playing championship games, the playing field is not quite level on that front.
I wrestled awhile with my AP ballot after Saturday's games. I'm sure I wasn't the only one. I sat there after midnight, ranked teams four through 25 and left the top three slots blank. Finally, I slid Oklahoma in third. As great as they'd been for 12 games, it just felt wrong to rank the Sooners ahead of LSU or USC, off their respective performances Saturday. I wrestled a bit longer before ranking USC first, LSU second. Separating these two is very tough. My reasoning was that USC was "closer" to being perfect, having lost at Cal in triple overtime, with a missed chip-shot field goal figuring prominently. Had they escaped the OT, no one would have had an issue. LSU lost to Florida (which is better than Cal), but it was at home, by a dozen points.
I had no idea if other pollsters would see it that way. It turns out most did, the 1-2-3 margins being pretty decisive.
Which two of these three deserving teams play in New Orleans is not my biggest concern. Hey, in a three-way struggle between three once-beaten teams, somebody is gonna get screwed.
What bothers me is HOW the BCS formula came it to its verdict. The strength of schedule component in effect broke the deadlock between humans and computers. That's weak.
First off, the strength of schedule formula is simplistic: a schedule is rated mostly on opponents' winning percentage. Do you think all 8-4 teams are equal? Is playing 8-4 Florida the same as playing 8-4 Memphis or 8-4 New Mexico? Of course not. But it's treated just the same in the BCS.
Resident BCS guru Brad Edwards tells us that the final BCS verdict came down to two otherwise meaningless games. If either Notre Dame had beaten Syracuse OR Hawaii upset Boise State, LSU would have been left out.
Am I missing something? Did the inspired Orangemen effort (it's about time, by the way), and Boise State's win make LSU a superior team and more worthy BCS participant than it already was? Do those two final scores mean that USC isn't deserving after all? Humans know the answer: games like these are irrelevant. Computers don't know better. They never will.
Now, looking forward, the BCS system will likely fail seven or eight times in the next ten years if left unchanged. There's too much parity and balance to expect that we will have two and only two unbeaten teams at the end of the regular season.
Rest assured, it WILL be changed. Not tweaked again, I hope. Really changed. The formula AND the format, I mean.
Wouldn't USC-Michigan and LSU-Oklahoma make really good semifinals? Hey, they are seeded that way right now. Then the winners play. There is growing support for this among the BCS bigwigs and even the university presidents might go along, since this really doesn't qualify as a "playoff." The bowl system would remain in tact. The system would be fairer and the coffers would be fuller, by millions of bucks.
That's down the road. Back to the present, where we will have two national title games this season. Some believe that when you have two championship games, what you really have is zero true championship games, if "true" is defined as "consensus."
Pete Carroll and his players are quite correct in labeling the Rose Bowl their championship game. That's the only spin they have. It works because the mentality in the Pac-10 and Big Ten has always been that Pasadena is the one and only desirable destination. The Trojans and Michigan have not met in the Rose Bowl in 14 years, so the attraction is even stronger. Boy, did the tradition-worshipping, white-shoes-wearing Tournament of Roses Committee ever stumble into their dream matchup!
I would have a hard time moving USC down in the final ballot if they beat an outstanding Michigan team. Like the other pollsters, I would wait and watch the showdown in New Orleans. But it would take a flukey USC win followed by something pretty extraordinary in the Superdome to sway me. A certain number of voters might make their minds up to vote USC first on January first, to make a statement about the system, who knows?
Did anyone else besides the Rose Bowl folks win? Well, some USC fans feel like they did. Stay at home, watch their team in Pasadena and STILL play for a piece of the title? That's not bad.
The Nokia Sugar Bowl folks are feeling a little conflicted today. They get the home state Tigers, making this the toughest bowl ticket in history. So the scalpers win -- big time. It'll be the wildest possible scene in the French Quarter all week and a really compelling build up to a compelling game: the wounded Sooners, no longer invincible, battling for redemption and hearing for three weeks or so that they don't belong versus a cresting LSU team that was rated down at No. 15 in the preseason. But it's also not the true, undisputed title game that each BCS bowl waits four years for.
Bobby Bowden isn't in love with how things shook out, either. His attempted smiles on ABC's selection show didn't convey much enthusiasm for meeting Miami, in both a rematch and a preview of next season's Labor Day prime time tilt to usher in the new ACC era. And poor Chris Rix. He heroically beats the Gators, finally silences some critics, and now here come the nemesis 'Canes again!
As for the rest of us, we can shake our heads and watch college football's version of the WBC and WBA title bouts, awaiting the day when a true unification title bout is a guaranteed to settle things on the field each season.
Chris Fowler is host of ESPN College GameDay