Stage set for Buckeyes, Ducks

DALLAS -- When the first telegraph line ever laid was strung from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore in 1844, Samuel Morse tapped out the message, "What hath God wrought!"

Morse's dots and dashes revolutionized the modern world. For the first time ever, a message could travel faster than a human could carry it. Western Union became ubiquitous, nearly a national public utility. By the 1930s, Americans transmitted 200 million messages per year.

Eight decades later, it's hard to find anyone under 60 who has ever received a telegram. It has gone the way of the IBM Selectric and the pager. One generation's revolution is another's artifact.

Which brings us to the College Football Playoff, the new method that the FBS hath wrought to determine our college football national champion. No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State will play Monday night at AT&T Stadium before what may be cable television's biggest audience ever.

It's not just any championship football game. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich began the head coaches' dual press conference Sunday by saying, "Very excited, obviously, to be a part of college football history."

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, attempting to become the 11th coach to win three national championships since the poll era began in 1936, chimed in on the occasion, too. "Our players can say they played in the first College Football Playoff national title (game) ... The Sugar Bowl was incredible, and this is even ratcheted up a little bit more."

That the Ducks (13-1) and the Buckeyes (13-1) will play one another is a tribute to their performance in the semifinal bowls on Jan. 1, when they knocked off No. 3 Florida State, the undefeated defending national champion, and No. 1 Alabama, respectively.

Under the BCS system, which existed in sundry iterations from 1998 through 2013, the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles likely would have played for the national championship. It made for great theater in this first College Football Playoff -- the two teams that likely would have played for the BCS national championship lost in the semifinals. But those losses also serve as an indictment of every BCS decision made before them.

If Alabama and Florida State couldn't get to the championship game, what does that say about the controversial BCS decisions of years past? This game Monday night is the opportunity that Oregon didn't get in 2001, when the Ducks went 10-1 yet finished fourth in the final BCS standings. The playoff is the second chance that undefeated Auburn didn't get in 2004, that 11-1 Texas didn't get in 2008 and that everyone else closed out by the SEC during its seven-year streak of crystal footballs didn't get, too.

The new system is certainly an improvement on the polls, which consisted of tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, "You win." It's an improvement upon the BCS, which did the dirty work of wresting the conferences out of their exclusive bowl relationships and got administrators, coaches and the public accustomed to deciding the champion on the field.

For that, the BCS should have our eternal gratitude. For everything else the BCS did -- the use of computer ratings; the misuse of computer ratings; the Harris Poll, for heaven's sake -- its time had come.

And so we forge into future, sure in the belief that if the best team in the game is not from the states of Alabama and Florida, the sun will come up Tuesday morning. You have to go back to 2007 to find a national champion from some other state (LSU). You have to go back to 2004 for a Pac-12 winner (USC) and to 2002 for the Big Ten (Ohio State -- and that one is still not recognized in Miami).

It has been a long and frustrating road for the NCAA's oldest, and once most powerful, conference. The Big Ten still carries a big stick in the boardrooms of intercollegiate athletics. But the idea of the league winning the first playoff is mind-boggling given the conference's long-term absence from national contention.

Not to mention: Has anyone else thought of the irony of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who came kicking and screaming to the BCS, who kicked and screamed more about starting a playoff, hoisting the first trophy in the playoff era?

The simplicity of the four-team playoff also illustrates -- can any American sports fan say this aloud? -- the ridiculousness of our national festival known as March Madness. The NCAA tournament is great fun and makes for riveting television, but don't confuse naming an NCAA men's basketball champion with identifying the best team in the country.

Simple math tells us that a sixth seed has at least 20 teams ahead of it. Teams play 30 games over four months, and for what? To see a team like UConn get hot and win the national championship? Why bother with a regular season at all, ask many American college basketball fans these days. Regular-season attendance is flat. Regular-season television ratings are flat.

The College Football Playoff trusts the regular season and provides the tension and demands of a postseason tournament. Oregon and Ohio State have been good enough to survive both of the above. Whether they stage a national championship for the ages is up to them. The new format delivered the Ducks and the Buckeyes to a starving public. That's all we can ask -- until the next Greatest Championship Format Ever comes along.