Chris Fowler

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Sunday, December 9
Enough is enough

By Chris Fowler
Special to

The only fitting conclusion for this college football season would be for Nebraska to stun Miami in the Rose Bowl. Then, the team ranked fourth in both polls heading into bowl season would be given half the national title in a mandated verdict, while the winner of the Colorado-Oregon Fiesta Bowl would grab the other half, via the non-mandated verdict in the AP poll.

Eric Crouch
Heisman winner Eric Crouch and Nebraska somehow held off the Buffaloes in the BCS.

It's hard to imagine a worse scenario from the BCS standpoint -- a team that did not win a division title, let alone a conference title, coming off its worst defensive performance in history, losing 62-36 to the team ranked just ahead of them in both polls, gets the formula's verdict by five-hundreths of a point. Five-hundreths of a BCS point outweighs 26 points on the field.

It's a perfect statement about what's wrong.

The many, many fundamental flaws of the BCS system are not Nebraska's fault. Blame the Cornhuskers for being blown out in Boulder, but don't blame them for packing for Pasadena. The system produced this result. The system deemed the 'Huskers most worthy.

What do you expect them to do? Decline the Rose Bowl invite and suggest a runoff between Oregon and Colorado? If you have issues with the system (and who outside of Nebraska does not today?) then the system should be the focus of your criticism.

Not even Frank Solich's fairly spirited public lobbying of his colleagues last week made a difference. Colorado still jumped Nebraska in the coaches' poll.

What decided this BCS decimal derby was a last-minute interception of Southern Mississippi's Jeff Kelly when the Eagles were in fringe field goal range, down two points against TCU Friday night. TCU played Nebraska earlier this season, losing 21-7 in Lincoln. The tiny boost to Nebraska's schedule strength was just enough to hold off the Buffaloes.

So, BCS big guys, is this what you envisioned? A Friday night game between two mediocre teams in the very non-BCS Conference USA, was the factor that propelled a head-to-head loser into Pasadena? Oh yeah, that plus the all-important issue of whether Tennessee dropped behind Texas, both losers in conference title games, in the computer ratings.

TCU was an "extra game" that Nebraska took to make some money and tune up for Notre Dame. The Horned Frogs were overmatched but game, even though they had just lost LaDainian Tomlinson and half their defense in the offseason. And they end up propelling Nebraska to the Rose Bowl. 'Husker AD Bill Byrne appears to be the season's wisest man.

If the coaches and players of both Oregon and Colorado had known it was such a big deal, they could have gathered Friday to yell and root for Southern Miss with the same fervor they showed for LSU!

Kirk Herbstreit and I barely took notice of the TCU-Southern Miss tilt when it was accidentally displayed on a monitor as we did our radio show from the ESPN Zone Friday night. We were both more concerned with early December NHL games involving our beloved Blue Jackets and Avalanche, respectively. Little did we know that the Frogs' big takeaway would change the entire championship chase we had spent a thousand hours covering.

Maybe it will also change how a lot of people look at the BCS. When is enough enough?

The potential for this has existed from the beginning. The BCS dodged an embarrassing pickle for a couple years. Last season was a mess, with Miami -- which was No. 2 in both polls -- being jumped by Florida State in the BCS. That's why the Orange Bowl was not a true national title game, just a "BCS title" game. Had FSU beaten Oklahoma, this kind of BCS meltdown would have happened last year -- a split title, with the Seminoles getting their share via the mandated coaches' verdict, per the AFCA's agreement with the BCS. Washington would have had a beef, too. Why is the Pac-10 always being shafted?

Apologists might be even harder to find today. There are folks who chuckle and shrug off the BCS critics with the popular refrain, "These things always work themselves out in the end." Wrong. They don't. Worse yet, there is no indication this season is an aberration. There's more balance and parity than ever in the college game. An annual B-C-Mess could become the norm, folks.

I love this sport. I hate the fact that college football is a laughingstock today. The whole sport's reputation suffers because of the high tech, high profile, highly absurd method of determining the BCS matchups. But I can't even be irate at the system anymore. I'm just sad. I knew something like this would happen eventually.

The team with the biggest beef is Oregon. I voted the Ducks second in my AP poll vote, followed by Colorado and Nebraska. On my ballot, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl would be the "Just in Case National Title Game." Just in case Miami is upset, that is. Most of the AP voters, who don't have much love for the BCS anyway, would probably go along with the Fiesta winner, too.

A Miami win would not make this moot, by the way. The Hurricanes would clearly be the only deserving team of a unanimous title, and they would get it. The point is, Oregon and Colorado will never know if they could have beaten No. 1. Just as Miami (and Washington) will never know if it could have beaten Oklahoma last year.

I won't listen to anyone who says the Rose Bowl is the only "national title game."

Surreal Scene
It was almost surreal Saturday night at the ESPN Zone in Times Square. Eric Crouch had just been awarded the Heisman Trophy. For once in his life, his laser-like eyes had a glassy look to them. He was sitting with his family, some close friends and various Nebraska folks watching LSU give Nebraska a second chance at his ultimate dream, playing for a national title. This on top of winning the most prestigious individual award in sports. Crouch sat stoically, not rooting for the Tigers or against Tennessee -- just watching, waiting and wondering.

A few feet behind him was Joey Harrington, the quarterback with whom Crouch has really clicked as they travelled the awards circuit. Harrington was rooting, pretty loudly. Oregon wasn't in position to get to the Rose Bowl (his ultimate dream, too), but only an LSU win would give Oregon a chance to grab the AP's share of the national title in the Fiesta Bowl. He was assuming that chance would come against Colorado, and he was giving a certain CU alum some grief, recalling the fake punt Rick Neuheisel ran against a well-beaten Ducks bunch in the Cotton Bowl six years ago. Since Harrington is such a good student of Oregon history, I was suggested to him that he also review the tape of the 1998 Aloha Bowl -- Colorado 51, Oregon 43 -- while Harrington was the young understudy to Akili Smith.

It was a fun time. But the subtext was bizarre. The brand new Heisman winner and a fellow finalist, who was also a fast new friend, each awaiting the result of the SEC Championship game -- then wondering what it all meant. Then Crouch received a one-on-one seminar on the inner workings of the BCS formula from ESPN's resident authority, Brad Edwards. He told me he was more confused after talking to Brad. And this is a senior quarterback who runs a really complex offense!

Did Crouch sleep last night? What was the topic of his dreams? His new bronze trophy? Kenneth Massey's computer ratings? Or how R.C. Slocum might waffle in his coaches poll vote?

Think about that. It reminds me of Jan. 3, 1998, sitting in a deserted parking lot outside Pro Player Stadium at 2:45 a.m., following Nebraska's defeat of Tennessee. Waiting. Waiting on the set for the results of the AP and coaches polls. Waiting to find out who the best team in college football was. Waiting for a vote. It was absurd then and it is absurd now.

So, I'll ask again, When is enough enough?

By the way, that vote four years ago -- the flip-flop in the coaches poll -- went Nebraska's way.

Chris Fowler is the host of ESPN's College GameDay and the Heisman Trophy presentation.

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