Tiger by the Tail
December 4, 2007
As expected there has been much caterwauling from fans, reporters and
coaches alike after the announcement of the final BCS standings.
So for the sake of argument, I thought it'd be a useful exercise
to determine which teams
actually belong in the championship game on January 7.
The first order of business is to determine the proper criteria for
what qualifies as a national championship contender. The best way
to implement a playoff system, but that is far too logical a solution
endangers too many influential people's pockets in college
football. That said, the most important aspect of determining a
contender is performance against strength of
schedule. I know a lot of people love going by a team's won-loss
as the measure of their accomplishment, but that can be a fairly
misleading stat. In 1984, Brigham Young went undefeated against
what was then an
anemic WAC conference and even more pathetic out of conference schedule
(they played no ranked teams that season), then
beat a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl and was declared the
national champion because they were the only team to go undefeated.
Meanwhile, University of Washington played a very tough Pac-10
schedule and had some tough out of conference games including an Orange
Bowl victory over Oklahoma, finished with one loss and were rewarded
with a #2
right in their face. It was because of that season that the BCS
was invented, immensely flawed that it is. That still hasn't
cowardice from being rewarded in college football, but more on that in
Another factor that should weigh heavily is how a team fared
in the big games against the best competition. Finally, great
never take a game off, so the most deserving teams should never lose
to lousy opponents, or get blown out by quality ones. With those
let's look at what we have this crazy season.
First, strength of schedule. Only four of the top ten teams
played at least five games against ranked teams: LSU, Missouri, Georgia
and Virginia Tech, with Missouri and Tech getting an asterisk for
playing the same team twice. No other contenders played more than
4 of their 12 to 13 regular season games against ranked opponents.
Missouri had six games where they played a top 25 opponent.
LSU has already played eight. I've been following college
football for 30 years and I can't remember any team ever having played
eight ranked opponents in a season, much less the nine they will have
faced once the bowl season concludes. Ohio State doesn't face
that many ranked teams in a decade yet they are in the BCS title game.
Instead, they prefer to schedule games against teams that are
called Division 1-A when it comes to athletics, like Youngstown State,
State and Akron. Not only did LSU face a brutal conference
but one of their non-conference games was against Virginia Tech.
down, LSU played the toughest schedule of any college team this year.
The next criteria is how teams fared in big games against the best
competition. Again, LSU was the best in the country, going 4-0
against BCS opponents. Their counterpart in the title game, Ohio
State, went 1-1. Oklahoma had the next best record, going 3-0
against the BCS although two of those victories came against Mizzou.
Those that think USC will have an easy time with Illinois in the
Rose Bowl might want to think again; Illinois went 2-0 versus BCS
opponents whereas USC beat only one team in the current BCS. Had
Dennis Dixon been healthy the last several games no doubt Oregon would
be ranked high enough to be part of this discussion, which would give
USC two BCS opponents but a record of 1-1 against them. I'm
betting the Rose Bowl will be much closer than the sports
media is bemoaning. Virginia Tech went 2-2 versus the BCS
opposition. West Virginia and Georgia both went 2-1. So
again LSU is clearly the most qualified to be in the title game.
Losing to an awful team, the first big no-no for a championship team.
USC is eliminated for losing to a Stanford team that won just
four games this season. West Virginia also gets the boot; Pitt
ain't nearly what it was when Tony Dorsett was running the ball or when
Dan Marino was slinging it. Oklahoma gets a pass for losing to a
6-6 Colorado team because it
came on the road but that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement either.
No-no #2 - getting blown out by a quality opponent. It doesn't
matter how much the fans jump up and down and scream that it was early
in the season, Virginia Tech was obliterated by LSU 48-7. Also
eliminated are Georgia (jack-hammered by Tennessee 35-14) and Missouri
(beaten twice by Oklahoma, the second time 38-17). Losing twice
to the same team should automatically eliminate anyone from contending
for the national title because obviously at least one team is clearly
So who is left? LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State. Ohio State
played a feeble schedule, facing only two teams in the top 20 all
season, and Wisconsin's ranking is highly dubious. They escaped
against UNLV and had all they could handle from the Citadel and a
one-win Minnesota team. The only quality team the Buckeyes played
all season was Illinois and they lost to them at home. Oklahoma
lost to Colorado and Texas Tech but the latter was in part due to their
starting QB getting injured early in the game. Some of the
pollsters expressed their alarm that the Red Raiders were able to move
the ball so easily against the Sooners but Texas Tech can score with
best of them, having tallied at least 34 points in all but two of their
and topping 40 seven times. There was no shame in simply getting
in that one, especially with a key cog missing. LSU's two losses
against teams that will be playing New Year's Bowl games, led by
players having career days and who will one day soon be making big
in the NFL. That's not just my opinion - Ohio State All-America
James Laurenitis said the same thing in a recent interview. I
think it's getting the credibility it should but each of the losses
in triple-overtime, which is about as close as a game gets.
Speaking of Darren McFadden, does anyone else think his style and
ability are eerily similar to that of vintage OJ Simpson? I'm
sure the similarities will be confined to what happens on the playing
What we are left with is that LSU is the only team that played a truly
challenging schedule, they beat the best teams they faced, didn't lose
any terrible teams nor did they ever get blown out. Oklahoma
in second in those categories with the Colorado loss being bad but
by circumstances. So all of those who are saying that the BCS
only got half of the match-up right in the title game, you are exactly
but it is Ohio State that does not belong in that game, not LSU.
and reason indicate that this year's big game should be a rematch of
two teams that faced off for the 2004 BCS championship.
Regardless, I expect that LSU will be favored in the game, and rightly
so. Last year, Ohio State got hammered - I'm not sure hammered is
strong enough term when your Heisman trophy-winning quarterback is held
35 yards passing and your team's only highlight took place in the first
seconds of the game. Suffice it to say that there have been few
games that were more lopsided. There were a couple in the
- Nebraska beating Florida in 1996, 62-24, then Florida crushing
State the following year, 52-20. Before that you have to go back
Nebraska squashing Alabama in the 1972 Orange Bowl, 38-6. Anyway,
reason the Buckeyes got their collective hats handed to them was not
Florida had special offensive and defensive schemes (as many Buckeye
claim). You don't get thoroughly spanked because the other team
out a loophole on offense. No, it was because Florida had so many
superior athletes. The Gators had a better athlete at every
position on both sides of the ball except for one wide reciever, Ted
Ginn. Once the Gator ball-carriers got into space, the Buckeye
defenders simply couldn't stop them. Nor could they contain the
Gator defense because of the
same physical mismatches. Ohio State had the same problem against
Illinois this year, a game they lost at home. LSU has the same
arguably as much as Florida had last year.
And let's not forget Les Miles' bowl resume:
2007 Sugar Bowl: LSU 41, Notre Dame, 14.
2006 Peach Bowl: LSU 40, Miami 3
Two bowls is not much to go on, but as far as indicators go, this one
is pretty clear: Les Miles' teams come well-prepared for the big game.
So, what to do about the BCS? Again, the obvious solution is to
go to a playoff system but that doesn't seem close to happening.
The other solution would be to greatly reduce the influence of
the media polls. It is because of their myopia that we get to
watch the Big Ten get kicked
in the pants in major bowls year after year. The Big Ten should
treated like the WAC, Conference USA or any other secondary conference:
should have to play their way into the BCS. They, as well as the
should also be forced to hold a conference championship game like every
other major conference if they want
an automatic BCS bid. A team should earn it's way into a
championship opportunity by playing as many quality teams as possible,
not by letting the
media do the heavy lifting for them. Some might suggest that it
the media poll that saved LSU's title hopes by jumping them to #2 in
final week, but I would counter that the media polls did LSU a
disservice by dropping them as far as they did after their
triple-overtime loss the week before. Had they done their job
right in the first place by ranking the team based on their quality,
there would not have been any controversy the following week.
Second, the computer rankings should take into greater account a team's
ranking at the time they played. The current system places more
emphasis on the current rankings, which means retroactively ranking the
opposition. This is quite flawed because injuries change the
complexion of a team. Look how much more vulnerable two of the
most talented teams in the country (Oregon and Oklahoma) were after
their starting quaterbacks went down.
That shouldn't count against the teams that faced them when they
healthy earlier in the season but with the current system it does.
I almost hate to bring it up again, but this makes LSU's season
all the more impressive in that they played most of it with key players
on offense and defense missing or limited because of injuries,
including winning the SEC championship game without their starting
quarterback playing at all.
Only once in the last five years has the BCS system picked the two best
teams to play in the championship game. As long as the Big Ten
and the Pac-10 are allowed to take the coward's route and not play a
conference championship game, that will continue to be one of several
major problems. Fortunately, the other team that made it to this
year's big game deserves to be there.
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