Readers know I love college football. I watch an NFL game now and then but almost never see an entire game, including the over-hyped, much ballyhooed Super Bowl. One reason for my love has to be that I matriculated as a freshman at the University of Alabama in 1967. I enjoyed two seasons of football with Bear Bryant on the sidelines. The two seasons were mediocre by the Bear’s standards.(Yes, I did meet the greatest coach ever and yes football dominates the fall semester on campus in the minds of most students!) I later finished two degrees at Wheaton College, where I now teach as an adjunct professor in evangelism and leadership.)
This weekend college football had the most momentous and exciting group of games in decades. The BCS, which is the formula used to determine the top two teams who will play for the championship, is maligned in many quarters. Most people clamor for a playoff system. (The argument is always about “what’s fair.” Personally, I did not realize that fairness was required in every part of life.) If ever there was evidence for a playoff then this year would be that year. Shucks, the present occupant of the White House has even used his influence to argue for a playoff system.
I like the BCS system though it still needs a few changes. Why? The present system creates some amazing scenarios that actually make every game count right down to the final regular season games. Think about what happened this weekend, in the space of a mere 24 hours. It is almost a football version of the popular TV show, 24. Every episode was alive with intrigue, suspense, heroes and huge second-guessing. It made for remarkable theater, which is what this is all about.
Going into this weekend LSU was rightly ranked at the top, as one of only two title-game-ready unbeatens. (I admire Houston’s team and they are unbeaten still. But does anyone think they would beat the top four or five teams? We will find out if they go to a major bowl game this year.) The other unbeaten, Oklahoma State, went to Ames, Iowa, on Friday evening to face an Iowa State team that was a four touchdown underdog. And this is an Iowa State team that has never beaten a team in the top six in any poll. What a scene and what an amazing overtime win for Iowa State, all but ending Oklahoma State’s shot at the championship. (There is still enough potential for more chaos should several teams ahead of State falter and OSU soundly beats Oklahoma the final week. But Friday, when the pressure was on, Oklahoma State went down in dramatic fashion to a well-coached Iowa State team.
Then yesterday it all got more chaotic. Oregon, ranked number four with their only loss to LSU, lost at home to USC when the Ducks missed a 37-yard field goal try at the end of the game. And number five Oklahoma, the other serious contender with only one loss went on the road to play an inspired Baylor team that stunned them. What a great finish in that game with a long pass for a TD by quarterback, Robert Griffin III, who I think is the best overall player in America. In addition highly regarded Clemson got hammered by an undergone team from North Carolina State.
So this weekend had four huge upsets among the top tier teams leaving only two one-loss teams to seriously challenge LSU in the BCS Championship game on January 9. The BCS rankings will be out tonight and it seems quite evident that LSU remains a strong number one. It also seems self-evident that Alabama gets in at number two. If, and remember chaos happens in college football routinely, LSU beats Arkansas on Friday then they win the SEC West. They should beat Georgia the following week, which could be interesting too. But if Alabama beats Auburn on Saturday (no simple guarantee in this intense rivalry) then the “rematch” between LSU and Alabama is very likely. Many in the media hate the idea but it should happen if no more chaos ensues. The point of the system is to match the two best teams, not the two teams people want to see play because LSU has already beaten Alabama once. (If you saw this game you would have to say the two teams were evenly matched.) So, can I use the R word here, as in rematch between the Tide and the Tigers? You bet. That’s what I hoping for in this chaotic season.
Just in case you care the BCS standings will be officially announced this evening (ESPN at 7:15 Central Standard Time). It seems likely that the top three teams will all from the SEC. Even more amazing, and this has never happened, they are all in one division of only six teams. LSU is number one, Alabama is number two and Arkansas is number three, at least as I see it in the BCS Countdown show.
You can make a dozen cases for having a playoff but I like the system that we now have with one possible exception. I believe the system could add a plus-one and match the top four teams so that we get a better sense of who really is the best team. The other formulas I’ve seen all change the the bowl system in a way that I hope never happens. My guess is that eventually we will get some kind of playoff system with four or eight teams. Money will likely cause it to happen. But remember, if you are my age you lived through the pre-BCS era of entirely human polls determining the best team after the season. Long before we had computers to determine strength of schedule, and television to see the games, plus all the other related data used in determining the BCS rankings, a group of voters who never even saw a team play ranked them. These polls alone determined the number one team. And human bias and regional loyalty (and some dislike) determined the outcome far too often. I still recall a perfect season that Alabama had in 1966 but because they were not yet integrated poll-voters outside the South rewarded Notre Dame and Michigan State with the top spots even though they had played to a tie. And they did not have as tough a schedule as Alabama had that season. If this is present system is chaos then I like chaos better than the old way. It actually made for 24-hours of the finest football I’ve seen in a long, long time.