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BCS (Bob's College Summary)
By Bob Cunningham
December 9, 2003
 

What transpired over the final weekend of the college football regular season can only be labeled as remarkable -- in a positive sense if you’re an LSU fan, and with mainly negative connotations if you’re a USC supporter -- but remarkable all the same.

What’s really fascinating me as I take in all the assorted responses to Oklahoma and LSU qualifying for the Sugar Bowl while USC -- No. 1 in both “human” polls -- gets left out and is instead headed for the Rose Bowl is this: Those who are besmirching the system are right... and wrong. Those who defend it are off base, and yet they’re right on the point.

Huh?, you say. Okay, let me explain.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of Sooner and Tiger faithful who are busily defending the BCS to doubters. The system worked, they claim, because strength of schedule factored in as it should. The SEC is a better conference this year than the Pac-10, which is why LSU aced out USC. And Oklahoma belongs because it had the toughest schedule of the three and, after all, it’s what you did all season that counts, not just how you performed in your last game.

True, and true. No argument from me.

But let’s examine the real purpose of the BCS -- to determine an outright and undisputed national champion. Period. It’s really the lone obligation of such an artificial means for determining who’s best.

And yet, if USC disposes of Michigan in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, the Trojans will almost definitely gain a share of the national title by finishing atop the Associated Press poll. Remember, only the USA Today/CNN coaches’ pollsters are obligated to select the Sugar Bowl winner as No. 1.

So on that front, the BCS has failed. Right?

For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the BCS. It’s acceptable -- better than any system we’ve ever had previously, but that’s because there were no previous “systems.” Truth is, it’s far from perfect. In fact, it’s greatly flawed. Seems to me that university presidents around the nation would desire to do better.

Never has the argument for some kind of playoff system been stronger. Oklahoma and LSU each have rightful and legitimate claims to be in the Sugar Bowl. But a system that can bypass a team that is voted No. 1 in the land by both the media AND the coaches is, by definition, faulty.

Maybe it’s time to let the computers do it all. Remove the human element completely. Makes sense, doesn’t it? But do we really want to do that?

What about these extra games... I’m talking about the conference championships? USC is the only one of the three not to play one. Is it possible that the Trojans could have cracked the top two by defeating, say, Washington State in a Pac-10 Title Game? I believe so.

What I don’t like about the conference title games is that losing doesn’t seem to be significantly detrimental. In my view, the most legitimate argument against Oklahoma is that the Sooners didn’t even win their own conference, so how can they stake a claim for a berth in the national title bowl?

LSU is proof that teams have something to gain by playing for their conference championship. If the Tigers had not faced Georgia last weekend, they would have finished behind USC in the BCS rankings. So, it stands to reason that if a team can benefit from its participation, it should also suffer consequences in the event it loses.

But the only thing OU lost was the right to determine its own destiny in both polls. As far as the BCS and at least half of the national championship are concerned, the Sooners were assured of their spot regardless of the result against K-State. I’m not saying the Sooners’ first 12 games shouldn’t be considered, but to repeat -- can a team rightfully expect to play for the national championship when it didn’t win its conference? Aren’t those first dozen games already taken into account by Oklahoma’s very presence in the Big 12 Showdown?

So my conclusion is that LSU and USC should be playing for the national title in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 4.

And a quick address of the comparisons of USC and LSU: Yes, the SEC was a better conference this season than the Pac-10. But programs don’t control their conference schedules. They do, however, determine their own non-conference slates. So how does LSU explain away its ridiculously easy non-conference schedule? We’re talking Louisiana Monroe, Arizona, Western Illinois and Louisiana Tech! Not a single test in the bunch.

Admittedly, USC’s wasn’t a great deal better, but that’s because traditionally strong programs at Notre Dame and Brigham Young happened to endure down years. Auburn, a preseason No. 1, certainly qualifies as a quality foe even if the Tigers did come up far shy of expectations. And Hawai’i is bowl bound, friends.

Oh, did I mention that USC played six road games to LSU’s five (not counting the SEC Title Game, which is a neutral field)?

Changing tracks a bit, the way it worked out actually could be a boon for college football. USC, most of its players and alumni seem to admit, is happy to be staying close to home and playing for half the national championship. The school certainly benefits, having to spend less money and also gaining more than twice as many designated seats in Pasadena as it would have for the Superdome. And traditionalists love the idea of a USC-Michigan Rose Bowl renewal. I can’t wait to hear Keith Jackson’s legendary voice call that one (assuming he will). Whoa, Nellie!

Let’s just say, for the Trojans, things could be a whole lot worse.

And the chance for a shared national title despite the presence of a system designed to avoid exactly that might finally be enough impetus for at least a single playoff game to be established, after all bowls are completed.

We can always dream.

Bob's Final Regular Season Top 10

1. USC (11-1) The Trojans get the nod, narrowly, because of reasons detailed above and because their lone loss was in overtime on the road.
2.

LSU (12-1)

Those who argue the Tigers No. 1 have a legit beef -- it’s not cut-and-dried by any means -- but their loss was by double-figures at home.
3. OKLAHOMA (12-1) I’d never dismiss OU’s dominance through 12 games, but a 28-point loss in the conference title game is too big to retain a top ranking.
4. MICHIGAN (10-2) What if Wolverines rout USC while LSU and OU play ugly? Can a two-loss team be considered by the AP for the title? Nah, just a thought.
5. TEXAS (10-2) No one’s talking about the program that really got shafted -- K-State’s win knocked Longhorns out of BCS bowl and gave them a Holiday.
6. OHIO STATE (11-2) Fiesta Bowl people got selfish -- A Florida State-Kansas State matchup still would have been fun and OSU could face Miami again.
7. TENNESSEE (10-2) Headed to the Peach Bowl to face Clemson (yawn). Coach Phillip Fullmer’s team the forgotten one when it came to BCS considerations.
8. MIAMI, FLA. (10-2) OK, the ‘Canes didn’t get Ohio State. But an All-Florida Orange Bowl in Florida has appeal all the same -- if you’re a Floridian, that is.
9. FLORIDA STATE (10-2) Even both head coaches acknowledge that another meeting between these soon-to-be ACC rivals is a bit much. But the fans will like it.
10. KANSAS STATE (11-3) It goes against my grain to pick a 3-loss team ahead of 1-loss clubs, but K-State is the champion of one of the country’s top conferences.
Also considered: Boise State, Miami (Ohio), TCU.

2003 PREDICTION RECORDS
Straight-Up: 76-39 (66%)
Against-The-Spread: 56-58-1 (49%)

Last Week: 3-4 Straight-Up, 2-5 ATS (please ignore)

Next week: I’ll unveil my new rating system for college football as well as my first few bowl predictions.