The longest regular season in college football history ended Saturday, along with the national championship hopes of every Division I-A team, save two.
Undefeated Ohio State University will face defending national champion University of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for college football’s national title. Though not realized since the 1999 season, this is just what the Bowl Championship Series ordered — that the only two undefeated teams in the land go at it on the field for all the marbles. And no one is second-guessing the decisions.
However, before you get comfortable with the result, know that, at present, there is nothing in place to guarantee such an outcome in the future.
Not a week passed, this season, in which sportswriters — this columnist included — raised some kind of BCS question. Whether it was Notre Dame’s gift game against Maryland, the fact that eight teams remained undefeated into November, or the outrage at the computer-generated rankings, there was always something wrong with the BCS.
Admittedly, when a system that is supposed to crown the national champion is about as successful in setting its postseason match-ups as Florida is in voting for a presidential candidate, it is not difficult to find problems with it.
Nonetheless, at this point in the year, the only squawking from the sports media you are bound to hear is how the BCS, for once, got it right!
Yes, two years removed from the initial BCS controversy when a one-loss Florida State team was selected to face undefeated Oklahoma for the championship, much to the surprise of the one-loss Miami team that had beaten FSU that year, and a year after last year’s BCS debacle in which Nebraska played Miami for the title, everyone is in agreement over this year’s outcome.
And we should give some kudos to the BCS, because in the pre-BCS era, this game would not have been played. Ohio State would have been the Big 10’s representative to the Rose Bowl, against Pac-10 conference champion Washington State. Miami would have hosted an at-large team at the Orange Bowl, its own backyard. The possibility of a split national championship would be very real, likely pleasing only the trophy shop.
Beyond getting the championship game pairing correct, the only other responsibility the BCS has to the general sporting public is to provide it with the most compelling postseason match-ups. After all four of last year’s lackluster BCS games, including Florida’s 33-point rout of Maryland in the Orange Bowl, you can be sure the BCS would be extremely careful in devising this year’s pairings. A quick investigation of the other BCS games indicates that, at least on paper, it succeeded in this mission.
Iowa vs. Southern California in the Orange Bowl offers a showcase of two Heisman Trophy contending quarterbacks in USC’s strong-armed Carson Palmer and Iowa’s national efficiency leader, Brad Banks. That traditional Rose Bowl foes would meet in South Florida is odd, especially for the Hawkeyes who, following their win at Minnesota three weeks ago, expected Pasadena to be their postseason destination. Whatever the venue, this game between perhaps the nation’s two hottest teams very likely could be the best of the bowl season.
Washington State vs. Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl places a Big 12 team in “the Grand Daddy of them all” for the second year in a row. We’ll hope the Sooners fare better than Nebraska did last year. What Oklahoma offers in its talented defense is every bit present in a Cougar offense led by quarterback Jason Gesser and his fleet-footed cast of receivers.
Georgia vs. Florida State in the Sugar Bowl is a classic prodigy vs. mentor game. Mark Richt, Georgia’s second-year coach, vs. Bobby Bowden, the man for whom he served as offensive coordinator for 15 seasons. Much will be made of FSU’s entry with four losses, but Bowden has a knack for getting the Seminoles ready to play in the postseason. The best winning percentage in bowl history pretty much tells the story.
Thus, heading into the bowl season, it seems the BCS could not have done a better job with the teams at its disposal.
Before we allow the BCS selection committee to rest on its laurels, though, it is worth noting that this computer-based scheme has only been right two of the last four years — hardly a laudable percentage. And, you can be sure that regardless of the games’ outcomes, there will be more red flags to come:
— The Rose Bowl committee will likely wonder how to rid itself of the tarnish added by a second consecutive game in which it did not host a Big 10 vs. Pac 10 match-up.
— Higher ranked teams will wonder how a four-loss team like Florida State deserved a BCS bid.
— And, of course, there will be ample discussion regarding the role number-crunching machines should play in determining who should play in the games.
In reality, this year’s situation, as a whole, is not unlike those of the past. Two undefeated teams do not give the computers a chance to affect the outcome. The BCS has a contract that runs three more years and has yet to prove it is the cure-all solution to the football national championship picture a playoff might afford.