The Football Informant: A beautiful season now for the Ugly Part

The regular season is over and conference titles are decided. Congratulations to the eleven teams carrying home the hardware this weekend. A surprising number of these championships were won by teams that are far from traditional powers in their conferences, as Clemson, Southern Mississippi, and Oklahoma State ended lengthy title droughts and Arkansas State (Sun Belt) and Louisiana Tech (WAC) upended the usual order in surprising title runs. Congratulations also to Northern Illinois, which overcame a 20-0 halftime deficit in the MAC Championship Game to defeat Ohio, 23-20.

Congratulations also to the candidates for the Heisman Trophy, the most over-hyped and ultimately irrelevant award in sports. The deserving winner is, in this columnist’s mind, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, who fits the simplest criterion for most valuable player – the player who individually made his entire team better by the greatest margin. (By this logic, Peyton Manning should be receiving retroactive NFL MVP awards for each of the past five seasons). Simply put, without Griffin, Baylor probably does not reach a bowl game, and definitely does not earn its first-ever victory over Oklahoma. Baylor with Griffin has an outside shot at a BCS bowl game.

And so, inevitably, the BCS rears its ugly head as the bowl game pairings are to be decided on Sunday. In all likelihood, the Powers That Be have determined that a rematch of LSU and Alabama should decide the national title. I cannot say I blame them; it is my firm belief that these sides are the nation’s two best teams. However, I cannot say that I support this title pairing. This is not because of any arguments in favor of Oklahoma State, but because of simple memories of the past.

In 2006, top-ranked Ohio State narrowly defeated second-ranked Michigan by three points at the end of the season. A rematch for the title seemed likely, but one week later, Florida routed a very good Arkansas team in the SEC Championship Game, earning just enough voter respect to slip by the Wolverines into the BCS Championship. No one, myself included, believed that the Gators were better than Michigan, but we were proved wrong, emphatically, as Florida hammered Ohio State to win the crystal. I worry about a similar situation unfolding this year, as Alabama already had its chance to beat LSU, and Oklahoma State may (I repeat, may) be able to win. After finally ending their bedlam jinx in dominating fashion, they deserve the right to play for a championship. Yes, the poll voters would be doing their jobs properly in putting the SEC powers at the top, but as long as the polls are used to determine the title game participants, the “most deserving team” angle must be respected. In this particular case, it should take precedence. My pick is LSU by 7 over Alabama or by 13 over Oklahoma State.

I have opposed the BCS system ever since my attention was first drawn to it as the 2003 season ended in a national title split between USC and LSU. It is my opinion that the NCAA should use its governing authority to take control of the madness at the top tier of college football and create a standardized, playoff-style championship in similar fashion of every other division of every other American sport. It seems to me absurd that at the highest level of college football, often teams go undefeated yet have no chance to win a championship. My playoff concept would be a sixteen-team affair containing all eleven conference champions as well as five at-large selections picked by a committee, not a poll or a computer.

The first round of these playoffs would begin at New Year’s with the eight most prestigious bowl games playing host. To facilitate this, the beginning of the regular season would be pushed back one week and each team would be forced to schedule an additional bye week in the season, easing workloads on players and shortening the ridiculous month-long gap between the season’s end and the bowl games.

The bowl game hosts – Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Citrus (not Capital One), Cotton, Sun, and Gator – would keep their existing conference tie-ins where applicable, and then would draft teams from the pool of sixteen in order by date of foundation, with the exception of the bigger-name Fiesta picking fifth. The Sugar, Sun, and Orange Bowls would alternate positions due to their simultaneous foundation in 1934. As I envision it, this season’s at-large teams would be Alabama, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Boise State, and Arkansas. The Rose Bowl would get its match of Oregon and Wisconsin, while the Sugar would get LSU, the Fiesta would take Oklahoma State, and the Orange would have Clemson by automatic tie-ins. Each of these would count as those bowls’ first picks, and the next bowl – the Sun – would happily snap up Alabama.

Extrapolating the process, I envision LSU vs. TCU in the Sugar Bowl, Clemson and Boise State in the Orange, Alabama vs. Stanford in the Sun Bowl, and a few basketball-tournament style potential upsets with Oklahoma State against Southern Miss in the Fiesta, Arkansas against Louisiana Tech in the Cotton, and Virginia Tech versus Arkansas State in the Gator Bowl. The positive side of having full qualification for all conference champions is that every team has a realistic shot at a national title at the start of the season.

The winners of this first round would be seeded by the selection committee, with the higher seed gaining the benefit of home field. The finals would be played in a fixed neutral site, perhaps Houston, a large, warm-weather city that lacks a major bowl game. Perhaps this system is not perfect, but it is a tremendous improvement over the previous system, and the scarcity of at-large bids means that regular season upsets still have meaning. Personally, I would much rather watch this than listen to either Alabama or Oklahoma State cry injustice for years to come.

In January, from your Football Informant, a scathing summary of the NBA lockout, NFL playoff coverage, hopefully with 100% more Tebow-mania, and an in-depth analysis of the college football realignment mess. Hint – there is one particular team that started it, and it dates back to the early 1990s. Not to name names, but this school now has its own TV network. Football Informant signing off, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to all! Enjoy the bowl games, no matter how much B(C)S might get in the way. Your favorite common sense vendor will be back before long. Geaux Tigers!

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