If one of the top three teams in college football doesn’t lose this weekend, there will be another vexing and highly-disputed National Championship.
And many people, especially in the media, are hoping a tie between three undefeated teams – Southern California, Oklahoma and Auburn – will create a quandary that will force a playoff system to determine a true national champion.
That isn’t going to happen. Yet.
But there is a situation at hand with the controversial BCS (Bowl Championship Series) system. Teams in the six BCS conferences play in the four major bowls (Orange, Fiesta, Sugar and Rose), all which pay out $12-14 million to each school. At the end of the regular season, there are two non-BCS teams in the top 10 of the computer rankings: Utah and Boise State.
This past weekend Boise State (11-0) ended its season undefeated, part of a 22-game winning streak overall. Broncos coach Dan Hawkins seemed frazzled with the makeup of the BCS.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of politics. I’m not a great politician, but our play speaks for itself,” Hawkins said after the Broncos’ season-ending win over Nevada.
This system guarantees teams from the Big East, ACC, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10 and Big 10 bids to major bowls, and leaves mid-major conferences like the MAC, Mountain West, WAC and Independents on the outside looking in.
While Hawkins is correct that the system leaves mid-major conferences and independents at a disadvantage, he can’t blame it all on this.
Currently, there is a team fighting the system. Utah (11-0) is No. 5 in the polls and No. 6 in the BCS rankings. It is guaranteed a BCS berth and a hefty payout.
“We’ve always wanted to play the best team we can and play in the best bowl we can. We’ll see how things shake out,” Hawkins said. “We controlled the things we can control.”
This is where Hawkins is wrong. By putting together Boise State’s non-conference schedule, he had at least some control over his team’s destiny. But he put together a schedule other coaches and the media feel is rather weak.
The Broncos did not face a single top 25 team this season. In addition, they played four non-conference games, with just one of those opponents compiling a winning record (6-5 Oregon State). Coaches have control over who they want to face, and apparently Hawkins couldn’t find a competitive opponent. Moreover, of those four non-conference games, only Oregon State is a BCS team.
Utah deserves to play in a major bowl; Boise State does not. The Utes are on the verge of being the first mid-major school to earn a BCS bowl berth since the system’s inception.
Just take a look at what Utah did. Despite not playing in a BCS conference, Utes coach Urban Meyer arranged for his team to face four non-conference opponents, three of which were BCS teams, including No. 22 Texas A&M.
The Utes have stronger credentials, due to a more challenging schedule. So, as Meyer proved, there are ways to buck the system.
No. 3 Auburn (11-0) will probably cry afoul, too, if they win the SEC championship but are kept from playing in the national title game. The Tigers could suffer the same disappointment as Boise State due to an easy non-conference itinerary, which included Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech. None are BCS teams.
The Tigers play in one of the toughest conferences (SEC), as does Oklahoma (Big 12). Auburn has beaten three ranked teams, as have USC. The Sooners beat four. Both USC and Oklahoma played much stronger non-conference games. If Auburn beats No. 15 Tennessee in the SEC championship, that will give the Tigers four victories over ranked teams.
The fact of the matter is the only fair system is for a four-team playoff, but that doesn’t seem to be imminent. Through it all, teams can improve their attractiveness by playing worthy non-conference opponents. Boise State didn’t do this and when compounded with playing in a weak conference, there should be no argument the Broncos shouldn’t play in a BCS bowl.
Auburn will play in a BCS bowl, but not the Orange Bowl, due to a weaker schedule of non-conference opponents.
Is this system warped? Yes, and hopefully it will change. Still, the only thing that can be done is try to challenge the current system, because nobody has forced a significant change.
Jason Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.