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BCS Chaos: Cases for Auburn, Missouri, and Ohio State

It’s only fitting that BCS goes out with a bang, or some other big controversy, and thanks to Auburn’s win over Alabama, we’ve got one. Now all the SEC lovers are out there telling us how daunting it is to go through the SEC, how the Big 10 has fallen completely off the map. But in the case of Auburn, I’m not buying it.

Yes, the SEC is still the best conference, although I don’t think they run nearly as deep as they have over the last few years. (Still, they have four BCS-bowl worthy teams.) But if you are going to buck tradition and put an one-loss team in the national title game over a multi-loss team, it better be pretty obvious that the one-loss team is better than the undefeated. And that’s not the case when you comare Auburn and Ohio State.

If we’re going to ask who has Ohio State beaten, just look at Auburn’s best wins: every bowl eligible, major conference team that Auburn has played stayed within one score of the Tigers, including the dregs of Washington State, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, arguably the twelfth best team in the SEC. LSU was up on Auburn 21-0 early in the second quarter, and led them 35-14 in the fourth quarter. And you have the matter of their two miracle wins. If Auburn deserves to be number two in the country, they should have beaten a really good team soundly, and they haven’t.

Having watched both teams, I would say that, if Auburn and Ohio State played on a neutral field on equal rest, the game would be a coin flip, with a slight edge to the Buckeyes because they have the more dynamic quarterback. Granted, Auburn has a very good defensive line, but they lack the down field passing game to press Ohio State to match them score for score. And let’s not forget Auburn’s history: they have not exactly dominated their non-conference matchups and bowl games. Of their last eight bowl games, they have only two wins by multiple scores, and even their national championship team struggled Oregon, Clemson, and from the SEC, Mississippi State. Clemson in fact has beaten Auburn twice in non-conference play, West Virginia once LSU, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina under Steve Spurrier mowed through their bowl games and important non-conference games; Auburn does not.

The lamest case for Auburn is on the SEC’s history. Everyone making that case should be remind of how Notre Dame campaigned on its history a year ago. If you’re going to crack Notre Dame for close home wins against BYU and Pitt, you have to crack Auburn for close home wins against Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Missouri, on the other hand, can be seriously considered for the number two spot over Ohio State. Even though some may make the case that they lack seniority in the SEC, just look at the Tigers’ resume: they have crushed three good SEC teams on the road in Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Mississippi, dominating the Commodores from the first snap of the game. Missouri has beaten ten of twelve teams by at least thirteen points. They only teams that have been closer are Texas A&M and South Carolina. And Missouri led the Gamecocks 17-0 in the fourth quarter before Connor Shaw stage a late comeback and the Tigers lost on a missed field goal in overtime. That is a resume worthy of a National Title Game.

Still, when I watch Missouri, I don’t know that they are vastly better than Ohio State. Earlier this year, I thought they were one of the most compelling football teams I had ever seen on television, the way they just flat out whipped Georgia and Florida. They don’t pass the eye ball test the way that Alabama and LSU do, but they execute like no one’s business.

If I was compelled to vote an SEC team into the National Title Game, I would choose Alabama, because I feel their best is better than anyone else best, except maybe Florida State’s. If they had a few field goals against Auburn, they could have beaten the Tigers going away. They lost to LSU in 2011 for virtually the same reason, and, as the rematch proved, they were clearly the better team. If I were a voter, I don’t know right now who I would choose as my top two, but I would take the week to think about it. The one thing that has changed for me is that I wouldn’t feel as bad voting Ohio State number 2 as I would have three weeks ago.

BCS End in Sight: Can We Celebrate Greatness Now?

You got what you wanted.

So the college football playoff is here. Personally, I’m relieved, not be because I’ve hated the BCS , but because I’m tired of listening to the mortal rage against the system, while the teams on the field get ignored. Even in the last three years, when there wasn’t a huge argument over the two teams that played for the National Title, nobody cared about the National Title Game because the BCS had already lost its credibility.

For me, the most disappointing part of last season was that LSU and Alabama were two of the greatest teams I’d ever seen, and, no one really cared. Granted, part of that was the fact they were defense-based teams that produced two slugfests, and the other conferences can’t stand the SEC’s supremacy, even though it’s obvious. But, in the twenty-three games they didn’t play each other, the closest anyone came to either team was thirteen points twice (both Mississippi State and Oregon versus LSU). The last National Champion to beat every team by multiple scores was the 1995 Nebraska team. Still, fans barely acknowledge Alabama’s accomplishment because of the BCS.

Two of the greatest ever and for what?

The BCS tried too hard to get it. In its early year, the BCS was tweaked after each year to correct the error of the previous year, hurting its credibility. If they’d kept the formula used in 2000, Oregon would have played for the title in 2001, not Nebraska. But nobody mentions that. They should have used the exact same formula to decide the National Champion for the first four or eight years, then made changes instead of being reactionary on weekly basis.

There were actual years were you had two undisputed contenders, like Auburn and Oregon in 2010 and Texas and USC in 2005. You’re likely never going to have a year with four completely undisputed teams in the country. Not that I’m saying we should stick with the status quo, but a playoff is not going magically fix everything.

Some people think that it will be an easy march from here to 8 or 16 teams, but I would doubt it. First, there would be the logistical issue of the four quarter-final games, whether or not to play them in December on campus sites or incorporate them into the Bowl system and move that way. Then you’ll have the issue of who should get the eight seeds, and the at-large versus conference champions will come up again, and with eight teams, it will be more difficult to solve. Plus, some in college football circles (such as Phil Steele) who supported a four-team playoff won’t fight for a larger one.

What really could get the playoff to eight teams is the following scenario: a fourth team sneaks into the last spot in the playoff over a team that beat them. This won’t be like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, where arguing over the anonymous teams who got left out is done by the next cycle of Sports Center. There’s a month until both teams play again, and everyone sees all the major college football game, so the selection committee’s mistakes will be obvious. Then, the team that got in scores a memorable upset against the top team (akin to Ohio State upsetting Miami in 2002), and then the team that got left out of the playoff cries for a larger playoff. Three and four of those, and Death to the Four-Team Playoff books will start lining the shelves.

The regular season will still matter. LSU-Alabama last year probably still would have mattered as much as under the playoff system, because the winner controlled its destiny and the looser would still have to win all their games to have a shot at the playoff. Last year, it was pretty much assumed both teams would play for the title after Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State. Nothing would have been that much different under a playoff system, although Alabama wouldn’t have had to wait for as many teams to loose. The big question will be, will teams throw conference title games when their own position in the playoff is secure? Last year, it may have benefited LSU to throw the SEC Title game if they were playing an 11-1 team and loosing meant taking Alabama out of the playoff. Remember, Oklahoma was rolled by Kansas State and remained one of the top four teams in the country by a mile. Inviting in a team that flopped in its final games could be one of the biggest pitfalls for a selection committee.

These are just some of the issues that college football will face in its brave new world; let’s just hope that, when the dust settles, the focus is on the teams.

How would a selection committee look at Oklahoma’s 2003 letdown against Kansas State the previous night?

So now, is college football better off now in this brave new world? Yes, but not greatly.

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