The just-ended rivalry week ranks among the best that college football has seen in forever.
Now comes the hangover.
Welcome to whining week, that time of year when everybody from the university president to the second-string long snapper for the program most likely to be spurned by the Bowl Championship Series tries his hand at lobbying.
First in line was Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, whose 11-1 Tigers were ranked No. 3 Sunday night in the next-to-last BCS standings of the season, behind unbeatens Florida State and Ohio State, respectively. Jacobs didn’t even wait to see the official result; he knew what was coming. And so he began howling some 24 hours earlier, just moments after Tigers’ running back Chris Davis put his foot down in the end zone Saturday night to seal the Tigers’ wacky upset over mighty Alabama.
Right after the game, Jacobs actually said “it would be a disservice to the nation” if Auburn were to win next weekend’s Southeastern Conference title against No. 5 Missouri and still be denied a chance to play for the national championship at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6. Given a night to sleep on it, he doubled down.
“This is inarguable,” Jacobs said Sunday. “I think it would be, quite frankly, un-American for us not to get a chance to go to Pasadena.”
This seems like the perfect time to remind him that stifling competition was exactly why guys like Jacobs created the BCS — and its previous incarnations — in the first place. Nearly two decades ago, the power brokers running college football’s major conferences hijacked the sport’s postseason to make certain the choice spots in the big-money bowls went to their friends. If occasionally that meant choosing one friend over another, well, no need to take it personal; that’s just how business works.
To be fair, Auburn has plenty to argue about. The Tigers just beat top-ranked Alabama, winner of three of the last four national championships, and three other top-flight teams. Neither Florida State nor Ohio State built anywhere near as impressive a resume this season, in large part because both belong to conferences — the ACC and Big Ten — that look weak when stacked against the SEC.
And somewhere in the back of Jacobs’ mind, no doubt, is the memory of how a 13-0 Auburn team was left out of the 2004 championship game that matched similarly unbeaten, but much higher-wattage programs Southern California and Oklahoma.
Just like those two teams, Florida State and Ohio State have plenty of friends in high places. The BCS gentlemen’s agreement that holds a one-loss team doesn’t leapfrog an unbeaten in the rankings — provided both are from power conferences — held this time around and will likely stick next week, too, even if Florida State barely squeaks by No. 20 Duke and Ohio State does the same against No. 10 Michigan State.
Come this time next year the argument will be moot, or close to it, because the BCS disappears and a four-team playoff will make its long-delayed debut. The debate, if there is one, will be over who’s No. 5, and if there was a lesson embedded in the last decade of results, it’s that there’s rarely more than four legitimate contenders for the national title.
But wouldn’t it be a fitting last-gasp for the BCS to make its exit just as controversial as its beginning? Imagine if Florida State and Ohio State both lost next weekend; suddenly the title game would between the Auburn-Missouri winner and — who else? — Alabama. How satisfying would that be, at least beyond the geography of the SEC?
Ultimately, that’s why the BCS was doomed. The guys in charge said their system made every week of the regular season like a playoff when it wasn’t. The path to winning a national championship depended on dominating your conference during the regular season, putting together the right numbers for computers to crunch or simply losing at the right time. Just as fans did, the athletic departments finally tired of doing all that math.
This won’t be the last week of whining, to be sure. Teams will be jockeying for position every season, even if the playoff field is eventually expanded to eight. But the bitterness that marked previous campaigns — remember when then-Oregon coach Mike Bellotti called the BCS “a cancer” — is mercifully already a thing of the past. It may seem like a small step, but at least the game is finally headed in the right direction.
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