Maybe the Old System Was Better

by John Furgele

Now that Utah and USC has rendered the BCS Championship Game an “almost afterthought,” this writer is wondering if the old system is actually better than this current BCS system for determining the phony “National Champion.”

Calling the winner of the Florida State-Oklahoma game the “National Champion,” is like saying that the economy is in good shape.  When Utah finishes a season 13-0; USC dismantles Penn State to finish 12-1; and if Texas beats Ohio State, they would also finish 12-1 you would have three teams with zero, one and one losses combined.  But, for some reason, only the winner of the phony BCS Championship Game can be called the “national champion.”  Outrageous indeed.

Let’s make one thing clear.  This is not an incessant call for a college football playoff.  Of course, I, like every fan, would like to see a 12 or 16 team playoff for Division 1-A football, but I will never lose sleep if there isn’t one.  But, what are the effects of having one bowl game (the BCS Championship) being so important that it basically renders the other big bowl games meaningless?

Under the old system, the Rose, Cotton, Sugar, Orange, and later the Fiesta Bowl all mattered.  Teams would go to those bowl games and look to play well and impress the voters enough to get voted the Associated Press (writers) or the United Press International (coaches) champion.  Once again, I refuse to use the word “national.”  Under the old system, the Florida-Oklahoma game would be just another bowl game and the winner would be looking for votes just as Utah, Alabama, Penn State, USC and Texas would in the other bowl games.  Now, the Rose and the Sugar Bowls really meant nothing.  Sure, the Associated Press could vote Utah, USC, or Texas (and I hope they do) their champion, but that would almost be a protest vote, since neither of these teams came into the bowls ranked number one.

This has happened before.  In 1997, Michigan was ranked number one in both polls, but Nebraska was also undefeated.  In the bowls, Michigan topped Washington State in the Rose and Nebraska beat Tennesee in the Orange and Nebraska was voted the champion in the coach’s poll, while Michigan won the AP title.  It also happened in 2003, when LSU beat Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game, but the Associated Press voted USC their champion.  USC was ranked number one in most polls, but that crazy BCS computer had them number three, so the Trojans didn’t even get a chance to play for the BCS title. 

Then, there was 13-0 Auburn, who because they were the “third unbeaten team,”  had to settle for a number two ranking at season’s end.  There were other split champions in 1978 (USC and Alabama), 1990 (Colorado and Georgia Tech) and  1991 (Miami and Washington), so it’s not like it couldn’t or shouldn’t happen again. 

The old system actually provided more drama than the current system.  Sometimes, there was the perfect storm that enabled a team to rally to become the AP or UPI champion.  In 1977, Notre Dame came into the bowl games ranked number five.  They beat #1 Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl, and then the perfect storm happened.  #3 Alabama beat Big Ten runner-up Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl; #4 Michigan lost to Washington in the Rose Bowl; and in the evening, #2 Oklahoma lost to Arkansas 31-6 in the Orange Bowl.  Alabama was ranked ahead of the Irish, but they beat Ohio State, which was considered a weaker opponent and the voters rewarded Notre Dame by voting them number in both polls the next morning.

It also happened in 1983.  Miami came into the Orange Bowl ranked fifth.  Earlier in the day, #2 and undefeated Texas lost in the Cotton Bowl to Georgia; #3 Auburn eeked out an unimpressive 9-7 win over conference runner-up Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, and Illinois, 10-1 was drubbed 45-9 in the Rose Bowl by UCLA, which came into that game at 6-4-1.

Miami knew if they could do the unthinkable an beat a Nebraska team, which had outscored its opponents by an average of 52-16, they could get one, if not both titles.  And, in the classic Orange Bowl game, they beat the Huskers 31-30 and got the AP and UPI titles.

If the old system were still in place, the winner of the Florida-Oklahoma game would have to wait and see what the voters would do.  It would also add significant importance to Monday’s Fiesta Bowl and the Rose and Sugar Bowls that have already been played. 

I am not a big fan of the plus one game, because that makes the bowl games even more meaningless.  Either keep the bowl games important, or get rid of them.  Remember, BYU won the 1984 AP/UPI titles at the before Christmas Holiday Bowl. 

If college football is going to stay away from a playoff, then get rid of the BCS Championship Game and elevate the Cotton Bowl, or another bowl to BCS status.  Play the Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls and play them on January 1 and 2 (three one day, two the next).  Try to create fair matchups.  If there are two undefeated teams, square them off, don’t put one against the 10-3 team and the other against the 11-2 team.  Please, use some common sense.  Play the bowls, watch the games, collect the ballots, then tabulate them and give out your phony championship plaques.

When you give out the BCS trophy and championship on January 8, it will ring hollow to Utah, USC and perhaps Texas, and it will ring hollow to those who watch and love college football.   Urban Meyer or Bob Stoops will raise the crystal and say that they are the “national champions” of college football.  They’ll say it and they’ll try to believe it.

But, deep down, they’ll know it isn’t true.

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