by John Furgele
In the old days, there was no BCS title game, and teams played at designated bowl games. If an SEC team was undefeated as well as a Pac 10 team, they wouldn’t play each other in a bowl game because the SEC champ went to the Sugar Bowl and the Pac 10 team went to the Rose. So, for entertainment purposes only, let’s go back in time and you tell me what would happen. I’ll count the Cotton Bowl as a major bowl game, just because it gets 10 teams into the BCS bowl games, like today.
Rose Bowl: Michigan State v. Stanford. This bowl game is intact. Under the old system, the Spartans with a 12-1 record would have national championship hopes. Today, they don’t.
Sugar Bowl: Auburn v. Ohio State. Obviously, Auburn would have to go here as SEC champs, and this would cause a major outcry. So, when people rip the BCS, this is why it was created. But, in some ways, the BCS has made the other major bowl games sort of meaningless. The winner of the BCS title game knows they’re going to be the national champion. In the old days, all the bowl games—the January 1 games—had some drama. I’ll cite 1978 and 1984 as the high water marks. In 1977 and 1983, Notre Dame and Miami came into the bowl games ranked fifth in the AP bowls. The next day, they were national champions.
Orange Bowl: Florida State v. Alabama. This is a great bowl game, and to me, Alabama is still the best team in the land, but they blew it against Auburn. I would think that if Florida State won this game, they would get the vote over Auburn if they beat Ohio State because most voters see Alabama as a better team than Ohio State in the subjective world that is college football. And, the Seminoles would remain the only undefeated team in the nation.
Fiesta Bowl: Baylor v. Central Florida. Both teams have one loss, but nobody is really sure how good they really are. The Big 12 wasn’t great this year, and the American has its first and only BCS guaranteed bid this year. But, if you’re a fan of college football, this is a more than an intriguing game. How good is Central Florida? They beat Louisville in Louisville, so to me, they seem pretty good, but they need a good showing to validate their season. Baylor is in their first BCS bowl game, but remember, they played in some Cotton Bowls under Grant Teaff in the 1970s and 1980s, so that’s very misleading. This is a rejuvenated program, but not a dormant one.
Cotton: Oklahoma v. Clemson. A good game between two 10-2 teams that are very good, but not great teams. Still, it’s worth watching. Oklahoma is still a classic program and Clemson, does have a national title from 1981.
Scenario 1: Let’s assume that Michigan State, Auburn, Florida State, and Baylor win Right now; Florida State is number one and is undefeated, so one would think that the nod would go to the Seminoles.
Scenario 2: Let’s assume that Michigan State, Auburn, Alabama and Baylor win. Well, Auburn beat Alabama, so the vote would come down to Auburn and Michigan State with apologies to Baylor. Based on what we learned this year, Auburn would probably be number one and Michigan State would be number two. But, what do I really know?
Scenario 3, the Last One: Let’s go for the puzzling one. Let’s assume that Michigan State, Ohio State, Alabama and Baylor win. Of those four, Alabama wins the eye test, but they entered the bowls without a conference title, which is not a prerequisite, but some voters would keep them down because of it. Ditto for Ohio State. Hard to vote for them when their lone loss was to Michigan State. Would Michigan State get the title? Now, if Michigan State lost to Stanford, it would really be a fun vote, and my thinking is Alabama would nip Baylor for the title.
We know this is for entertainment purposes only and truth be told, I really don’t care which system college football uses. I have always left the word “national” out of the BCS Championship Game because that game is truly not a national title game. It’s the fifth BCS bowl game that has a different name attached to it. Next year, there will be a College Football Playoff, which will be better but not the cure-all that many think it will be. College football is a great sport with great drama. The old system never bothered me neither does the current system. This is college football, college athletics, it really isn’t the end-all be-all that many think. I feel sorry for the citizens of Texas for being defined by their success of the Texas Longhorns. Paying somebody $5 million or more to coach football is absurd, but some economic expert must have determined that winning brings more applications, more students and more money to the university. Tell that to the sport that gets cut or the academic program that meets the same fate.
In 1994, Nebraska and Penn State finished 12-0, but the “championship” went to the Cornhuskers. Both had unblemished records, so are you telling me that Nebraska was better? But, the media loves this and refers to the national champions for weeks after, but if Penn State called themselves national champions, you would get no argument from me. A few years later, Nebraska came into the bowl games ranked number two in the polls behind Michigan. Michigan won as did Nebraska, but the coaches decided to vote the Huskers number one in Tom Osbourne’s last season. Why wasn’t there a split champion in 1994?
The College Football Playoff will be great for the sport. With four teams and true semifinal games, there will be tremendous interest. I do think that the CFP will grow from four to eight to at least 12 teams, if not 16. Twelve would be ideal, but one could easily see 16. But, you can certainly see why back before the BCS, there was pressure to play well on January 1 because every bowl game had some kind of implication as to who won the mythical championship vote. In 1978, number one Texas was throttled by number five Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. At that night’s Orange Bowl, all number two Oklahoma had to do was beat Arkansas, a 10-1 team that’s only loss was to number one Texas. They couldn’t do it, falling 31-6 to Lou Holtz’s Razorbacks.
Enjoy the BCS this year, but remember the old times. Maybe, in 25 years, somebody will look back—fondly—at the BCS era.