College football fans and members of the media stuck in a constant state of heartbreak over an unfulfilled lust for a college football playoff need to wipe their tears, dry their eyes and face reality.
We’re not getting a 16-team tournament, there won’t be any "Winter Madness" office pools, and Jennifer Hudson isn’t being flown into New Orleans for a live version of "One Shining Moment" on Jan. 9. The BCS is here to stay (for now, at least), and this year — despite the cries of horror and outrage from media outlets everywhere outside of SEC country — we have an all-SEC BCS Championship Game. And the game is also a rematch of a matchup we saw just a few weeks ago.
But guess what? Whether you think it’s "fair" or not, Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in the nation this year. And I’m fine with them playing — again — for the national title in January.
Heck, compared to the alternative options? I’m elated.
I’m not a luddite or some old-school "Get off my lawn" traditionalist who longs for the days of college football yesteryear. I’m not stuck in the Dark Ages. Nor do I have any sentimental feelings for the antiquated bowl system or love for the money-making golden goose that is the BCS. The current system has its flaws. I get that.
Just a few weeks ago, I got a "BCS Media Guide" in the mail. The up-front section reads like an "Archie" comic. Pure comedy. Pages 14 through 16 are labeled "They Said It," and feature a host of quotes — from random players, coaches, and athletic directors — that are described as "Just a sampling of the many affirmative comments about the current postseason football system." Care about former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s positive thoughts about his bowl experiences? Of course you don’t, but a long-winded Taylor quote about the benefits of bowls is given half a page. The whole section is BCS propaganda and it’s not even disguised.
A playoff would be incredible. No one doubts that. But this year, the top two teams in the nation are going to play for the national title.
Looking at the numbers and the way Sunday night’s latest BCS rankings shaped up, nothing that happens in any of next weekend’s games — whether it be an Oklahoma State blowout over Oklahoma or a Georgia blowout over LSU — will do anything to change the fact that LSU will play Alabama for the national title on Jan. 9.
And that’s OK.
Because from wire to wire, from August to December, Alabama and LSU were the very best teams in the country this season.
Everyone’s going to pound the BCS this week. That’s expected. Usually, I’d have my pitchfork out, ready to attack. But this year, I can’t.
You’ll see talking heads come creeping out of the woodwork with the same outraged faces they put on every year at this time, asking, "How could college football have a system in which second-ranked Alabama actually benefits from not qualifying for the SEC Championship Game, essentially having an extra week of practice and a ‘bye’ to the BCS National Championship Game?" Or, "What’s the point of these conference championship games on Saturday if none of them actually have any BCS National Championship Game implications?"
Those are actually fair critiques.
But ignoring the process of how we got there, the end result is correct: Alabama and LSU should be playing for the national title.
One suggested change to the BCS that I’ve heard time and time again over the past few weeks is that you should have to win your conference championship to qualify for the BCS National Championship Game.
College football is the only sport where we hear this. Three of the last six Super Bowl champions — including the 2010 Green Bay Packers — didn’t win their divisions. The St. Louis Cardinals finished in a distant second place in the NL Central and won the World Series this year. Even the Dallas Mavericks finished second in the NBA’s Southwest division last year. We don’t question their respective championships because of their placements in the regular season standings. If anything, the SEC has earned the right to be the conference where such a "doomsday scenario" plays out. The past five BCS champions have been SEC teams. You could make the argument that the 2007 Georgia Bulldogs — a 10-2 squad that was completely left out of the BCS picture because of the current limits on at-large bids — were the second-best team in the nation that year. After blowing out Hawaii in what’s viewed as the least competitive BCS bowl ever, there were some who wondered whether the ‘Dawgs should have played LSU in the BCS title game.
Twice before in the BCS era we’ve seen teams that didn’t win their conference championships play in BCS National Championship Games, and neither time worked out particularly well.
The 2001 Nebraska Cornhuskers lost their final game of the regular season, failed to make the Big 12 Championship Game, and still snuck in the backdoor to the BCS Championship Game. They were smoked by Miami 37-14 in that one. In 2003, Oklahoma was blown out by a Darren Sproles-led Kansas State team in the Big 12 Championship Game, but found itself ranked in the top two of the final BCS standings. They, too, lost in the BCS Championship Game, falling 21-14 to LSU.
But this Alabama team isn’t coming into the BCS Championship Game fresh off being waxed in its final contest of the year. In fact, they’re playing their best football of the season now. Unlike ’01 Nebraska and ’03 Oklahoma, the ’11 Crimson Tide is riding high, winners of three straight, including a dominant win over a good Auburn squad in Auburn. If you want to dock the Tide for losing a game, fine. Dock them. But then you’ve got to put Houston in, instead. Don’t dock them for not winning the best division in college football. That’d just prove the system to be even more flawed than it is now.
Have issues with a rematch? Fair enough. It sort of puts the BCS’s whole "Every Game Matters" argument to shame. But, Alabama-LSU — whether it’s the first, second, third, or 30th time we’re seeing it — features the top two teams in college football this year.
It’s rather ironic that those who’ve screamed for an eight-team playoff would be facing quite a conundrum this year, too. Whereas no one can definitively argue that there are two better teams in college football than the Tide and Tigers this season, the current BCS standings reveal two very good teams — arguably the third and fourth best in the nation — outside of the current top-8. As of this week, Boise State, Houston, and two-loss Arkansas would qualify for the "Elite 8." Yet, two-loss Oregon and two-loss Oklahoma would not. Even with wins in both their big games on Saturday, one of those two teams would likely still be the outside looking in.
There’d be more kicking and screaming over the teams left out of college football’s eight-team playoff this year than there would be over an LSU-Alabama rematch.
The fact we don’t have some elaborate playoff system is a joke. No matter what Tyrod Taylor or a conference commissioner tells me, I know a playoff would be far better than the system we have now.
But no matter how we got there, we’re going to have the top two teams playing for the BCS title this season.