College football is now the same as women’s figure skating, or gymnastics.
There is a longheld belief that championships are decided on the field by going head-to-head, not by judges looking for nuance and pointed toes.
But Oregon most likely scored enough style points Saturday to move into position for the national championship game. The Ducks’ 42-14 win over No. 12 UCLA was better than Florida State’s win over lowly North Carolina State.
And only one of them can play Alabama for the title.
So the BCS is set up perfectly, predestined maybe, for one last memorable, colossal, goodbye mess-up, likely leaving Florida State out of the title game, the final victim.
On the blood-and-guts side of things, Oregon did win a game against a good team, and did it without the usual fireworks. It happened with quarterback Marcus Mariota controlling and managing the offense while the defense — yes, they play that at Oregon — dominated and stuffed UCLA.
In fact, Oregon’s defense shut out UCLA in the second half, after the players vowed to do when they left the locker room after the break.
“I love when they talk dirty to me like that,’’ Oregon’s nutty defensive coordinator, Nick Aliotti, deadpanned after the game.
By halftime, the scoring wasn’t running right for Oregon. Well, yes, it was 14-14, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Judges on Twitter were already discounting the Ducks, ripping into them. Somehow, that immediate public sentiment seems to matter.
Florida State was winning the Oregon-UCLA game.
But this was exactly what Oregon needed as a football team. It needed to be challenged, to find itself in a fight.
“They were more excited about coming out for the second-half kickoff than they were for the first-half kickoff,’’ Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “That’s exactly the kind of guys you want. There was definitely a little anxiety in the stands: `Wait a second, it’s not 72-3. What’s wrong?’ ’’
Actually, a few things were wrong. The offense wasn’t flowing, or flying or anything. Mariota was missing a few passes, though he still hasn’t thrown an interception all season. On the second play, Oregon receiver Keanon Lowe fumbled.
And Oregon had to use a risky fake punt on fourth and 14 at its own 26 to get the momentum back. The play went for 66 yards.
But the defense took over in the second half, while Mariota stayed in control of things. And eventually, Oregon just wore down UCLA. Broke the Bruins.
So the score was still 14-14 with just over three minutes left in the third quarter, and then Oregon started piling up points and speeding downfield again.
In that way, the Ducks got what they needed in a football sense, and then got what they needed for the BCS.
And UCLA? It just isn’t ready for this year. Quarterback Brett Hundley, a sophomore, was hyped up in L.A. at the start of the season as the next big thing, evidence that UCLA is finally beating USC in the battle of L.A.
The hard truth is that he’s just not ready to win a moment like this. He’s talented, and showed patience on some great scrambles, but he’s still a little awkward. He and UCLA are at least a year away.
“I told the guys we played hard, but playing hard isn’t enough,’’ UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “We have to get to the point where we do the things on a consistent basis that championship teams do, and we’re not there yet.
“It showed me that we’re so close. But it doesn’t matter. We’re not after being close — to heck with being close. Losers can be close. We want to get it. We want to win those games.’’
Sure, winning matters. But you have to look good doing it, too.
Former Oregon tight end Ed Dickson, now with the Ravens, was at the game in a sweatshirt that read “Bring on the SEC.’’ That’s all about the BCS, but also a growing debate as to whether the Pac 12 might actually be better than the SEC this year.
That’s going to sound sacrilegious to plenty of people. The SEC has its entitled spot in the championship game already reserved for Alabama. And that leaves the other spot for Florida State or Oregon (Ohio State in case of emergency?)
Last week, Florida State was ranked No. 2 and Oregon No. 3. But look for that to change now, as people decide that Oregon with its Heisman candidate, Mariota, is better than Florida State with its Heisman QB, Jameis Winston.
It’s lining up as just one last farewell from the BCS.