Column: FSU, Ohio St wins should eliminate SEC

Sorry, Southeastern Conference.

You had your chance.

Now, it’s out of your hands.

If top-ranked Florida State and No. 2 Ohio State both win on

Saturday, they deserve to play for the national title – and no

amount of griping from the SEC should make a bit of difference.

The Seminoles have done what they needed to do: win every

game.

Ditto for the Buckeyes, even if people want to gripe about the

quality of the Big Ten.

Neither No. 3 Auburn nor No. 5 Missouri – the one-loss teams

that will meet Saturday at the Georgia Dome for the SEC title –

should leapfrog Ohio State if the Buckeyes emerge with a victory in

their own league championship game that night.

The SEC has claimed an unprecedented seven straight national

titles, and some would have you believe it’s almost a birthright

that the country’s strongest conference (no argument there) should

have a representative in the title game, no matter what.

”It’s like being in the NFL,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said

Friday. ”Every week, you have a high-level game.”

”All I know,” added Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, ”is we’ve got

the best league in college football.”

But this isn’t about the best league, it’s about the two most

worthy teams over the course of the entire season. Under this

flawed system (which, thankfully, will be replaced next year by a

four-team playoff), if you play in a major conference and win all

your games, it takes a pretty compelling argument for a one-loss

team to bump you out of a spot in the BCS championship.

Auburn can’t make that case.

Missouri can’t, either.

Let’s start with the Tigers from Auburn. The best part of their

resume is last week’s remarkable victory over two-time defending

national champion Alabama, when they returned a missed field goal

109 yards for the winning touchdown on the final play. If you beat

the best, they say, you deserve a chance to be the best.

The Tigers also point to their overall schedule, which included

four other games against teams that we ranked in the Top 25 when

they played. But Auburn lost 35-21 at LSU – a game that really

wasn’t that close – and victories over Mississippi, Texas A&M

and Georgia don’t look quite as impressive in hindsight.

Ole Miss finished 7-5. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies slumped to

an 8-4 mark that proved you occasionally need to play a little

defense. And the victory over Georgia might deserve the biggest

asterisk of all, since Auburn blew a 20-point lead at home and

needed the most fortuitous play of the season to pull out the

victory: a 73-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-18 in the final

minute, the ball deflected into the receiver’s hands when two

defenders ran into each other going for the interception.

Auburn (11-1) could’ve bolstered its case with an impressive

out-of-conference win, but there’s nothing persuasive about beating

Washington State, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic and

lower-division Western Carolina. Nothing against the remarkable job

done by first-year coach Malzahn, who won the SEC West with a team

that went 3-9 a year ago and was winless in the SEC, but it’s not

enough to overtake Ohio State.

On to Missouri.

These Tigers also had quite a bounce-back season, going from 5-7

their first year in the SEC to 11-1 and an East Division title in

Year 2. But their case, should they upset Auburn, is even weaker

than the other Tigers.

Missouri has played five teams that were ranked when they met,

but that includes a victory over Georgia, which was ravaged by

injuries when the Tigers pulled off a 41-26 upset between the

hedges, as well as wins over Ole Miss and Texas A&M (already

discussed). Pinkel’s team routed a ranked Florida team, but that

means nothing after the Gators staggered to a 4-8 record. Which

brings us to the Tigers’ only loss – a 27-24 setback to South

Carolina in double-overtime.

Missouri led 17-0, at home, entering the fourth quarter. If the

Tigers had protected that lead, we’d be leading the call for them

to play in the BCS championship ahead of Ohio State. But they

didn’t. And that’s a big strike against Mizzou, which also played

an extremely weak non-conference schedule: Murray State, Toledo,

Indiana and Arkansas State.

Let’s consider Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have 24 consecutive victories since Urban Meyer

took over as coach, their biggest selling point. The biggest knock

against them is a weak schedule.

Their only major-conference opponent from outside the Big Ten

was lowly California (1-11). The Buckeyes beat a couple of ranked

teams, but a 31-24 victory over Wisconsin is the only one that

still looks impressive. They also won at Northwestern, which was

16th at the time but tumbled to a 5-7 finish.

Ohio State does deserve kudos, however, for a 63-14 blowout of a

respectable Penn State team, not to mention a 34-24 triumph over

rapidly improving Iowa. Critics of the Buckeyes say they should’ve

blown out Michigan in what was a down year for the Wolverines,

instead of needing to stop a two-point conversion to preserve the

victory last week. We’re willing to be a bit more lenient when they

were on the road, facing their biggest rival.

So, if Ohio State beats a very good Michigan State team Saturday

night in the Big Ten championship, the spot in Pasadena should

belong to them, no matter what happens in Atlanta. If not, the

winner of Tigers vs. Tigers gets it. (We won’t even mention Florida

State, which has no chance of losing to Duke in the Atlantic Coast

Conference championship; the Seminoles can go ahead and make their

Pasadena plans.)

Simple enough.

There should be no complaints.

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press.

Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or

www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963