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
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
There should be no complaints.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press.
Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or