As Georgia scurried in vain toward the line of scrimmage, the sheer magnitude of its loss to Alabama was written on the faces of the fans behind the end zone.
With the down-to-the-wire SEC championship game defeat Saturday, it was immediately clear the team would not be playing Notre Dame for the BCS championship. Although it had been stated and hashed out throughout the week leading up to the clash with the Crimson Tide, no fan sitting in the Georgia Dome stands could have pictured either one of those teams missing out on a BCS bowl. The game they had just witnessed was too special, too emotionally charged, and the conclusion was just too obvious.
Those fans witnessed two of the 10 best teams in the country Saturday night — including the title game, the BCS allows in 10 suitors for its treasured bowls — but one was sent to potential glory in Miami while the other heads to the Capital One bowl versus a three-loss Big Ten team that just lost 70-31.
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Unfortunately, that’s the way the system is set up. For two more seasons, at least.
After the immediate shock of playing victim to a system that is allowing access to a Mid-American Conference team that lost to Iowa, a five-loss Big Ten squad that would have finished third in its division if it weren’t for NCAA sanctions to conference foes and a Big East squad that lost to both Syracuse and UConn, Georgia fans then turned their frustration on a familiar foe: How the hell was Florida in over their Bulldogs?
Georgia beat Florida on a neutral field. Georgia won the SEC East division. Georgia held all the bragging rights. It seems simplistic, a basic solution based on cause and effect. Victory equals superiority. But the BCS is rarely so cut and dry.
Thanks to a conference championship loss, Florida jumped Georgia while sitting idle in Gainesville. This happens every season, or so it seems.
However, if Georgia fans are honest with themselves, the vitriol should not be aimed at Florida. The Gators did nothing except play the toughest schedule in the country and finish 11-1. Georgia had its shot at the national title — that’s something their rivals cannot say — and fell five yards short. Tough break — one that should be neither recompensed nor mocked.
If Georgia thinks the BCS should be as simple as, “We beat this team, so we are better,” then perhaps this math equation will also make sense: 4 > 1.
Florida has four quality wins on the resume, all of which came against teams currently ranked among the top 12 teams in the BCS standings. And Georgia? It played three teams ranked in the BCS standings, and lost to two of them (one by 28 points). Its only win over a quality program just so happened to come against the Gators in a one-score game. Georgia reaped the reward of that win by playing in the SEC title game for a subsequent title berth; it lost.
So, following this logic, Georgia, despite sporting two losses now after a much weaker schedule should still further benefit from winning the division? And Florida, despite beating South Carolina (which Georgia lost to, horrendously), LSU, Texas A&M and Florida State, should be sent to square off with the Cornhuskers for bragging rights and “What’s in your wallet?” T-shirts?
What are we applauding: One game in a rivalry bubble or an entire season of work?
Georgia has no argument against Florida. If anything, blame the BCS, which allows only two teams per conference, because Georgia is certainly more deserving of a BCS nod than Northern Illinois, Louisville, Florida State and Wisconsin. Now, that structure was meant to protect financial interests of all conferences, but, to be honest, fans (and TV networks) who are actually forking out the money instead of receiving it deserve better matchups. Split the money any which way, just don’t conjure up Florida State-Northern Illinois or Wisconsin-Stanford.
If Georgia wants to schedule an exhibition slaughter against Louisville to vent, then it probably has earned that right. But it has not earned the right to claim BCS preeminence over Florida, which may have lost in Jacksonville but pieced together a better season overall. In college football, there are no inherent bonus points for playing better at the end of the season. If so, Texas A&M would probably be looking down the barrel of Irish tradition and lore.
As much as it might feel like your team deserves its chance at BCS glory — yes, the SEC championship was the Game of the Year (so far) — Georgia fans have to look at the big picture. The Bulldogs could not run the table against a so-so schedule. As good as they played toward the end of the season and against Alabama, there’s just no escaping simple math.
Georgia won a couple battles; Florida won the war, because four is always greater than one.
SEC BOWL BREAKDOWN
Compass Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Mississippi
Reaction: Coach Hugh Freeze did a tremendous job in his inaugural season in Oxford, turning a relatively inept program into a bowl-bound success story. Ole Miss won two games last season. Now, the Rebels (6-6) are Egg Bowl victors and feeling good about the direction the program is headed. A win over Pittsburgh would give the Rebels their first winning season since they went 9-4 in 2009. The Panthers (6-6) are strong defensively (16th nationally), but expect wideout Donte Moncrief to create some problems in the secondary.
Music City: NC State vs. Vanderbilt
Reaction: Two seasons. Two bowl games. Not bad for James Franklin, who just as easily could have walked away with the SEC Coach of the Year award as Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin did Monday. And after signing a contract extension for “a number of years,” it’s clear that these are at least a part of the golden years for Commodores football. As an immediate result, a Wolfpack team with a fired head coach could provide the first bowl win of the Franklin regime. Expect Vanderbilt (8-4) to rely, as usual, on its defense and running game versus a sporadic North Carolina State (7-5).
Gator Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
Reaction: A season that once held such promise for the Bulldogs — they took a 7-0 start into Tuscaloosa, if you’ll recall — is now on the brink of disappointment. After losing four of their last five games, including a painful loss to their in-state rival Rebels, Mississippi State (8-4) would be able to rest its head easier with a nine-win season. Disciplined and balanced Northwestern (9-3), which already has one win vs. the SEC on its resume (Vanderbilt), should not make things simple, though.
Outback: South Carolina vs. Michigan
Reaction: Poor Devin Gardner. It’s clear that South Carolina (10-2) is not the same offense without running back Marcus Lattimore, but there’s nothing holding back sophomore All-American Jadeveon Clowney and an explosive defense from ruining the Michigan quarterback’s day. In a bowl game with some uncertainty at the quarterback position — Will Dylan Thompson or Connor Shaw start under center for the Gamecocks? — this one could come down to defense. The Wolverines (8-4) and Gamecocks both rank in the top 16 nationally in fewest points allowed.
Capital One: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Reaction: And here Georgia (11-2) sits undeservingly, against a Nebraska team reeling from a Big Ten championship beatdown at the hands of five-loss Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers (10-3) were bullied by the Badgers’ running game, and they can expect more of the same with star freshman running back Todd Gurley. Gurley led the SEC in total yards rushing this season and had 122 yards and two scores against Alabama. Best of luck, semi-Blackshirts.
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M
Reaction: Two 10-2 teams square off in one of the five best bowl matchups. Johnny Manziel, who could very well have a Heisman Trophy on his mantel by the time this game rolls around, gets a shot at the Aggies’ former Big 12 foe. Many believe Oklahoma, not Georgia, to be the biggest snub out of the BCS. (The Big 12 only got one team in.). So this one could be a statement game for the Sooners. Landry Jones might want to keep an eye out for All-America defensive end Damontre Moore once more.
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Louisville
Reaction: Sporting the toughest schedule in the country, according to the NCAA, Florida (11-1) and its electric secondary ought to find a way to win against former Florida assistant Charlie Strong’s Cardinals. Louisville had an extended run at an undefeated season before falling to Syracuse and UConn on back-to-back Saturdays, so it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals (10-2) figuring out a Florida team that willed its way to victory week in and week out this season. The Gators also should be ready to quiet the BCS chatter of not deserving a spot.
BCS Championship Game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Reaction: With an underwhelming bowl season on the horizon, this Jan. 7 date should already be marked on the calendar. Notre Dame’s rise back to the top of college football has been astounding, but, fittingly, would not be complete without a victory over the reigning king. Alabama (12-1) will not necessarily see its dynasty end with a loss to the Irish (12-0), but it could signal a changing of the guard from one traditional power to another. Of course, Notre Dame has to win first, which, take it from Georgia, is no small task. Hope for a classic.