Column: 'Every Game Counts' - until it doesn't
The same people who said LSU was the best team in college football all season had to concede that Alabama was the far better team Monday night.
So who's really No. 1?
That depends on whether you buy into the Bowl Championship Series' version of a national title. Remember that after you strip away the pseudo-science, fuzzy math and constant tweaks, the BCS champion is still decided by a poll of coaches - and a prearranged one at that.
So maybe the only thing everyone can agree on is that when LSU coach Les Miles said after the game, ''That's for the voters to figure,'' he certainly wasn't lobbying his fellow coaches. They are required to put the winner of the BCS title game on the top line of their final ballot, which, as one frequent critic of the cartel noted, is ''like a North Korean election.''
Alabama was the overwhelming No. 1 choice in the final Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters as well, but not unanimous. The Tide rolled up 55 first-place votes among the 60 ballots cast; Oklahoma State got four and LSU got the final one. It's that lone vote for the Tigers, though, that's stuck in the craw of the BCS faithful the day after, likely because the guy who cast it, Erik Gee of KNML-AM in Albuquerque, N.M., said he intended to pick LSU no matter how the rematch turned out. And it turns out he's got plenty to back him up.
Alabama and LSU are 1-1 head-to-head. LSU, in addition to being the SEC champion - at Bama's expense, no less - also played a much tougher schedule. The Tigers were 5-1 against teams that finished in the final AP Top 25, and 8-1 against teams ranked at the time they played; Alabama was 2-1 and 4-1 in those situations. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, finished 4-0 against teams in the final Top 25 and likely would have claimed Alabama's spot in the title were it not for an emotional overtime loss at lowly Iowa State.
All the people going after Gee on message boards are aiming their barbs at the wrong target. It's the BCS that's making a mockery out of college football, and if TV ratings are any indication, fans are growing tired of the constant promises to get it right. The 14.0 rating for what was an almost-unbearable kicking contest was the second-lowest of the 14 BCS title games. Even so, that left plenty of people mad at Gee.
''It hasn't been nearly as bad today as I expected,'' he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. ''But I'll be clear one more time: I don't dislike Alabama. If the roles had been reversed, I would have picked Alabama.''
Gee is a 39-year-old radio host who knows his way around a controversy. For the record, he grew up all over the country as the son of a Marine-turned-high-school football coach and graduated from Oklahoma with a degree in journalism. An examination of his ballots - AP makes them public - shows a consistent, conscientious voter. Plus, he can defend himself, something Gee has been doing often since first announcing his decision to stick with LSU in early December. That was right after the BCS blithely ignored two of its own unwritten rules - a team must win its conference championship; the title game shouldn't be a rematch of a regular-season game - so Alabama and LSU could meet again in Super Dome.
There was plenty of talk at the time about the possibility of yet another split national championship. Those weren't unusual in the days before the BCS hijacked the postseason in 1998 by inserting itself as the middleman between the power conferences, bowl committees and TV partners and making sure everybody got a hefty paycheck. The only time the BCS and AP polls split since then was in January 2004. That's when a loaded Southern California team was nosed out of a spot in the title game by Oklahoma and went on to crush Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Several days later, BCS No. 1 pick LSU - then-coached by Nick Saban - narrowly outlasted the Sooners and took home what anybody without a rooting interest would have called a tarnished trophy. The Trojans won the final AP poll convincingly.
We used to call the national championship ''mythical,'' and despite the Frankenstein-like creation that is the BCS and until there's a playoff, it will stay that way. Only the names of the schools that get kicked to the curb changes from year to year.
Speaking of change, the BCS is promising to do that for the umpteenth time. Maybe because a playoff would bring in more money, or shore up the terrible TV ratings, or get critics off their back, the people in charge are going to re-examine their options. For all the fake promises in the past, there's actually a chance a four-team playoff could result. Don't count on it.
The feeling here is never, ever trust the BCS. It keeps boasting ''Every Game Counts'' even though its own national title matchup proved it didn't.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org. Follow him at http://Twitter.com/JimLitke.