There has been some big news in how college football is going to handle the end of the season starting in a couple of years (Also check out this post on my ratings site with top 4 lists from the past few seasons), but I can’t help but think about the end to the most-recent season.
As you might have guessed, I’m still slightly traumatized by the way college football ended 6 months ago. At first, I couldn’t even listen to “Sweet Home Alabama”. While I’ve gotten over that, I was still moderately offended by what appeared to be a houndstooth wall in a hotel room I stayed in recently, for example.
I also don’t like that Monarchy of Roses song by Red Hot Chili Peppers (which mentions a “crimson tide is flowing”), but that might just be because it’s not a good song.
It’s not just because I’m an LSU fan. It’s also because of the special regard I have for the University of Alabama. I’ll explain. Unlike most other teams, LSU does not have an unquestionable #1 rival. The most equally reciprocated rivalry is probably that with Arkansas, but I think Hogs fans would still rather beat Texas despite that being an irregular rivalry in the last couple of decades. Texas of course seems more interested in their rivalries with Texas A&M and Oklahoma (or I guess I should use past tense in the former case). I don’t know if I’m representative of most LSU fans, but if the Tigers could only beat one team all year, I would choose Alabama. I don’t really care if Alabama regards its rivalries with Tennessee and Auburn as more important. I’m generally happy to cheer for them to lose to the Vols or to those other Tigers too.
Something else that bothered me was that LSU had successfully navigated the great SEC without a single loss. This included 8 regular-season conference games and a game against a ninth team in the SEC championship. Also, the Fighting Tigers had beaten Oregon and West Virginia, who each went on to win BCS bowls, and had not lost out of conference.
Despite the change of heart by the voters in 2006 to avoid a rematch scenario, I knew it would happen one of these years, but for this team, my team, to have to play a team they had already beaten on the road in order to claim a championship, that especially wasn’t right, even before knowing the result. If LSU had lost a game to another team, then I would have had absolutely no problem with it. But in the ONE game to win a national championship (after already winning 13), they had to line up against this same team again? You can’t pretend that’s the same thing as playing and beating a new opponent.
I also wasn’t a stranger to history. I knew that although LSU beat Ole Miss in 1959 on Billy Cannon’s historic punt return, Ole Miss would win the Sugar Bowl (by a score of 21-0) in a rematch.But at least LSU had lost to Tennessee, so they weren’t playing for a national championship anyway. The two teams were on equal footing. Yes, they had played one another, but each had finished with one loss against a similar schedule before that Sugar Bowl game. It wasn’t 9-0 in conference play vs. 7-1 with at 6 common conference opponents like it was last year.
And not just looking at it from LSU’s perspective, shouldn’t another team who wasn’t on LSU’s schedule get the opportunity to be the one team to knock them off?
Getting to the point, I hope there is a silver lining in that LSU fans aren’t the only people with a bad taste left in their mouths from this game and that this game helped lead to the 4-team playoff. I’m a big SEC fan, I will demand that the SEC gets every bit of credit it deserves; but it can’t be good for college football to claim a championship of 120 teams should simply be two teams of the same division of the same conference playing one another for the second time. I don’t believe it was right to tell Oklahoma St. (a team I thought should have gone ahead of Alabama anyway) that in order to go ahead of a team who didn’t even win its division that they should have gone undefeated. The sport should demand at a minimum access to a championship for other teams. Even though only 9 teams did, all 11 SEC teams had a chance to play LSU. The other SEC East teams (Vanderbilt and South Carolina) should have beaten Georgia or at least finished with a better record than Georgia did. No one should have been concerned about SEC teams having a fair chance but about the 100+ teams that didn’t have even a theoretical chance to play LSU outside of a national championship game last season.
There are going to be some people who want to say that based on the results Alabama must have been the right choice. What happened after the fact does not go back in time and change the arguments. But even if that were valid, assuming LSU’s offense was similarly inept, maybe the first five scores by Oklahoma St. would have had some touchdowns mixed in, so the result could have easily been worse.
I didn’t even notice this development with the semifinal format until the last couple of days. I guess it’s the fact that while I mostly only blog about football, I have been a bit distracted by the European “Football” Championships, Wimbledon, and baseball, not to mention certain recent political developments and having a job.
Reflections on non-playoffs
My feelings about Alabama precede the arrival of Nick Saban by the better part of a decade, although he did increase my desire for LSU to win this annual game. It’s also the fact that for the first time since the early 1990s Alabama seems to have a good team every year once again. 1992, Alabama’s last pre-Saban championship, was actually the year where I didn’t feel slightly cheated by not having a playoff. Although I was new to the sports word at that time (1988 was basically the first year I understood and remembered what was going on for any sport) I was aware of there being some controversy between Miami and Notre Dame. But I didn’t worry about them playing one another because, as I’m sure someone explained to me, they did play one another, so voters had information from that game to inform them. 1988 had also been a presidential election year, so some aspects of voting had also been explained to me. It didn’t seem to be a problem that this is how it was done in college football.
1990 and 1991 showed that voting wasn’t good enough. The two teams that claimed national championships should have played one another. Georgia Tech should have played Colorado, and then Miami should have played Washington the next year. But these were just two-team controversies.
In 1992, Miami did play Alabama. Unlike their games against Notre Dame in the prior years, this was actually played at the end of the season in the Sugar Bowl. While I didn’t particularly care about that outcome either way (to me, Miami seemed like the more dominant team and this was before I heard talk of Alabama’s dozen national championships or whatever it was at that point), it was nice to have it decided on the field once and for all. So if someone had told my 11-year-old self at that point that we’re going to have the best two teams play each other for the championship every year, I probably wouldn’t have thought of any objection to this.
Then came 1993. There were two extremely good undefeated teams, Auburn and Nebraska. Auburn wasn’t eligible for a bowl game, but I still wanted to know whether they were as good as those other teams. Florida St. had lost at Notre Dame before the Irish lost to Boston College. So Boston College was the only team from outside of the top 4 to have beaten a top-4 team, and I believe they did so by a single point. Florida St. would narrowly beat Nebraska in a bowl game and Notre Dame won their bowl game as well. Nebraska playing Florida St. didn’t seem to really solve anything. It just made it so that, along with undefeated Auburn who wasn’t in any bowl game, we had a team who lost to Notre Dame, a team who (beat Florida St. but) lost to Boston College, and a team who lost to Florida St. Contrary to the apparent opinion of Notre Dame fans, I did not believe the bowls strengthened the Irish’s position. They beat Texas A&M while Florida St. beat Nebraska. Had Notre Dame beaten Auburn, then I might have given more credence to the idea that you knock it down to the top two and pick the winner. But even that wouldn’t have been satisfactory. Losing to Boston College was certainly worse than losing to Notre Dame.
So we really would have needed another game. This is what I touched on earlier, there can be a circumstance where such a rematch makes sense.
Florida St. should have played Auburn (assuming Auburn didn’t deserve to be higher) and Notre Dame should have played Nebraska. If Florida St. and Notre Dame had both won, so be it.
After nothing too unusual happened in 1994 (the then-common two-team dispute, when Penn St. should have played Nebraska) and 1995 (when Nebraska beat Florida), another situation, also involving Florida St., took place in 1996. Florida, despite the big loss at the end of the 1995 season, looked like the #1 team (almost) all year until they lost a close game in Tallahassee. Ohio St. looked on its way to perhaps an undefeated season when the Buckeyes lost to archrival Michigan by 4 points the week before. There were two undefeated teams, Florida St. and Arizona St. What actually happened was Ohio St. beat Arizona St. in the Rose Bowl, and Florida beat Florida St. in the Sugar Bowl. Florida, like Alabama did last year, took a close loss and made it into a big win in the rematch. But Florida St. should have played Ohio St., and Florida should have played Arizona St. This was another instance where the solution was clear, there should have been a way to have these four teams play to decide the championship.
Regardless, it has seemed to me since that time that four should be the minimum number involved. Of course, there have been other times since then when two wasn’t enough (2001 and 2003 come to mind), but all that did was confirm what I already believed.
I would mention one proviso that I think should be added regarding possible rematches. In 2009, my ratings suggest that Alabama should have played Florida in the semifinal. I think college football should adopt a modified version of the baseball rule where two teams in the same division could not play one another in the first round. Except I would say that in the semifinals two teams that played one another already should not play again. If a rematch of some type is unavoidable, then you have a non-conference rematch rather than an intra-conference rematch. So I think it should avoid rematches but obviously not forbid them entirely.
I wouldn’t have had any problem at all last season with Alabama being included in the top 4 and settling the question of which team should be in the title game with Oklahoma St. on the field. I think some of LSU’s problems stemmed from having played Alabama, but if the LSU offense played just as poorly and the coaching staff failed to make adjustments similarly, LSU could have lost to a number of teams in the semifinal. But none of those teams would have had an advantage the way Alabama did, so I think the loss would have been easier to take. And from a more neutral fan perspective, it would have also been better to let other teams see what they can do against these two great SEC teams.
One criticism that is always going to take place is, no matter what number we get to, someone will always say they should be #4 instead of #5, #8 instead of #9, #68 instead of #69, whatever. (I’ve forgotten how many at-larges there are in college basketball, but apparently at-larges can be as bad as 14-seeds, which is a tie for 53rd.)
I can’t think of a #5 team that I really thought should have been a national champion or strongly considered for a championship. The best team I can think of that wouldn’t have made any of the top 4 lists was Utah in 2008, but I didn’t think they were so good until they beat Alabama the way they did. But maybe that was more a reflection of Alabama than it was of Utah, like I think LSU’s performance in the 2011 championship was more a reflection of LSU failing to execute, well, anything offensively than it was of Alabama having an overwhelming performance on either side of the ball.
So let’s say Alabama gets blown out by Oklahoma instead of by Utah (and Oklahoma then went on to lost to Florida as they did in the real championship game that year), and Utah had beaten the ACC or Big East champion. Although Utah would have still been undefeated, I don’t think their case looks the same.at the end of the day.
So far, the Boise St.’s and TCU’s and Utahs haven’t been able to play for a championship. That’s a far different dynamic, but the fact that, as mentioned on my rating site, one of those teams might have had a chance just about every year, that’s a lot better even if there may be a situation where there are two such teams in the mix and a committee has to pick just one. Even if they lose out to someone like the 2009 Florida team, that team went 12-0 to start out too. You can’t really argue they had a tougher road, they just suffered the inconvenience of having to play a championship game which those other teams did not. So I can’t imagine feeling that bad for a #5 team.
But on the other hand, if that Florida team had been left out, I wouldn’t have had a problem with the argument of, “You had your chance and you lost.” Same thing if somehow this year LSU had lost to Georgia and was not included in the semifinals.
Putting all the technicalities and arguments aside, this is exciting. So when this is implemented in 2014, I’ll have been waiting for about 20 years. Even though I have time to prepare myself, I don’t quite believe it right now and probably won’t quite believe it then. I just hope nothing too silly happens in the next two seasons.