A Topsy-Turvy Picture
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Southern California's stunning loss to UCLA and Florida's victory in the Southeastern Conference championship game yesterday amplified the already deafening debate over which team should face top-ranked Ohio State for college football's national championship. The arguments promise to reach unprecedented volume in the hours counting down to today's announcement of pairings in the Bowl Championship Series.
USC squandered its surefire chance to play Ohio State for the national championship and clouded the title game picture by losing, 13-9, to crosstown rival UCLA. As the Trojans skulked off the field, Florida sat in its locker room at halftime of the SEC championship game leading Arkansas by 10. After a wild half of football, the Gators won by the same margin, 38-28, to make their case for belonging in the national championship game.
Florida is certain to pass Michigan in the computer rankings, which comprise one-third of the formula that determines the BCS championship game participants. The other two-thirds are determined by the coaches' and Harris polls, and those voters will decide which team is more worthy.
In both of last week's polls, Michigan was No. 3 and Florida No. 4, but the No. 2 Trojans' loss makes forecasting today's results difficult. Voters will have to decide whether Florida's performance, coupled with winning what is widely regarded as the nation's best conference, is enough to vault the Gators over Michigan, which would back into the championship after losing its final game to Ohio State. The teams are virtually even by any measure; they played only one common opponent, Vanderbilt. The Wolverines beat the Commodores, 27-7, in Ann Arbor on Sept. 2; the Gators beat them on the road, 25-19, on Nov. 4.
"Michigan already had its chance," Florida freshman Percy Harvin said. "I think we deserve a chance."
The merits of a rematch between Michigan and Ohio State has raged since the Buckeyes pulled out a 42-39 victory in Columbus on Nov. 18. Two days later, Florida Coach Urban Meyer made his position clear.
"I think that'd be unfair to Ohio State, and I think it'd be unfair to the country," Meyer said. "Just don't believe that's the right thing to do. You're going to tell Ohio State they have to go beat the same team twice, which is extremely difficult? If that does happen, all the [university] presidents need to get together immediately and put together a playoff system. I mean like now, January or whenever, to get that done."
Meyer more conservatively stumped for his team during a television interview last night.
"I do believe we deserve a shot," Meyer said. "I think the country will feel the same way. The SEC against the Big Ten will be a great title game. Michigan has a great team, but I think they had their shot."
Meyer is not among the seven SEC coaches who vote in the coaches' poll; Michigan's Lloyd Carr and Ohio State's Jim Tressel are among the six Big Ten coaches with a vote.
"I hope that the voters will not penalize our team because we didn't play the last two weeks," Carr said. "I don't want to get into a campaign. That's not what's best for the game. The BCS is set in order to put the two best teams together in the championship games. We all have our views."
USC, which was attempting to make its third consecutive appearance in the national championship game, couldn't call itself the city champ yesterday. The Trojans' loss, the fourth in their last 59 games, snapped a string of seven straight victories over UCLA. The Trojans, still the Pacific-10 champions, will settle for playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, on the same field where their title hopes were dashed.
Whichever team ends up in the title will determine USC's Rose Bowl opponent. If Michigan plays in the national title game, Louisiana State likely will play USC. But if Florida plays for the national title, Michigan and USC likely will meet in a game with traditional conference tie-ins.
The rest of the BCS picture cleared up yesterday, too. Wake Forest earned a bid to the Orange Bowl by defeating Georgia Tech, 9-6, in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. The Demon Deacons will likely play Louisville, the Big East champion.
Boise State clinched its spot in the BCS last weekend by completing a 12-0 season, and it will likely play Big 12 champion Oklahoma.
Notre Dame seems headed for the Sugar Bowl, where it would play either LSU or Florida, depending on how the title game and Rose Bowl shake out.
Those games, of course, will be only the undercard. One of the participants in the main event has yet to be decided, but the fight over who it will be could very well prove more intense than the game itself.