By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 1:38 AM
The following is an open letter to the 65 members of the media who are entitled to cast votes in the Associated Press college football poll.
I am writing to urge you -- no, implore you -- to cast your final ballot of the season with one team and one only team ranked No. 1: the University of Utah.
I say this not to demean the performance of Southern California, Texas or the winner of Thursday's Oklahoma-Florida game. All are fine teams that have had outstanding seasons. They have, however, one thing that Utah does not have.
All of us know that in competition anyone -- whether an individual or a team -- who does not lose once is the champion. It's really pretty simple: If no one beats you, then you are the winner. You are No. 1. You go home with the first-place trophy.
There is only one sport on earth where this is not always the case: Division 1-A college football or, as the pretentious folks at the NCAA now like to call it, the football bowl subdivision. It's worth noting that those same NCAA tools like to call Division 1-AA the football championship subdivision. In other words, a team -- this year it was Richmond -- wins a 16-team tournament and earns an actual championship, as opposed to a bunch of computers and voters getting together to select a champion.
Championships, as we all know, are supposed to be won, not selected. That's one reason why figure skating, though it may be athletic and at times sublimely aesthetic isn't a sport. The same goes for diving or any alleged competition that involves judging. Chess is a sport; gymnastics is not.
Sadly, the preening, hypocrital presidents who run the so-called Bowl Championship Series have turned college football into figure skating. Maybe next year at season's end, coaches who believe their teams have a case to be national champion can sit together in a "kiss and cry," area, hold hands and wait for the judges' scores to be posted. Wouldn't you just love to see Mack Brown and Bob Stoops holding hands while they wait?
There are many reasons for all of you to cast your votes for the Utes on Thursday night after the final game is finally over (the over-under on the time of that game is 3 hours 53 minutes, unless there's overtime).
It isn't just because they are the only one of the 119 so-called BCS teams that finished undefeated. It isn't even because they went to New Orleans last Friday and handily beat an Alabama team that spent the last month of the regular season ranked No. 1 in every poll. It isn't just that they beat Alabama with considerably more ease than Florida did in December; the Gators had to muster every bit of Tim Tebow's swagger to come from behind and beat the Tide in the fourth quarter. The Utes never trailed in the Sugar Bowl. They scored on their first three possessions, and when Alabama closed to 21-17 early in the third quarter and stole momentum, Utah's players took a deep breath and took back control of the game.
Yet that's still not the reason to vote for Utah. I'm sure some of you who cover the SEC or The Big 12 or even the Pac-10 (which went 1-6 against Utah's Mountain West Conference before going 5-0 in bowl games, four of them against BCS opponents) may argue about strength of schedule. Those who cover the ACC, the Big East or the Big Ten can sit this part of the argument out.
First of all, the strength-of-schedule argument is bogus. How tough did Texas Tech and Oklahoma State prove to be in the postseason? Beyond that, consider this: Do you think anyone from a BCS conference is going to start a home-and-home with Utah -- or Boise State or TCU or Brigham Young -- anytime soon? No. The BCS schools would rather schedule Coastal Carolina and Wofford and Pacific (to name a few teams that played BCS powers this year) than schedule Utah, especially on the road. Michigan did deign to play the Utes at home and we all know how that turned out. In retrospect, it might have been one of Michigan's better performances all fall.
The fact that teams from the ACC, Big Ten and Big East get automatic bids to BCS games is yet another condemnation of the system. Automatic bids are fine in college basketball, where there are 65 spots available and more than half go to at-large teams. To give more than half the available bids on an automatic basis when there are only 10 spots available is a joke.
Virginia Tech and Cincinnati deserved to be in the Orange Bowl about as much as Boise State and TCU deserved to have to play in the Poinsettia Bowl before Christmas day. Those bowls should have been reversed. And please don't cite Cincinnati's 11-2 record going into the game. The Bearcats best win was over a Pittsburgh team that couldn't score a single point in its bowl game. The one time Cincinnati ventured out to play a ranked team it got shellacked by 26 point at Oklahoma. As for Virginia Tech, its four losses included one to East Carolina, which couldn't hold off a 6-6 Kentucky team in its bowl game, and one to Boston College, which also lost to a 6-6 team ¿ storied loser Vanderbilt, at that -- in its bowl. Enough said.
As for the Big Ten, has anyone noticed that it really doesn't play much football anymore? After the Fiesta Bowl it finished 1-6 in bowls, the only win in an Iowa victory over a South Carolina team whose 63-year-old coach is by far the best quarterback wearing the school colors. The Gamecocks finished the season on a three-game losing streak, the losses by a combined score of 118-30. Why Steve Spurrier wants to keep watching this is beyond me.
Sorry, I digress.
While the case for the Utes as the No. 1 team can be made based on record, on their win over Alabama, on BCS teams' refusal to play them on the road and on the remarkable mediocrity of three of six BCS conferences (not to mention Notre Dame which is reveling in a 7-6 record; boy is that Charlie Weis a coaching genius), that's not why you should vote for them.
The reason to vote for Utah is simple: This is the one and only way you can stand up to the BCS bullies -- the university presidents, commissioners, athletic directors and the TV networks who enable them -- and, to renew a catch phrase, just say no. Say no to this horrible, hypocritical, feed-the-big-boys system. Say no to the idea that fair competition doesn't matter. Say no to all the hype surrounding the power conferences and power teams. To co-opt yet another catch phrase, say yes to change.
Trust me, your vote matters. It will infuriate the winner of Oklahoma-Florida to only be a split national champion. You can bet the winning coach and all the big conference apologists will be ripping you guys as media-know-nothings who just don't understand football
That's good. Stand up and be proud. The old saying that you judge a man by his enemies will never have more validity than if you have the guts to refuse to be abused again. Don't study any strength of schedule and don't be wowed if one of the quarterbacks puts up 500 yards or scores 60 points Thursday night.
Do what's right. Vote for Utah because the Utes beat every team they were allowed to play and because everything about the BCS is rancid and corrupt. If you are part of the system -- and you are if you go along like sheep and vote the Florida-Oklahoma winner No. 1 -- then you're responsible for the system.
Surely you want no part in this system. This is your chance to be free of it, to stand up and do something that will be remembered, to do something for which you'll be proud, years from now, to tell your children and grandchildren you did because it needed to be done.
To quote one of the corporations that funds the BCS itself, just do it. I promise you will be glad that you did, and years from now, when the world is finally rid of the BCS, the rest of us will be, too.