TCU the best choice for college football's BCS

By Sally Jenkins
Friday, November 20, 2009

A good rankings system is supposed to identify the most "deserving" team, not the most popular, or politically connected, or the most oil-rich-frat-boy-Izod-wearing-arrogant. For deserving, I'll take TCU. You can keep Florida, Alabama, and Texas, who have not been especially convincing, no matter how they are lording it. They're the college football equivalent of inherited money. They ought to play in Newport.

The Horned Frogs have made a serious case that they are the best team in the country through 10 games, and with two more victories, they can complete the school's first undefeated season since Davey O'Brien won the Heisman Trophy in 1938. Yet the one thing they probably can't do is play for a national championship, because they lack pedigree. The Bowl Championship Series is rigged to preserve the birthrights of the six founding conferences against interlopers such as TCU from the Mountain West. If Congress were really concerned about the nation's health, they would be doing something about the BCS, given its ill effects on fans across the country, especially my father, a TCU alum, who is perpetually at stroke risk.

The argument in favor of TCU includes the unpretentious virtues of Fort Worth, Tex., my home town, with its superior Railhead barbecue and the transcendent cheese enchiladas at the Paris Coffee Shop, but I will confine the discussion to football. The Horned Frogs have outscored their opponents, 233-53, in their past five games. They're 3-0 against teams currently in the top 25 by a combined victory margin of 107-45, flatly the best performance of any of the six teams still undefeated. They're fourth in the country in total offense (467.6 yards) and defense (244.9 yards), the only team to make the top 15 in each.

They've got a quarterback in the redheaded Andy Dalton who has outplayed Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy, throwing 11 touchdowns to just one interception in the last five games, and who also saved a dog from dying on a roadside earlier this season. They've got the nation's best all-purpose gamebreaker in Jeremy Kerley, and the best defensive end in the country in Jerry Hughes. They've also got a head coach in Gary Patterson who wins the award for most deserving because he whines the least.

"For us to be able to argue, we have to be there every year," Patterson says. "We got to find a way to win out, and then win next year too. We have to do it every year."

It's a pretty gracious thing for Patterson to say, given that he has won every year and been rewarded with a lot of Poinsettia Bowl appearances. The Frogs have won at least 10 games in six of his nine seasons. They're 13-3 against BCS schools since 2002, and 9-2 since 2005. They're 5-2 against the Big 12 in that period, and frankly, they could hang an ACC championship banner after what they've done to that conference, including beating Clemson on the road this season. Yet they're the ones with something to prove?

"Do you think it would do me good to politick to play for a national championship?" Patterson asked. "All I can do to change people's minds is the play on the field."

During the past five seasons, the Mountain West has the best win percentage in bowl games among the 11 conferences, with a 14-7 mark (.667) -- beating out the SEC and the Pac-10. Last season's champion, Utah, plain embarrassed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 31-17, to finish undefeated. The underlying assumption of the BCS is that the six power conferences are, at their worst, superior to all other leagues at their best.

If Ohio State compiled a gaudy record in a lousy Big Ten, no one would question the Buckeyes' worthiness to play for a title. Don't believe me? It happened two years ago. Surely, this year's TCU team would fare no worse than that Ohio State squad did in that loss to LSU.

Not one team from outside the big six has been invited to the title game since the BCS first corrupted college football in 1998. The Frogs are ranked higher than any team without an automatic BCS bid has ever been this late in a season. But there is no such thing as upward mobility in the BCS. The Frogs, just like the Utahs and Boise States before them, have been playing for second place all along. And that's the problem. TCU may well lose a game, but the results on the field should determine its standing, not a weighted formula.

I've said it before, but it's never been truer: College football is supposed to be a test of stamina to see who can survive the delirium, not a predetermined check-cutting ceremony. The excitement of college football should lie in its variety -- the clash between teams from different regions, with differing values, sizes, budgets, styles, strategies, all singing different songs and wearing different colors.

Full disclosure: My parents are both TCU alums, and such devoted fans that they have a monogrammed parking space at Amon Carter Stadium right next to the ex-chancellor's. They once bought a house because it had a stunning view of the stadium from the back porch.

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