Even as it takes its last breaths, the Bowl Championship Series will provide one final weekend of potential chaos. Could it have ended any other way?
For 16 hectic seasons, the BCS has been charged with determining the two teams that will play for the national championship of college football’s top level, and in many of those years, it has infuriated fans with dissatisfying endings such as a split national title in 2003, an unbeaten Auburn team being left out of the 2004 title game, and an Alabama-Louisiana State rematch in the 2011 season. After this January’s championship game, the BCS will be laid to rest, giving way to a four-team tournament to determine a national champion.
No more computer rankings or program-altering goals decided by a thousandth of a point. Although undeniably imperfect — how soon will the cries for an eight- or 16-team playoff begin? — the new College Football Playoff system, whose national semifinals will be determined by a 13-person committee, should run without as many head-shaking glitches.
But that story line belongs to the future. This last weekend before bowls are determined has the potential to be, just for old times’ sake, pandemonium. The top three teams in the BCS standings — No. 1 Florida State, No. 2. Ohio State and No. 3 Auburn — will play Saturday in conference championship games. No. 20 Duke, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 5 Missouri, the top teams’ respective opponents, can upend the championship picture, adding to some tantalizing scenarios for the BCS’s final act.
Already, Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn reiterated the Southeastern Conference’s strength when asked by reporters Friday if a one-loss SEC team should play for a national championship.
“We’ve got the best league in college football,” he said.
This past week, Alabama fans considered how the previously top-ranked Crimson Tide, the two-time defending BCS champion that was upset by Auburn last week, could sneak back into the title game. For this to happen, forget confusion and madness; this would be disarray — but, nonetheless, an appropriate way for the controversial and unpopular BCS to go out.
If either the Seminoles or Buckeyes lose, the SEC champion would almost definitely slide into the top two. Missouri, which is .011 points behind Alabama in the standings, would presumably jump the Tide if it knocks out Auburn in Atlanta’s conference championship. After all, Alabama didn’t even win its division and won’t play for the Southeastern Conference championship, though in the BCS, there seemingly is always precedent for the bizarre. Nebraska played for the national title in 2001 despite finishing second in the Big 12 North. Miami blew out the Cornhuskers for the national championship.
The only understandable way for Nick Saban to reach his fourth BCS championship game in five seasons is to watch a Missouri win and then, later Saturday, hope for upsets in both the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference championship games. Depending on the games’ circumstances, it would be difficult to imagine a one-loss Alabama remaining behind Florida State and Ohio State, both of which then would have one loss and would’ve survived a weaker schedule. Those dominoes would set up the second all-SEC national championship in three seasons; the Tide won that one, too, defeating LSU 21-0.
Each of those scenarios is long shots, and Alabama fans seem to understand that. But even if the top three teams win, yielding a final BCS standing of Florida State, Ohio State and Auburn, that would leave the SEC out of the national championship game for the first time since the 2005 season.
Remember that? How long ago this seems: Texas quarterback Vince Young, facing fourth and five, dropped to pass before racing to the end zone, diving over the goal line for an eventual 41-38 win against defending champion Southern California. Back then, Young was college football’s brightest star, Longhorns Coach Mack Brown had perhaps the most job security in the game, and then-USC Coach Pete Carroll was perfectly at home on a college sideline — a scandal involving Reggie Bush and illegal benefits wouldn’t be uncovered until 2010.
In the years that followed, SEC teams kept pushing their way into the title game after certain seasons, falling into it after the others. Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer, who won two BCS championships in six seasons at Florida, argued in 2006 that his one-loss Gators team should jump three unbeaten teams.
“We’re going to tell a group of young men, who just went 12-1 in a most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents, that they don’t have a chance to play for a national championship?” Meyer said in ’06, before his team did get a chance and wound up beating undefeated Ohio State. “I’m going to need help with that one.”
A similar plea could be made this season for one-loss Auburn, should it defeat Missouri, to jump the Buckeyes, and Meyer took his share this week of jabs from that seven-year-old remark.
Sure, Saturday could come and go, the teams supposed to win ending the day with victories. Florida State and Ohio State could just win their conference-title games, making for a smooth transition into bowl season and a quiet, accepting death of the BCS.
But what fun would that be?