In its 16th and final incarnation, the Bowl Championship Series got this one right, with Florida State completing a perfect season with a pulsating 34-31 victory over Auburn on Monday night.
Of course, the complete truth isn’t quite as simple: The BCS getting it right is a little bit like saying someone is brilliant for picking a winning lottery number. If Ohio State hadn’t lost the Big Ten title game to Michigan State, it would have been in the title game instead of Auburn and the championship game might very well have been a 51-24 dud. Ohio State, it should be remembered, lost in the Orange Bowl to Clemson — a team that lost at home to Florida State, 51-14, in November.
Sure, comparing scores is often silly, but if there is anyone outside of the state of Ohio who still thinks the Buckeyes would have been deserving of a spot in the championship game, raise your hand.
The bottom line is this: The BCS got lucky that the pieces fell into place to create the Florida State-Auburn matchup. They were the two most deserving teams and the two best teams. And, when all was said and done, they produced a wonderful championship game.
Next year, it all changes. There will be a four-team playoff, which means the No. 5 team in the country will be the one screaming instead of the No. 3 team. More importantly, it means that getting to the championship will be less of a lottery and more of a competition — though not nearly enough.
A real playoff, one with at least eight teams, is what college football needs. That would mean that all five of the major conference champions would get a chance to compete for the title and it would mean that three at-large teams — at least one from the non-BCS conferences — would also get a chance. There was no real BCS-buster this season but teams like TCU, Boise State and Utah have proved in the past that they are worthy of competing with the big boys.
That isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, though, because the college presidents who made the BCS into a four-letter word couldn’t wait to sign a 12-year deal with ESPN that will pay them close to $5.6 billion. That’s the problem with greedy people: If you offer them far more than they are worth, they will grab the money and run and not care for one second whether they are doing the right thing or the wrong thing.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS and the new College Football Playoff, says it will be at least six years before anyone even considers expansion. As long as the big-money teams can control most of the money and all of the playoff spots, why would they want to expand? God forbid Boise State should beat one of the big boys and actually advance to play another one of the big boys the way Butler, George Mason and VCU have done in the NCAA basketball tournament in recent years. That would actually be fair competition, and we can’t have that in college football.
No matter how poorly it is run, college football will continue to produce innumerable story lines every season. This past fall was no exception.
On the Football Championship Series level, North Dakota State won a third straight title with a dominant 15-0 season. Duke — Duke — played competitive football. Stanford proved yet again that a school can mix great academics and great football. Michigan State provided an example of a team that didn’t have to score 50 points a game to win, coming within a couple of shaky calls at Notre Dame of finishing the regular season 13-0.
And, in the end, Jimbo Fisher proved emphatically that there is LAB (Life After Bowden) at Florida State with an immensely talented team led by quarterback Jameis Winston, who became the second redshirt freshman in a row to win the Heisman Trophy.
That said, Auburn winning on Monday night would have been the more remarkable story. The Tigers were 3-9 in 2012, which got Gene Chizik fired just two years after he had won the national championship. Enter Gus Malzahn, who re-energized the program and got Auburn to within 17 seconds of a second title in four seasons a year after the school was 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference.
Florida State’s victory ended the SEC’s seven-year run of BCS championships. It did not, however, change the fact that the SEC remains the best and deepest conference in college football. The SEC still finished with three of the top five teams in the country — Auburn, South Carolina and Missouri — and four of the top seven after Alabama dropped to No. 7 following its loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. In all, the SEC finished with seven teams in the top 25. The Pacific-12 had six (but none in the top eight) and no other conference had more than three.
So let’s give credit to Florida State for finding its way out of the wilderness of ACC mediocrity to again be an important factor — and a national champion — on the college football landscape. But let’s not forget that the SEC might very well end up with two or even three teams in next season’s first CFP.
For now though, it is time to bid farewell to the BCS. Farewell . . . and good riddance.
Fore more by John Feinstein, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein.