Arguably the most audible phrase you’ll hear across the country this time of year pertaining to sports: “I hate the BCS.” Actually, the more I watch the World Series, maybe that previous phrase is a close second to “What the heck is Tim McCarver saying?” But since I don’t think anyone knows the answer to the latter query, let’s explore the BCS a bit more.
What’s bothered me for the past two years is that as soon as an unexpected team enter the bowl picture — usually when a member of the Big East is involved — the debate flares up as to whether said surprise team deserves to be playing for the national championship.
Last year it was Rutgers and Boise State, this year it’s Boston College and an uninspiring Ohio State team. Just off the radar are undefeated squads from Arizona State and Kansas, while LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma and West Virginia lurk with one loss.
For all of the objectivity the BCS system was supposed to impose on college football, the debates still rage and the selection of the two title-worthy teams feels just as chaotic as ever. That the BCS is flawed is no secret, but the major problem with the postseason selection process stems directly from what I see as a gross injustice to certain college football teams. The simple fact of the matter is that all teams are not created equal in college football.
When the NFL season kicks off, every team has an equal shot at winning the Super Bowl. A win is a win, a loss is a loss. That’s not even close to true in college ball, where teams can win every game they play, but lose out on a chance to win the national title.
Bias towards big programs has created a football caste system that is all-but impossible to crack for the uninitiated. It’s a problem that manifests itself primarily in the AP and USA Today Coaches polls.
Pre-season polls carry far too much weight. There are currently five undefeated teams in college football, four of them playing in major conferences, yet only two of them are in the top five of the AP poll. The reason? Kansas and Arizona State hardly have the recent history of Ohio State and thus both started outside of the pre-season polls. So when the Buckeyes kicked off with a pre-season rank of 11, they shot to the top of the polls after a first-half schedule so weak it made Olive Oil look like Hercules. Now, if they can win out in a watered down Big Ten they’ll cakewalk into the national title game. Kansas and ASU however, head into the home stretch at a clear disadvantage.
No. 6 Arizona State has remaining games against Oregon, USC and UCLA. It’s a tough run, but it may be a necessary evil in order for the Sun Devils to prove themselves in the eyes of the pollsters. The Jayhawks however have only a flailing Nebraska squad, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and the similarly surprising Missouri Tigers left on the schedule. Even if they were to top No. 5 Oklahoma in a potential Big XII title game, it seems unlikely they could jump six teams and into the national title picture without help.
It’s amazing to me that a team could go undefeated in a major conference and still not control its own destiny. However, it’s exactly in this way that a preseason poll — based on that ever precise and quantafiable criterion of “hype” — will more than likely play a key role in determining college football’s national champion.
Regular season polls aren’t much better because they are shortsighted. Polls should seed the teams by the strength of that program over the entire season. Instead, the polls are used as a kind of weekly national standings. Win and you go up, lose and you go down. If you’re lucky enough to lose early, it won’t hurt you nearly as badly as a late-season conference loss.
South Florida fell from No. 2 in the country to No. 20 after consecutive losses to Rutgers and No. 16 Connecticut. That plummet comes despite wins over the current No. 7 team, West Virginia, and No. 19 Auburn on the Tigers’ home turf. And yes, that would be the same Auburn team that knocked off Florida earlier this season and would have topped LSU if not for Matt Flynn’s miracle pass.
Still, that body of work somehow places South Florida behind No. 15 Michigan. Yes, you read that right, the Wolverines, whose 2007 resume sports one of the most embarrassing losses ever, are ranked again because they had the good sense to lose their two games early in the season. It must have taken some serious accolades to crawl back into the Top 25 after losing to Division I-AA Appalachian State at home and then getting obliterated by Oregon. Right? Truth is the Wolverines’ best win has been against the no-longer-ranked Nittany Lions of Penn State. There’s that big program bias again.
If the NCAA wants to fix its annual title game dilemma, it needs to start by establishing that all BCS teams are equal. Combat pre-season hype by delaying the first polls until five games into the season. Mandate more interconference games among the BCS teams to better establish conference strength. Do something, because as it stands, the playing field simply isn’t level.