It all seemed so simple. Two evening games on Saturday would decide which two teams would meet in New Orleans on January 7. One game was a marquee event, Missouri vs Oklahoma for the Big XII title. (The fact that "marquee event" and "Missouri" are appearing together in a sentence pertaining to college football shows you how utterly ridiculous this season has been.) The other was a given. A blowout. Something to switch over to during commercials of the OU-Mizzou tilt. It was West Virginia taking on Dave Wannstedt and the Pitt Panthers in Morgantown. West Virginia has a backfield whose average 40 time is roughly 1.3 seconds. Pitt's entire team is basically LeSean McCoy. And Wanny's halfstache. Can't forget the halfstache, the most intimidating piece of facial hair this side of Rollie Fingers handlebar 'stache (or ANY handlebar 'stache for that matter).
So it was simple. West Virginia hangs 60 on Wanny, and then the Mountaineers would either take on Missouri on January 7 or (if Oklahoma beat Mizzou) they would take on Ohio State, who last played a game sometime in 2005. Well, for the love of Appalachian State, anyone who has watched college football in 2007 knows that nothing is simple. 2007 is a brave new world - a world where Notre Dame gets manhandled by Navy and Air Force and where Ron Zook is considered a cross between Bear Bryant and Tony Robbins (with a sprinkling of Mr. Belding paternal giddiness mixed in). So when it came time for someone to totally screw up the BCS title game once and for all, the gods picked the perfect guy for the job. They chose somebody who has made screwing things up look routine. They chose Wanny. The final score -- Pittsburgh 13, West Virginia/the refs/what was left of our sanity 9.
So now where do we go? We are basically assured of a TWO LOSS team in the BCS title game, and there is a better than decent chance that said two loss team may not have even won its division of its conference. That's right, it may be deemed that a team that was just good enough to be second in its division of the SEC is worthy of holding up the big glass egg on January 7. As Little Carmine Lupertazzi would say, "What a fucking stagmire."
And for all of you who were touting how this was the "best college football season ever" -- well, I hope you're happy. Just to be clear, a whole bunch of upsets doesn't mean that a season is the "best ever". It means that there are a whole bunch of teams that are quite flawed. More flawed than we thought. It also means that the end game in this whole thing is a January 7 clusterfuck pitting a team (Ohio State) who basically watched all of the other teams step on their own dicks for two weeks against a likely two loss team who (a) didn't even play in its conference title game and/or who (b) backed into the title game because Rich Rodriguez was outcoached by the village idiot, and against Oklahoma Chase Daniel finally turned into the pumpkin whose body shape he has been sporting all season. Best season ever? No. "Best seasons ever" have a few memorable upsets, a smattering of regular season classics, and culminate with two clear cut, traditional power houses squaring off for all of the marbles. 2005 was a "best season ever". 2007 is just a good reason to drink.
So who will Ohio State play? When we all woke up this morning, the BCS Rankings looked like this:
2. West Virginia
3. Ohio State
6. Virginia Tech
11. Boston College
So let's do this. Let's assess who Ohio State should play and then I'll predict how the BCS bowl scene will shake out. As mentioned earlier, Missouri and West Virginia both spit the bit tonight. Other results: Virginia Tech over BC, LSU over Tennessee, USC over UCLA, and Hawaii (the only undefeated team left) hung around long enough for Ty Willingham to channel his inner Wannstedt. The Warriors came back from a 21-0 deficit to beat UW, 35-28.
Eliminating Boston College and Florida (both 3 loss teams), and assuming that there is no chance in hell that Missouri or West Virginia are part of the conversation with losses on Saturday, that leaves us with the following:
6. Virginia Tech
I have a huge problem with a team not winning its own conference and then being allowed to play in the BCS title game. It's happened twice (2001 Nebraska, 2003 Oklahoma) and I still can't believe a bylaw hasn't been passed by the BCS preventing this from happening again. A team is not even the best in its conference (or in the case of Georgia and Kansas, their division of their conference) and they have the inside track on the game for the whole enchilada? Since this is about who I think should play Ohio State, I am going to kindly ask the two Marks (Richt and Mangino) to step aside.
Also, while Hawaii has managed to navigate its entire schedule successfully (12-0), their schedule is ranked dead last in Sportsline's strength of schedule rankings, 119th overall. I could almost forgive that if they were blowing people out, but they've had a handful of close calls this season against the likes of Louisiana Tech (who LSU beat soundly by 48) and San Jose State, and in their only game against a BCS conference team, they needed 59 minutes and a last second pick to knock off 4-8 Washington. (Side bar - While Ty Willingham has only won 11 games in three years at UW, it's worth noting he has molded nearly 50 young men! Because that's what he does. He molds young men!) I digress ... my point with this paragraph was to basically say "Hey Hawaii, congrats on 12-0, enjoy the Sugar Bowl, you don't deserve a shot at the title". Also, I wanted to take a gratuitous pot shot at Ty Willingham. So we're good on both counts.
So that leaves us with Virginia Tech, LSU, USC, and Oklahoma. All of them are champions of their respective conferences, so we're good there. All of them have essentially the same won-loss record (USC played one less game since the PAC-10 has no title game.), with each having lost two games. Let's examine them all, shall we? (For moniker purposes, we'll label these four "The Contenders".)
(Notes: "BCS Ranking" is as of 12/1/07; "SOS" is the strength of schedule according to Sportsline.com as of 12/1/07; "Conf Rank" is the rank of the team's conference according to Sagarin as of 12/1/07; rankings of opponents in "Top 25 Wins" and "Losses" is their ranking at the time the game was played. Record in parentheses after each "Top 25 Win" and "Loss" is the opponent's final 2007 record.)
VIRGINIA TECH (11-2, ACC Champion)
BCS RANKING: 6
CONF RANK: 5
TOP 25 WINS: 10/6 @ #22 Clemson 41-23 (9-3)
11/24 @ #16 Virginia 33-21 (9-3)
12/1 vs #11 Boston College 30-16 (10-3)
LOSSES: 9/8 @ #2 LSU 48-7 (11-2)
10/25 vs #2 Boston College 14-10 (10-3)
ARGUMENT FOR: Tore through the ACC with the only loss a last second loss to then #2 Boston College ... remaining games were all wins and all but one by double digits ... avenged their only conference loss in the ACC title game ... has longest winning streak to end the season of any of the Contenders ... both losses were to teams that were in the top two at the time the game was played
MITIGATING FACTORS: Lost head-to-head in Baton Rouge to LSU in September ... check that, got their heads handed to them by LSU in Baton Rouge ... ACC was generally considered the weakest BCS conference for much of the year
BCS TITLE GAME FORECAST: Overcast, slight chance of rain
LSU (11-2, SEC Champion)
BCS RANKING: 7
CONF RANK: 1
TOP 25 WINS: 9/8 vs #9 Virginia Tech 48-7 (11-2)
10/6 vs #9 Florida 28-24 (9-3)
10/20 vs #17 Auburn 30-24 (8-4)
11/3 @ #17 Alabama 41-34 (6-6)
12/1 vs #14 Tennessee 21-14 (9-4)
LOSSES: 10/13 @ #17 Kentucky 43-37, 3OT (7-5)
11/23 vs Arkansas 50-48, 3OT (8-4)
ARGUMENT FOR: Won the nation's toughest conference in a year where the conference was probably its deepest from top to bottom ... have most impressive non-conference win of any of the contenders (48-7 vs VA Tech) ... both losses were in triple overtime ... most Top 25 wins of any of the Contenders
MITIGATING FACTORS: Walked a tight rope all year with close games ... could've gone 13-0 as easily as they could've gone 8-5 ... defense never seemed to find itself the second half of the season ... when they needed a win in November to stay at #1, they lost at home to Arkansas (gave up 385 yards rushing)
BCS TITLE GAME FORECAST: Partly Sunny and mild
SOUTHERN CAL (10-2, Pac-10 Champion)
BCS RANKING: 8
CONF RANK: 2
TOP 25 WINS: 9/8 @ #14 Nebraska 49-31 (5-7)
11/10 @ #24 California 24-17 (6-6)
11/22 @ #6 Arizona State 44-24 (10-2)
LOSSES: 10/6 vs Stanford 24-23 (4-8)
10/27 @ #5 Oregon 24-17 (8-4)
ARGUMENT FOR: Finished season on convincing four game winning streak, including 20-point win at #6 Arizona State ... only team to defeat Oregon State after September ... arguably the most talented team in the country ... Trojans don't duck anybody, scheduled Nebraska and ND out of conference (who knew they would both implode?)
MITIGATING FACTORS: Among the four Contenders, has by far the worst loss (Stanford at home, 24-23) ... only one truly impressive win, considering how all of their foes ended 2007 ... computers are killing USC, so any pickup with the human polls will likely be cancelled out by poor computer ranking ... weak non conference schedule, but not for lack of trying to "schedule up"
BCS TITLE GAME FORECAST: Rain, lots and lots of rain (beware of mudslides)
OKLAHOMA (11-2, BIG 12 Champion)
BCS RANKING: 9
CONF RANK: 4
TOP 25 WINS: 10/6 vs #19 Texas 28-21 (9-3)
10/13 vs #11 Missouri 41-31 (11-2)
12/1 vs #1 Missouri 38-17 (11-2)
LOSSES: 9/29 @ Colorado 27-24 (6-6)
11/17 @ Texas Tech 34-27 (8-4)
ARGUMENT FOR: Most impressive of all of the conference title game winners, blowing out #1 Missouri ... maybe most complete team in the country on both sides of the ball ... of 11 wins, 10 were by double digits and 7 were by 20+ points
MITIGATING FACTORS: Other than wins against Missouri, only other Top 25 win was against a marginal Texas team on a neutral field ... losses were both to unranked teams ... Texas Tech game was not as close as final score ... didn't play Kansas ... non conference schedule was weak ... the computers hate OU even more than they hate USC
BCS TITLE GAME FORECAST: Thunderstorms, maybe some hail
Assessing all of the empirical arguments for and against (i.e. whose body of work most justifies their going), and combining that with the "eyeball test" (i.e. my own semi-educated opinion on who I think is the best equipped to and most deserving of playing in the BCS title game), I would rank The Contenders in the following order:
2. Virginia Tech
Ironically, if I were coaching Ohio State I'd probably be more concerned about playing USC or Oklahoma than LSU or Virginia Tech simply because of the pure horse power they each have on both sides of the ball. Plus, USC and OU have both been very impressive the last couple weeks of the season. That said, the bodies of work that LSU and Virginia Tech have put together over the entire season are both more impressive than USC and Oklahoma (and the BCS rankings bear this out somewhat as the computers are not big fans of USC or Oklahoma and their weaker non-conference schedules). LSU has navigated the largest number of difficult games of any Contender, and Virginia Tech is actually playing the best football since November 1 (no losses). Both LSU and Virginia Tech played harder schedules and their two losses were not nearly as bad as the two losses USC and OU each incurred. LSU lost two games in triple overtime, and Virginia Tech lost two games to #2 teams in the country at the time (and avenged one of those losses in the ACC title game). On the other hand, USC lost to a 40 point underdog at home and OU lost to two unranked teams, one (Colorado) on a last second FG and the other (Texas Tech) in a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate.
I think LSU and Virginia Tech deserve to be in the conversation more than USC or OU. So I needed to pick a winner between LSU and Virginia Tech. In the end, the tie breaker for me is that these two teams played each other in September, and LSU won handily 48-7. Since that time, Virginia Tech has improved and LSU has probably slid back a little, but not enough either way for me to ignore the result of that game. If it was a last second field goal that propelled LSU, maybe we put the result aside. But for something this important, a shot at the national title, a team should be rewarded for a convincing head-to-head win. We spend all of this time complaining how the BCS selection process is so subjective and teams don't decide it on the field, and yet here we have an actual game that was played between the two teams to help light the way. I'll take it.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the fact that we are counting on the coaches and the Harris poll voters to actually do the "right thing" and jump one of The Contenders over Georgia and Kansas. Keep in mind, the coaches are a group that vote each week without having seen a lot of these teams even play (other than highlights), and the Harris poll voters I'm pretty sure include Richard Simmons, Drew Carey, and the chick who played Rudy Huxtable on "The Cosby Show". Counting on these folks to do the sensible thing is like counting on Britney Spears to wear underwear. This is all my way of saying that I can't shake this horrible feeling that we're going to see Ohio State vs Georgia on January 7, to the point where I'd say it's a coin flipper. I hope I'm wrong.
So how should the BCS play out? In my opinion, like this:
BCS TITLE GAME - Ohio State vs LSU
ORANGE BOWL - Virginia Tech vs West Virginia
FIESTA BOWL - Oklahoma vs Kansas
SUGAR BOWL - Georgia vs Hawaii
ROSE BOWL - Illinois vs USC
Virginia Tech and West Virginia would be a nice old school Big East, pre-ACC defections matchup. OU and Kansas actually didn't play this year so we could actually get a chance to fill in the one remaining Big 12 gap from the regular season. And the Rose Bowl will protect the Big 10 vs Pac-10 property at all costs.
How will the BCS play out? I'm going to stand by my opinion that the coaches and Harris poll voters are all braindead and go with this:
BCS TITLE GAME - Ohio State vs Georgia
ORANGE BOWL - Virginia Tech vs Kansas
FIESTA BOWL - Oklahoma vs West Virginia
SUGAR BOWL - LSU vs Hawaii
ROSE BOWL - Illinois vs USC
I hope I'm wrong. It didn't have to be this way. Damn you, Wanny. The blood of this stagmire is on your hands.