Wednesday, November 16, 2005

College Football and the BCS - Take Two

As another fine campaign of intercollegiate gridiron action winds down, the championship picture is beginning to come into focus. Frontrunner USC silenced any of their remaining critics by beating popular upset pick Cal 35-10 in Berkeley, Texas cemented their elite status by pummeling Kansas 66-14 (the eighth time in a row that the Longhorns have scored over 40 points), and the only other major undefeated squad, Alabama, lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the visiting Tigers from Louisiana State.

For now, it appears that critics of the BCS like yours truly have nothing to complain about. If things work out like they’re supposed to, Matt Leinart’s Trojans and Vince Young’s Longhorns will meet in the Rose Bowl, marking the first time that the two teams that everyone believes to be the two best will meet in the national title game since Ohio State defeated Miami in 2002’s Fiesta Bowl.

Of course, the key phrase above is “if things work out like they’re supposed to”. How often does that happen in sports? In 2003, “if things worked out like they were supposed to”, Oklahoma would have destroyed the upstart Kansas State team they faced in the Big XII title game, and then faced undefeated LSU in the Sugar Bowl. That isn’t exactly how events transpired. Coach Bill Snyder’s Wildcats pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the modern era of collegiate football, beating the Sooners 35-7, and throwing the BCS picture into turmoil. OU did wind up making the final, to the dismay of SC fans across the nation. The rest of the country took their side after LSU won a sloppy championship game and the Trojans efficiently beat a quality Michigan club in the Rose Bowl, resulting in a split national title.

Could a similar scenario unfold this season? Absolutely. Both USC and Texas have significant tests remaining on their schedules. Southern Cal has to face mid-major powerhouse Fresno State this weekend, although their eyes should be looking past the Bulldogs to their season finale against intra-city rival UCLA. Karl Dorrell has the twelfth-ranked Bruins ready to challenge the Trojans and reinstate drama into a contest which has been fairly one-sided in favor of SC over the past few years.

Texas also faces two complicated contests to finish out their set of games, as they’re forced to take on Texas A&M in College Station. The Aggies, at a disappointing 5-5, would like nothing more than to ruin Mack Brown’s dream season in front of their fans. In addition, A&M coach Dennis Franchione may need this victory to preserve his position. A victory over their hated in-state adversary should surely ensure him another season with his club. In addition, unlike SC, Texas must play a conference championship game. And although the Big XII is not as strong as usual this year, ask Bob Stoops and Oklahoma what happens when you overlook this key challenge.

In all likelihood, USC and Texas will breeze through their last two games, and meet in the Rose Bowl on January 4th for an epic showdown. However, if either team loses, chaos like the BCS has never before seen will almost surely ensue, thanks to the supreme quality of this year’s one-loss teams. The Nittany Lions from Penn State would be undefeated if not for a last-second loss at the hands of Michigan in Ann Arbor, as would LSU, which succumbed to a tremendous comeback by Tennessee earlier in the season. Miami has also been impressive after their season-opening loss at Florida State.

Although all of the aforementioned teams must worry about handing over a November contest to an opponent, there is one group that can’t lose, regardless of the results of 2005’s college football term – the fans. This particularly entertaining effort is above all others in recent memory, and its resolution promises to be just as exciting.