Friday, December 29, 2006

BCS lacking this year.

Ok, let’s get real. Even though we can extract a certain degree of satisfaction from the ponderous selection of bowl games, the only games that matter begin this weekend. Even though the BCS has been foisted upon us as something of consequence one of the most compelling match ups of the year has to be Arkansas and Wisconsin. The SEC has been heralded as the toughest conference in country and Wisconsin has been dismissed as lucky to dodge a Buckeye bullet on its way to a top 10 ranking.

We could compare and contrast schedules and talk about quality of competition but the Capital One Bowl is the best put up or shut up game on the menu. If Wisconsin wins the Big 10 carves out a chunk of national respect. The so-called experts who have dismissed the Badgers as a fluke will have to eat a little crow and the SEC will lose a touch of its luster. Don’t count Wisconsin out. The Big 10 might not look great on paper but paper doesn’t tell the whole story. This is a conference that got deeper as the season progressed.

Penn State could score a few points for the Big 10 if they beat Tennessee but this game just doesn’t seem to match up because Penn State has struggled with an erratic quarterback. The defense is solid and they have playmakers on offense but there just isn’t enough consistency there to make Penn State look formidable this year, which really puts the pressure on the Volunteers. They can’t make mistakes or the Lions defense will find a way to win the game. This is a team that shut down Ohio State for three and a half quarters and you have to figure that Tennessee’s defense will give that Penn State offense a little room. Tennessee should win, but they’d better come ready to play.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend might be squandering the impressive assortment of weapons Michigan has brandished all year on a USC team that just doesn’t have the magic of its predecessors. It could be a good game but based on what we’ve seem UCS’s only hope is that Michigan will be so disappointed in missing a second crack at Ohio State that they don’t deliver on the field. Sure, USC’s a good team with some great players but they couldn’t beat UCLA to seal the deal at the end of the year. They either lack discipline or talent. Or both.

Even though the teams are highly overrated, Louisville and Wake Forest make for an interesting pairing. Seeing Wake Forest rise to the top of its conference, albeit a very weak and confused conference, is a nice story and Louisville can move the football a bit. Neither one of these teams has any business being mentioned in the same sentence as the rest of the BCS field but the fact that their glaring weaknesses match up so well means this game could be fun. Sloppy perhaps, but fast paced and fun. Too bad the clout of the BCS is wasted on what amounts to a backyard scrimmage between two conferences full of bad teams.

Boise State can’t claim much of a conference but the fact that this team has been making noise for years makes the Fiesta Bowl a good game. Oklahoma might overpower the potato peelers with a whole lot of Adrian Peterson but we have to see it happen. If Boise State wins, the whole BCS selection process goes out the window. If Oklahoma racks of 500 yards rushing on the way to a 53-17 thrashing, Boise State and the rest of the WAC won’t be allowed to think about a BCS bowl.Ever again. It’s actually a lot of pressure for Boise State. Every non-BCS conference team is hoping Boise State can look respectable. Winning would be miraculous, but they have to keep the margin under three scores.

The most fitting bowl for the LSU Tigers is the Sugar Bowl. The Fighting Irish must look so sweet and tasty. We’re talking about an independent team with three victories posted over historically outclassed service academies and no victories against top ten opponents. As potent as the Brady Quinn led offense looks on the stat sheet, against tough defenses the future first round draft choice has looked more like a future ESPN commentator. Going back to last year’s unwarranted BCS nod against Ohio State, Charlie Weis and Brady Quinn just can’t figure out how to get the best of a good defense. This is an overrated match up because Notre Dame might be the least deserving of all the BCS teams. Charlie Weis must really be a genius because he’s got everybody fooled.

No matter how you slice it, Florida just doesn’t look like a championship contender. Even if they pull off the big upset and dethrone the anointed Buckeyes, the Gators still won’t have anybody convinced that they could get past Michigan. But it’s virtually impossible to see the upset coming. Comparisons have been made between this Florida club and the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes who eventually upset Miami in a pretty intense Fiesta Bowl for the so-called national title. This Florida team isn’t that good.

The 2002 Buckeyes had a great defense that crushed everybody. They made every play. They were almost perfect. They had to be because Jim Tressel’s offense in 2002 was centered around the punt. If he went up by three in the second quarter he’d shut down the offense and start running out the clock. When you consider how awful that attack was (106th overall) it’s a miracle the defense overcame it’s own offense let alone the guys on the other team.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The BCS Trainwreck

Throughout the season Ohio State and Michigan distanced themselves from the rest of the field and positioned themselves as the top two teams in the country. Unfortunately the rest of the contenders all lost games along the way leaving a mess behind, especially if Michigan lost a close game to its rival. We all saw the game of the century unfold as a wild shoot out with number two Michigan falling just short as time expired. It was an instant classic.

That's when the BCS hype machine went into overdrive. A clear number two team had to be picked from the pile of one loss hopefuls and the anointed program was USC. Even though Michigan retained its ranking after the close loss, USC had could convince the voters and the computers it was worthy of a title shot if the Trojans could beat Notre Dame handily. Since Notre Dame was more than a little overrated USC prevailed and secured the second place spot. The BCS title game was a virtual lock with only the lowly UCLA Bruins holding a slim chance in tripping things up.

You see, USC was the only team besides Michigan that has shown enough firepower to challenge Ohio State. The Trojans gave one game away when they looked past Oregon State and struggled with a few games while key players nursed injuries but when the team was healthy they looked unstoppable. Until they faced UCLA. In that final Pac 10 game USC looked very average. UCLA didn't exactly look like a team for the ages, but the underdog did what it needed to do and USC was knocked from that coveted number two spot.

That opened up the debate over who should get a title shot. Michigan's loss was to an Ohio State team that seemed unbeatable all season long and the Wolverines proved to be up to the task. Florida won an allegedly tough conference and suffered only one loss to a team that was supposed to be pretty formidable at the time. In the end it was subjective criteria that won out. Florida got the nod because they hadn't played Ohio State.

After all the games had been played the talking began and the people esteemed to have their opinions factored into the BCS formula fabricated a national title game that made sense on paper. One conference champ against another. That's the way it has to be. Essentially Michigan and Florida were tied for second place so a handful of people who allegedly know what they're doing have broken the tie for us. Thanks. Of course those same people thought USC would beat UCLA and long before that thought Notre Dame would dominate Michigan.

From a marketing perspective it makes sense. Why would anybody pay to see Michigan and Ohio State play round two? Why would the BCS want to offend the other conferences? More importantly, could the Big 10 generate enough revenue on its own to make the BCS title game profitable?

And don't discount the fact that people were thinking about how much more money could be made if the collective fan base of Ohio State and Michigan were spread out over two BCS games instead of just one. We are talking about two universities that have been very large for a very long time and both have a long history of athletic success. That means money. Both have proven themselves capable of carrying a bowl entirely on their own. Ohio State pulls in 80,000 people for its spring intra squad scrimmage! Split the ticket and double the money, right?

Sadly, it's all about money and politics. The fans are subjected to an arbitrary process where talking heads and stuffed shirts dictate the post season. In every other level of college football the champion is determined through a tournament where teams aren't punished for one or two regular season setbacks. It's not a 12 game playoff, it's a six month crap shoot where teams hope that they can avoid injuries, bad calls and unlucky bounces long enough to secure that number one ranking. Is the BCS champion really that good, or just lucky?

Thanks to the BCS we're splitting hairs over Jim Tressel passing on voting in the final coach's poll. Instead of looking forward to seeing if Ohio State can live up to the hype by facing challengers who built momentum throughout the year, we have crowned Ohio State as the champion and allowed one lucky suitor the chance to prove us wrong. Sadly it's Boise State, unbeaten and untied, who will suffer the most. Even if they emerge from the post season the only unbeaten team, they'll still fall short of the national championship. Their fate has been decided on paper.

UCLA proved how faulty that logic is. Nobody gave them a chance. USC fans were booking trips to Glendale and Fox Sports had their BCS Championship graphics package edited and ready to air. On paper the Bruins didn't have a chance, not if USC showed up. The best sports stories are always about the monumental upsets nobody saw coming. It's so pervasive UCLA winning shouldn't surprise us and so important that we shouldn't be eager to settle things on paper.

Until we rectify the problem, we'll never have a real champion at the highest level of college football. Real champions win games not polls.