December 04, 2011
The hay is in the barn, as they say, and in a little less than 12 hours the 2011 regular season will yield to the postseason with the unveiling of final BCS standings. The question that's going to set the hay on fire: Will 11-1 Alabama hold on to its place at No. 2 in the standings, setting up a dreaded rematch against No. 1 LSU in the BCS Championship Game? Or will the Crimson Tide be passed by 11-1 Oklahoma State, fresh off a 44-10 thrashing of rival Oklahoma? I can hear your keyboards burning the arguments into the comments as we speak.
My advice: Skip it. Walk the dog or something. Set aside your anger and anxiety. Save your sanity.
Because if you have a clear preference for Alabama or Oklahoma State based on anything they've done on the field over the last three months, it is wrong. I'm not trying to be mean. It's not your fault. You're not wrong for seeking out the warm embrace of certainty. You're just looking for an answer where there is no answer.
You like Alabama? Sorry. Oklahoma State has twice as many wins against teams ranked in the current BCS standings. It has seven wins against teams that finished with winning records; Alabama has three. OSU is second nationally in scoring, first in defensive takeaways and usually spent the fourth quarter throttling down in garbage time. Two of its three wins against top-20 opponents came by five touchdowns. Robert Griffin III, soon to be awarded as the best quarterback in the nation? Oklahoma State picked him off twice and led Baylor 49-3 after three quarters. Need I mention what happened Saturday night against the Sooners?
The Cowboys are outright conference champions against a round-robin conference schedule. The Crimson Tide missed two ranked teams in their conference and didn't even win their own division.
Oh, so you like Oklahoma State now, huh? Wrong again. Alabama bludgeoned its opponents by the widest margin of victory in the nation. Its seven SEC wins came by an average of 30 points apiece. Its closest win all season was 16 points, at Penn State, and it wasn't that close. 'Bama leads the nation in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense and third down defense. At 8.8 points per game, the Tide are the least scored-upon team in Division I in more than a decade.
The only thing standing between Alabama and a perfect season is a three-point overtime loss to the undisputed No. 1 team that came down to field goals. Oklahoma State blew a 17-point lead to Iowa State. In late November.
You say Oklahoma State succeeded against a tougher schedule, I say Alabama has been more dominant on a more consistent basis. Let's call the whole thing off.
When the standings come out tonight, I have no idea how the question is going to be answered. The Coaches' poll isn't out yet, so I couldn't even offer a preliminary guess. I don't know how close it's going to be, or how the computer polls are going to break, or how Virginia Tech's loss to Clemson stands to help the Cowboys' numbers in the Coaches' and Harris polls. But I am pretty certain it's the wrong question.
What we should be asking instead is, why does college football and college football alone insist on wedging itself into this ridiculous corner year after year? When did we concede to leave the results of a sport to a cacophonous, ill-informed debating society? How have we convinced ourselves that dragging statistics and resumés and eyeball tests to the podium — along with preconceived biases that trump them all — can possibly deliver a satisfying answer?
Obviously, it can't. Any answer to an unanswerable question is the wrong answer.
Literally every observer who has ever laid eyes on the Bowl Championship Series has mocked it as an absurd anachronism, and continues to mock it to this day. Rightly so. Every sane observer within the sport has mocked it as an absurd anachronism. Seriously: Voting on the better football team? Are we still doing this? We're really going to do it again? Deferring to polls and algorithms in a competition that keeps score? Why are we still doing this?
The only thing more ridiculous than using the BCS to determine a champion is pretending that it isn't ridiculous. After 14 years and a dozen legitimate, unresolved controversies, we are all fully aware that the emperor has no clothes. It never has. As the evolutionary link between the old, pell mell bowl system and a full-fledged playoff that actually determines a football champion by playing football, it's run its course. Stop the madness. Bring on a bracket. Or just point to LSU a mile ahead of the rest of the pack and declare the Tigers the champions right now. But stop splitting hairs.
In the meantime, congratulations to Alabama and Oklahoma State (and Stanford, and Boise State, and Oregon, and Wisconsin) on outstanding seasons. You are all worthy. All but one of you is about to get screwed. This is the system you're forced to play in. As for the rest of us, we don't have to play along.