ATLANTA – When the final BCS standings are unveiled Sunday, Auburn shouldn't be ranked No. 2 behind Florida State.
The Tigers should be No. 1.
This isn't just because it won the Southeastern Conference championship on Saturday by running away from a spirited Missouri team, 59-42. That's part of it – the victory represents their second over a team ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. It means nothing more than that however.
This is an argument for résumé, an argument for logic and critical thinking, an argument here in the final year of the BCS to step out of last century and embrace reality. This certainly isn't about putting the SEC on a pedestal because winning the SEC isn't enough to assume the top spot in the rankings and a spot in the BCS title game.
Yes, the league has won seven consecutive BCS national championships but decisions on who should play for it this year should be based solely on this year and this year alone. Besides, leagues are too big, with too disparate of schedules for a championship to mean what it once did. No one just automatically gets put into the title game of a system that requires the selection of two of 125 teams.
Missouri, due to playing a weaker schedule despite being in the same league, wouldn't have had the same argument for the top spot had it prevailed in the shootout here Saturday. Mizzou wouldn't have had enough quality victories.
Auburn is No. 1 because it has the best body of work of any team in the country – the most high-level wins, the strongest of schedules among the contenders, the most tangible evidence of both their accomplishment and ability.
If you think they'd lose to Florida State or Baylor or Ohio State or even Alabama in a rematch, this isn't an argument to change that opinion. No one knows those answers. That is strictly a personal opinion.
That shouldn't be how title game teams are selected. The decision on who is No. 1 at this point of the season should be based on whatever data is available – not simply the "eye test." And there isn't a question that Auburn has all the data in its favor.
It ends the season with four victories over the current BCS Top 25. Florida State only has two of those. Additionally, Auburn will have two wins over the top five (Missouri and No. 4 Alabama). FSU will have zero.
Auburn's strength of schedule in the Sagarin rankings will wind up around 20, perhaps 40 spots ahead of FSU, who should finish in the 60s. The Tigers' opponents are a combined .568. The teams the Seminoles (.488) don't measure up.
Auburn does, of course, have a loss – which FSU does not. The Seminoles are undefeated. It's an accomplishment and something that should be considered. Yes, winning matters. However, that shouldn't automatically be enough to be placed ahead of all one-loss teams.
Indeed, as college football moves into a modern era that the playoff provides, the sport's leadership set up a selection committee and spent hours debating and deciding what should play into the process. They concluded that perhaps nothing will be as important as strength of schedule.
“We said strength of schedule and championships are two of the primary, compelling arguments for the committee to consider,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said while standing amid the post-game celebration here. “So it’s difficult for me to say that’s OK for next year, but it’s not OK for this year?
“Why wouldn’t you apply the same analysis?” Slive continued. “It’s the same argument. And it’s such a compelling argument. And it’s hard to argue the other way.”
Or as Auburn AD Jay Jacobs put it more succinctly.
“I think it’s about nine words: strength of schedule, strength of schedule, strength of schedule … that’s what we are going to do next year. If it’s going to be good for next year, why wouldn’t it be good for this year.”
The concept that record rules over all is not based in logic. It is just the entrenched and outdated thinking of some poll voters. It is, for sure, a tradition of the sport, but the concept is rooted in the fact the highest levels of college football have never staged a postseason tournament like virtually every other sport in the country.
It began back in the 1930s, when the nation's sportswriters decided to vote in a weekly poll as a way of promoting the burgeoning game of college football. There was no national television back then. No highlights. No footage to watch. Nothing.
The poll itself was, undeniably, a farce. There was no way anyone knew what he was voting on. As controversial, inconsistent and illogical as poll voting is today – polls are a demonstrably unsound way to choose two of many (see Arrow's Impossibility Theorem) – back then it was just a joke.
Without being able to see any other teams than the ones they covered, the AP voters naturally held record in high esteem, and went under the assumption that champions of certain conferences faced roughly the same challenges.
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Today, we know that is inaccurate. The Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC can be called "BCS conferences" but that distinction is merely based on historic popularity, revenue and political might, not on the play on the field in a given year. Same for the SEC.
And, as with the SEC slate, the league is growing so large that powerhouses often don't even meet up – creating the need for conference title games – it's preposterous to cling to the ancient idea that an unbeaten team from a "major" conference should never, ever get jumped by a one-loss club.
There is simply no logical argument to base that on.
Auburn played two games (Alabama, Missouri) more difficult than anything FSU did and won. If we're talking about high-quality games – top-25 BCS opponents – then winning four should count for more than winning just two. If anything, Auburn's problem was it had to play a fifth top-25 team – on the road no less. If it had just gotten an opponent more in line with OSU and FSU, it likely would've finished unbeaten.
This isn't complicated. Opponents matter. Challenging games matter. Records are not equal. College football is set up to create great records – power teams buy victories and play more games at home than on the road.
At no point can it be argued that beating weaker opponents is better than beating stronger opponents. It's only in a culture that's obsessed with the loss column, no matter how suspect that way of thinking was formed, that sees it otherwise. This is unique to college football.
With its triumph over Missouri, 12-1 Auburn has put together the most impressive résumé in college football this year.
Who is No. 2 is a different argument – let the Florida State vs. one-loss Alabama debate rage on.
On Sunday, if the voters challenge their old-school thinking, Auburn should be No. 1.
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