National title security

Vince Young looks so incredible he may wind up with the Heisman Trophy. The staunch Texas defense is vastly under publicized. And while a lot of people were concerned when Oklahoma State jumped all over the Longhorns early in Stillwater last Saturday, I thought those 38 unanswered points more than made up for that.

UT is rough, tough and terrific. The Longhorns even had the guts to travel to Columbus to face Ohio State in a rare legitimate non-conference game and win.

This looks like a good candidate to challenge Southern California in the Rose Bowl for the BCS title. So why do I have a queasy feeling about Texas? Because the Longhorns play in the Big 12.

Haven't we seen this act before?

Three of the last four years – Nebraska in 2002, Oklahoma in 2004 and 2005 – a team from the Big 12, behind a Heisman Trophy quarterback, controversially edged out equally impressive teams from other leagues for a shot at the national championship. They then proceeded to stink up the joint in the national title game and ruin a perfectly good season with a dud of a conclusion.

  • In the 2002 Rose Bowl, Miami (Fla.) whipped Nebraska and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch 34-17, while a good Oregon club was passed over.

  • In 2004, LSU beat OU and Heisman Trophy winner Jason White 21-14 in an ugly, sloppy Sugar Bowl, while powerful Southern California had to watch on TV.

  • In 2005, the Sooners returned to the title game only to get destroyed by the Trojans 55-19, while Auburn and its slew of first-round NFL picks sat out.

And now here comes another supposed juggernaut sweeping down the plains. Isn't anyone else worried about this?

None of the past failures, of course, are Texas' fault. None of it has anything to do with the current collection of Longhorns. The fact that Crouch and White weren't ready for the big stage doesn't mean Young isn't prepared, too.

Everyone understands that.

But how do you wipe the memory of these train wrecks of the past? How can you just assume that Texas is different and isn't the byproduct of a league resting on its laurels?

The mathematicians who understand precisely how the BCS works say there are no secret bonus points awarded to the Big 12. Those teams got to the big game fair and square (or as fair and square as the BCS can be).

But if in three of the last four years the not-ready-for-primetime team which reached the title game came from the Big East or the Mountain West or some other lesser-thought-of conference, don't you think the outcry would be deafening?

Even the Pac-10 couldn't survive this. It would be written off by the East Coast media as "soft" for at least a decade and the BCS formula would be tweaked to make sure it never sniffed the title game again.

So why does the Big 12 get a pass? Look, the conference used to be excellent and probably will be again. But right now it isn't. Other than Texas and Nebraska (which beat then-No. 23 Iowa State a month ago), no league member owns a single victory over a ranked opponent.

In the AP poll, No. 2 Texas is joined by No. 16 Texas Tech and No. 25 Colorado. Tech hasn't beaten anyone remotely good – its victories came over teams with a combined record of 20-34. The teams Colorado has beaten are a combined 21-27.

Nobody else has shown much of anything. The remaining three opponents for the Longhorns are a combined 13-11 (with CU probably waiting in the Big 12 title game).

Meanwhile, USC still must face three more ranked teams – No. 23 Cal, No. 21 Fresno State and fellow unbeaten No. 7 UCLA. Virginia Tech still must defeat No. 5 Miami and, most likely, No. 9 Florida State. Alabama has No. 6 LSU, No. 17 Auburn and either No. 11 Georgia or No. 13 Florida.

Texas may be great. But how can we know for sure?

Because major conference commissioners do not want to cede the political power and money the BCS provides them and create a playoff, they developed a formula to work out traffic jams like this.

In this case, it all comes down to the non-conference slate.

It is more than that Alabama (Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, Utah State) and, to a lesser extent, Virginia Tech (No. 18 West Virginia, Ohio, Marshall) played weaker non-conference schedules than the 'Horns, who played two dogs, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette, and one big game at No. 12 Ohio State.

It is that mid-September 25-22 victory in the Horseshoe that counts for everything. Not only did that win score strength-of-schedule points, but it also cemented UT in the second spot in the national polls, which count for two-thirds of the BCS formula.

After the first couple of weeks, poll voters are loath to ever move a team down when they are winning, which meant UT took control of its destiny early. As long as the Longhorns won, their place in the Rose Bowl was certain. Alabama could win 70-3 in every game, and the Crimson Tide wouldn't jump past Texas.

No one seems to care that Ohio State still hasn't beaten a currently ranked team yet, which means Texas can two-step into the Rose Bowl without beating anyone who has beaten anyone.

Not that this is Texas' fault, mind you.

All that matters is the BCS number crunchers' claim that if everyone remains unbeaten it will be UT vs. USC for the national championship.

The other schools can't complain, though. This was the system everyone agreed upon before the season and the formula their conference representatives signed off on. And it will be the BCS's big, fat checks each school will gladly cash.

Neither Va. Tech nor Alabama took the opportunity to showcase themselves to voters early in the season and now it may be too late.

If there is an athletic director paying attention – or one who actually cares about anything more than revenue streams – the big early-season game should become the standard operating procedure for national contenders.

Naturally, ADs are increasingly running from big, high-profile matchups like Texas-Ohio State. They'd rather schedule a home cupcake and count the parking money than actually set up a schedule that provides a real chance at the title game. And instead of figuring out how to beat the very BCS formula they created, they'll take the quick cash and then whine when (surprise, surprise) they get left out.

Strange business, college football.

This year, Texas has played the business part best. On the field, well, the Longhorns look good, but, then again, there is just no way to be sure they're that good.

Unless there is an incredible upset, the national championship game should, once again, be the best of the Big 12 vs. the best of the rest.

It actually looks intriguing on paper. But, then again, so did last season. And the season before. And …