In the final year before the BCS launch, Nebraska and Michigan split the national championship, and college football had two final No. 1s for the third time in eight years. The BCS, created to identify and match the top two teams, promised clarity to the process.
In most years, the pledge has been kept, especially when the final pairing matches undefeated teams from what we today call automatic qualifying conferences (or, the leagues of multibillion-dollar TV contracts).
That’s where college football is entering the final week of the regular season with Florida State and Ohio State standing as the lone undefeated majors.
So, no clamor or controversy, right?
College football faces the prospect of a national title game without a team from the Southeastern Conference. That’s not a popular concept for the conference that has won seven straight national championships, y’all.
“I think any one-loss team in the SEC, strength of schedule, hopefully that will be taken into consideration,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Sunday.
The Tigers meet Auburn on Saturday in Atlanta in an improbable SEC championship game. Both teams are 11-1 after combining to finish 2-14 in SEC games last season.
Saturday, after the incredible triumph over Alabama, Auburn took to the campaign trail. Athletic director Jay Jacobs said it “would be a disservice to the nation,” if his Tigers won the SEC title and didn’t play for the crystal ball trophy.
In an interview in ESPN, Jacobs said it would be “un-American” to omit either Tigers from the title game in Pasadena.
I hope he was kidding. Say it would be unfair or unreasonable, but not while waving the Stars and Stripes. I’m fairly certain Americans reside in Ohio as well as Alabama.
Here’s what’s left in the games that matter the most: Auburn, No. 3 in the BCS, vs. No. 5 Missouri in the SEC; No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Michigan State in the Big Ten; No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 20 Duke in the ACC.
Alabama, fourth in the BCS, is finished until the bowl.
The narrative has been set: Should the SEC champion be judged ahead of Ohio State, if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten? Would style points matter, if the SEC title game produced a blowout winner and Ohio State won the way it did Saturday, when Michigan’s two-point conversion attempt failed in the final minute?
History says if the Seminoles and Buckeyes survive Saturday, they’ll meet for the championship. Never in the BCS has a one-loss team played for the championship over an undefeated team if they’re both from major conferences.
But never in the history of a BCS has one conference dominated the way the SEC has. Based on the comments, the league believes it has earned a bully pulpit. And even that’s not new. Texas talked its way into the 2004 Rose Bowl at the expense of California.
As for Missouri, winning in Atlanta would be the school’s most significant athletic achievement, even if it doesn’t produce a spot in the national title game. Mizzou would be a conference champion for the first time since 1969 and head to the Sugar Bowl, its first BCS game.
For Missouri — or Auburn — to reach Pasadena, the guess here is the Tigers will need Florida State or Ohio State to lose. Jumping Alabama will happen. Mizzou will have beaten the team that beat the Tide.
If this leaves an unsatisfying taste, wait a year, when the College Football Playoff begins, and the discussion will center on home fields for the semifinal round and which is the first team left out.