It’s a tradition infinitely more revered than the BCS system itself: figuring out who the BCS screwed this time. Last year, for example, many thought both teams in the Cotton Bowl matchup of Arkansas and Kansas State were screwed out of BCS slots, while neither squad in the Michigan-Virginia Tech Sugar Bowl matchup was deserving. And with a new round of BCS bowls freshly announced as of last night, we’ve got a new round of potential screwage! Let’s take a look at the matchups, then examine who was – and wasn’t – invited:
BCS National Championship Game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Stanford
Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Louisville vs. Florida
Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs. Kansas State
The first thing that jumps out to me: once again, the Cotton Bowl (which this year pits Texas A&M against Oklahoma) produced a more compelling matchup than several of the BCS games. You’ve got the likely Heisman winner in Johnny Football. You’ve got two 10-2 teams – teams who are both in the top 12 of every major college football poll, before this season, were conference rivals. There’s all sorts of intrigue happening here, and while the Cotton Bowl is arguably the most prestigious non-BCS bowl there is, this type of matchup is worthy of the biggest stage.
But was anyone actually screwed in order for this matchup to take place? That’s a tough question. You’d get little argument that either team is substantially better than, say, 8-5 Wisconsin… but Wisconsin won the Big 10’s automatic BCS slot by winning the conference championship game. There’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent that – well, besides maybe if Ohio State had banned itself from a bowl last year and thereby avoided further NCAA punishment. Then they would have played Nebraska for the Big 10 title instead of the Badgers – and almost certainly won going away, if Nebraska had played anywhere near as badly as they did against Wisconsin.
That, though, wouldn’t have solved the problem of how to fit Texas A&M or Oklahoma into a BCS game. But what about Northern Illinois? The Huskies look like a weird choice for a BCS game next to all those traditional powers, no? Well, sure, but the rules of the selection process say that if a team from a conference without an automatic BCS bid wins that conference, finishes in the top 16 of the BCS rankings, and outranks at least one conference champion from a conference that does have an automatic bid, that team gets a BCS bowl slot.
NIU fit the bill. They earned their shot automatically, and if they don’t look like quite as riveting a team on the surface as the Sooners, America just might thoroughly enjoy being introduced to Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who has thrown for 2,962 yards this season… and run for 1,771. We wouldn’t bet on it happening, but if he produces a massive game against Florida State’s defense, Lynch could finish the season with 3,000 passing and 2,000 rushing yards. In short: if you’re one of the many who believe schools in non-BCS conferences never got a fair shot under the BCS system, you shouldn’t complain about NIU getting a shot to knock off the Seminoles at the expense of a more tradition-laden program.
So if a team like Oklahoma was screwed because of anything, it was because the champions of, say, the Big Ten and Big East had to be selected under the automatic bid system, regardless of whether their team was actually better than the Sooners (both A&M and Oklahoma are ranked significantly ahead of Big East champ Louisville in the BCS standings, while Wisconsin is unranked). This wasn’t a case of undeserving at-large teams getting a slot (neither Michigan nor Virginia Tech won their respective conferences last year), this was a fault of the system itself. In other words, the source of any BCS-related controversy this year is the BCS itself sucking. Actually… put that way, sounds pretty uncontroversial, doesn’t it?
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