Football picksDecember 4, 2006

The BCS. Did Michigan get robbed? Or has the system finally worked?

As the 2006 college football season has come to a close, and all the dust settled, two teams have risen to the top and will battle for the right to be called champion.

It is no surprise that that the Ohio State Buckeyes are there. After going wire-to-wire as the No.1 team in the land and being led by Heisman Trophy front-runner Troy Smith, the Buckeyes could have punched their ticket to Glendale, AZ., in October.

But, it was the match-up in November, with the Michigan Wolverines that has thrust this season’s BCS championship selections into upheaval well – the non-Buckeye’s half, anyway. Ohio State edged then No. 2 Michigan 42-39 and talk began of a possible re-match with the national championship hanging in the balance.

But, on a weekend where Michigan was idle, The University of Florida overtook the No. 2 spot with a win over Arkansas 38-28 in the Southeastern Conference Championship. The victory earned the Gators a ticket to the BCS title game. So instead of the 104th meeting between the two storied programs of Ohio State and Michigan, we get the first ever meeting of Ohio State and Florida.

Seems clear enough, right? 

Not so fast. Before we get to why Michigan was left out, we should address the USC Trojans. Going into their meeting with UCLA, Saturday, a win would have put the Trojans into the title game and none of us would be talking about the Wolverines.

But alas, it couldn’t be that easy. The Bruins of UCLA stifled the Trojans and Pete Carrol’s high-octane offense was all but shutdown by the stingy UCLA defense.

The conciliation prize for not making it to the BCS Championship game is the hallowed Granddaddy-of-em-all Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where the Trojans and the Wolverines have ultimately landed.

So USC is out, dropping to the no. 5 spot in the BCS rankings, and Michigan is out  – holding on to the no.3 spot. Florida is in, and at 12-1 has the same amount of losses as the Wolverines (11-1).

Who makes the call and why does one team’s one loss count more than another team’s one loss?

Michigan’s one loss was a three-point loss to the no. 1 team while Florida took a 10-point loss from the 11th ranked Auburn Tigers on 10/14. Simple math tells us that a three-point loss to the no.1 team should be better than a 10-point drubbing from a team outside of the top 10.

So why not Michigan?

The numbers favored Florida. After the games were finished and numbers crunched, the margin between the Wolverines and the Gators was razor thin. Chew on this: Florida had a BCS average of .944. Michigan was at .934. The teams were tied in the computer ratings, but Florida posted a 38-point lead in the Harris poll and a 26-point advantage in the coaches’ poll.

Not only did the numbers pick Florida, but the human voters all spoke to keep Michigan out of the big game.

If Michigan had been selected to play for the national title, what would the team gain? If the Wolverines won they would be 1-1 against Ohio State and the national championship picture gets further muddled. The BCS would then have to consider not only Ohio State but the winners of the other top BCS games.

Splitting the two meetings isn’t enough to claim the national championship. At best, Michigan would win a share of the BCS Championship and what would that solve? The idea is to have one game – one winner.

The question that keeps coming up about the BCS is how would a playoff-based postseason work to decide a national champion?

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is not in favor of any such playoff.

“With a 12 game season, it would be impossible to have a 16-team playoff,” Tressel said.

But what about an 8-team playoff coach? That would throw even the undefeated Boise State Broncos (12-0), in the mix for a national championship. Then there’s Wisconsin perhaps the best one-loss team in the country that no one is talking about. The Badgers had to settle for the Capital One bowl against Arkansas, while four, two-loss teams (no. 4 LSU and no.11 Notre Dame), play in the BCS’ Sugar Bowl. Two-loss Oklahoma and Wake Forest made the BCS cut, the Badgers did not.

So what have we learned?

We have learned that in this case both the machines and the brains favored the Gators. We learned big-time rematches won’t work- unless we’re talking pre-BCS days, like in 1996, when Florida beat Florida State for the national championship – a rematch of game won by the Seminoles – but who remembers that? We were all still using an abacus to balance our checkbooks.

We have learned that the Badgers are left on the outside looking in, LSU and Notre Dame are worth their weights in sugar and the in-exact science of the BCS formula is exactly that.

Let’s settle it on the field, not by numbers, not by computers but by the hearts and ability of the players, the tenacity of coaches and the undying passion for the universities they represent.