I've always been sort of lukewarm on the BCS. It's a system that is obviously flawed. One that punishes teams for a single loss - even though everyone knows not all losses are created equal - while rewarding teams if they belong to a power conference. It's a system that seems to be mired in controversy of one type or another every year. A system in which pretty much every college football fan can find something to dislike.
But, writing about college football for several years as I have, it's a system you get used to. While all that theorizing about a playoff system is nice, the financial realities mean that short of an unfavorable antitrust judgment against the BCS, it's likely to remain in place, with perhaps minor changes, for the foreseeable future.
And as flawed as it is, I think most of the time it's done a pretty decent job of giving us a national champion team every year. Most of the time, I'm content with the teams playing in the championship games as the representatives of the best of college football in any given season. But not this time. No, if the course we're on continues for the remainder of the season and we see an all-SEC championship game, I think the BCS will have failed us as college football fans. And since I don't have much faith in the poll voters, it seems like the only hope for us comes in the form of Auburn University.
At this point, you might be asking, why all the SEC hate, Hilary? What gives? Are you just jealous because you're a B1G Ten writer and your teams are clearly not as good as the mighty SPEEEEED of the SEC (excuse me while I take a moment to laugh)? Well the simple answer to all of that is no. I'm fully aware that my favorite conference is having a down season, and that none of our teams deserve to be in contention for the National Championship game. I wouldn't complain if the B1G ended up with two BCS bids, but even then I'd probably feel like we hoodwinked the system for the second one.
No, my hate for an all-SEC championship game is simple. It's boring. It ruins one of my favorite aspects of the college football bowl season. And it doesn't really make sense.
One of the more exciting aspects of the bowl season is getting to watch your teams play against unknown competition. Against a team that you've probably never seen before (or at least, one that hasn't played your team in the current season). Sometimes the teams that face off in bowl games will have radically different play styles, as in the 2009 Orange Bowl which saw the Iowa Hawkeyes and their mostly-classic B1G style take on the triple option out of Georgia Tech.
Bowl games, then, aren't just about who has more talent on the field. They're about which team can plan and execute better. Can your team hang in there and come away with a victory against a team that might have radically different ideas about the proper use of tight ends? About wide receivers? Or even quarterbacks? It's about adaptation. Coping with the unexpected. Adjusting to uncertainty. Facing the unknown.
And you just don't get that when you match up two teams from the same conference in the title game. Especially when those teams have already met in the regular season.
Hyperbole aside, I think there are many people who would agree with me regarding the undesirability of a one conference championship game. That's probably why we haven't ever seen it happen before since the BCS was created. (Two teams from the same conference have never met for the National Championship - the SEC and Big 12 have met three times, two times each for the Pac-10 and B12 and the SEC and Big Ten, and one time for the pairings of the SEC / ACC, ACC / Big East, B12 / ACC, Big East / B12, Big Ten / Big East, and SEC / Pac-10.)
Though, because the National Championship game selections are dictated by the vagaries of the BCS ranking system, it can't be said that the absence of a one-conference championship game proves that such a game is undesirable. To show that, I'd argue that a look at the rest of the BCS games is more appropriate. Indeed, when you look at all the other BCS bowl games since the creation of the system in 1998, you also find no single conference match-ups. Some of the games (like the Rose Bowl) have automatic tie-ins that make this impossible, but there have been many at-large bids over the years. Which suggests that the opportunity to have two teams from the same conference meet in a BCS game has been possible at least a few times since 1998. And yet it hasn't happened. Probably because it'd be boring.
And yet, I recognize that my tastes in college football aren't universal. I suppose a great many people in the country would find the prospect of an LSU-Alabama re-match exciting. Either because they want to see if LSU really is the better team, or because of the novelty of a single conference championship game.
With that in mind, I'd argue that such a pairing in the national championship is not just boring, it also tells me exactly nothing about who the best team in college football is. A LSU-Bama rematch tells me who the best team in the SEC West is. It may tell me who the best team in the SEC is (though, you can bet that the SEC East champ Georgia might argue otherwise if the winner of the NCG is different from the team they faced in the SEC Championship). But it certainly doesn't tell me who the best team in college football is.
Let's assume, for a minute, that LSU is correctly ranked at #1 heading into the NCG (and that the current rankings hold for the rest of the season). We'll also assume that LSU represents the SEC West in the SEC Championship, that Oregon represents the Pac-12 North in their championship, and that none of the top ten teams other than Arkansas (who plays LSU) and one of Okie State / Oklahoma (who play each other) gets another loss.
Then we have a situation where, after the undefeated #1 LSU, you have six undefeated or one loss teams: Alabama, Okie State (if they win Bedlam), Virginia Tech, Stanford, Boise State, and Houston.
Given that Houston is rated 116th in terms of strength of schedule, I can't seriously argue for them in the NCG, so they're out of contention, undefeated record or no. Boise State is 45th in strength of schedule, which isn't so bad, but their best win is a #19 Georgia, so they're out too.
Now we're down to VA Tech, Alabama, Stanford, and Okie State. Virginia Tech is 56th in strength of schedule, with their best win against #21 Georgia Tech. Because I eliminated the Broncos on similar criteria, the Hokies are gone too. That leaves us with what I think are three teams that seriously could be considered for the NCG spot.
Now, I know that as of right now (and if these rankings hold), Alabama is supposedly the #2 team in the country. But, why? Okay, Oklahoma State lost to an unranked Iowa State team on the road. Yeah, that's bad. But did you notice that the Cowboys haven't played a non-conference opponent since September 17th? The same can't be said for the Tide, who just last week struggled against FCS terror Georgia Southern. At home. Must be nice having such a cupcake team so late in the season.
Oklahoma State's strength of schedule in the Sagarin Rankings is #7. Alabama is #24 (LSU is #25). OSU didn't even play a single FCS team this year. And 2/3 of their non-con opponents have at least eight wins on the year. It seems to me that Oklahoma State has had a more difficult path to being a one loss team than Alabama has. And I really think that should count for something.
You could also make a case for Stanford. Yeah, they probably won't even be in their conference championship game, but neither will Alabama in all likelihood. And their only loss is also to a top-10 team, and probable BCS bid recipient. And they've also avoided playing a FCS cupcake this year.
I'll conclude with a return to the excitement argument again. I already know what a LSU-Alabama rematch will look like, even if I'm not certain about the winner. But I have no idea how LSU would perform against the crazy offense of the Cowboys or the proto-NFL quarterback that is Andrew Luck. And I really wish the BCS would give us a chance to find out.
So, help me Gene Chizik. You're my only hope.