BCS: Is Change Coming to National Title Landscape?
There is absolutely no argument about it. Half of the Alabama Crimson Tide is the No. 1 college football team in the nation. That is the half that plays defense. It is the best there is this season.
As to the Alabama offense: It was capable of getting within field-goal range often enough for an adequate major college place-kicker to boot five good ones in seven tries while missing his one extra-point attempt against a lackluster and toothless Tiger from LSU.
During the 35 bowl games that overwhelmed even the most avid college football fans from Dec. 17 through Jan. 9, there were enough exhibitions of fine offensive play to make one wonder just what came over both Alabama and LSU in this winter’s version of the BCS National Championship game last Monday night. Did the offensive players on both teams forget their playbooks when they went to New Orleans, particularly the chapters on what to do after crossing midfield?
But coach Nick Saban deserves credit for due diligence in his job. He learned from the ugly and boring, 9-6 loss to LSU, Nov. 5. He changed the Crimson Tide attack by putting in quick, first- and second-down passing that discombobulated the previously impenetrable LSU defenses so the Tide won, 21-0.
LSU’s coach, Les Miles, on the other hand, seemed content to stand pat on what brought the Tigers an undefeated regular season and the No. 1 national ranking. This approach cost the Tigers dearly as Alabama held LSU to less than 100 yards total offense and the Tigers never got into Alabama territory until well into the fourth quarter. Too little, too late!
And that is how you look bad and drop from first to second in the rankings and allow Alabama to win the national title.
Those earlier bowl games that presented quite a few wild, fast and high-scoring offenses included West Virginia scoring a bowl record 70 points as the Mountaineers humiliated Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Then there was Baylor, with the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Robert Griffin III, and Washington setting a total points record for a bowl game as the Bears beat the Huskies, 67-56, in the Alamo Bowl.
Oklahoma State defeated Stanford, 41-38, in the Fiesta Bowl; the very quick Oregon team beat Wisconsin, 45-38, in the Rose Bowl; Toledo edged Air Force, 42-41, in an exciting Military Bowl match, and Boise State, the perennial poor cousin of major college football, whipped Arizona State, 56-24, in the Maaco Bowl.
If only there had been a multi-team major college football playoff as there is in every other intercollegiate sport and in the other three NCAA football divisions. Then we would have had a chance to see Alabama’s mighty defense go up against one of those high-scoring offenses.
LSU had a rather good scoring attack during the 2011 regular season but did not show any signs of that part of its makeup in the Superdome against Alabama. LSU went down the road from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and during that short trip seemed to completely lose it — from coaches to players to Tiger fans. LSU may have deserved No. 1 going into that game but certainly did not deserve it coming out.
Ever since the Bowl Championship Series was devised in 1998 by the six leading power conferences in major college football plus Notre Dame, the only big-time independent remaining, the BCS idea of an annual national championship game has been strongly criticized by numerous college administrators at other institutions and conferences and by coaches, players, journalists, members of Congress and even the president of the United States.
But BCS leaders seemed to have a deaf ear for all of that, even expressing scorn for those who dared to disagree with them.
Then they came up with the dreaded rematch for their idea of what should be this year’s national title game. Alabama and LSU met during the regular season of Southeastern Conference play on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. LSU won in a very dull affair billed as this year’s “game of the century” with LSU No. 1 and Alabama No. 2 at the time. There were five field goals, including one in overtime by the Tigers’ Drew Alleman that won the game for the Tigers.
Prior to the rematch, many folks, including myself, said Alabama did not deserve another crack at LSU under the BCS system of picking the top-two teams by polls and computer rankings. As it turned out, maybe it was LSU that did not deserve another crack at Alabama.
Had there been a playoff, as so many of us prefer, Alabama and LSU might still have worked their way to a rematch. But at least in that case both would have had to earn it through winning early-round games in a playoff.
Following the Alabama triumph last Monday night, the BCS powers that be seemed to be listening to their critics for a change. The next day the commissioners from the six power conferences that run the BCS, plus the Notre Dame athletic director and the commissioners of the five other conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) met in New Orleans for a discussion about possible changes to the BCS structure.
One of the alternatives to the present rather arbitrary manner of picking two teams that meet for the championship, would be a four-team playoff, according to reports about what was mentioned at that closed meeting. But these greedy folks are far from deciding how best to make more and more money from the system they seem to control.
The other major component in this BCS mixture was apparently not at the meeting although it is always there in spirit if not in body. That is the elephant in the room — television. And in this case it is ESPN which has two more years to go on its current contract with the BCS.
ESPN, of course, claims it never has anything to do with what these college authorities do in deciding how to conduct their athletic programs. Believe that one and I’ll be able to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.
Because of this TV contract, the BCS is in no great hurry to change its championship game format until after the 2014 title game. Apparently talks will be going on now and then over the next few months about just how to create a more acceptable and respected championship format in major college football.
Probably more importantly, the BCS folks must figure out how to make more and more billions of dollars for themselves and their TV partners in a business that pays huge salaries to coaches, athletic directors, TV personalities and TV executives while employing free labor to do the grunt work on the field.
Even though Jeremy Shelley of Raleigh is the Big Man on Campus in Tuscaloosa these days because he connected on five of seven field-goal attempts to win the National title, so many viewers were tired of watching Alabama and LSU place-kickers hit some and miss some for the second time this season that the TV ratings for this BCS title affair fell off considerably compared to viewer numbers in recent years.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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