ATHENS – I choose chaos. When it comes to Saturday’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, and all these other conference title games across the country, I say, “go underdog!”
Go Gators! Go Nittany Lions! Get ‘em, Buffs and Hokies! Go Cowboys. Oh, wait, the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference championship at the moment. Never mind them.
It’s not that I just like the little guy or always want my money on the dark horse. It’s just that chaos is going to be the only way to do away the hypocrisy that remains the process for determining a college football national champion.
Come on, muck it up, boys!
If you’re going to have a playoff — and go as far as actually calling it “The Playoff” — then have a stinking playoff. Football, and sports of every kind, really, are meant to be decided on the field of play. Yet every College Football Playoff projection I’ve read the past week or so says in no uncertain terms that No. 1-ranked Alabama is in whether it beats Florida at the Georgia Dome Saturday or not.
Same for Ohio State, which didn’t even qualify for the Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes are in, and as the No. 2 seed to less.
Hey, I get it regarding Bama. I’ve watched them play all season. I’ve given them the “eye test,” as the committee likes to say. There’s no question in my mind the Crimson Tide is the best-looking college football team in America. But the way this thing is set up, the best teams are better off not having to play in their league title games.
How fortunate for the Buckeyes that they lost to Penn State in the regular season. So now they don’t have to bother with that pesky little conference championship deal. They can rest up, heal up and study for exams while their coaches fan out and hit the road for recruiting. They should probably focus their efforts on the states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, don’t you think? I’ve checked and those in-state university coaches are going to be otherwise occupied.
It’s simply not equitable.
How annoying must it be for Nick Saban to know he has to go through all the trouble this week of preparation and injury-risk. Meanwhile his nemesis, Urban Meyer, gets to kick back, play one less game and have to same reward at his disposal.
Then there’s Florida. Believe me, I’ve chronicled this league for a while now. I’m all too aware of the sorry state of the Eastern Division. It’s not lost on me that the Gators have been kind of the best of the worst the past two years. There’s a reason they’re 24-point underdogs to the Tide on Saturday.
But isn’t that what makes sports great? Crazier things have happened.
The Buckeyes can tell you first hand. Ask them about their loss to Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten title game. Remember No. 1 Oklahoma falling to Kansas State in 2003? How about No. 2 Tennessee going down to 21st-ranked LSU 31-20 in 2001.
Georgia fans can certainly tell you about the chain of events on Championship Saturday in 2007. The Bulldogs, who would finish No. 2 that year, thought they could be on their way to the BCS Championship when No. 2-ranked and 28-point-favorite West Virginia fell to 4-7 Pitt in the Big East title game and No. 1 Missouri lost to Oklahoma 38-17. But SEC champion LSU leapfrogged UGA after its win over Tennessee in the title game, and the Tigers would go on to claim national championship.
Those games mattered, and these should, too.
How awesome would it be to see Florida pull off the ultimate upset of Bama, then plow into College Football Playoff like the Beverly Hillbillies and win it all? Happens in the NFL all the time. There have been three Super Bowl champions that finished the regular season at 10-6. Two 9-7 teams have played in it.
You think the NFL is going to anoint the third team from the AFC West for the playoffs just because they’re better than other division champions? If you’re going to a playoff, have a true playoff.
It’s coming. It’s just a matter of time. Sooner or later, they’re going to expand this thing six or eight teams and take all the conference champions. You could take the Power 5 and one other – like undefeated Western Michigan from the MAC this year – give the top two teams byes and play in from there. Or do a straight eight and include a couple more teams from the non-power conferences.
Why not? You’re never going to achieve scheduling equity in college football. I certainly get that Ohio State’s resume’ is better than Penn State’s – save, of course, that loss to the Nittany Lions. That should mean something.
As should Bama losing to Florida. Conference championships should mean something. They should mean everything, really.
Ask Clemson and Washington this week. They know what win-or-else feels like. Theirs are true elimination games.
They all should be. They all will be, eventually.