I was unabashedly rooting for LSU last Saturday night, and I don’t mind telling you. And it’s not because I dislike the Georgia Bulldogs. But after Southern Cal thunked Oregon State and Kansas State punked Oklahoma, I looked to an LSU victory in the SEC title game to facilitate chaos in the BCS, which may be the only way to restore some sanity.
An LSU loss would have let the BCS Geniuses off the hook for yet another year. Even with the Sooners’ crushing 35-7 defeat, only Oklahoma and USC would have remained as major teams with just one L. But this way lies madness, and it’s perfect.
The Sooners, the prohibitive favorite until Saturday night, are still in the BCS championship game in spite of a seemingly catastrophic collapse. The Bengal Tigers, a sleeper team, are in, too.
Southern Cal is No. 1 in both major polls. They’re out.
Why? To answer that you have to delve into the BCS’ arcane formula, which factors in the records of each contender’s opponents. The championship matchup was settled around 4 a.m. Sunday, in Honolulu, when the last game of the regular season ended. Boise State nosed out Hawaii, which had lost earlier to USC. Hawaii’s loss cost the Trojans two-tenths of a point in the BCS calculation, allowing LSU to squeeze ahead by 0.16. The numbers don’t lie.
Unfortunately, that’s not to say they’re telling the truth.
You can’t claim that Southern Cal is undeservingat least not if you want to maintain any credibility. The Trojans played a schedule at least as tough as Oklahoma’s, and they smacked both Auburn and Notre Dame on the road.
Of course, leaving out either LSU or Oklahoma would be unfair, too. But the chaos can still be a blessing. If Southern Cal beats Michigan in the Rose Bowl (no simple feat, mind you), they will be hailed as national champions in the AP poll. The coaches’ poll, which is suck-up-bound to the BCS, will declare LSU or Oklahoma as the champions. And the fun will begin.
The BCS contract with the major conferences expires after the 2005 season. Mark down the date as a time when end-times football prophecy will be fulfilled.
New Year’s 2007 will witness a football playoff, cooked up by the looming superconference powers. It will be modest at first, perhaps just the top four teams. But as pressure for inclusiveness builds, and the lure of untold gazillions beckons, the number will rise to eight teams, and then maybe even 10 or 12 or 16.
And then, maybe, the hoary old bowl system will croak. Teams like TCU and Boise State will get shots at championships just like LSU and Oklahoma. Teams like Tennesseearguably the best team in the SEC at the momentwill no longer be consigned to dispiriting consolation bowls like the Peach. An American sense of justice will prevail at last in college football.
My friend Dee from Atlanta became an Auburn fan last week.
He was just posing, of course. Dee, who is to Vanderbilt fans what Al Sharpton is to gold jewelry, phoned me to report that he had become a registered user on an Auburn fan Web site. Whenever there’s an opportunity to stir up the hornets, Dee enjoys whanging the hive.
Auburn’s president, William Walker, who is to the reform movement in college athletics what Sharpton is to the Democrats’ White House chances in 2004, presented the opportunity of the moment. The week before the Tigers’ big game with Alabama, Walker and athletic director David House jetted up to Louisville to chat with Cardinals’ coach Bobby Petrino about becoming Auburn’s next head coach.
There were just a few slight complications for this strategy. First, Auburn has no coaching vacancy. Tom Tuberville currently holds the job, and no one upstairs cued him that he was in danger of losing it. Second, when the story of Walker’s jetscapade broke, Tuberville’s team still had a game to playagainst Alabama. Third, in a serious breach of protocol, the Auburn folks never contacted Louisville’s athletic director to ask for permission to talk with Petrino.
For many schools, having to buy out the coach’s contract at a cost of slightly less than the GNP of Barbadosas Auburn would have had to do for Tubervillewould have presented a prohibitively expensive barrier. But that’s not an issue for the Tiger braintrust, which threw lavish sums at Terry Bowden to make him disappear. You might also think that a coach who had won or shared three SEC West titles would’ve earned a reprieve for one season that failed to match the prodigious preseason hype.
But what most of us call normal thinking frequently doesn’t apply in the Loveliest Village on the Plains. (Looking to archenemy Alabama as a role model should provide all the clues you need.)
Of course, normal thinking (to say nothing of moral thinking) seems in short supply throughout the college football world these days. A 9-3 record didn’t save Frank Solich at Nebraska. A growing number of Pennsylvanians are ready to 86 the Dean Smith of college football coaches, Joe Paterno. At Florida, Ron Zook has committed the unpardonable offense of not being Steve Spurrier.
Even by prevailing ab-norms, however, Auburn stands out. According to a tape made public earlier this year, Tiger boosters organized a slush fund worthy of the Cali Cartel. When the administration involved itself in machinations to buy out the contract of a second straight perfectly good football coachin a state that’s living on a bologna-sandwich budgetit was too much for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who’s demanding to know who around Toomer’s Corner has been serving up all the ignernt juice.
That may put him in conflict with booster/regent Bobby Lowder, the real kingmaker at Auburn. In the past, Lowder has defied Alabama governors like George Wallace defied federal marshals and the U.S. Army. (Check the license plates on that jet if you want to know who was behind the mission to Louisville.)
That was just one of the things Dee suggested in his assumed identity on the Auburn fan Web board. He also proposed Mike Price as Tuberville’s replacementan inspired suggestion, if you think about it. He planned to contribute more ideas until he found that he’d been outed as an interloper, and all his posts had been deleted. They thought he was a Tide fan.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, demonstrated last week that all hope was not lost. The folks in Starkville bade adieu to the John Gotti of college coaches, Jackie Sherrill (under investigation even in retirement), and said howdy to Sylvester Croom, who became the first African American head coach in SEC history.
It was only fitting that this milestone occurred in Mississippi, which has come farther on race issues than perhaps any state in the Cotton Belt. But Croom’s hiring was not mere tokenism. The guy can coach well enough that I’m willing to venture onto a limb: The Alabama folks are going to rue the day they passed over this native son.