Just when it appeared that things were pretty well set and that there wouldn't be the typical chaos and controversy this year over who is in and who is out going into college football's end-of-year holiday treat known as bowl season, we've got another full-blown BCS haymaker to fret about. It is almost as if the human voters that make up two-thirds of the BCS ranking formula did what they felt they must to force the upheaval that appeared not to exist in the next to last year before the BCS becomes extinct.
In case you missed all the excitement on Sunday, when the pairings for the five Bowl Championship Series were announced, here is a quick recap. Usually all of the hubbub this time of year is over which two teams are the best suited to play for the national championship of college football. Not so this year. Notre Dame, being the only undefeated major school in the country not on probation (Ohio State went 12-0 this season but is on probation and not eligible to participate in a postseason bowl), was a lock for one of the two spots in the BCS National Championship to be played Jan. 7 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
No, 2 Alabama defeated No. 3 Georgia in the SEC Championship game on Saturday to earn the spot opposite the Fighting Irish in the contest to be named the best team in college football this season. No one is really disputing the BCS title game matchup this year. But it has to be the first time in almost a decade that has been the case. Big 12 co-champion Kansas State earned the Big 12 automatic BCS bowl bid to the Fiesta Bowl by virtue of its huge win at conference co-champion Oklahoma earlier this season. Pac-12 runner-up Oregon, ranked fourth in the final BCS standings, was slotted to face Kansas State in what should be almost as good a contest as the BCS Championship game pairing.
There are no real dissenters among any of the pundits and college football analysts regarding the aforementioned BCS bowl games. But this is where it really gets messy and, if you ask me, downright horrific. All day Sunday ESPN Radio, for one, was reporting that the projected matchups for the other BCS bowl games would be: Big Ten champion Wisconsin - an unranked five-loss team, by the way - against Pac-12 Championship winner Stanford in the Rose Bowl, Florida State vs. Big East champion Louisville in the Orange Bowl and Florida, ranked third in the final BCS standings, to meet Big 12 co-champ Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
But then when the official BCS standings were revealed Sunday evening, sitting in 15th position was Northern Illinois, winners of the Mid-American Conference Championship. Why is that relevant? Because the BCS bowl selection formula has a generally benign rule that if 1) a school from a non-BCS league finishes 16th or higher in the final BCS rankings, and 2) if that school is ranked higher than one of the BCS conference champions (in this case No. 21-ranked Louisville), one of the at-large BCS bowl bids must be awarded to that non-BCS conference champion (you have to be a conference champion or Notre Dame to qualify for a BCS bowl).
With only one at-large berth in play this year, Oklahoma, at No. 11 in the BCS standings, was in line to receive it (we'll explain why that is so a little later in this commentary) and would have been en route to the Sugar Bowl, except for Northern Illinois moving up in all the polls and into one of the sacred under-16 spots in the BCS standings.
So, as a result, we get 11-1 Florida vs. 10-2 Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, where the SEC Gators are favored by more than a couple of touchdowns. And, even worse, ACC champion Florida State draws MAC champion Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl matchup.
Kind of reminds you of the Georgia-Hawaii matchup in the Sugar Bowl several years back, in which fifth-ranked Georgia hammered the 10th-raned Rainbow Warriors, the last BCS bowl representative from a non-BCS league, 41-14 in a game that was never close. Someone, for sure, is going to raise the counter argument of when Utah, from the same league as Hawaii, upset Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Coach Bob Stoops' Sooners were considered the last team in this season's BCS bowl discussion and the first team out - displaced by Northern Illinois, who won't even have their head coach, Dave Doeren, a graduate of Bishop Miege High School in Kansas City and a former football assistant at Kansas, when it makes its Orange Bowl appearance. Doeren will be coaching at North Carolina State next season. The Sooners won eight straight conference games after losing to Kansas State in their first league game of the season. OU's only other loss was to No. 1 Notre Dame.
Northern Illinois lost just two games this season, but let's look at who the Huskies lost to: a single-point loss to Iowa, out of the Big Ten, which won just four times this year, and comeback victory from a 10-poinf fourth-quarter deficit against one-win Kansas, the only team from the Big 12 not going to a postseason bowl this year. Hardly a great resume for a team playing in a BCS bowl.
The under-16 BCS rule that applies to high-quality, championship programs that come from non-BCS conferences is not a bad rule in theory. What really needs to be questioned is why the human voters thought well enough of Northern Illinois to rank the Huskies higher than, say, UCLA, Michigan, Louisville or even Boise State in the final polls. There is no way you can convince me that two-loss Northern Illinois is more deserving than Oklahoma to get the final at-large BCS bowl berth. The body of work of the two schools doesn't even compare. All you have to do is look at whom the two schools lost to. Both schools finished with identical 10-2 records. On strength of schedule alone and on the basis of whom the two teams lost to, it's not even close.
The Big 12 will still receive a $23.6 million pay day as a result of Kansas State's appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. But what the Big 12 loses out on is an additional $6.2 million the conference would have received by having a second BCS bowl team in Oklahoma.
That's not all the Big 12 will be feasting over this holiday season. A record nine conference teams qualified for postseason bowl games in addition to conference co-champions Kansas State and Oklahoma. Here is the complete rundown of the Big 12 bowl lineup:
Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.) - Kansas State (11-1) vs. Oregon (11-1) (Pac-12)
Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas) - Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2) (SEC)
Alamo Bowl (San Antonio)- Texas (8-4) vs. Oregon State (9-3) (Pac-12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl - Oklahoma State (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6) (Big Ten)
Holiday Bowl (San Diego, Calif.) - Baylor (7-5) vs. UCLA (9-4) (Pac-12)
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Tempe, Ariz) - TCU (7-5) vs. Michigan State (6-6) (Big Ten)
Meineke Car Care Bowl (Houston) - Texas Tech (7-5) vs. Minnesota (6-6) (Big Ten)
Pinstripe Bowl (New York City) - West Virginia (7-5) vs. Syracuse (7-5) (Big East)
Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.) - Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3) (Conference USA)
Before we feel too sorry or sad for the Sooners or the Big 12, though, just consider how folks who are fans of SEC teams Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina, all of whom are ranked higher than Oklahoma in the BCS standings, are feeling. But because of another BCS rule that prevents more than two schools from the same conference to receive a BCS bowl berth, also find themselves on the outside looking in. How does the Northern Illinois selection look from that perspective?
I seem to remember that Oklahoma benefited a couple of times in the past decade when it came to securing a spot in the BCS Championship game when some in the country felt that there were other teams more deserving. That's when OU's Stoops contended that the Sooners were just playing by the established rules; that they weren't responsible for making them.
That's the way life is in the world of BCS football, which thankfully goes away after one more year. But be careful what you ask for. The much-anticipated four-team playoff system is bound to have its share of controversy, as well. How can you get around it when humans are still the biggest part of the selection process?
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