|Houston's Kevin Sumlin and QB Case Keenum are likely wondering how Michigan got into the Sugar Bowl. (AP)|
The final BCS standings are in, the bowl pairings are set and, like the morning after the NCAA basketball tournament field is announced, there are distinct winners and losers. With college football's national championship game still over a month away, let's take stock.
Biggest winner: That, of course, would be the Southeastern Conference. The SEC began this season hoping to win a sixth straight BCS national championship. Now it's guaranteed, with No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama in the big game. The SEC, I might add, is 7-0 in BCS title games. After Jan. 9 in New Orleans, it will be 8-1.
Loser: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys (11-1) had the best season in school history and won their first-ever outright Big 12 championship. But it still was not enough to overcome a loss to 6-6 Iowa State on the road and in overtime. Oklahoma State trailed Alabama by 508 points in the two human polls last Friday. After taking Oklahoma to the woodshed, 44-10, Oklahoma State really closed the gap on Alabama to just 101 points (69 in the Harris Poll and 32 in the coaches poll). Oklahoma State was also No. 2 in the computers. There were obviously a number of voters who did not want to see a rematch for the BCS championship. It just wasn't enough.
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Winner: The Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC has been getting beat up for a decade because of its poor performance in BCS games. But Sunday the conference got payback as No. 11 Virginia Tech (11-2) was a surprise pick as an at-large opponent for Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. It is the first time in the 14-year history of the BCS that the ACC has placed two teams in the BCS. Virginia Tech is a good team, despite getting beat 38-10 by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Still, it was surprising the Sugar would take the Hokies over No. 7 Boise State (11-1) and No. 8 Kansas State (10-2). Actually, it wasn't surprising. It is a reminder that after the BCS Championship Game, it's really not about the most deserving teams. It's about putting fannies in the seats and drawing eyeballs to the TV in a down economy. That's simply the way it is.
Loser: Houston. Oh my. Everything was in front of Kevin Sumlin's team if it could simply beat Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship Game. The Cougars would go to 13-0 and have their ticket punched to the Sugar Bowl to play Michigan. But Larry Fedora of the Eagles showed why he will soon get a new job by beating Houston very handily. So instead of New Orleans and the biggest postseason game in the history of the school, Houston will play in something called the Ticket City Bowl in Dallas. I sure hope the gift bags are good.
Winner: Michigan. The Wolverines lost to Michigan State (28-14) and they lost to Iowa (24-16). Michigan State loses a heartbreaker in the Big Ten Championship Game and goes to the Outback Bowl. Michigan (10-2) earns a trip to the Sugar Bowl to play Virginia Tech in Brady Hoke's first season in Ann Arbor. Why No. 12 Michigan instead of No. 7 Boise State (11-1) and Kellen Moore? Why No. 12 Michigan instead of No. 8 Kansas State (10-2)? Again, it's not about the most deserving teams. Michigan will be very excited to be in New Orleans and there are roughly 10 bajillion TV sets in Detroit and the rest of the state. Not so much for Boise, which is in Idaho, and Kansas State, which is in Little Manhattan, Kan.
Loser: Boise State. The Broncos and Kellen Moore, college football's all-time winner as a starting quarterback, missed a 39-yard field goal that would have beaten TCU on Nov. 12. Had Boise won, the Broncos (11-1) not only would have reached a BCS game, but at 12-0 with a 35-21 win over Georgia (which had reached the SEC Championship game), I believe the Broncos would have played LSU for the national championship. Boise State has missed out on a BCS bowl in each of the past two seasons because of a missed field goal. And for their efforts and their No. 7 final ranking, the Broncos go to the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. (I am not making this up.) These words actually came out of the mouth of Chris Peterson, the head coach at Boise State: "We are excited about returning to the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas and to again face a tough opponent and to again face a tough opponent like Arizona State [which is 6-6 and just fired its coach]." Okay, I put in that last part.
Loser: The little guys. In six of the past seven years one of the non-AQ conferences has placed at least one team in the BCS. In 2009 both Boise State and TCU earned bids -- and played each other. Last season TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl in a game for the ages. But Houston's loss to Southern Miss set up a chain of events in which none of the little guys got in this time. In order for a non-AQ champion to get an automatic bid this season, it had to finish in the final top 16. Southern Miss (11-2), which beat Houston for the Conference USA championship, finished No. 21. TCU (10-2), which knocked off Boise and won the Mountain West title, could only get to No. 18. Boise was 11-1 and ranked No. 7, but it did not win its conference. NOW do you understand why Boise State was considering a jump to the Big East?
Biggest losers: The fans. Despite the complaints about the BCS, many of them justified, the system has turned college football from a regional game to a national game. More people are talking about college football -- even if it's cussing the BCS -- than ever before.
But this unique set of circumstances reminds me of a conversation I had with SEC commissioner Mike Slive several years ago. He was about to put the idea of a seeded "plus-one" on the table in a meeting with his fellow commissioners. It would have been a four-team playoff with the teams seeded 1-4. There would be two semifinals (1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3) around New Year's Day. The two champions would meet a week later for the national championship. The idea got shot down by a coalition of the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and Big East.
"The bottom line," Slive told me, "is that when it comes to the BCS, I wonder if two is enough?"
Well, it's not enough. The fans want more and, frankly, they deserve more. The folks in SEC land, where I live, are pretty happy about this outcome. They are convinced Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in college football. I agree and if you saw them at field level you would agree as well.
But it's time for the product of postseason college football to evolve. In the next BCS contract, which starts with the 2014 regular season, it's time to say goodbye to the two-team playoff and adopt a four-team playoff.
I ask you. How excited would we be today if these were the national semifinals?
• No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Stanford
• No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State
Now just about everybody would like that except No. 5 Oregon (10-2), which beat Stanford quite handily (53-30) and won the Pac-12 conference. No system will eliminate all of the disagreements.
And those of you holding your breath and stomping your feet for an eight-team or a 16-team playoff need to know that it is simply not happening. The powers that be will go back to the old bowl system first.
That idea actually has some merit if it is done with a twist. Two of my buddies, Mark Blaudschun at the Boston Globe and Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times, want a true plus-one in which everybody plays in their traditional bowl games (Big Ten, Pac-12 to the Rose; SEC to the Sugar, etc.). Then the top two teams that survive the bowls play for the national championship.
One of the problems with the current BCS is that only one postseason game is relevant. This would make all of the bowls relevant because any of them could potentially send a team to the national championship game.
Those, I believe, are the two best and most doable options for postseason college football. What are yours?
Watch The Tony Barnhart Show at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday on the CBS Sports Network.