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What We Learned: After title game, Fiesta Bowl, BCS bowls are questionable

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The regular season is done. The BCS pairings are set, and beyond the national championship game and the Fiesta Bowl you can color us underwhelmed.

We can only hope that a selection committee, which comes on board after the 2014 regular season, gives us better games than the BCS pairings that we see this morning. No. 1 (Notre Dame) and No. 2 (Alabama) will play for the BCS Championship. But after that, here are the respective rankings of the other four BCS bowls:

 Unranked (Wisconsin) vs. No. 6 (Stanford)
 No. 3 (Florida) vs. No. 21 (Louisville)
 No. 5 (Kansas State) vs. No. 4 (Oregon)
 No. 12 (Florida State) vs. No. 15 (Northern Illinois)

When we get to a four-team playoff, the selection committee will have the power to make pairings after the conference champs have been put in place. But also remember there will be a spot set aside each year for the highest-rated team among the Group of Five conferences (MAC, MWC, C-USA, Sun Belt, Big East) who don't have bowl contracts. So the "Northern Illinois problem," if you want to call it that, is still going to be with us in the new world order.

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So what else did we learn over the weekend?

The BCS isn't about best matchups: Alabama coach Nick Saban took part of his postgame press conference on Saturday to talk about Georgia, which was No. 3 coming into the SEC championship game and had just lost a heartbreaker, 32-28. Saban said that despite the rule that limits only two teams from one conference getting BCS slots, that Georgia deserved to go to a BCS game. Florida (11-1), which lost to Georgia, got the Sugar Bowl berth because it finished No. 3 in the final BCS Standings.

"I thought the BCS bowl games were supposed to get the best teams in the game. So now it's all about the conferences sharing the money," he said. "But I still think they can share the money however they want. It's not a financial decision. It's a player decision and reinforcing the players in a positive way for the great season they had. Florida should go to a BCS game, too. If you only lose one game in this league, you should be in a BCS game. If you got in this [SEC championship] game, you should be in a BCS game."

But here's a reality check for Monday morning. The BCS system, like any system, has priorities. Some the powers that be have chosen. Some have been forced upon the system. Here they are, in order of their importance:

 Create a vehicle to match No. 1 and No. 2 for the national championship. They never said we would agree on who No. 1 and No. 2 are, just that they would play.

 Protect the conference champions who signed on to the agreement. The Big Ten or the SEC would never have signed on to the BCS agreement if their champions, no matter what the record, were not granted access to one of the big games. So when a 7-5 Wisconsin wins the Big Ten, there is no option. Without that guarantee Jim Delany would have walked and just signed his own deal with the Rose Bowl.

 Give the little guys just enough access to keep them from taking you to court. The BCS could not put together a closed system and tell the smaller five conferences (MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt, WAC) that they would never, ever get access to one of these big bowls just because the public doesn't embrace the Cinderella in football the way it does in the NCAA basketball tournament. It's called the Sherman Antitrust Act and you don't want to be on the wrong side of it.

So two access points were created for the little guys and Northern Illinois met one of them by finishing No. 15 in the final BCS Standings and ahead of Big East champ Louisville (No. 21). The Huskies are getting beat up in the press but they followed the rules and everybody agreed on the rules in advance.

 Within that framework and those limitations, the bowls get a selection order and a chance to put together the best matchups possible. The idea is to be fair to all of the bowls and not give one or two of the bowls lousy matchups in order to get blockbuster games in the other two. The fans and the media don't like that because they would rather have two great matchups rather than four average ones. But the fans and the media don't have any skin in the game. So the needs of the bowls are balanced with the needs and wants of the fans. Sometimes the fans lose.

And what else did we learn?

That was the best SEC championship game ever: I have been fortunate enough to attend all 21 SEC championship games. Trust me when I tell you that Saturday night's 32-28 win by No. 2 Alabama over No. 3 Georgia had more drama, more big plays, and the best finish yet. There were some grown men playing that football game. It was the classic heavyweight fight in that Georgia played well and Alabama responded. Then Georgia fought back and Alabama fought back. And then the clock ran out. I'm not sure where it ranks right now, but for me it is easily in the top five games I've ever seen in person.

Need a coach? Call David Shaw: Jim Harbaugh leaves and Stanford is supposed to drop off. But David Shaw takes over and the Cardinal go 11-2. Andrew Luck leaves and Stanford is supposed to drop off. But Shaw plugs in a young quarterback, fashions a nasty defense, and the Cardinal beats Oregon on the way to a Pac-12 championship. The Cardinal is going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000. This guy can flat coach.

How Louisiana Tech got robbed of a bowl: My man Tim Brando has long said that one of the great flaws in college football is that nobody is looking out for the entire system. Every conference commissioner is looking out for his conference. Every athletics director is looking out for his school. Every bowl executive director is looking out for his bowl. Nobody has the authority to step in and fix things that are clearly wrong. And 9-3 Louisiana Tech getting left out of the bowls, when there are 12 teams at 6-6 and one team at 6-7 (Georgia Tech) in the 35 games is obviously wrong. Now Louisiana Tech, which has the nation's best offense and a bright young coach in Sonny Dykes, caused some of its own problems. It had an invitation to play Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl. Some early reporting said that athletics director Bruce Van De Velde turned down the Independence offer. But Van De Velde told our Bruce Feldman the offer came on Saturday and that Louisiana Tech asked to let the games of the weekend play out because there could be other options. The Independence moved on and took Ohio. (8-4). But Louisiana Tech's other options went away when Northern Illinois got into the BCS and Oklahoma of the Big 12 was left out. That meant that the Big 12 filled all of its bowl slots and one was not left for Louisiana Tech. That is a major problem in college football. Everybody has to look out for themselves and nobody is looking out for the product as a whole.

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show Tuesday at 9 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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