We’ll know shortly after midnight Friday morning whether the BCS, in its final manifestation, will do as it has invariably done throughout 15 years of wrong-headed existence. If Oregon beats Stanford in what stands as the biggest remaining game on the national calendar, the Ducks will nose ahead of Florida State — which just slipped back in front of Oregon — in the BCS standings, this time to stay.
Which would mean that Florida State could finish undefeated and not play for the BCS title. So could Ohio State. So could Baylor. So, for that matter, could Fresno State and Northern Illinois, but those two earnest strivers aren’t the issue. The point is that not one, not two, but three teams from what are considered “BCS leagues” could go 13-0 and be excluded from what’s billed as the national championship game.
The BCS has had, goodness knows, its addled moments. USC was No. 1 in both major polls in 2003, but wasn’t invited to the “official” title game because Oklahoma, despite a four-touchdown loss in the Big 12 championship, remained No. 1 in the BCS rankings. (Blame the computers.) Two years earlier, Nebraska lost its final regular-season game 62-36 and didn’t grace the Big 12 title tilt, but was allowed to play and lose the allegedly bigger game. (Computers again.)
But those tempests — and the ones in 2000 (Florida State tabbed over Miami, which had beaten the Seminoles), in 2007 (two-loss LSU jumping from seventh to second) and in 2008 (Oklahoma tabbed over Texas, which had beaten the Sooners) — involved teams that weren’t unbeaten. Only in 2004 has the BCS been slapped in the face with three undefeated teams from major conferences, and ask your still-steaming Auburn friends how that played out.
Even 2004, as regrettable as it was, involved only three unbeatens, USC and Oklahoma being the other two. For its final act, the BCS could stand dumbfounded as each of the five major conferences yields an undefeated champ, which would mean that even if 2013 were 2014 and the College Football Playoff was at hand, somebody would still be left with its facemask pressed against the door, watching the favored foursome decide who’s best in the land.
About here, you’re doubtless saying, “Ah, come on. There’s no way five major teams go 13-0. These things always work themselves out.” And sometimes they do. But look at Florida State’s remaining schedule: See any losses there? Florida has a theoretical chance in Gainesville, but Florida’s bigger issue is to get bowl-eligible. Miami could take another shot in the ACC title game, but the Hurricanes just lost to FSU by 27 points. Do we really think a mulligan will help?
Ohio State will play Michigan in Ann Arbor and probably Michigan State for the Big Ten championship, but the Buckeyes have won their five league games by an aggregate 224-92. Baylor remains the unbeaten most apt to fall — it might well lose to Oklahoma in Waco on Thursday night and still must face Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas — but even without the Bears there could easily be four unbeatens at the close of business Dec. 7, and only two would matter.
Alabama will face LSU on Saturday and Auburn on Nov. 30. There’s a chance it might lose one of the above. (Not a good chance, but a chance.) Bama might also lose to someone in the SEC Championship game, but this Tide team has steadied after a shaky beginning and again appears the class of the nation. Despite the stout efforts of Florida State, Oregon has long seemed the second-best team, and if the Ducks can outrun Stanford they figure to run the table.
An Alabama-Oregon BCS title game wouldn’t be an abomination, but it would be unfair to Florida State and maybe even Ohio State. You can beat only the teams you play. If you’re based in a major conference and you beat every team you play, who’s to say you would have no shot against Alabama or Oregon on a neutral field? But that has forever been the glitch in the BCS’ — I use this term loosely — grand design. You have to be given a shot to take your shot.
The BCS came into being as an attempt to placate those howling for a True National Champ but above all keeping the bowl system in its money-minting place. The BCS succeeded only in cheapening those bowls while staging a series of “championship” games that didn’t pass the smell test. The BCS has existed 15 years while satisfying nobody.
The four-team playoff cannot get here too soon, but it might arrive a year too late for Florida State.