American football

The moral thing to do

It’s going to be LSU and Alabama. I mean, obviously it is.  And I don’t think we can really call that an injustice.  I’ve been perfectly open that I think a rematch between the two schools is a waste of a national championship game for a number of reasons–because it does a complete disservice to LSU’s regular-season win at Alabama, because Alabama haven’t earnt it, and because it will be, fundamentally, a far less interesting or enticing national championship game than a matchup between LSU and the best non-SEC school would be.

(To be fair, “the best non-SEC school” would still mean “the fourth-best school in the country”.)

But I can’t claim that anyone’s being treated unfairly here; I can’t make an irate argument that someone else is getting dicked over to give Alabama a do-over for the national title and it’s an outrage, dammit!  Because the simple fact is that the reason Alabama are in the title game is because every time there’s another contender to take that number two spot, they keep losing and knocking themselves out of contention–Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, Boise State, Wisconsin.

But I do think there are two scenarios for which we can make a better moral argument than we can for an LSU/Bama title game.  The first is to have Oklahoma State play LSU.  Let me be clear: I don’t think Oklahoma State are a better football team than Alabama.  I don’t think they’re as good a football team as Alabama.  I think if Alabama played Oklahoma State, Alabama would be likely to win.  (Though if the game were at OK State, I’d probably bet on the Cowboys.)

ETA: When I posted this, I totally forgot to point out that Oklahoma State has beaten two top-ten opponents this year, while Alabama has beaten none top-ten opponents.  It was finding out that fact this morning that first turned me from, “Well, I guess it has to be Alabama,” to, “Wait, no–it should be Oklahoma State.”

But I don’t know which of the two is better, because they haven’t played.  I do know that LSU is better than Alabama, because LSU beat Alabama.  An LSU/Oklahoma State title game would then demonstrate either that Oklahoma State is better than both LSU and Alabama, or that LSU is better than both Alabama and Oklahoma State.  In such a scenario, whether or not Alabama is also better than Oklahoma State would be immaterial.

If we really can’t get any team other than Bama into the game, then I think the other scenario should be just not to hold a national championship game at all.  If Alabama were to beat LSU in the title game, then as far as I’m concerned, LSU would still be national champions.  They’d have beaten Alabama at Alabama, and they’d have endured an extra test Alabama didn’t have to face, winning an additional game in the SEC Championship Game.  The additional points Alabama gains by beating LSU on a neutral field shouldn’t be enough to transfer the national championship from Baton Rouge to Tuscaloosa.

One thing I do feel is that all the champions of the BCS, all the guys who scream every season about what a bad idea a playoff would be, should be the ones most decrying the notion of an LSU/Alabama title game.  Their whole argument is, explicitly, “But with the BCS, our regular season is our playoff!”  And rematching LSU and Bama in the title game gives the lie to that.  Alabama lost their “playoff”.  And they lost it at home.  They shouldn’t be getting a do-over.

Or, you know, we could just have a playoff.

I

In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey

I’m not terribly used to any of my teams losing, because it doesn’t happen often. Manchester United haven’t finished lower than second place since 2005 and haven’t finished lower than third place since 1991. The Florida Gators football team lost only two games between January 2008 and October 2010. England are perennially in the top ten–and often the top five–of the FIFA World Rankings.

And yet right now, the Gators haven’t won since 25 September, against the Kentucky Wildcats. Since then, they’ve lost three in a row. They don’t play this weekend, which at least means we probably won’t lose, but it also means that–even if we beat Georgia next week–over a month will pass without a Gator win.

Until mid-week, Manchester United hadn’t won since beating Valencia 1-0 in the Champions League on 29 September. (Oh, how much better things looked for me at the end of September.) Since then, they’ve drawn three consecutive league matches, all against inferior opposition, including one last week, against West Bromwich Albion, that saw them leading 2-0 at halftime.

England haven’t won a competitive match since beating Slovenia 1-0 in June. Granted, they’ve only played two competitive matches since then, but one of those was their Euro 2012 qualifier on 13 October, at home to Montenegro, and produced only a 0-0 draw–which, I expect, will go down as Montenegrin football’s finest hour for quite some time to come.

On Wednesday, United finally broke the rot, beating Bursaspor 1-0 in the Champions League, though I didn’t get to see the match as I forgot to set the tape before leaving with the Boy for school. Ordinarily it’d be rather frustrating to have only beat 1-0 a team who until their Turkish championship last year had never won a single major trophy in their history, but at the moment, I’ll take it. Of course, with the wins over Valencia and Bursaspor both coming in the Champions League, it still means United haven’t won a league match since beating Liverpool 3-2 on 19 September. We’ll see if they can put that to rights at Stoke tomorrow afternoon.

It’s been odd. Surreal. I’m not complaining, and I’m not even really upset. I’m simply having experiences with which I’m unfamiliar.

I’ve got no desire to explore them for any longer than I have to, though.

I

America’s Game

America's GameIt’s difficult to imagine today–when the Super Bowl has become a virtual national holiday and the National Football League is the country’s dominant sports entity–but pro football was once a ramshackle afterthought on the margins of the American sports landscape. Yet in the span of a single generation in postwar America, the game charted an extraordinary rise in popularity, becoming a smartly managed, keenly marketed sports entertainment colossus whose action is ideally suited to television and whose sensibilities perfectly fit the modern age. Pro football’s ascent is an epic American story, and America’s Game does it full justice.

Beginning with the World War II years, when the NFL was fighting for its very existence, Michael MacCambridge traces the game’s grand transformation, with particular attention paid to six key franchises–the Rams, Browns, Colts, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Raiders–and how their fortunes reflected the larger growth of the game itself. Along the way we meet the sport’s legendary architects, men such as Pete Rozelle, George “Papa Bear” Halas, Bert Bell, Tex Schramm, and Lamar Hunt, as well as a wide range of its memorable characters–including Johnny Unitas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Jim Brown, Al Davis, Joe Namath, Bill Walsh and Deion Sanders. In the process we witness the rivalries, the games themselves, and the passion that had made professional football the nation’s signature sport.

As a rule, I’m unattracted to sport writing. I like sports book for reference use, but I don’t typically feel any desire to read extensive prose about the history or theory of sports. I make an exception, though, with America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation, my 38th favourite book, by Michael MacCambridge.

MacCambridge locates the beginning of the NFL’s rise in Cleveland just after the Second World War. The most famous football coach of the period, Paul Brown, has created a team, the Browns, who will so thoroughly dominate the upstart All-America Football Conference that within five years, the AAFC will have to fold due to lack of competition, with three of its teams (the Browns, the Colts and the 49ers) moving on to the NFL. The Browns’ superiority to their AAFC opposition, in the meantime, will have stolen so much of the fanbase of Cleveland’s NFL franchise, the Rams, that Rams owner Dan Reeves insists on moving the team to Los Angeles, taking the NFL for the first time outside the box of East of the Mississippi and North of the Ohio.

The largest section of the book is devoted to the rivalry between the NFL and the AFL in the 1960s, the NFL’s most tenuous period of the postwar era. But the book continues on up through the rest of the twentieth century, always highlighting how the NFL leadership consistently chose the option that would lead to increased interest in their league in the long term, from the creation of the draft in the 1930s (made possible because the owners of powerhouse teams like the Redskins and Bears understood that their teams were better served by losing their competitive advantage), to the creation of the NFL’s scheduling formula in the 1940s and 50s (whereby successful teams face tougher opponents than unsuccessful ones), to the creation of NFL Films.

My background, and my first love in sports, will always be association football in England–the Premier League, the Football League and the FA Cup. As such, I’m used to sports traditions that stretch back into the mists of time, that have been in place since before my great-grandparents were born. The Football League championship was first awarded in 1889; Manchester United were founded in 1878; the Football Association was founded in 1863.

So the newness of much American sport is something I find fascinating. The idea that the Redskins and the Cowboys can contest such a passionate, vitriolic rivalry when I’ve known plenty of people who have been Redskins fans since before the Cowboys existed. The idea that an NFL coach whom I’ve seen coach (Mike Ditka) was hired as the Chicago Bears’ coach by someone who was a delegate to the meeting at which the NFL was founded (George Halas). The idea that names that are intimately bound up with the creation of just what the NFL is today, like Tom Landry and Chuck Knoll, were still coaching in the league when I immigrated to the United States.

The NFL is still so young that it’s possible to feel a sense of contact with its formative era, in a way that it’s not with association football. And in America’s Game, MacCambridge captures that.

I

A modest proposal regarding the profusion of bowl games

With 35 bowl games this year, the NCAA is worried that it might have to pit losing teams against each other in some of them. I’d like humbly to submit a possible solution: allow the top teams to play two, or in certain cases three, bowl games.

Here’s how it could work. You know, just hypothetically. We could take the No. 1 and No. 8 teams in the country, and the No. 2 and No. 7 teams, and the No. 3 and No. 6 teams and No. 4 and No. 5 teams, and have them play each other in four of the meaningless, mid-December bowls that no one cares about–say, the New Mexico Bowl, the Humanitarian Bowl, the New Orleans Bowl and the St Petersburg Bowl.

Then, we could take the four winners from these games, and let them play in a pair of New Year’s Day bowls–since I’m not a control freak or anything, I’ll refrain from suggesting how we should match the four teams up.

Then we’d have two winners from those games, and a National Championship Game on 8 January that still needs a pair of participants. Hmm.

Whaddaya say, NCAA? Makes a lot of sense, right? After all, it’d reduce the number of teams needed to fill all the bowls from seventy to 64. I’m just trying to solve your problem for you.

I

Moving along

Losses don’t bother me.

When I was fifteen, Manchester United were poised to make history and win a second consecutive Double–which would have made them not just the first club to win back-to-back Doubles, but the first club to have won the Double more than once at all.* Blackburn Rovers’ comprehensive loss at Liverpool on the last weekend of the League season meant that United only needed to win at West Ham to win the League championship.**

And yet, despite the ball spending pretty much the entire last fifteen minutes of the match in West Ham’s penalty area, United were unable to grab a winner. The match finished at 1-1; United finished second to Blackburn in the League.

The following week offered redemption, though, when United played Everton in the FA Cup final. Winning the Cup wouldn’t be near as sweet as winning the League, but it was still the Cup. And a ninth FA Cup win would make United the club to have won more FA Cups than any other, an honour they held jointly with Spurs at the time. Man United were prohibitive favourites for the match; Everton had only narrowly escaped relegation. This was, in fact, the season whose first few months had given rise to the joke What does a compass have in common with Everton Football Club? They both have four points.

You can, of course, guess what happened. Everton won 2-0. United had spent the entire season on the verge of history; they finished it with nothing.

We watched that Cup Final at the Rose and Crown on Seminole Boulevard. Afterwards, my parents spent the afternoon there drinking and talking with a pair of Everton supporters who were, understandably, rather boisterous. My main memory of the afternoon is that periodically, pretty much everyone–my parents, friends of my parents, United supporters, the two Everton supporters–would turn round and me and tell me it would be all right, it was just a game.

I don’t … have any idea whatsoever what they were possibly on about. Not that I don’t understand what “it’s just a game” means–I don’t get what else I was supposed to think it was. We’d lost. Big deal. That’s why they do these things every year. Only one team can win each competition each year; for anyone who wasn’t a Blackburn or Everton supporter, like me, it was simply time to start hoping for next year.

During the game, I get really involved. I cheer, I sit tensely, I sometimes snap at people who remain oblivious to the gravity of certain situations. During the season, I can be giddy with possibility–of the Gators winning a second consecutive national championship, of United winning the Quadruple or consecutive League championships or becoming the first club of the Champions League era to win consecutive European Cups. Of Bradford City not sucking. If my teams are on a high, I let my hopes run wild.

But then my hopes get dashed. Now, I’m a Gators fan and a Man United supporter, so they get dashed a lot less often than they do for supporters of other teams–but they still get dashed more often than they don’t. In the twelve college football seasons since I matriculated at the University of Florida, the Gators have won two national championships and three SEC championships. That’s more successful than anyone other school except LSU (who are the only other school to have won two national championships, and have also won three SEC championships, during the same period), and yet it still means that there have been ten seasons when the Gators weren’t national champion, and nine seasons when they weren’t even SEC champion.

And in the fourteen seasons since Blackburn beat United to the 94/95 championship, United have won the European Cup twice. Amongst English clubs, only Liverpool have been crowned champions of Europe during that time, and they’ve only done it once, so two European Cups is nothing to sneeze at. But it still makes twelve seasons when United’s Champions League campaign ended in disappointment, generally at the hands of teams United should have beaten. (Actually, it’s just eleven times, since United didn’t even qualify for the 1995/96 Champions League.)

And every time, my reaction has been a few moments of disappointment, and then I say to myself, “Oh, well,” and it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m not saying I never get affected by a loss, because sometimes I do.

But I know people who get really bothered by it. I know people who got pretty down after Florida’s distressingly thorough loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game the day before yesterday. And I’m not going to criticise that, because I don’t (generally) judge how other people enjoy themselves. (Well, okay, I totally do, but I don’t comment on it.) But I don’t understand it.

After all, we’ll get ’em next year.

I

*The Double, with a capital D, is the League Championship and the FA Cup won by the same club in the same season. Prior to United’s 1994 Double–the first of three the club won in the 1990s–it had been achieved only five times: by Preston North End in 1889, Aston Villa in 1898, Tottenham Hotspur in 1961, Arsenal in 1971 and Liverpool in 1986. United have so far won the Double in 1994, 1996 and (as part of the Treble, with the European Cup) 1999. Arsenal have also won a second and third Double, in 1998 and 2002, respectively.

**Which would not only have sewn up the first half of the Double, but would also have made them just the fourth club in history to win three consecutive League championships (after Huddersfield Town in the 1920s, Arsenal in the 1930s and Liverpool in the 1980s). Perhaps I’m going into too great detail here, but I want to stress how close United were to really, truly writing themselves into the history books.

Identity manoeuvres

When my friends talk about to people who don’t know me (which they apparently do with unsettling frequency), they usually describe me, amongst other things (I assume), as British. I describe myself to others as British.

But of course, I’m not British. Or not just British, anyway. Not even mostly British. I’m mostly American. I’ve lived in the United States since 1987. And when I go to England, I’m not really British for most purposes; I’m much more considered American. I suppose if I travelled outside the United States and the EU, I’d be some weird Anglo-American hybrid. Canadian, I guess.

That British part of me is very important to me, and it’s a part I’m at pains to preserve. It would be very easy to lose touch with it, living in northern Virginia and not really having any contact with any Britons other than my parents, so I have to make sure that I go to the effort necessary to keep those elements of Britain that are important to me or that I like a lot in my life.

For the most part, Britain and America can coexist perfectly happily in my life; so long as the British is there, I don’t worry that the American being there too is somehow going to edge it out. I love barbecue; eating barbecue doesn’t somehow stop me drinking Ribena. I’m a big fan of American football; that doesn’t stop me also loving proper football. And if I have a son who thinks the sport the Florida Gators play is called “soccer”, and who throws his hands above his head whenever Manchester United score and shouts, “Touchdown!”? Well, them’s the breaks.

Sometimes, though, I don’t get that luxury. There are times when I don’t get to have both; I have to choose. In such instances, unless I have a marked preference for the American, I’ll almost always choose the British one. The best example of this is probably the area of language. Probably most people who read this blog have noticed words like humour, theatre (when I’m talking about a place where plays are performed, of course; a place where movies are shown is a cinema), learnt, alphabetise and aluminium. I don’t use these words because I think British English is any better than American English*; I use them because it’s a way of keeping touch with where I’m from.

The irony, of course, is that nowadays my spelling is probably much more “British” than you’ll find in Britain, since the Internet age has led to the merger of a great many of the old differences in our common language.

Anyway, I’m not sure where I go from here, so I guess I’ll just sign off. Cheerio.

I

*You ever want to poke the bear, you should see how friggin’ annoyed I get when people claim that British English is somehow older than American English (as a way of claiming precedence for British English).

A worthy successor to Phil Fulmer, at least in terms of blithering idiocy

Lane KiffinHonestly, it’s very rare that I take pleasure in Florida beating a specific team. For me, an outlook dominated by rivalries is a sign that the rivalries are all you have to play for, that you’re a smalltime team.* But we are Florida. We play for bigger things. We play for SEC championships and national championships, and every win is important to us. Beating Charleston Southern is just as important as beating Florida State, because losing either game has an equal chance of keeping us out of the national championship game.

But I confess, I’m going to enjoy the shellacking the Gators will give Lane Kiffin and his Tennessee Volunteers in Gainesville this afternoon.

I’m really looking forward to embracing some of the great traditions at the University of Tennessee, for instance the Vol Walk, running through the T, singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year. It will be a blast.
–Lane Kiffin, at the press conference introducing him as the new Tennessee head coach last winter

Let’s remember the context of that remark. As Vols head coach, Kiffin succeeds Phil Fulmer, the single greatest head coach in Tennessee history. A coach who gave Tennessee their only perfect season, 13-0 in 1998, when they won one of the school’s only two national championships. A coach who finished his Tennessee career on a four-game losing streak to the University of Florida–a streak that’s still active for Tennessee, and should extend to five games this afternoon. A coach who lost to Florida again, and again, and again, for two decades. But Lane Kiffin’s gonna change all that. Sure.

He’d already look pretty stupid just for saying that. But then came National Signing Day, when Kiffin decided he was going to “turn Florida in right now right here in front of” an assembled group of Tennessee boosters. Urban Meyer was cheating, Kiffin said–in violation of the rule prohibiting contact with a recruit while that recruit was visiting another school’s campus, Meyer had spent Nu’Keese Richardson’s visit to Knoxville ringing him constantly on his cellphone.

Except, of course, that that isn’t cheating, because no such rule exists. Way to go, Lane.

By contrast, let’s look at all the ways Kiffin himself has cheated in the few short months he’s been Tennessee head coach, even without Tennessee having played a game. At least, all the ways he’s cheated and been caught. At least, I think these are all the ways, but honestly at this point there are so many, and no one seems to be keeping a master list, so it’s entirely possible I’ve missed one:

1. Tennessee decided to give their recruits a taste of what it’s like to be a Tennessee Volunteer on game day, breaking out the fog machine and have them run onto the field.

2. Then the recruits got to feel what the adulation is like after a game as well, by participating in a mock news conference.

3. In a radio interview Kiffin sang the praises of visiting recruit Bryce Brown by name, something prohibited when speaking of uncommitted players.

4. In May, Kiffin announced via tweet that JC Copeland had committed to the University of Tennessee, before Copeland had in fact signed his National Letter of Intent.

5. And then. And then. AND THEN. This one is my favourite. In June an ESPN crew visited Kiffin in Knoxville to tape a story about his fast-growing track record of continued violations. As part of this story, Kiffin allowed ESPN to tape (and then broadcast) himself meeting with recruits, in flagrant violation of the rule prohibiting a media presence during meetings between recruits and coaching staff. In a news story about how he was trying to overcome his history of recruiting violations, Lane Kiffin committed another recruiting violation.

There’s not a 6. on this list, because it turns out “Calling someone with a much more impressive track record than you a cheat when they weren’t breaking the rules, when in fact you’re the one who’s cheating,” isn’t actually a recruiting violation. Maybe the rule makers thought that one went without saying.

I think what sums Lane Kiffin up best is that he is so dumb, and so unjustifiably impressed with himself, that he makes even the Oakland Raiders look sane and competent:

Lane Kiffin is a flat-out liar. He lied to the team, he lied to the fans, and he lied to the media. He will try to destroy that university like he tried to destroy the Raiders, and will eventually clash with [Pat] Summitt and [Bruce] Pearl. Other than that, the Raiders can say nothing further.

(I really love that last line there. “Other than that, the Raiders can say nothing further.”)

Two of my most important rules as a sport fan are that I never let Florida’s rivalry games take precedence over the ultimate goals of SEC and national championships, and I never assume a game’s been won before it’s been played.** Today I’m breaking both those rules–and I’m going to enjoy it.

Go Gators!

I

*This rule crystallised for me in December 2006, when Florida basketball had just begun the first of two seasons as defending national champions. I discovered that one of the new hires at work was a Florida State grad–up here in the DC Metro area, both Gators and Seminoles are rather rare. So I immediately smiled and said, “Ha. I went to UF.”

He snorted. “We just beat you in basketball.”

“Well,” I said, obviously not caring, “we’re still the national champions.”

He reacted with disbelief, completely mystified that I would find this relevant. “Oh come on, I think we can all agree which is the better position to be in. I know I’d much rather be the one who’s just won a game played just now than the one who won something months ago.”

I actually laughed at that. “Well yeah,” I said, “because you’re a Florida State fan. You have nothing but the individual games to play for. We’re Florida. We play for bigger things.” And that’s exactly the terms in which I’ve described it ever since.

**Actually, I never assume a game’s been won till I see how the second half starts. However well one team did in the first half, the other team can always match it in the second.

On the horns of a cruel dilemma

Charles ILisa’s parents have come into town in anticipation of the happy event, and while we’re all waiting (Lisa), they and Boy have been having a great time hanging out together. Lisa and I have had quite a lot of time to ourselves; last night Boy even spent the night at his grandparents’ hotel.

This afternoon, Lisa’s dad is taking Boy while Lisa goes out shopping with her mum. This leaves me alone in the house for the last time for–well, for possibly ever. So of course, I should be hunched over the keyboard, taking this opportunity to write my like life depends on it.

But man, it’s the very first day of the new college football season. It’s noon now. I could watch Ohio State v Navy, then go straight into Georgia v Oklahoma State, then go straight into Alabama v Virginia Tech, then go straight into Washington v LSU, and go to bed around two o’clock in the morning.

On the one hand, who knows when I might get a chance to write again?

On the other, I wonder if I really have any possibility of accomplishing anything. Writing is a momentum thing. I won’t have a chance to establish any rhythm before Girl enters our lives.

Back to the first hand, I haven’t done any substantive writing (apart from a highly concentrated burst of revisions right after getting back from England). I’d really like to do some and don’t know when I’ll get to again.

Once more progressing to the second hand, this is the first day in a week that it’s too hot to go out and write on the balcony. It’s going to be 87 Fahrenheit today; all this week it hasn’t got above 76. Dampens my excitement.

And yet back at the first hand, it’s not like I’m passing up a Gator game. The University of National Championships aren’t on TV today–at least, not where I am–and don’t seem to be anywhere on the Internet that’s accessible to me, either.

Talk about a Scylla and Charybdis. Sometimes life just sucks. Alexandre Dumas never had to deal with a wonderland of college football on telly.

I

Will the real fourth best quarterback in the Big 12 …

… please stand up?

(As always, if reading this on the Facebook feed, you’ll need to head over to the original post to watch the embedded video.)

To the fans and everybody, I’m sorry. I’m extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida’s never done here. But I promise you one thing: a lot of good will come out of this. You have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season and you’ll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season and you’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season. God bless.

–Timothy Richard Tebow, 27 September 2008

If you look at the three best quarterbacks in the country, they came from the Big 12. … Yeah, I think our quarterbacks are better. Just the way they conduct themselves and how they play on the field. I just think playing against those guys, it’s a lot harder to prepare for those guys than it is for Tebow. … With us being in Florida and playing against Florida, everybody is going to think Tebow should have won the Heisman. But the right person won the Heisman and we’re going to show everybody the reason why he won it. … He [Tebow] said he wanted to face a Big 12 defense. It’s been great listening to all the comments they’ve been making. On January 8, we’re going to see.

–Dominique Franks, Oklahoma cornerback, 4 January 2009

When we win, we don’t want any excuses.

–Dominique Franks, explaining why he hoped Percy Harvin would be one hundred per cent healthy for the National Championship Game between Florida and Oklahoma on 8 January.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just a young guy who doesn’t know any better.

–Brent Venables, Oklahoma defensive co-ordinator, attempting to explain why one of his players would be stupid enough to piss off Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators, 4 January 2009.

I

At least in the end, Oklahoma put up more of a fight than Ohio State or Florida State did.


Photo SharingVideo SharingPhoto Printing

Photo SharingVideo SharingPhoto Printing

The annual college football playoffs post

Before we get to more annual daydreaming about college football deciding their national championship on the field rather than in the polls, a note about college football in the real world: this season we have the possibility of a split national championship. There are many who think Texas should have received a place in the national championship game ahead of Oklahoma; after all, both teams have only one loss and Oklahoma’s one loss came to Texas. On Fox’s BCS selection show, as soon as Texas’s place in the Fiesta Bowl was announced (against Ohio State), the commentators raised the possibility of Texas winning half the national title should they have an emphatic win in that game.

That’s only realistically possible if it’s Oklahoma who win the national championship game. A split national title hinges on the AP poll voting for a different team than the one who wins the national championship game, since the national championship game winner automatically receives the no. 1 spot in the coaches’ poll. And Florida might be no. 2 in the BCS standings and in the current coaches’ poll, but they are solidly no. 1 in the AP poll right now (fifty first-place votes, with nine first-place votes for Oklahoma and six for Texas). Voters tend to vote the same way in the latest poll as they did in the prior one when the teams they’ve voted for have won, so no matter how well Texas does, Florida will still have a lock on the AP poll when we beat Oklahoma.

And now, onto the better system: the putative college football playoffs. To sum up my system: an eight-team playoff, with five automatic bids being distributed to the six BCS conference champions (whatever champion has the lowest ranking in the final BCS standings is excluded). The remaining three bids are allocated to the three highest-ranked teams who didn’t also win a BCS conference championship. After the Big XII got three bids last year, I instituted a new rule, one also used by the real BCS: no conference can have more than two bids. This is because part of the playoffs’ attraction is the cross-sectional matchups, having teams from different parts of the country face off against each other to see how their different styles compare in a way we don’t get to see now. When almost half of the playoff field comes from the same conference, what we get instead is an endless series of rematches between teams who already played each other in the regular season.

You can see what such a playoff system would have looked like in 2007, 2006 and 1998-2005.

And this year:

Quarterfinals:
No. 12 Cincinnati Bearcats (11-2), Big East Champion, at No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1), Big XII Champion
No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions (11-1), Big Ten Champion, at No. 2 Florida Gators (12-1), SEC Champion
No. 6 Utah Utes (12-0), at large, at No. 3 Texas Longhorns (11-1), at large
No. 5 Southern Cal Trojans (11-1), Pac-10 Champion, at No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1), at large

Semi-finals:
Southern Cal or Alabama at Cincinnati or Oklahoma
Utah or Texas at Penn State or Florida

Excluded team: No. 19 Virginia Tech Hokies (ACC Champion)

So, what have we got here? Well, this is probably the best field of eight college football has managed since the BCS’s first year in 1998. An undefeated mid-major (mid-major being college sports’ way of referring to minor teams) and six one-loss major schools. And the field is even deeper than that, giving the lie to an oft-voiced objection to college football playoffs, that it would devalue the regular season–the next two teams who didn’t make it into the playoffs are another one-less major (No. 7 Texas Tech) and another undefeated mid-major (No. 9 Boise State).

Of the seven games in this playoff series, the only one that looks even remotely disappointing is the quarterfinal rematch between Oklahoma and Cincinnati (the Sooners beat the Bearcats 52-26 on the first weekend in September). But then again, the first-round game between the highest seed and the lowest seed shouldn’t be any tournament’s marquee matchup, should it. But elsewhere in the quarterfinals–for everyone who wonders how undefeated Utah would do against the true big boys of college football, they don’t come much bigger than Texas. And we have a meeting between two of the truly great names of the sport, Southern Cal and Alabama. And look at those semi-finals–Texas at Florida; USC or Bama at Oklahoma. No more arguing about which one-loss team is better after those get played out on the field.

Go Gators!

I

No picture on this post. I really wanted a picture of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops in orange and blue from back when he was UF’s defensive coordinator, but Google Images is giving me no love.

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