There it was. The Motor City Bowl was on and I was glued to my TV hoping that Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference would manage just one more score. After they did and it was all tied up, I continued to watch as Purdue of the Big Ten drove for one last time and won on a late field goal. The following day it was Texas -vs- Arizona State and then I couldn’t wait until the next day when Maryland was due to play Oregon State and two other games were to take place.
I have no loyalty to any of these teams. I don’t even follow very many of their conferences. Yet here I was following all the results and enjoying all the trappings of the yearly bowl season.What is it that attracts us to these games? Why should we even care about anything associated with a game played between two teams that, in many cases, didn’t even make the Top 25?
In many ways, it is all the flaws of the BCS system that makes bowl season such a success. With records being so important in securing a trip to the lucrative BCS bowls (a la Hawaii and Kansas) there seem to be less and less match-ups between top teams during the regular season. This leaves us hungry for more as we consider the “what if” scenarios of different match-ups.
During the course of this past season, only 5 games were played between teams that were ranked in the Top 25 (at the time they played), but not in the same conference. FIVE GAMES ! Of these games, Louisville, Nebraska, South Carolina and California were featured making even these games questionable in the quality factor. Compare this with NCAA basketball where a team like Nr. 2 Memphis has 4 top 25 teams on their non-conference schedule alone and you can understand why football fans are desparate for more match-ups between top teams.
Of course, basketball teams need to fill about 15 games in the out-of conference agenda where a football team only has 4, but you can still see where this is going. Based on the percentages, there is no comparison between the two sports.
So was it always like this? There are so many more bowl games today than there used to be. How did college football fans survive back in the 1960’s and 70’s without so many marquee match-ups played out on the gridiron?
To answer this I checked out the 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes, arguably one of the greatest college football teams of all time. From 1968 to 1970 a special class of OSU recruits representing the Class of 1970 went 27-2 and won the national championship in their sophmore year. As they only played a 9 game schedule with 2 non-conference games, who did these Buckeyes play to “pad” their ranking? Southern Methodist and Oregon. While Oregon wasn’t a great team that year, they were still a PAC 10 team. Southern Methodist, on the other hand, was a respectable 8-3 and beat Oklahoma in the Bluebonnet Bowl that season.
Compare this with the 2007 version of Ohio State who have played Youngstown State, Akron, Kent State and a hapless Washington team (who they knew were not a likely contender when they scheduled this) and you can understand why fans everywhere are starving to see them play somebody.
Everybody seems to have a plan to “fix the BCS”, but I’m starting to wonder what part of it really needs fixing. When I’m still getting excited about these games and I’m filling in my online predictions there must be something right about the system that’s in place. To suggest anything is wrong is to suggest that fans are losing interest. If anything, all the controversy probably fuels their desire to see some of answers played out on the field. When Boise State beat Oklahoma last year in the Fiesta Bowl it only helped the NCAA generate more interest in games outside of the National Championship game. I’m willing to bet very few people will miss this year’s Sugar Bowl when Hawaii plays Georgia. NCAA executives must have been licking their chops when they put that one on paper.
However, the current system has established that losses are unacceptable risks, so non-conference schedules are becoming less credible. Back in 1968, OSU only played 9 games in the regular season. Today, there is one additional conference game and two more out of conference.
Passing through that juggernaut undefeated is proving more and more difficult as the current season has proven. The one team that accomplished it just happens to be the school with the weakest schedule in all of Division One according to the computer. Our national championship game will feature a team with 2 losses against a 1-loss team with what many to believe zero quality wins. If the 2007 OSU team had played a couple of tougher games outside the Big Ten and lost one of them, they would only be in the Rose Bowl and Illinois would be playing a different day. One must wonder if the Big Ten knowingly stacked the deck to make sure this didn’t happen.
In any case, the result is the same. We’re all watching college football whether we want to admit it or not and since nobody played anybody earlier in the season, we’re getting our fix now.
Alabama -vs- Colorado
Michigan -vs- Florida
Arizona State -vs- Texas
Penn State -vs- Texas A&M
West Virginia -vs- Oklahoma
Pass me the wings and pour me a beer. I’m going to be here awhile.