This Saturday brings one of the top college football match-ups of the season and with it the first round of playoffs for the sport.
What’s that? You didn’t think there were playoffs in college football? You thought that conference leaders and university presidents were so concerned with the revenue driven by the current bowl system that they squelch even the mention of playoffs with bluster about how they will never happen? Well, you’re right. Technically.
However, because the Powers That Be either can’t or won’t figure out a profitable way to pull off playoffs, we’re left with playoffs that start the third game of the season.
All right, all right, so technically, this isn’t a “playoff” game. However, given that a single loss is often enough to disqualify teams from the national championship game, this Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Southern California holds all of the must-win implications of a playoff game.
It’s terrific drama. Just the best. I mean, this situation is exactly what the BCS has in mind when they argue – with a straight face – that post-season playoffs would “devalue” regular season games.
And they’re right. You can’t beat this! Two national powerhouse teams from two national powerhouse conferences duking it out with their entire season on the line. This, yes, this is the zenith of the college football season. Who cares that USC quarterback Mark Sanchez is still shaking off the rust from an pre-season knee injury? Who cares that Heisman Trophy candidate Chris “Beanie” Wells is dinged up and likely won’t be 100-percent? Who cares that the best team either USC or Ohio State has played so far is the University of Virginia, whom the Trojans smeared 52-7. Other candidates included such juggernauts as Ohio and Youngstown State. For those unfamiliar with college football, compared to Ohio State, Ohio and Youngstown State are about as daunting as a pair of gimpy toy poodles.
If you’re looking for another non-conference game to rival Ohio State-USC, you might find one contender – Georgia-Arizona State on Sept. 20. Unless there are some radical shakeups in the polls, searching for a juicy non-conference match-up after Sept. 20 would be about as fruitful as Oedipus looking for the New World. After that weekend, nearly every game featuring two ranked teams will be the result of mandatory scheduling through conference play.
I give both USC and Ohio State a lot of credit for scheduling a difficult non-conference game like this. It’s a rare occurrence these days because by doing so, both programs put their seasons on the line.
Of course, whoever wins this Saturday’s main event will be the No. 1 team in the country. Sorry, Oklahoma – maybe you should have scheduled a ranked non-conference opponent this season.
But maybe the Sooners are smart for playing it relatively safe by opening their season with a slate of Chattanooga (clearly a cupcake), Cincinnati (an upstart with some success in 2007) and Washington (who has beaten one ranked team – Boise State last season – since 2003). You see, the loser of the USC-OSU game will have a huge climb ahead of them. Whoever loses will likely have to defeat three other ranked teams and hope their BCS Championship competitors slip up in order to keep their title hopes alive.
Since the 2002 season, no team has won a championship after losing a non-conference game. So why schedule tough ones? During the 2004 season, neither Oklahoma nor USC played a non-conference opponent that finished the season ranked. Ditto for Florida during their championship run in 2006.
The Gators pasted the Buckeyes in the National Championship game, so it’s not like they couldn’t beat a top non-conference team, but why risk it? Why make your road tougher when the BCS incentivizes non-conference cakewalks? Who cares that there are increasingly fewer chances to accurately gauge conference strength? Who cares that the national championship has often resulted in a mismatched blowout? Who cares that to cap the aforementioned 2004 and 2006 seasons the national championship game was decided by a combined 63 points? Hope those primo non-conference games satiated all you fans looking for a good game those years.
Scheduling a Top 10 non-conference opponent shouldn’t equate to playing Russian roulette with your post-season chances. If the upper echelons of college football actually value epic regular season match-ups like OSU-USC, they ought to realize that by maintaining the status quo and banishing any thought of playoffs they’re only further discouraging match-ups of this sort.
But will that cry carry over the cha-ching of the BCS cash registers? I tend to doubt it.
College football fans: Savor this Saturday night.
Further Tweezing: Another sign that the college football system is broken? Notre Dame received three votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll, which figures into the equation that chooses the teams for the national title game. Those votes came after beating San Diego State – a team that gave up more then 400 yards of offense and lost to Division I-AA school Cal Poly in week one – by a mere eight points. Look, I love the Irish as much as anyone, but whoever voted for Notre Dame after that awful debut last Saturday should be stripped of their status as a voter. I swear even Touchdown Jesus put his arms down to hide his eyes on a few occasions.