Monday, November 26, 2012
The Case for Florida
For nearly 15 years, the BCS' aim has been to match up the best two teams in the country to play for a mythical national championship unsanctioned by the NCAA. Often times, the results are doubted by just about everyone with a pulse who knows nothing or everything about football. In fact, it's only the rarest of years, such as 1999 and 2005 when two undefeated major conference teams top the polls, where a relative lack of debate occurs.
This year promises to be one of those rare years. After Notre Dame's 22-13 win against USC effectively clinched its spot in Miami on Jan. 7, the Fighting Irish will almost surely play the winner of next Saturday's SEC Championship Game between Georgia and Florida for the BCS crown. The consensus is that, with Kansas State and Oregon's losses a little over a week ago, the one-loss SEC champion deserves to play for the title.
An SEC team should play the Irish. It just shouldn't be Alabama or Georgia.
This is the point where a big question mark is likely forming over your head, and you're wondering if I'm seriously going to advocate for a Florida team that lost to Georgia or any of the conference's stellar two-loss teams in Texas A&M, LSU or South Carolina. I'm here to tell you that Florida should play for the title. In fact, if the two teams who play for the title are supposed to be teams that have accomplished the most and proven themselves over a full season, Notre Dame and Florida is nearly an obvious matchup to prove the best team under the current system.
As of the most recent AP poll's release on Sunday, Florida has defeated four teams in the top 14 of the ranking, including road wins at Texas A&M and Florida State. To this point, Georgia's one top 25 win is against Florida, and its best road win came at 5-7 Missouri in a game that was far closer than the 41-20 margin indicates. Plus, the Bulldogs barely squeaked by putrid clubs like Tennessee and Kentucky. Alabama's resume is better, with a road win at LSU, but the Tide have just one other top 25 win.
Looking deeper into the one-loss picture, Oregon, after USC and Washington's recent losses, now has one top 25 win. Kansas State's only wins versus top 25 teams are against the Big 12's two Oklahoma schools.
The obvious two-fold arguments against Florida's national title candidacy make them a practical afterthought for the Harris Poll and Coaches Poll voters: the fact that the Gators didn't win their own division in their own conference, and the fact that they lost their only head-to-head matchup against the SEC championship participants/other title game contenders.
There's precedent in the BCS annals for overriding both of those presumptive disqualifiers. In 2001, Nebraska went to the title game Rose Bowl despite losing the Big 12 North to Colorado. In 2008, Oklahoma was No. 1 in the BCS before the bowls, despite losing to Texas in Dallas. And of course, last year, Alabama took advantage of its title shot even though it lost in Tuscaloosa to LSU and failed to win the SEC West.
However, after the indignation that resulted in the Alabama/LSU rematch a year ago, voters were likely going to do everything in their power to prevent a non-division winner from potentially playing for the title again. Also, while Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has improved immensely in 2012, the offense he leads will never be confused with predecessors at the position in Gainesville like Tim Tebow or Danny Wuerffel. Thus, the fact that Florida operates like a Big Ten team with a power rushing attack led by Mike Gillislee and a strong defense has also worked against it with voters. Part of the reason that Oklahoma's 2008 team jumped the Longhorns was that it was not only beating quality opposition, but did it by putting up obscene offensive totals.
In some alternate reality, Ohio State AD Gene Smith would have imposed a bowl ban for the Buckeyes after Jim Tressel's Memorial Day 2011 resignation for that season instead of having it imposed for 2012 by the NCAA. In that case, ESPN wouldn't have been able to naively pretend like Ohio State is somehow an anonymous, unranked team like it has since the BCS standings were first released.
This column could have been about the college football debate to end all debates in the BCS era: whether an undefeated Big Ten team in the ultimate down year for the conference should go to the title game over any of three one-loss SEC teams. Alas, the non-existent debate that should be happening in the next week is about teams' accomplishments. Florida certainly has accomplished enough.