Ode To The BCS
By Bill Gelman
Kickoff Countdown: Two Days
Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a seven-day series designed to sustain college football fans until North Carolina and South Carolina kick off the season Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. ET. We've looked at the best, underrated and worst statesfor producing FBS talent, reflected on our favorite tailgating memories, given you a printable schedule guide to the 2013 season, ranked every FBS starting quarterback and offered you conference-by-conference bold predictions. We'll also provide a comprehensive food guide for every school (Wednesday).
In the not-too-distant future, the book on the Bowl Championship Series will be permanently sealed.
The debate on whether the system worked or didn’t work will continue for decades. On paper, the concept of a five-game showcase in which No. 1 and No 2 meet for the national championship was enough to capture the attention of the nation. Then, as a strong supporting act, eight other highly-touted schools were pitted against one another in a series of games known as the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls (sponsors not included). The location of the National Championship Game has rotated among the four BCS sites with the Rose Bowl next in line for hosting duties.
But the system also had its flaws. Essentially, one game decided the national champion.
Granted, football isn’t one of those sports where teams can take the field on a Thursday night and return two days later for a semifinal contest. But wouldn’t it be exciting to see, in true NCAA Tournament fashion, a national quarterfinal in which the No. 8 team upset the No. 1 team?
Some of the scores, when talking about the No.1 versus No. 2 scenarios, weren’t what one would consider glued-to-the-screen, can’t-stand-the-suspense results.
Take January’s National Championship Game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Notre Dame. There was plenty of hype for what seemed like it would be a close contest. The 42-14 Alabama victory painted a completely different picture. Alabama pretty much sealed their second-consecutive crowning moment by halftime with a commanding 28-0 advantage. Of the four BCS Games, only one — the Rose Bowl — was decided by single digits. Stanford defeated Wisconsin, 20-14.
Rewind to January 2012 and the showdown between Nick Saban’s current Alabama team and his former LSU squad, which was a little more of a defensive battle for the first half. The Tide only led 9-0 after two quarters, but the final score was another one-sided result with Alabama winning 21-0.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s look at the BCS model from 2007, when the National Championship was added. The average margin of victory in what is considered the biggest game of the season is 16.8 points. Only one, the ’11 showdown in which Auburn defeated Oregon, 22-19, did a field goal separate the winner from the loser. Remove that game from the slate and the average margin of victory increases to 19.1.
But the selection formula comes down to pure numbers, and the body of work that each program presents to the selection committee.
There's the added element of factoring in the at-large bids with the conference champions from the marque conferences: Atlantic Coast, American Athletic (formerly the Big East), Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences. Each year, before bowl season begins, ESPN airs a selection show to announce the schools for all of the postseason games, not just BCS.
It never seems to have the same did-they-make-it drama as the NCAA Tournament’s selection Sunday. It’s great for college football fans as the smaller, non-BCS bowls serve as the build-up for the first week of the New Year, in which the 10 chosen teams battle it out in a series of events spread from coast-to-coast. The great thing about the current model is all of the big games were broken up from the earlier, what now seems ancient, version in which everything was crammed into Jan. 1.
Each of the BCS games now has its own moment in the spotlight. The Rose Bowl is locked into its late New Year’s Day afternoon slot in which the Pac-12 champion traditionally squares off against the Big Ten’s top team. Then in prime time, the action moves back East to Miami for the Orange Bowl. It’s followed by the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and the Fiesta Bowl one night later. On Jan. 6, the action returns to Pasadena for what will be known as the last BCS National Championship Game.
The final game, no matter who makes it, will serve as the fond farewell to a system that had positives and negatives, but in the end, served its purpose.