The big question everyone is asking is: what happened to the state of Ohio? Everyone talks about how the Gators demolished the Buckeyes to win the 2006 BCS college football championship. The Gators seemed to be in a different league than the Buckeyes. And the truth is that they are.
The final score of 41-14 makes the match look closer than it was. Half of the Buckeyes’ 14 points came from their opening kickoff comeback. After that play, the Buckeyes were completely dominated in all phases of the game. Florida had 370 total yards versus Ohio State’s 82 yards. Buckeyes Heisman Trophy quarterback Troy Smith limited himself to just 4 completions (2 in each half); 35 passing yards; 1 interception; 0 touchdowns. The BCS championship game was the worst game of Troy Smith’s career.
It’s no coincidence that the National Championship game was also the first time Troy Smith was on the same field with the speed and power of a Southeastern Conference (SEC) football team. I bet a lot of Buckeye players celebrated the day after the game. He celebrated the fact that they will probably never play on the same field again with an SEC team.
There is an old saying that “practice makes perfect”. Playing in the SEC, Florida has a lot of practice. In 2006, the Gators had the toughest schedule in the nation (.643 opponent winning percentage). Florida beat four Top-25 teams (LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee) and lost to a fifth, # 9 Auburn. In addition, they beat four other bowl teams (Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida State). So before last night’s game, the Gators had already played NINE other bowl teams.
Ohio State? Well, the Buckeyes play in the Big Ten and therefore only faced three Top-25 teams for the entire year. They averaged more than 36 points and 410 yards per game against mostly weak opponents. Ohio State just wasn’t ready for the talent and intensity of a team like Florida. Gators defensive end Jarvis Moss said after the game that four or five SEC teams could beat Ohio State. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s true that all nine SEC teams Florida faced (including Vanderbilt) played the Gators harder than Ohio State.
Need more proof that the SEC is in a league of its own? OK Since the advent of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system, the SEC leads all conferences (by a wide margin) with a bowl game record of 10-4 BCS. SEC teams are 3-0 undefeated in BCS National Championship games. In this past college football season, the SEC:
1. Led the nation with six teams in the latest AP Top-25 poll. No other conference had more than four.
2. In the regular season, the SEC had an incredible 41-7 record outside of the conference. This .854 non-conference win percentage was the best in the nation.
3. Had the most bowling teams selected (9) and the highest number of bowling wins (6). No other conference had more than 4 wins. Only the SEC (and Big East) had bowl-winning records. Even the three SEC bowl losses were close games that could have gone either way. Significantly, SEC bowl teams face higher-seeded teams from other conferences. For example, the Chick-fil-A Bowl has agreements with the SEC and ACC to select Team # 5 SEC to face Team # 2 ACC. The Music City Bowl pairs SEC # 7 against ACC # 5. Yet the SEC still dominates the bowls year after year.
The most surprising thing about the National Championship game was not what happened on the field. Most surprising (and terrifying) is that Florida was hardly chosen to play in the game. In the narrower decisions, the BCS barely selected Florida over Michigan to play Ohio State for the National Championship.
Everyone remembers the outcry from our friends from Michigan (and other Big Ten) when Florida was chosen over the Wolverines. Of course, we now also know that Michigan decisively lost to USC in the Rose Bowl.
In hindsight, it’s clear for all to see that Ohio State vs. Michigan in the National Championship game would have been a national disgrace. Unfortunately, the reality is that a similar tragedy happened in the past and will happen again in the future.
Why? Easy. SEC Football is so tough that it is virtually impossible for an SEC team to get through the regular season without at least one loss and almost without losing a few other games. The SEC champion invariably emerges from the crucible of an SEC schedule like a true champion, but bruised and battered. When pollsters and computers are combined to select which two teams will play in the BCS National Championship, a lesser team can appear more impressive than the SEC Champion due to a weaker schedule.
Many experts underestimated Florida this year because they struggled to win multiple SEC games. Another example is 2004 when Auburn was 12-0 in the regular season (13-0 after their bowl win), but failed to qualify for the BCS championship game (Oklahoma was chosen over Auburn because some of the victories Auburn were not perceived as impressive enough).
America was lucky last night that the correct team finished in the BCS Championship Game. But, the BCS system practically guarantees future injustices. A college football playoff system is the only way to really fix the problem.
Well, it is not the only way. Another option would be for the SEC Champion to automatically qualify for the National Championship game. While not the best solution, it would be fairer than the current system.