Should Oklahoma State Be in the BCS Title Game Instead of Alabama?
Disappointment, frustration, confusion, anger, and even conspiracy theories have precictably permeated certain constituencies in the FBS world after the final BCS rankings were announced last Sunday night. One-loss Alabama was ranked #2 ahead of one-loss Oklahoma State, despite OK State's convincing win over Oklahoma the day before.
OK State fans, OK State coach Mike Gundy, bloggers, certain sportswriters and pundits, and gazillionaire OK State benefactor T. Boone Pickens are insisting that OK State got screwed and should be ranked #2 instead of Alabama, thereby earning the privilege of playing #1 LSU in the BCS title game, primarily because Alabama already lost to LSU on November 5 in the regular season. In the most recent development, a small number of those unhappy individuals are even trying to organize a "boycott" of the BCS title game.
A number of recurring arguments have been made to support OK State's worthiness. Some of them sound good on the surface, but let's dig down and give these arguments a thorough examination.
LSU and Alabama have already played each other, so a rematch is pointless.
You could just as easily argue against postseason rematches in any sport. With playoff systems, rematches are not uncommon and are not viewed negatively. When rematches occur during the postseason in other sports, no one ever says, "These teams already played in the regular season; therefore, the team that lost the first time shouldn't even be playing the regular-season winner in the postseason."
Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated indicates that postseason rematches in the NFL are more defensible because teams that lost to a playoff opponent in the regular season must earn a rematch by advancing through the playoffs, as opposed to being ranked by voters and computers. However, there's no "advancing through the playoffs" if the rematch occurs in the first round. Also, you could argue that Alabama "earned" a rematch by "advancing" through all its games after the LSU loss while other teams (like OK State) lost games during those weeks.
In any event, if the FBS ever implements a playoff system, get ready for more rematches. I hope OK State fans and media pundits will complain about those rematches the same as they're complaining about the LSU-Bama rematch.
The BCS motto is "Every Game Counts." A rematch makes a mockery of that motto.
On the surface, that argument sounds good, but it doesn't really make sense upon examination. The first LSU-Bama game counted plenty. It knocked Bama out of the #2 ranking. The only reason Bama is back in the #2 spot is because all the other games this season counted also, including the games lost by other highly-ranked teams after Bama lost to LSU. It doesn't make sense to say the the motto should apply to Alabama but it shouldn't really apply to other one-loss teams.
LSU already beat Alabama, so if Bama wins on January 9, there will be no clear champion.
Precedent says otherwise. Regular season games are not postseason games. When postseason rematches occur during playoffs in other sports, no one says the regular season results should count more or as much as the postseason results. Unlike a regular season game, when teams play in the postseason everyone knows ahead of time that this is either an elimination game or a championship game. Not so in the regular season.
By the way, I don't remember anyone saying there was no clear champion or that the title should be shared when Florida won the 1996 championship by beating Florida State in the Sugar Bowl after losing to FSU in the regular season. After that 1996 regular-season loss, Florida got back in the championship picture only because other good teams lost key games that knocked them out of contention, much like the situation Bama is in today.
Oklahoma State should play LSU in the title game so fans have a good offensive-defensive match-up. The defensive slugfest on November 5 was boring.
This argument has at least two flaws. Why does having a flashy offense (OK State) make a team more worthy than having the top-ranked defense in the country (Bama)? The BCS title game is supposed to pit the best two teams against each other, not guarantee we have a flashy offense in the game. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, history shows that flashy, non-SEC offenses don't fare very well in championship games when they meet a top-notch SEC defense. (See Miami-Alabama in 1992; LSU-Oklahoma in 2003; Florida-Ohio State in 2006; LSU-Ohio State in 2007; and Florida-Oklahoma in 2008.) Voters in the Harris and coaches polls know this.
The BCS computers ranked OK State higher than Alabama, which proves OK State is better objectively.
The computers are only part of the BCS system, for good reason. Computers can measure strength of schedule and do other number-crunching, but they cannot judge intangibles the way humans can. See the second part of the answer to Argument 4, and replace the final sentence with, "Voters in the Harris and coaches polls know this -- the computers don't."
Alabama couldn't win its own conference, so how can it play for the national championship?
Again, look at the purpose of the BCS title game. The game is not supposed to match up the best two conference champions. Its purpose is to pit the two best teams against each other. This year, the two best teams are from the same conference. There's no way to magically guarantee that the two best teams in the country won't both belong to the same conference.
OK State beat more top-25 teams than Alabama did.
That's one way to compare the teams. To be fair, if we examine the wins, we also have to examine the losses.
The Cowboys didn't lose to any top-25 teams. So far, so good. However, they lost to unranked Iowa State, a team that probably couldn't beat the 2nd string at Bama or LSU. On the other hand, Bama lost to the most dominating team in the country by three points, due mostly to a bad game by Bama's placekicker and one spectacular play by an LSU defensive back that prevented what would have been the game's only touchdown. That's not to diminish LSU's win -- LSU won fair and square. But, that was the only game all season in which LSU was not able to completely dominate its opponent, and it barely eked out a win.
How did OK State fare against LSU? Oh, wait, I almost forgot -- OK State didn't play LSU or anyone like LSU. And, why is it okay to trust the ranking system when comparing OK State's strength of schedule to Bama's, but we can't trust the system to properly rank teams in the #2 and #3 slots? How does that make sense?
Bama had its shot but lost. OK State deserves a chance.
Define what it means to be more "deserving." Is it synonymous with "superior?" The BCS system does not engage in the folly of seeking to reward teams that are more "deserving," whatever that means. The system is designed to rank teams based on superiority, not on which teams are more "deserving" (again, whatever that means).
Besides, it's not the BCS's fault that OK State is not in the title game. The Cowboys have only themselves to blame. OK State was undefeated and ranked ahead of Alabama at 8:15 pm on November 6. OK State would be in the title game if not for losing to an inferior team that it had no business losing to. You can't say that about Alabama. Please let us know how any definition of "deserving" puts OK State in the title game while simultaneously explaining the Cowboys' loss to Iowa State. Remember, if you want every game to count, you have to count the inconvenient games, too.
SEC fans lobbied against Michigan in 2006 because the BCS title game would be a rematch if Michigan had been ranked #2, but they're hypocrites because this time they want a rematch.
It really doesn't matter which fans argue for or against anything. The arguments of fans have nothing to do with BCS rankings. In the end, both in 2006 and 2011, the BCS title game match-up was decided by computer rankings and votes based on which teams were superior, not whether we should have a rematch. In 2006, the computers and voters chose one-loss Florida over one-loss Michigan for valid reasons that were arguably unrelated to anti-rematch sentiment (a claim that was thoroughly validated when Florida pasted Ohio State for the BCS title).
That being said, even if you consider the rematch element, there are distinct differences between 2011 and 2006. In the 2006 season, a rematch made much less sense, not because it would be a rematch, but because Michigan lost to Ohio State in the final game of the regular season, which meant the BCS would have scheduled a rematch of a game that had just been played, with no games in between. This year, Bama played LSU on November 5, with three subsequent games on its schedule. Bama fell out of the #2 spot after the loss to LSU and had to win the rest of its games and benefit from other teams' losses in order to return to #2.
By the way, in 2006, it was Florida coach Urban Meyer (not SEC fans or Bama fans) who lobbied the BCS to rank Florida #2 after Michigan lost to Ohio State. This year, OK State coach Mike Gundy did the same thing. That's what they're supposed to do.
There's obviously a conspiracy against OK State. We need an investigation, like the one T. Boone Pickens called for.
The BCS somehow conspired with Harris and coaches poll respondents to make them vote a certain way? I see. What about the Big 12 conspiracy for Oklahoma to allow OK State to run away with "Bedlam" to help get a Big 12 team into the BCS title game? Lots of dollars for the Big 12 were at stake. Some of those Oklahoma turnovers were pretty suspicious (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Perhaps Pickens should investigate that.
While he's at it, he could also investigate why Bama's 1966 team was undefeated and untied and crushed Nebraska (which was ranked #4 at the time) 34-7 in the Sugar Bowl, yet ended up ranked #3 at the end of the season, while the teams ranked #1 (Notre Dame) and #2 (Michigan State) both had a tie-game on their records and didn't even play bowl games. Could that 1966 conspiracy have happened because Bama won national titles in 1964 and 1965, so voters thought someone else "deserved" the championship for a change? I look forward to Pickens' investigation into that conspiracy. Meanwhile, can we please return to reality now?
There's one more little issue that OK State fans and pundits are complaining about. Alabama coach Nick Saban caused some ire by ranking Stanford #3 and OK State #4 when he voted in the coaches poll, thereby slightly lowering the value of OK State's stock in the final BCS rankings. I'm not defending Saban's decision here; however, virtually everyone will agree that if one-loss Stanford had finished undefeated, they'd probably be playing LSU for the BCS title. So, let's compare losses between Alabama, Stanford, and OK State. Bama lost by three points to everyone's choice for team of the century (at least for now). Stanford's only loss was to Oregon, the Pac 12 champion, currently ranked #5. Then we have OK State's loss to Iowa State, a team that finished unranked with a 6-6 record. In that light, it's not hard to see why someone might rank Stanford ahead of OK State. (Maybe more voters should have done that?) In the end it doesn't matter because the Cowboys would still be #3 in the BCS rankings, even if Saban had voted them ahead of Stanford, so basically the complaint is moot. Also note that the AP poll ranks Alabama #2 and the Cowboys #3, just like the coaches poll, and Saban did not "taint" the AP poll since he has no AP vote.
Let's Wrap This Up
Is the BCS system perfect? Of course not. No system designed by human beings is perfect. The system works well when two teams with strong schedules finish the season undefeated while all other teams have at least one loss. The BCS guarantees that those two teams will play for the national title in a bowl game. Before the BCS, there was no such guarantee.
However, the BCS system is less than perfect when we have more than two such undefeated teams (such as Southern Cal, Oklahoma, and Auburn in 2004) or when the #2 slot must be filled from among two or more one-loss teams that can make a valid case for the #2 ranking (such as this season). On those occasions, someone's always going to be unhappy with the results. However, until we have a playoff system, the BCS is the best we can do. It stands to reason that we'll eventually have a playoff system, but please don't harbor the delusion that controversies like we have right now will simply go away at that point. There will potentially always be a situation where one team makes the playoffs while another team that looks just as good on paper does not get in. A good playoff system should mitigate that possibility to the fullest extent possible. Let's keep a good thought.
Until then, however, we have the BCS title game system. If you don't agree with it, you have to man-up, live with it, and move on. Virtually every major FBS program can point to some season in the past where it feels like it was screwed out of a national title (like Alabama in 1966). If you don't have one of those seasons in your history, you haven't yet hit the big time. So, welcome to the big time, Oklahoma State.