Let’s get this out of the way right now: college football as a organized sport is almost totally broken. It was broken before the BCS, and it will continue to be broken in the playoff when that comes around next year. Fans complain endlessly that nothing is determined on the field, and yet we constantly try to make a case to ignore the only tangible evidence we have in front of us. I am convinced that Ohio State should have played a much closer game against Florida in the 2006 National Championship game, in spite of the only concrete evidence being very much to the contrary. Alabama somehow got the nod to play LSU for the championship in 2011, even though such a game had already been played, and showed that Bama lost. Several teams, like Nebraska in 2001, Oklahoma in 2003, and Bama in 2011 got the opportunity to play for the national championship in spite of the fact that they weren’t even the best teams in their conference. It’s a sport entirely based on feelings, one where we refuse to accept the concrete, because the concrete has been proven wrong just often enough to make us doubt it more than we should.
I don’t believe the playoff will change anything, because it will simply zoom out the debate. Rather than two teams to think about, it will be four. The biggest issue is that there is simply no way to compare teams until a one-time exhibition game played several weeks after the season actually ends. People put an awful lot of stock in bowl games, but the circumstances are just too weird for me to think they mean much. They’re played weeks after the season, they promote bizarre mismatches based on who will sell the most tickets. More than anything, only one of them means anything at all.
Nothing will be fixed in college football until the conferences agree a way to play each other on a regular basis during the season. One good thing a playoff might accomplish is that it would mean a loss might not be as devastating, especially if it expands to eight teams and includes some automatic conference champions as play-ins. As it is, no one at, say, Auburn has any reason to play someone like Stanford. I sure would like to see that game, but conferences don’t generally like running the risk of a schedule blemish against a decent team. Even teams that schedule big tickets will use the rest of their non-conference games for layups and sacrificial lambs, a waste of everyone’s time.
So why do I even pay attention at all? For exhibit A, I would point to this past Saturday of football. It featured the two best rivalries in the sport, both of which played in classics that deserve to go down in history. The earlier game, featuring my Ohio State Buckeyes visiting the hated Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, was a ridiculous offensive display. After Michigan scored the tying touchdown, they lined up for a two-point conversion, when this happened:
It was a game like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen every game in that series since I was a freshman in college. I didn’t think anything could top it, until I saw the final seconds of Auburn and Alabama playing in the Iron Bowl. The Tigers and the Tide had played to a tie when regulation ran out. After challenging the refs and getting one second back on the clock, Bama lined up to kick a very long field goal. You’ve probably seen what happened next, but because it’s one of the best things mankind has ever done, here’s a video so you can watch it again.
College football keeps trying to become a national sport, and in most ways it really is. But really, it’s still a regional product, one that functions best on the conference level because those teams play each other every year. That’s where you have objective results to point to. More importantly, that’s where hatred and tradition builds up, until it explodes in the most passionate intense football ever played. The immediate question after the Ohio State victory was whether their undefeated record was really as impressive as all that, if they won in such a matter against a team like 7-5 Michigan. I think it is, but I’m hardly unbiased. But for just this weekend, it didn’t matter. It was a win against Michigan. That’s nothing compared to what happened at Auburn, where two top five teams faced off, and the underdog got the upset and slew the giant in the most memorable way possible.
No amount of poll punditry or BCS drivel can take those away. I needed this weekend, because college football has been teetering dangerously close to a lost cause for me. It was something that I needed to see, reminding me how much I really love it. It’s a mess mess of a sport, ridiculous, nonsensical, and utterly wonderful.