MULE’: College Football’s Ongoing Argument
While the BCS is flawed, it’s better than past systems
by Marty Mule’
Tiger Rag Feature Columnist
The college football postseason has, almost from the beginning, engendered arguments.
This year it’s whether Texas, which defeated Oklahoma and has the same record as the Sooners, should be in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida.
But think back, say 20 years.
The same season – and scenario then would have been that Texas and Alabama should be playing for the national title instead of in their respective anchor bowls – the Longhorns in the Cotton and Bama in the Sugar – and then letting sportswriters and coaches vote on who looked the best – and thus would be crowned the No. 1 team in the land.
The BCS may not be perfect, but it is infinitely better than what we had, strictly opinion, complete with all the regionalism and biases sports can fire up.
The Sugar Bowl, about to kickoff for the 75th time, has been the launching pad for 22 national champions, more than any other postseason game. But there have been some major injustices meted out to Sugar Bowl participants, too. Strangely enough, teams from the Capstone State seem to be the most obvious.
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Alabama lays claim to some dubious titles. As Bear Bryant once said, “We’ll claim a title if a Laundromat in Tuscaloosa says we’re No. 1.”
But the Crimson Tide, who played Ohio State in the 1978 Sugar Bowl had a legitimate argument.
Ranked third entering the game, Bama routed 8th-ranked Ohio State 35-6. On the same day second-ranked Oklahoma was trounced by Arkansas 31-0 in the Orange Bowl, and 5th-ranked Notre Dame upset Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
The amazing thing about Bama’s convincing victory was that the Tide fumbled 10 times and still won by 29 points. How could that happen? Tide tackle Lloyd David Sadler felt it was because there simply was no better team. “Anyone who doesn’t vote for us,” he said with an eye toward the next day’s final balloting after finding out in the Cotton Bowl Notre Dame beat Texas, the only team ahead of the Tide in the poll, “isn’t voting with a clear conscience.”
Except there were those who voted – as there always were – with less than a clear conscience.
“Everything Coach told us turned out to be right – except the vote,’’ said Alabama linebacker Barry Krauss of the 1978 bowl sequence. “He told us we had to beat Ohio State convincingly. He said Oklahoma would lose, Michigan would lose, and Notre Dame would beat Texas. We just looked at him, feeling it couldn’t all happen like he said. Damn if it didn’t.
“Man, I was driving home, sure we’d be national champions. Then we go and get ripped off.”
The victory Bear Bryant forecast for the 5th-ranked Irish over then No. 1 Texas catapulted Notre Dame into the top spot in both polls while Alabama inched to No. 2, forcing a lot of people to wonder if the pollsters voted for the name rather than the game.
It is fair to speculate that had the positions been reversed – Notre Dame No. 3 and Alabama No. 5 – before the bowls, and if the Tide beat No. 1 Texas 38-10, it would not have leapfrogged the Irish to the top.
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Five years later it was Auburn who was victimized by raw politics.
The War Eagles, ranked third, had played a murderous schedule that included nine bowl teams, a schedule in which Auburn opponents won a cumulative 70 percent of its games, a schedule that still ranks among the top five in the history of the NCAA.
And, after beating Michigan 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl, Auburn was left with an 11-1-0 record – same as Miami, a team which racked its victories against a Sun Belt Conference-type schedule. But rose to fifth before playing Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Georgia opened the door for all the contenders by beating previously No. 1-ranked Texas, and the Hurricanes, who had been lobbying for a No. 1 vote if they won weeks before the Orange Bowl, nipped the Cornhuskers 31-30.
Miami leaped from fifth place to No. 1.
Though they both had the same 11-1 record, Miami’s was to Florida, 28-3, the worst smudge on the resume’ of any team to be named national champion. Auburn’s was to Texas, by any measure a Top 5 opponent. Also, it should be noted, Auburn beat Florida 28-21.
Then, as now, technology trumps human fraility almost every time.
The only poll that had Auburn on top at the end was the New York Times’, in which, rare at the time, a computer was fed information and came up with its ranking.
“I kinda like that computer,’’ Dye said wryly.
A mind picture was painted in Alabama when one group of Auburn students burned large replicas of the Associated Press and United Press International polls while another group of students had its head buried in the sports section of a Yankee newspaper.
The underlining caption read: “Auburn, Ala., where everyone reads the New York Times.”
Marty Mule’ can be reached at MJM981two@Charter.net.