Playoff Danger Is In Selection

There are two Alabama seasons that makes one believe the BCS was better than what we had before. The first is 1966, when the Crimson Tide was the nation's only undefeated, untied team and finished third when the Associated Press fixed its poll. The second is 1977, when the same Notre Dame prejudice denied Bama the crown.

Certainly Alabama benefited over the years from its long tradition and reputation as one of the best in college football. Although the AP had its problems, for the most part Bama got a fair shake in voting by sportswriters and broadcasters.

That causes pause for one of the most troubling aspects of the emerging four-team national playoff. Who is going to choose the four participants?

Hopefully, it won't involve computers, at least non unless the geeks who run them reveal all the input. Last year human voters were overwhelming in their votes that made LSU number one and Alabama number two for the BCS National Championship Game. LSU was unanimous in both human and computer polls, but computer numbers could have cost the Crimson Tide a place in the game.

Regardless of what some thought of Bama being given a second chance, it would be difficult to say that at the end of the 2011 football season, Coach Nick Saban's Crimson Tide was not the best team in the nation.

Now we wonder how the four teams for the playoff will be determined in 2014. One of themost common refrains from those involved in this revolution of college football has been "the devil is in the details." The biggest devil may be in determining the chosen four.

The most frequent assumption seems to be a selection committee, something along the lines of the horrible example set by the NCAA with its basketball selection committee. They say "a few good men," but that's not what it will be. In the interest of all the interests it will be polluted.

Our vote would be against computers and against a selection committee. Take all the human polls available (the AP poll may want to stay out, which makes it nothing more than mildly interesting during the season) and hope for the best. There are no guarantees.

Alabama fans still bristle at the 1966 final poll, which had Notre Dame number one and Michigan State number two. The Fighting Irish went down without a fight at the end of that game, settling for a tie. And yet the voters made Notre Dame number one and Michigan State number two. How could that be if they tied on the field?

Meanwhile, Alabama was going for its third national championship in a row. The mindset of the AP in those days was transparent. In 1964 Bama won the national championship, but bowl games were not a factor in the polls. After Texas defeated Alabama in a controversial Orange Bowl game, the AP decided to wait until after the bowl games beginning in 1965.

So what happened?

Perhaps the most exciting New Year's Day of bowl games ever.

Number two Arkansas was beaten by LSU in the Cotton Bowl. Number one Michigan State fell to UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Thus the Orange Bowl, played at night, pitted number three Nebraska against number four Alabama in a game ballyhooed throughout the evening as the national championship game.

Alabama won, 39-28, and, sure enough, won the AP poll again.

So in 1966 the AP decided that the bowls wouldn't count. Notre Dame wasn't going to bowl games in those days and Michigan State, by an arcane Big Ten rule, could not repeat as Rose Bowl entrant since it tied for the league championship. And, moreover, in those days the Big Ten did not allow teams other than the Rose Bowl representative to go to a bowl game.

And so Alabama marched through the season undefeated, but its record – including its 34-7 thumping of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl – was good enough for only third place.

One reason cited for the snub of 1966 Bama was that the Tide had played a weak schedule. Alabama was criticized particularly for opening the season against Louisiana Tech. Other Bama non-conference games were against Clemson, South Carolina, and Southern Miss.

Alabama's 1977 schedule could not be faulted. Alabama played at number four Nebraska and lost by a touchdown. Bama's next non-conference game was at number one USC, where Alabama upset the Trojans, 21-20. Louisville and Miami were the other non-conference opponents.

Alabama was second going into the final week of play and destroyed Auburn, 48-21. But number three Oklahoma (the preseason number one team) beat Nebraska and moved ahead of Bama.

Going to the bowl games, Texas was the nation's only undefeated team and was ranked first. Behind them were 2. Oklahoma, 3. Alabama, 4. Michigan, and 5. Notre Dame.

Oklahoma was thumped by number six Arkansas in the Orange Bowl.

That seemed to mean Alabama was now number two, and the Tide in the memorable Bear vs. Woody – Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's Alabama against the Ohio State Buckeyes of Woody Hayes – defeated number nine Ohio State, 35-6.

Notre Dame (its piety against post-season participation had been trumped by bowl dollars), however, defeated Texas, 38-10.

Alabama expected to supplant Texas at number one and own the national championship.

Five teams finished with 11-1 records and Notre Dame – in one of the closest polls in history – poll vaulted to number one ahead of Bama.

In hindsight, that would be a costly finish because Alabama would win the 1978 and 1979 national championships.

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