Marshall: Championship Format Has Issues

Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn and Southeastern Conference football as well as the BCS system in his column.

Georgia is the Southeastern Conference football champion, crowned after last Saturday night's 34-14 beat down of LSU at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Bulldogs everywhere are celebrating today, as well they should.

But the best team in the Southeastern Conference? That's another matter.

Georgia got into the SEC Championship Game because it had the benefit of playing in the East Division and because it did not play either Alabama or LSU from the West in the regular season. The Bulldogs' 6-2 SEC record would have left them tied for third in the West. Had South Carolina not upset Florida on Nov. 12, the Gators would have been playing LSU last Saturday.

The SEC's two best teams over the course of the regular season were LSU and Auburn. There really is no room for debate about that. Both were 7-1 in league play. LSU beat Auburn 20-17 in overtime in Baton Rouge. Auburn, of course, beat Georgia 31-30 in Athens. Auburn played four of the SEC's other bowl teams and beat three. LSU beat the three it played. Georgia was 2-2 against SEC bowl teams.

At the end of the season, the two best teams were Auburn and Georgia. LSU lived on the edge all season and, playing its 11th game without a break, finally fell off. An Auburn-Georgia rematch in the championship game would have been another fight to the finish. We'll never know who would have won.

But the system isn't designed to crown the best team as SEC champion. The system is designed to have a game that makes lots of money. LSU and Georgia were the teams that made it to Atlanta, and Georgia won convincingly. In the system we have, Georgia is a deserving champion.

Although Brandon Cox and his Auburn team did not get a chance to play in the SEC Championship game, the Tigers may have been the best team in the conference in 2005.

It's no different than 2001, when LSU had three losses and knocked off unbeaten Tennessee to claim the championship. LSU wasn't the best team in the SEC in 2001, but it was and always will be the 2001 SEC champion.

Florida State will always be the 2005 Atlantic Coast Conference champion because it beat Virginia Tech last Saturday in the league's first championship game. The Seminoles, blown out in their previous three games, aren't even among the top three teams in the ACC.

Conference championship games are proving to be bad ideas in a lot of ways.

Before Saturday, LSU was ranked No. 3 in the polls and would clearly have been the most attractive SEC bowl team. But because the Bayou Bengals earned a berth in the championship game, by Saturday night they were ahead of only South Carolina in the bowl pecking order and had to settle for the Peach Bowl. If Auburn had made it to Atlanta and lost, it would have been bound for the Peach Bowl instead of the Capital One Bowl.

That's not fair. No team should be penalized for getting to the championship game, but that's what happens more seasons than not when the bowl bids go out. SEC commissioner Mike Slive recognizes that and pleaded with bowl officials to before Saturday to give the loser fair consideration. His pleas fell on deaf ears.

The Big 12 had to be embarrassed by Texas' 70-3 humiliation of Colorado in its championship game. Texas might be the nation's best team, but top to bottom, the Big 12 isn't much.

Moving on...

If I hear one more talking head say the BCS got it right this season, I think I'm going to be sick. Of course the BCS got the Rose Bowl right. There were two teams from BCS conferences with perfect records.

That is no indication at all that the system isn't seriously flawed.

A good start in repairing it would be to do away with the absurd computer rankings that are part of the formula. Slive ought to insist that Jeff Sagarin, who is either biased against the SEC, clueless or both, be eliminated from the process.

But, really, all the computer rankings are silly. There is no legitimate way to measure the strength of college football teams with a computer.

If I were in charge, I'd form a selection committee and go with it. Barring that, I'd use the human polls. Computer programs are for calculations, not for deciding whether the Pac-10 champion is a better football team than the Big Ten champion.

Regardless of the ranking system, it's way past time to go to the so-called plus-one system for deciding the national champion. Last season, that would have meant USC would have played Texas and Auburn would have played Oklahoma, with the winners playing for the championship. This season, it would mean USC playing Ohio State and Texas playing Penn State, with the winners playing for the championship.

That's not a playoff. That's one more game. Why the presidents who ultimately make such decisions are opposed to that is a mystery.

Makes too much sense, I guess.

Until next time...


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