Rea's Say: Did The BCS System Get It Right?

Today's column takes the microscope to LSU in terms of how it got to the BCS National Championship Game and its supposed invincibility. We also have some thoughts on the Kirk Herbstreit-Les Miles story as well as the regular features: Random Thoughts, news from Around The Country and a check on the Fearless Forecast as well as a postseason lineup.

I have no idea whether or not the BCS "got it right" by having Ohio State and Louisiana State in its national championship game. I do know this: I don't like the way the system played itself out in the media this year.

It's easy to forget amid all of the hot air exhausted over the airwaves last Saturday night, but all Missouri and West Virginia had to do was take care of business to get their free tickets to New Orleans. But when the Tigers were rolled by Oklahoma and the Mountaineers were thwarted as much by their quarterback's dislocated thumb as anything Pittsburgh did to them, the talking heads couldn't line up quickly enough to tell us that Ohio State and LSU were the deserving teams of national championship bids.

There was no such thing as a no-brainer this year in college football, but the Buckeyes simply couldn't have been denied a berth in the title game – despite the fact there were those in certain circles who would have put the screws to Jim Tressel if they could have. There was just no possible way to circumvent OSU's one-loss body of work not to mention its ranking of No. 3 in the previous week's BCS standings.

But I was incredulous when I was repeatedly told Saturday night and Sunday morning that there were only two teams that deserved that other spot in New Orleans – LSU and USC. The reasoning? LSU won the title in the country's toughest conference and Southern Cal finished its regular season playing the best football of any team in college football.

My immediate thought was that someone had been left out in the cold. What about Georgia? What about Virginia Tech? Why wouldn't those teams at least be considered for the national championship game?

If you want to talk about teams that peaked down the stretch, you need look no further than the Bulldogs. After losing to Tennessee on Oct. 6, UGA ran the table with six straight victories – five of those victims are going to bowls and three of them are ranked in the AP top 25.

As for Virginia Tech, what would have been a better feel-good story than the Hokies making it all the way to the national championship game just a few months after its campus was the site of that terrible mass shooting? And it's not like Tech didn't have an impressive résumé. They finished 11-2, won the ACC championship by avenging one of their earlier losses, and won their last five games of the season by an average margin of 19.8 points. There is also the little thing about the Hokies ranked No. 1 in the computer portion of the BCS standings.

I can understand how Georgia could be bypassed for the national title game. After all, the Bulldogs didn't win their conference. Heck, they only tied for their division title and lost the tiebreaker to Tennessee. That simple fact didn't seem to bother voters in the USA Today coaches poll the week before when they had the Bulldogs are No. 4 and LSU at No. 7. Are we supposed to believe that the Tigers' unimpressive win over unimpressive Tennessee in the SEC title game was worth a poll vault of five spots?

Additionally, I don't buy the singular argument that Virginia Tech was disqualified from contention because of its 48-7 loss to LSU earlier in the season. That game was played Sept. 8, just a week after the Hokies had played an emotional opener in tribute of those who lost their lives in the shooting tragedy. I would pay to see a rematch against Tech and LSU now, and I'll bet the farm if anyone is willing to give me the Hokies and 40½.

There are other teams that have complaints about the system as well, but none as compelling as Georgia and Virginia Tech. Fans from both Oklahoma and USC can argue from now until Jan. 7 about their teams are deserving, but the arguments pale when your teams lose to the likes of Colorado or Stanford. And before you criticize some other team's schedule, beat everyone on yours.

I was asked the other day if I thought Ohio State had the look of a No. 1 team. I'm not sure what a No. 1 team looks like, but the Buckeyes did nearly everything that is asked of a team to make it No. 1. Yes, they had a colossal blowout against Illinois. But last time I checked, the Illini won nine games and are headed to a BCS bowl. That, coupled with 11 victories by an average margin of 23.9 points, makes Ohio State as legitimate a national championship contender as you are going to find.

Even before the pairings were announced, the Buckeye bashing began. Most of it is steeped in last January's pasting the team received at the hands of Florida. No two ways around it, that game was an honest-to-goodness butt-whipping. A bona fide trip to the woodshed. But enough already about how fast the Gators were, how many hamburgers the Buckeyes consumed or how the 51-day layoff affected the outcome of the game. Those are excuses and the cold, hard facts are that Florida was simply the better team on that evening in Glendale and they proved it. It was really no different than what the Buckeyes did to Miami (Fla.) four years earlier.

But please, don't listen to the nattering airheads who would have everyone in the solar system believe that LSU is invincible. Both Kentucky and Arkansas proved the Tigers are very vincible, and I don't give a fat rat's mustache that both losses came in triple overtime. Last time I checked, when you had fewer points than your opponent at game's end, you got a loss.

I'll tell you what else: LSU hasn't been close to being college football's most dominant team since that win over Virginia Tech in early September. Since that win, in eight games against teams from BCS conferences, the Tigers have lost twice and won the other six contests by an average of 5.6 points per game. Does that sound invincible to you? Does that sound like a team that should be favored by a touchdown over the No. 1-ranked team in the country?

Wait. There's more. The Tigers have a budding quarterback controversy between senior Matt Flynn and sophomore Ryan Perrilloux. The veteran Flynn sat out the SEC championship game with an injury while the more athletic Perrilloux played through a finger injury and completed 20 of 30 passes against the Volunteers for 243 yards and a touchdown.

Many LSU fans have screamed for Perrilloux to start in place of Flynn and the stats would seem to indicate they have a point. Flynn has thrown for 2,233 yards and 17 TDs, but has a completion percentage of only 55.1 to go along with 10 interceptions. Meanwhile, Perrilloux has connected on 68.0 percent of his attempts for 747 yards and nine TDs against only two picks. The deciding factor, however, could be quarterback efficiency. Perrilloux's rating is 175.6 while Flynn's is 122.5.

Flynn will undoubtedly start the national championship game (which I think would be better for the Buckeyes than the more mobile Perrilloux), but never underestimate the impact of a good, old-fashioned quarterback controversy.

In addition to a bit of quandary on offense, one has to wonder how much the impending departure of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini will create for the Tigers. Pelini would be less than human if he wasn't at least a little distracted during bowl preparations as he tries to put a staff together at Nebraska and hit the recruiting trail.

You only have to go back to the 2000 bowl season to find a parallel. Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt was hired at Georgia but chose to stay with the Seminoles as they prepared for a date with Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, which coincidently served as the national title game that season. Clearly distracted, Florida State lost a 13-2 decision after averaging 42.7 points per game during the regular season.

Oh, and just one more thing: LSU heads into the title game ranked No. 2 in the country. Teams in that spot – USC, California, South Florida, Boston College, Oregon, Kansas and West Virginia – have already lost seven times this season.

HERBIE HAD IT RIGHT

Funny how Kirk Herbstreit became the story last Saturday when he reported that LSU head coach Les Miles would become the new head coach at Michigan. Miles, of course, refuted the story with his "angry man" press conference before the SEC title game and Herbstreit was the latest reason for everything that's wrong with sports journalism.

First of all, Herbstreit is not a journalist. He is an analyst. There is a difference – a big one. Journalists gather facts and report them while analysts gather facts and then weave those facts with their own opinions. I know there are a lot of you out there who believe that most journalists weave their opinions in amongst the facts. I have been practicing this craft for going on three decades now and I can promise you there are analysts who masquerade as journalists. They are in the minority, thank goodness, although they give the rest of us a bad name.

But I digress. Herbstreit had his facts straight when he reported Saturday that Miles was headed to Ann Arbor.

Actually, Herbie was a bit late to the party. Several days before, there were a handful of news outlets reporting that Miles was going to be Lloyd Carr's successor at Michigan. According to the Detroit Free-Press, the process had gotten so far along that contract length and terms were no longer an issue and the discussion had moved to Miles' staff. Then LSU stepped in, decided it couldn't afford to lose Miles just a couple of years after the Nick Saban debacle, and became proactive with a new contract offer that blew the coach away.

In other words, the Miles-to-Michigan story was correct – but only until late Friday night. Herbstreit's problem was that his vehicle for reporting news didn't begin until 10 a.m. on Saturday, and by that time, Miles and LSU had agreed (at least in principle) to a new deal.

My only beef with Herbie is the way he apologized for the report. Since when do you apologize for being right?

SOME OTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS

• There is no more salient argument for a Division I-A playoff that what transpired this season. Once Missouri and West Virginia had been knocked off, most of those who vote in the human polls decided they wanted an Ohio State-LSU matchup and cast their various ballots accordingly. The only way you keep that from happening again is to have a playoff. A simple eight-team, seven-game format could be used without impacting the bowls. Seeding teams by their finish in the final BCS standings, you play your quarter- and semifinal games in December (with the higher seeds hosting the games on their campuses), and then have your national championship game after the New Year's Day bowls. College football cleans up financially and determines its champion on the field. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

• I've said this before and I'll say it again: I am going to miss Kirk Barton next year. In an era of pretentiousness when most athletes borrow from the well-used book of clichés, Barton is one of the most genuine guys I've had the pleasure to cover in quite some time. When asked about the so-called Debacle in the Desert, who else but Barton would shoot from the hip by answering, "You regain that fear of failure after you fail the way we did against Florida. (But) when you fear failure, you play better. You have a little bit more of an edge." What a breath of clean air this guy is.

• I finally pulled the trigger on my Heisman Trophy ballot. The last time I had this much trouble making a decision was picking between Vince Young and Reggie Bush a couple of years ago. This year, my top three were Darren McFadden of Arkansas, Tim Tebow of Florida and Chris Wells of Ohio State – in that order.

• Here is some completely useless information. Do you know what Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer has in common with legendary television star Andy Griffith? Both were born in Mount Airy, N.C. That is also the hometown of country singer Donna Fargo.

• A happy belated birthday to James Patrick Tressel, who blew out 55 candles on his cake yesterday. Tressel was born Dec. 5, 1952, in Mentor, Ohio, and that makes him just a little more than 11 months older than Leslie Edwin Miles, who came into the world Nov. 10, 1953, in Elyria, Ohio.

• It's never just a game when you're winning.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

• Who is the hottest commodity in college coaching right now? It may surprise you to find out it's a guy by the name of Paul Johnson. Don't know who that is? Johnson is head coach at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is 45-29 in six seasons in Annapolis, and 107-39 overall in 11 seasons as a head coach. So far, Johnson is being courted by no less than three schools with coaching vacancies – Georgia Tech, Duke and SMU. It would seem that Tech has the inside track since Johnson was head coach at Georgia Southern from 1997-2001. But don't count out Duke. Johnson is a native North Carolinian.

• Can't decide whether or not undefeated Hawaii is legitimate? You're not alone. In the final USA Today coaches poll of the regular season, the Warriors were voted anywhere from No. 1 (Hal Mumme of New Mexico State) to No. 22 (Dennis Franchione of Texas A&M). The most peculiar vote for Hawaii came from Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. One would think that the pass-happy Leach would be sympathetic toward a team like the Warriors who share his offensive philosophy. But he ranked them only 17th.

• Two-time defending champion Mount Union ran its winning streak to 36 games last weekend with a 52-10 whipping of St. John Fisher in the Division III quarterfinals. The Purple Raiders will take on Bethel (Minn.) in this week's semifinals. Bethel scored a 27-13 quarterfinal win over Central (Iowa) in a game played during an ice storm. The other D-III semifinal game pits Wisconsin-Whitewater against Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas).

• The other divisions have also reached the semifinals. In I-A, the final four features two-time defending champ Appalachian State along with Delaware, Southern Illinois and Richmond. In Division II, Northwest Missouri will take on two-time defending title-holder Grand Valley State (Mich.) while California (Pa.) and Valdosta State (Ga.) face off in the other semifinal.

• Fans love winners. South Florida finished 9-3 this season, just one game back in the Big East standings, and have drawn Pac-10 rival Oregon in the Sun Bowl for its postseason assignment. All that success translated into the largest increase in attendance at Division I-A. The Bulls went from averaging 30,222 fans last season to 53,161 this year, an increase of a whopping 75.9 percent.

• Here is a brief update on the coaching carousel. Former Ohio State player and LSU defensive coordinator Mark "Bo" Pelini has been named head coach at Nebraska. Pelini will stay with the Tigers through the national championship game before moving to Lincoln. Also, Houston Nutt moved from Arkansas to Ole Miss, and Art Briles was named head coach at Baylor after ex-Bears (Baylor and Chicago) standout Mike Singletary spurned offers from his alma mater. Briles had been head coach at the University of Houston for the past four years and specializes in rebuilding programs. He'd better. Baylor hasn't had a winning season since 1995 and is 13-43 in Big 12 play (including 0-8 this year) since joining the conference in 1996.

• Lost amid the euphoria of Pittsburgh's upset over West Virginia was the fact that Pitt rehired our old pal Steve Pederson as athletic director. Pederson, who was John Cooper's recruiting coordinator at Ohio State from 1988-91, was AD at Pittsburgh for seven years from 1996-2002 before moving on to Nebraska. One of Pederson's first acts upon his return to Pitt was to give head coach Dave Wannstedt a contract extension. The very next day, the Panthers beat the Mountaineers. Of course, Pederson is also the guy who passed up Pelini for the failed Bill Callahan experiment in Lincoln.

• Twenty-two years ago today, American college football ventured to Australia for the first time. Wyoming scored a 24-21 victory over Texas-El Paso in a Western Athletic Conference contest staged in Melbourne. The game drew 22,000 fans to the 100,000-seat capacity Victoria Football League Park and Cricket Grounds.

• Other highlights during this week in college football history: On Dec. 4, 1976, Texas hands Arkansas a 29-12 loss in Austin in the final game for both coaching legends Darrell Royal of the Longhorns and Frank Broyles of the Razorbacks; on Dec. 7, 1996, Army erased an 18-point deficit and tallied a 28-24 victory over Navy. At the time, it was the largest comeback in the 96-year history of the series; on Dec. 8, 2001, Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich threw for 543 yards and eight touchdowns as the Warriors hung a 72-45 upset on previously unbeaten BYU; and on Dec. 9, 1876, Yale finished an undefeated season with a 2-0 victory over Columbia in a game held in Hoboken, N.J. The Bulldogs finished their season with a perfect 3-0 record, their third undefeated season in the first five years of football at the university.

• Mark your calendars: The first scheduled release for the BCS standings next season is Oct. 16, 2008.

FEARLESS FORECAST

All in all, it wasn't a bad finish to an up-and-down regular season. The forecast went 6-3 both straight up and against the spread, and that left the season mark at 243-79 for picking the money line and 142-148-6 ATS. Considering the deep hole we were in about a month ago, that's not too bad.

The forecast now takes a couple of weeks off before bowl season begins. As a public service, here is the entire list of all 32 bowl games with dates, rankings, the early Vegas lines, TV info and kickoff times.

POINSETTIA BOWL – DEC. 20
Utah (-9½) vs. Navy – (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)

NEW ORLEANS BOWL – DEC. 21
Memphis vs. Florida Atlantic (-3) – (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

PAPAJOHNS.COM BOWL – DEC. 22
Southern Miss vs. Cincinnati (-10½) – (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

NEW MEXICO BOWL – DEC. 22
Nevada vs. New Mexico (-3) – (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

LAS VEGAS BOWL – DEC. 22
UCLA vs. No. 19 BYU (-6) – (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

HAWAII BOWL – DEC. 23
No. 24 Boise State (-11) vs. East Carolina – (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

MOTOR CITY BOWL – DEC. 26
Purdue (-9) vs. Central Michigan – (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

HOLIDAY BOWL – DEC. 27
No. 12 Arizona State vs. No. 17 Texas (-1½) – (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL – DEC. 28
No. 14 Boston College (-3½) vs. Michigan State – (5 p.m. ET, ESPN)

TEXAS BOWL – DEC. 28
TCU (-4) vs. Houston – (8 p.m. ET, NFL Network)

EMERALD BOWL – DEC. 28
Maryland vs. Oregon State (-4) – (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL – DEC. 29
Connecticut vs. Wake Forest (-3½) – (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)

LIBERTY BOWL – DEC. 29
Central Florida (-3) vs. Mississippi State – (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

ALAMO BOWL – DEC. 29
Penn State (-5½) vs. Texas A&M – (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

INDEPENDENCE BOWL – DEC. 30
Alabama (-3½) vs. Colorado – (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

ARMED FORCES BOWL – DEC. 31
No. 20 California (-4½) vs. Air Force – (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

HUMANITARIAN BOWL – DEC. 31
Georgia Tech (-4) vs. Fresno State – (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

SUN BOWL – DEC. 31
No. 23 South Florida (-6½) vs. Oregon – (2 p.m. ET, CBS)

MUSIC CITY BOWL – DEC. 31
Kentucky (-1½) vs. Florida State – (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)

INSIGHT BOWL – DEC. 31
Indiana vs. Oklahoma State (-5) – (6 p.m. ET, NFL Network)

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL – DEC. 31
No. 15 Clemson (-2) vs. No. 22 Auburn – (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

OUTBACK BOWL – JAN. 1
No. 18 Wisconsin vs. No. 16 Tennessee (-3½) – (11 a.m. ET, ESPN)

COTTON BOWL – JAN. 1
No. 7 Missouri (-3½) vs. No. 25 Arkansas – (11:30 a.m. ET, Fox)

GATOR BOWL – JAN. 1
Texas Tech (-5) vs. No. 21 Virginia – (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

CAPITAL ONE BOWL – JAN. 1
Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida (-10) – (1 p.m. ET, ABC)

ROSE BOWL – JAN. 1
No. 13 Illinois vs. No. 6 USC (-13½) – (4:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

SUGAR BOWL – JAN. 1
No. 10 Hawaii vs. No. 4 Georgia (-10) – (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox)

FIESTA BOWL – JAN. 2
No. 3 Oklahoma (-6½) vs. No. 11 West Virginia – (8 p.m. ET, Fox – Announcers: Matt Vasgerian, Pat Haden, Terry Donahue)

ORANGE BOWL – JAN. 3
No. 5 Virginia Tech (-3½) vs. No. 8 Kansas – (8 p.m. ET, Fox – Announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Barry Alvarez)

INTERNATIONAL BOWL – JAN. 5
Rutgers (-10) vs. Ball State – (12 noon ET, ESPN2)

GMAC BOWL – JAN. 6
Bowling Green vs. Tulsa (-4) – (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME – JAN. 7
No. 2 LSU (-5) vs. No. 1 Ohio State – (8 p.m. ET, Fox – Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis)


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