The Penn St. Nittany Lions were undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the land yet precluded from playing No. 1 and also undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers for the National Championship.
You see Penn St. had just joined the Big 10 Conference and as the undisputed champion of that conference was bound by contract to play in the Rose Bowl. Their opponent? The undisputed Pac-10 Conference Champion, the 8-3 and No. 12 ranked Oregon Ducks. After a valiant effort by the Ducks, Penn St. went on to win the game in the second half, 38-20.
Trouble was, Nebraska also won their game against No. 3 ranked Miami in the Orange Bowl, 24-17. Presumably because the Huskers won their game and Penn St. didn't roll Oregon, the Nittany Lions went away 12-0 on the year but without a national championship.
Who was the better team, Nebraska or Penn St.? I guess we'll never know.
Penn St. coaching icon Joe Paterno had National Championship rings made for his team regardless that the team wasn't officially recognized as National Champions. The way the Nittany Lions saw things they were the National Champions. They had removed every obstacle placed before them except for one – third-party bias and polls.
It was unfortunate that one of the polls didn't see things Penn St.'s way. Under that circumstance, the outcome might have been similar the 1990-1991 season when both the Washington Huskies and the Miami Hurricanes won their respective bowl games and finished their seasons undefeated. The Coaches poll recognized the Huskies as No. 1 and the Associated Press voted the Hurricanes No. 1. The result? A shared National Championship complete with trophies, White House visits, and parades.
But again I ask who was the better team, Washington or Miami? And, again, we'll never know.
Without question, both teams saw themselves as champions. Neither had tasted defeat and both had been victorious in every challenge placed before them.
These are but two examples of what I call "The Land Before Time XXII." I really don't know if there are actually 22 of those cute dinosaur movies, but as often as my 4-year-old daughter watches them it seems that there are.
The Land Before Time…before the BCS. It also seems over the years leading up to the formation of the BCS one can certainly point to 22 or more different controversies in college football regarding the crowning of a National Champion.
The BCS was supposed to fix all of this by bringing us out of the prehistoric era and into the modern age of college football. It was to be the great panacea – allowing all parties to have their respective bowl games, TV dates and paydays but also deliver an undisputed National Champion. The BCS was supposed to quell all of the gnashing of teeth, accusations, disputes and despair. The fact that it hasn't doesn't surprise me, because the BCS quite simply doesn't support a playoff. And, nothing short of a playoff will bring true resolve to the championship picture.
I mean let's face it. We're Americans. And, as much as we love our sports, we love winners and champions all the more. There really is no room in sports for ties, for conjecture, for votes, for calculations. There are just two combatants on the field when the final gun has sounded, those that stand victorious and those that must pray for another day. I submit there is nothing wrong in this. In fact, I think it is quite healthy. The victors have closure, all of their preparation, all of their effort culminated in a defining moment of victory. They are worthy of the praise and adulation. You play the game to win. And for the loser? There is comfort in knowing that you played your best against the best. And, if you're able, you learn from it, make it a part of you and go on to win another day. There is no greater victory than the one achieved through past adversity.
In its most base analysis the BCS doesn't deliver this. There are too many factors, people, computers, committees, voters, writers and others involved who quite simply don't play the game. At its root, victory can only be claimed by those who wrought it and be confirmed by those who were vanquished. Everyone else is simply a pretender.
I really don't know why this is so difficult. Take the different conference champions and throw them into a playoff. At the most you would add 3-4 games to the season, and if this is too much, you could eliminate 1-2 early non-conference games.
The BCS is only proving through scenarios like the one this year and the controversy last year when Florida State was selected over Miami (despite having previously lost to Miami) to play Oklahoma that we are still living in the Land Before Time.