How to Win the BCS Title: Talent, Votes, Computers... and Luck
To win it all in college football, you have to be really, really good. You have to appeal to the voters and the computers, and you have to win a lot of games.
Well, yeah. This part is obvious, of course, and you don’t just chew your way through the regular season without having immense talent.
In order to end up on top of the BCS Mountain, the foundation—even if it doesn’t resonate in meaningless preseason polls—has to be there. You simply will not get by with an above-average team, and at some point this will become obvious when the deck of cards comes crashing down. You have to have the talent to avoid this crash, but that’s not all that is required.
You have to be lucky, too.
One play, one kick, one call, one penalty—that’s all it takes. The smallest moment can make or break you, and sometimes it’s even out of your control. Being on the right end of these plays can make all the difference, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
You make your breaks in a lot of these instances, but they are breaks nonetheless.
Relying on luck can come back and bite you, but taking advantage of an opportunity or two is all part of navigating the BCS road map. In 2012, a year absolutely loaded on the BCS chaos front, we’ve seen how fortunate football happenings can impact this race to the top.
It’s not just the now, though. Looking back on recent BCS champions, you can’t overstate how each team has taken advantage of a fortunate moment or two (or more) along the way.
The 2008-2009 Season: A Familiar Apology and Some Help
Urban Meyer’s 2008 bunch was absolutely loaded, and players such as Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden and Mike Pouncey, just to name a few, blew out just about everyone they played. They won every game by at least 10 points, except one.
In September of ’08 they fell to Ole Miss at home, 31-30, as the No. 4-ranked team in the country. Their hopes for the national title appeared to come crashing down with it.
We were treated to this moment with a microphone following the game, a Tim Tebow clip you might recall. Yes, that Tim Tebow.
They would need help and other losses to get back into the national title picture, and they got it. They went on to beat Nick Saban’s Alabama team in the SEC Championship and then beat Oklahoma in the national championship.
Florida’s good fortune didn’t come on a single play or in another game, but it came from others’ stumbles to get them back into the title picture. And the Gators took full advantage.
The 2009-2010 Season: Mount Cody to the Rescue
Alabama’s undefeated season almost went up in smoke during Week 8 of the 2009 season, but nose tackle/fullback (yes, he did play some) Terrence Cody saved the touchdown-less Tide twice in the fourth quarter.
Alabama could only muster up four field goals against the Vols, but Mount Cody blocked two field goals in the fourth quarter—including one with only four seconds left—to keep Alabama’s undefeated season intact.
Tennessee only connected on one of its four field goals on the day, and just one of those likely would have derailed Alabama’s title hopes.
Alabama went on to beat Florida, 32-13, in the SEC Championship and followed that by beating Texas (and knocking out Colt McCoy in the process) in the national championship game, 37-21.
The 2010-2011 Season: Cammy Cam, Near Stumbles and Overtime Excellence
Cam Newton, of course, could do no wrong in 2009, although this Auburn team had back-to-back scares in Weeks 2 and 3. A late drive for Mississippi State ended on an incomplete pass on fourth down in Auburn territory, which gave Auburn a 17-14 Week 2 win.
The following week is where it really turned, though.
Trailing 17-0 to Clemson, Auburn responded and forced overtime. In the first OT, Auburn kicked a field goal to go up three, and Clemson responded by making a field goal the very next drive. There was a flag thrown on the play, however, which moved Clemson five yards back. The Tigers then missed the kick on the do-over, and the game was over.
Auburn went on to beat South Carolina by a touchdown the following week and edged Kentucky by a field goal only two weeks later. Oh, and then there was that 24-0 deficit Newton's squad erased in the Iron Bowl against Alabama.
A beatdown of South Carolina in the SEC Championship and a three-point win over Oregon later, Auburn was the national champion.
The 2011-2012 Season: Busting the BCS… ROLL DECIMALS
Last year, well, it’s probably still very fresh, perhaps even too fresh for some. Alabama steamrolled the first eight teams on its schedule and then dropped its home game against LSU in overtime, 9-6. In that game, Nick Saban’s team missed four field goals and threw an interception on the goal line.
LSU benefited from the breaks in this one, and this win propelled the Tigers to an undefeated regular season, a win in the SEC Championship and a trip to the BCS title game.
Alabama, however, benefited by: a) winning the remaining games on the schedule; and b) getting the BCS to rule in the Tide's favor following Oklahoma State’s 37-31 double-overtime loss at Iowa State late in the year. OK State was the No. 2-ranked team at the time, and the Cowboys were also a 28-point favorite against the Cyclones when they stumbled.
Alabama got the nod, and it got back into the title game despite not making it to the SEC Championship. In the BCS Championship, the Tide absolutely dominated LSU, winning their second crystal ball in three years.
Turning the Focus to Now And What It All Means
There’s a long way to go before we have a champion, let alone our BCS Championship matchup; although—barring something truly chaotic—we have zeroed in on four teams. Two of those teams, Notre Dame and Alabama, have already been on the right side of fortunate wins.
The Fighting Irish, of course, have been a heart attack in the making all season, culminating with their comeback win over Pittsburgh last week. Pitt had a chance to win this game in double overtime with a field goal, but the kick sailed just right of the goal post.
Notre Dame responded by forcing a field goal. The Irish then punched the ball in and stayed unbeaten with a 29-26 victory.
There was also their hotly debated overtime win over Stanford earlier in the season, which came on a goal-line stand in overtime.
Alabama’s moment came last week at LSU, and the Tide had to come back late to earn a 21-17 victory against the Tigers. In this game, LSU botched a fake field goal, missed out on an attempted onside kick, missed two field goals (including one late) and outgained Alabama by a near 2-to-1 ratio in time of possession.
It didn’t matter. A beautifully called screen pass to T.J. Yeldon gave Nick Saban’s group the lead and the win late in the fourth quarter, and they resumed their role as being an overwhelming title favorite.
Were they lucky? Were they fortunate? Did they generate their own breaks?
Absolutely, but recent history shows us this is all just part of the plan.
Simply limiting these teams to being “lucky” or “fortunate,” however, would be foolish. In a lot of ways, this is how you become a champion. You have to be talented—which Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame certainly are—and you have to be on the right side of a big moment or two, or more.
A season will rarely (if ever) go as planned, and the room for error is incredibly small. Being good and loved by both the voters and the computers simply is not enough. As we’ve seen, you have to have a little luck, too. You make the breaks, but the breaks also make you.
Whether these breaks in 2012 come in a single play, a loss, a loss by someone else or a few decimals determined by a computer is something we'll learn in the coming weeks. In a season that seems to be building towards BCS chaos unseen in recent years, however, being on the right side of these outcomes could be more important that ever before.
It's not better to be lucky than good, but being both certainly will help your cause.
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