Heading into the final weekend of the 2013 season, the SEC’s streak of seven BCS national titles is on life support, and in the adjoining bed is the system that helped create that run.
If the nation’s top two teams, Florida State and Ohio State, win their respective conference title games, the Seminoles and the Buckeyes will head to Pasadena.
So all that the participants in the SEC title game—No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 Missouri—can do is cheer for Duke (which faces FSU) and Michigan State (which plays OSU), rather than planning a trip to the BCS title game.
Gus Malzahn’s Tigers would be left out despite as strong a resume as a one-loss team could have. A win over Missouri would give them their ninth win over a bowl-eligible opponent.
However deserving, leaving out the SEC champ is the right—heck the only—thing to do.
Until the playoff arrives next season, the “every game counts” mantra remains in place, and because of that Auburn falls short. The 35-21 loss to LSU in September—and it wasn’t even that close—is too damaging a defeat, especially against a less-than-vintage Les Miles team.
And should Missouri win, should Gary Pinkel get the chance to atone for blowing a 17-point lead to South Carolina in a double-OT loss? Nope.
That’s because an unbeaten team from a BCS conference must, under this current system, be rewarded for its pristine system. If not, it diminishes everything the BCS stands for.
Consider for a moment that Nick Saban has just one undefeated season in 18 years as a college head coach; Bobby Bowden had one undefeated team in an iconic career that spanned 44 years. It took Tom Osborne 21 years to field a team that went unblemished.
While no one can argue strength of schedule isn't a critical factor in determining the nation’s two best teams, it’s equally important to realize the significance of going undefeated in a power conference.
Since 2003, only 13 teams from the six power conferences (and Notre Dame) have gone unbeaten through the regular season. All but two of them, Auburn in 2004 and Cincinnati in 2009, were rewarded with a trip to the BCS title game.
|Teams from Big Six BCS Power Conferences Who Have Gone Unbeaten in Regular Season Since 2003|
|Year||Team||Conference||BCS Title Bid|
|2006||Ohio State||Big Ten||Yes|
|2012||Ohio State||Big Ten||No (probation)|
|B/R research, ESPN.com|
The Tigers were left at the altar because the nation’s top two preseason teams, USC and Oklahoma, went unbeaten and met in the title game. Cincinnati was ranked behind Top 5 preseason powers Alabama and Texas, but the Bearcats were undressed in a Sugar Bowl rout at the hands of Florida.
As Joel A. Erickson of AL.com notes, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs claimed it would be, “un-American” if Auburn is left out of the title game if they emerge victorious against Missouri.
On the contrary, leaving an unbeaten team from a power conference out of the BCS title game would be about as patriotic as a sushi-eating contest on July 4.
In the SEC’s recent title streak, five of its title teams have benefited from chaos in the polls in the final month of the season to claim a spot in the title game. Two of those teams in particular earned their trip amid controversy.
Urban Meyer’s 2006 Florida team was selected over an 11-1 Michigan team that lost its season finale to top-ranked Ohio State by a field goal. Alabama’s 2011 squad earned a rematch against LSU despite Oklahoma State beating five Top 20 opponents, as noted by Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports.
Why? Because SEC teams get the benefit of the doubt.
But if the Seminoles and Buckeyes win Saturday, they should be afforded the same courtesy.
Is it harder to win in the SEC? Probably.
Is it just as hard to win every game? Absolutely.
What validates SEC supremacy has to hold true for an unbeaten BCS conference team. In the end, it’s all about wins and losses.
And zero losses trump even the mighty SEC.