As we hit championship week in the college football world, we're given the annual reminder that slugfests played out on the gridiron are the best way to determine the champions of each conference.
In fact, the landscape of the game in 2013 proves this better than any other year in recent memory.
Let's start by imagining a world in which the standings alone determine who wins each conference.
The titanic battles featuring Ohio State-Michigan State and Auburn-Missouri would already be decided, assuming the tiebreaker went to the highest-ranked team in the BCS. Because neither of these matchups occurred in the regular season, it would be Urban Meyer and Gus Malzahn's teams receiving the honor of conference champions.
How is that possibly fair to the Spartans and (other) Tigers? Michigan State didn't drop a single conference game, and like Auburn, Missouri lost just one game in league play. Both teams have earned the right to play for the title, as opposed to letting the voters settle it. That would put certain teams at a disadvantage before the season even begins, depending on what they're ranked before playing their first game.
Of course, both Auburn and Missouri were unranked at the start of the year, but Ohio State began the year at No. 2, meaning Michigan State had virtually zero chance to pass the Buckeyes, even if it went undefeated!
But aside from the fact that Michigan State and Missouri both deserve their shots, the bigger piece at stake, of course, is the BCS championship game. Do we really want to gift Ohio State a berth to Pasadena with only one win over a ranked team (three-loss Wisconsin) on its resume?
That's not a shot at the Buckeyes, either, because as fans, don't you want to see your team prove its might against a great opponent? As it stands, there isn't a single 2013 victory in Meyer's back pocket that looks impressive, but Michigan State gives his team a chance to post one. (For the record, an undefeated Ohio State squad absolutely deserves a spot in the national championship.)
As for Auburn, well, it's impossible to top a victory over Alabama, a team coming off back-to-back national championships. But the logic remains: If the Tigers are truly deserving of a chance to play for all the marbles, they'll prove as much against Missouri.
Fortunately for college football fans across the country, the Big Ten and SEC aren't the only conferences holding championship games. The ACC and Pac-12 also have one final matchup to determine the winners of their respective conferences.
Florida State squares off with Duke while Stanford tussles with Arizona State, and both games are crucial in working toward a resolution to the 2013 season.
The latter matchup doesn't have national-championship implications, and in fact, the Cardinal and Sun Devils already played this season with David Shaw's team winning, 42-28.
But consider what has occurred in the Pac-12 since that game. Stanford lost to Utah and USC, both teams that are currently unranked. Arizona State won the rest of its games in the Pac-12, which included a huge victory on the road at UCLA and a dominant 58-21 victory over rival Arizona, which had just beaten Oregon by 26 points.
Without a conference championship game, Arizona State would be handed the crown, as well as tickets to the Rose Bowl. And because of its record, it would be deserved. But in the current format, the Sun Devils get a chance to host the one team that beat them, the reigning conference champion Stanford Cardinal.
Which side says no to the rematch? Actually, is there anybody in the country who says no to a rematch?
As for the ACC title bout, it's one last chance to see if Florida State can further the narrative that it's the best team in the country in 2013. Perhaps Duke, which has struggled against bad teams in recent weeks, will get blown out. But would it be better to assume that, or let it play out on the field?
And let's not even start with the counterargument of there being too many games. Chances are, if you're playing for a conference title, you'll be playing a bowl game that won't take place for several weeks. This gives everyone time to heal up from any bumps and bruises sustained during the season, and while there's a chance of having a key player suffer a long-term injury, that's football. That's a risk being taken every single week of the season.
Admittedly, conference champions are sometimes decided fairly without a title game. Take a look at the AAC, which has one final round of games this weekend, although none will prevent Central Florida from winning the league. The Knights beat Louisville on the road and have otherwise been undefeated in conference play, so there isn't much left for them to prove.
In the Big 12, the Top Four teams in the standings, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma, will have all played each other when Week 15 concludes. Whoever emerges from the rubble will have earned the conference crown.
However, this brings us to one final point: Which games are you most excited for this week? We'll venture a guess that it's not Louisville-Cincinnati or Texas-Baylor, because while those might be competitive contests, they don't hold a candle to the magnitude of the conference championship bouts.
You'll plan your day around Auburn-Missouri and Ohio State-Michigan State, just to see how the drama might affect the final BCS standings. For fans, the entertainment value of a winner-take-all game cannot be matched. In the Big 12, there's a distinct lack of this very flavor.
There is no winner-take-all matchup, because if Oklahoma State loses, then a number of scenarios come into play involving separate games that don't include the Cowboys. If the Buckeyes win, they win the Big Ten. The same can be said for the Spartans. There is no other scenario or option, and everything is at stake.
Most college football fans won't be watching their favorite teams play this weekend. But like most sports junkies, they'll still have the tube on Thursday through Saturday to see how it all goes down. It's crucial for the health of the sport to have one final weekend with a number of heavyweight contests.
It's entertainment in a form that only college football can provide, it gives teams like Ohio State a chance to further prove their legitimacy, and in most cases, it's the fairest way of handing out the conference trophy.
And c'mon, after what we saw in rivalry week, are you really going to argue for less football?
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