The BCS standings and National Championship Game matchup were thrown into utter disarray this weekend, as pretty much every non-SEC team with hopes of playing in the National Championship Game lost. The resulting confusion leaves three SEC teams atop the standings: LSU, Alabama and Arkansas.
While LSU is a lock for the game if they win out, it is unclear what each of the remaining teams must do in order to clinch a berth in the game. Each team's fanbase has already begun making arguments about why their team deserves the right to play for the National Championship.
While it is nearly impossible to determine which team will receive the second championship game spot, it is a relatively simple answer as to which team deserves that spot.
The Houston Cougars are the only team to have earned the right to play opposite LSU for the National Championship.
It's really quite simple: Only two teams in the nation are undefeated at this point in the season, and the Houston Cougars are one of them.
In the NCAA Division-I Football Bowl Subdivision, all of the member schools are technically eligible to play in the National Championship Game (excluding those schools who are unable to play in the postseason due to rules violations and the accompanying sanctions). Despite what popular opinion seems to dictate, there is nothing in the rule books prohibiting members of the non-automatic-qualifying (non-AQ) conferences from playing for the national championship.
So, Houston is in fact eligible to play for the National Championship, and the fact that they are members of Conference USA does not actually disqualify them from the title race.
Do the Houston Cougars deserve to play for the National Championship if they end the regular season undefeated?
So why is Houston being discounted?
Honestly, it all boils down to AQ-conference bias, no matter which way they try to spin it.
The most common argument against Houston is conference affiliation. The Cougars play in Conference USA, not the SEC, and this fact is often cited by fans of the other SEC teams with national title aspirations. However, Houston can't just up and join the SEC whenever they feel like it, so that argument is invalid.
Conference affiliation is just not a valid criteria for determining who gets to play for the National Championship, nor should it ever be. It's like saying that only teams from the AL East should be allowed to play in the World Series.
Strength of schedule for the out-of-conference games is also mentioned as a reason why Houston shouldn't be allowed in the National Championship Game. The Cougars played UCLA, North Texas, Georgia State and Louisiana Tech during that portion of their schedule. Georgia State is an FCS team, while the other three have a combined record of 17-16—hardly a dominating lineup, but not exactly the complete creampuffs of the FBS division.
Arkansas, on the other hand, used its four out-of-conference games to play Missouri State, New Mexico, Troy and Texas A&M. Missouri State is also an FCS school, while the three FBS teams have an overall record of 10-22, significantly worse than Houston's OOC opponents. Despite national perception, Texas A&M actually has the same record as UCLA, Houston's strongest out-of-conference opponent.
So, somehow Arkansas' out-of-conference schedule is more deserving than Houston's despite the fact that it is statistically much worse?
But if you play in a weaker conference your out-of-conference schedule should have to be really tough! say the skeptics of Houston. However, the BCS teams themselves help to cause that problem for teams like Houston.
The premier non-AQ teams have difficulty scheduling many quality AQ programs, because the AQ programs don't want to play them for fear of losing, which they feel has negatives that far outweigh any benefits that would come from defeating the non-AQ team. Boise State has run into this problem a lot, as they usually only have one high-quality AQ team on their out-of conference schedule, since very few AQ teams are willing to take the risk of playing them.
So Houston's lack of a high-difficulty out-of-conference schedule is actually the fault of teams like Alabama and Arkansas, the very schools that try to hold it against Houston.
Fine. Houston has done everything they could, but they should only be allowed to play in a BCS game as a result, not the National Championship Game. Wrong again.
We already established that there is nothing in the rules against non-AQ teams playing for the National Championship. In the face of intense legal scrutiny, the BCS has even claimed that the system does not prohibit non-AQ teams from winning the National Championship.
Claiming that an undefeated Houston team shouldn't be allowed to compete for the National Championship is like telling George Mason or VCU that they wouldn't be allowed to play for the NCAA basketball National Championship if they won their Final Four games, because "their conference affiliation and overall schedules were too weak to allow them to have a shot at winning the title."
If that scenario sounds absolutely ridiculous, it's because it is absolutely ridiculous, just like the arguments against Houston being allowed to play in the National Championship Game.
In the end, it comes down to which team did everything they possibly could to earn an invite to the National Championship Game. The biggest part of "everything they could" is winning, plain and simple.
Houston won every game so far this season, while Alabama and Arkansas did not. The Cougars players have done everything asked of them this season, and have upheld their end of the deal. There is literally nothing more that they could have done in order to earn the opportunity to play for the National Championship.
The Razorbacks and Crimson Tide players, however, did not do everything in their power to earn a berth in the game—they lost. They did not uphold their end of the deal.
Regardless of who will play opposite LSU for the National Championship, the Houston Cougars are the only team that deserves that opportunity.