LSU and Who's No. 2? Why the Other Contenders Just Can't Roll with the Tide
You saw it. You saw it last month, it wasn’t pretty and you most certainly do not want to see it again.
No, I’m not talking about Herman Cain waxing professorial on Libya or the inability of the congressional “super committee” to do, well, anything to stem the perpetually growing national debt. I’m talking about what really matters. I’m talking about LSU-Alabama.
On Nov. 5 the whole world saw the two best college football teams in America play, and it saw one team—the visiting team, no less—prove that it’s in a class by itself.
Why then, one might ask, would it be necessary to see these two teams play again for the National Championship, especially in what would amount to a home game for LSU? In the age of the BCS, when the title game is debated and scrutinized for five painfully long football-free weeks, we want something to look forward to, not the second helping of a 9-6 good defense/bad offense jugger-not that led to more naps than excitement. Right?
The BCS, as has been the case since its inception in 1998, has presented itself as a system predicated on having the two best teams, regardless of conference affiliation or a previous meeting that season, compete in its biggest game. Unfortunately for the spread offense and vertical passing geeks out there, the two best teams this season are clearly LSU and Alabama. If the BCS were a popularity contest, it would produce a more attractive matchup—with Oklahoma State or Stanford opposing the Tigers perhaps, a classic Offense vs. Defense tussle that fills America with what-ifs for a month—but it isn’t. It’s going to churn out two SEC West rivals, only one of whom even played in its conference championship game, and it will probably generate as much scoring as a fanny pack-clad virgin. And that’s just the way it should be.
If you disagree, then let’s measure Alabama’s resume against those of the other “contenders,” those against whom LSU hasn’t already proved its superiority.
Let it be known, however, that any discussion of the Cowboys is rendered obsolete if they lose to Oklahoma this weekend. A home game for the Pokes, yes, but there’s a reason they call it Bedlam.
After Alabama, it can be argued that Oklahoma State, ranked No. 3 in the BCS—thereby garnering the dubious title of America’s pre-eminent “first loser”—is most deserving of a shot, what with their explosive offense and ability to hang 50 on almost anyone. What hinders the Cowboys’ cause, however—and, for that matter, what hinders everyone’s cause except the Crimson Tide and another team, which I will get to shortly—is one loss. One very bad loss. One loss to…wait for it…Iowa State?
Look, it’s one thing to lose to the No. 1 team in the country, regardless of where you play. It’s another thing to lose to a team that only beat two other Big 12 foes and had an 0-4 stretch in October that saw them get outscored 171-74. Was the Cowboys’ game in Ames curiously scheduled on a Friday night? Yes. Was it fair that they had to play immediately following a tragedy that claimed their women’s basketball coach and shook the entire university community? Not at all. But a bad loss is a bad loss, and losing to Iowa State, overtime or not, is a very bad loss.
Andrew Luck is the most NFL-ready quarterback since Peyton Manning. He’s undoubtedly a Heisman Trophy finalist and he’s the one person, at the helm of the one team, that many people think would provide the Tigers’ stiffest test. He’s also the captain of a slow team that found itself on the blunt end of a 53-30 pasting at home by Oregon, who would have been in Stanford’s spot here had they not lost a second game, also at home.
Stanford is fifth in the nation in scoring and 23rd in scoring defense. They’re a very good team and quite possibly could give LSU a game, maybe even pull off the upset if all the pieces were to fall into place. But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football, where one bad game can ruin months of hard work and success, the Cardinal simply do not deserve the opportunity.
If this were college basketball, or any other intercollegiate sport with a playoff system, then sure, give Stanford a 1-seed and let them do their thing. But the beautifully frustrating aspect of college football is just that: There is no playoff, and if a team isn’t perfect or close to it week in and week out—heck, isn’t even competitive one week—then how should they be anointed better or more deserving than one who is?
The Hokies, in one author’s estimation, are the intriguing team nobody is talking about, led by a traditional Bud Foster “Lunch Pail” defense and a highlight machine in the offensive backfield, namely quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson.
Granted, they haven’t looked overly impressive in several games this year—a blowout home loss to Clemson, an ugly no-defense squeaker over Miami and a 14-10 “triumph” against lowly Duke, to name a few—but, with an ACC Championship rematch with Clemson on the horizon, Virginia Tech can join LSU and that other school I haven’t mentioned yet as the only ones to beat every team on their schedule.
Does that factoid alone establish the Hokies as a deserving national title contender? In all likelihood, no, but it warrants a second look.
Similarly to Stanford, Tech took one on the chin at home on the first Saturday in October, ostensibly relegating them to Orange Bowl status against the Big East “champion” (another column for another day).
Compared with Alabama, Tech certainly doesn’t pass the “eye” test—as in, when you sit down and watch them play, how impressive do they look?—but the fact remains that if they do follow through and claim another ACC crown, being one of only two BCS conference schools to beat everyone on their schedule should at least be enough to push them into the discussion.
Finally, the “other” contender, the token non-Automatic Qualifier that goes undefeated and beats up on a schedule full of more cupcakes than Queen Latifah. Led by Case Keenum, the Van Wilder of college football who as a sixth-year senior owns almost all relevant NCAA passing records, the Cougars have outscored opponents by an average of 53-21. FIFTY THREE! That’s more offensive than George Carlin.
Alas, wins against UTEP, SMU and Georgia State don’t exactly measure up to USC, Arkansas and Georgia Tech, but the fact remains: The Cougs have won every game they’ve played and have looked damn near unstoppable doing it.
For all intents and purposes, Houston could run through its schedule—its toughest challenge comes this weekend in a Conference USA Championship clash with a vastly underrated Southern Mississippi squad—for 112 games and still be shut out from a national title opportunity. While that notion spits in the face of everything sports is about—if you win every game you play, shouldn’t you have the right to play for whatever your sport’s grandest prize is?—the BCS isn’t concerned about sportsmanship, choosing instead to produce the two best teams.
Long story short, if you aren’t Alabama, what with the nation’s best defense, a Heisman-caliber running back and more NFL-ready players than the 2011 Colts, you’re just simply not good enough. If a team exists that has played a legitimate schedule and has not suffered A) a home loss, B) a blowout loss or C) a blowout loss at home, that’s the squad who should “geaux" against LSU in New Orleans.
Until that team exists, we’ll just have to settle for the clear best against the clear second best. Not even a super committee can mess that up.