If there weren't millions of dollars in bowl money on the line, it would be funny to see the same Bowl Championship Series apologists who claim "the regular season is the playoffs" argue that Alabama and LSU should face off in the national championship game.
After losses by Boise State, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Oklahoma threw the BCS rankings into disarray, the growing sentiment among fans is for a rematch of the Nov. 5 field-goalfest that LSU won 9-6. If Alabama goes the distance with just one loss, and their lone loss is to top-ranked LSU, then it's proof that 'Bama and LSU are the two best teams and that they belong in the title game — or so the logic goes.
Major college football is the only sport in which we have to debate which teams "deserve" to play for the championship. The absence of a true playoff makes this sadly necessary. Truth be told, with every other realistic contender having blown its shot at a championship game berth, the Crimson Tide seem to have the strongest case for playing LSU on Jan. 9.
But Alabama's worthiness of playing for the national title and its status as one of the so-called "two best teams" is irrelevant. Championships should not strive to pit "the two best teams" against each other. They should include the two teams that have earned a spot.
If college football were baseball, Red Sox fans would be whining that they should have been in the World Series. After all, they won 90 games, just like the champion Cardinals. But the Red Sox and the Crimson Tide will have won an equal number of division championships and playoff games in 2011: zero.
Why punish Alabama for playing in a tough division? Because unless there's a playoff format with some sort of wild card or at-large berth, that's the way sports work. If 'Bama wants to be the 2011 Cardinals or 2010 Packers or 2010-11 UConn Huskies and ride into the title game as a non-first place team, let's start a playoff and let them play their way to the championship.
If Alabama is granted a spot in the title game, LSU will have made its road to the national championship tougher by beating Alabama back in November. The Tigers now face No. 3 Arkansas in the regular-season finale, then face the prospect of taking on a red-hot Georgia team in the SEC title game. Meanwhile, Alabama gets a relative cakewalk in the Iron Bowl against Auburn, which clung to a 21-16 lead in the fourth quarter over Samford on Saturday in a much closer than expected win.
(That's "Samford," not "Stanford." It's not even "Sanford," you big dummy.)
If Arkansas should beat LSU, stuff gets real. BCS voters would then have three one-loss SEC teams with LSU beating Alabama, Alabama beating Arkansas and Arkansas beating LSU. It could be like 2004, when Southern Cal, Auburn and Oklahoma all posted equally convincing claims to title game berths; in that instance, at least all three teams won their divisions.
This is the trouble with playing the "two best teams" game based strictly on the eye test and not the results on the field. If Alabama and LSU are clearly "the two best teams," why play the remainder of the season? What if LSU enters the game unbeaten, but Alabama wins the rematch? Must they play a third time, since each will have handed the other its only loss?
There's no perfect answer to this. USC might be the second-best team in the country right now, but it's been declared ineligible for the postseason. Houston's undefeated, but almost nobody thinks the Cougars' schedule holds up on paper. Oregon and Boise State need to invest in field goal kickers.
(Oops, poor choice of words. I meant "recruit" field goal kickers. Yeah, "recruit.")
In a tournament — which every major sport, save college football, has — every qualifying team gets one chance. It can't lose to the No. 1 seed in the second round and then claim, because it got a bad draw, it deserves a do-over in the final. If college football's regular season is the playoffs, as the BCS executives will have us believe, then the Crimson Tide were eliminated Nov. 5.