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Kragthorpe: The BCS Press: System is messy, but at least it's interesting

Published October 31, 2006 1:48 am

College Football
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sunday's Colts-Broncos classic was one of the best NFL games ever played in October, featuring fourth-quarter drama, poised quarterbacking and clutch kicking that all added up to some terrific entertainment.

Too bad it was meaningless.

Well, it could mean something eventually, regarding home-field advantage in the playoffs. But in its own way, the epic contest won by Indianapolis served to endorse college football's goofy system.

In reality, not much was on the line in Denver. Contrast that to Saturday's scene at Oregon State, where USC was genuinely playing for a national championship opportunity in the middle of the season. The Trojans almost came all the way back from 23 points behind, only to have OSU knock away a two-point pass in the last seven seconds and preserve a 33-31 upset.

It was great stuff, illustrating that something can happen every week - or just about every day, in the case of this week - to affect the Bowl Championship Series race.

Would a true playoff system be better? Absolutely. Yet instead of wasting any more ink complaining about the absence of a playoff, it's time to deal with the BCS and enjoy a developing story that's unlike anything else in sports.

Nothing that happens during the NFL regular season could match the impact of Oregon State's victory, which made a lot of people happy, from Idaho to Florida. The Beavers did a big favor for Boise State, accomplishing what Utah has failed to do: give the Broncos some credibility for soundly beating them in September.

Now, it will be far more difficult to question Boise State's BCS credentials as the Broncos creep toward the top 12 and an automatic bid. They're moving into position for a probable shot at Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, which is not exactly a playoff game, but it's close enough.

The stakes are getting higher and higher for the Broncos, who play Fresno State on Wednesday and later will play host to Utah State. The Aggies will find themselves in the awkward position of knowing an upset - unlikely as it would be - could cost the school a lot of money from the Western Athletic Conference's BCS distribution.

Meanwhile, Florida is edging closer to the top two and a national championship opportunity, even after having lost to Auburn this month. Reminded of those possibilities by reporters after his team struggled to beat Georgia last weekend, coach Urban Meyer briefly stopped fussing about his offense and smiled. "For the first time ever," he said, "you guys have cheered me up."

There could be more happiness to come for the Gators. Basically, they may need Thursday's Louisville-West Virginia winner to turn around and lose to Rutgers, and for somebody to lose decisively in the Ohio State-Michigan game Nov. 18. As long as the Gators keep winning right through the Southeastern Conference championship game, they could find themselves playing for the national title in suburban Phoenix - not far from where Meyer's Utah Utes completed their unbeaten season two years ago.

SEC schools believe the BCS penalizes them for playing in such a tough league, but Florida's case proves that if the right things happen, it's possible to lose a conference game and still get a title shot.

You can criticize college presidents for failing to approve a Division I-A football tournament, but give the BCS organizers a break. The combination of human polls and computers makes for a mix of subjectivity and objectivity that keeps things interesting from week to week in college football.

There's Saturday (and other days) on the field and Sunday on the accounting sheets, and it all means that every game counts - beyond your own game of the week, as Meyer and the Gators realize now. Win, and you get rewarded, occasionally with help from others. Lose, and it just had better be to the right people, at the right time.

Eventually this season, the system will create a good matchup for the national championship, plus four other intriguing BCS games. Will the best team always win the title? Not necessarily. But don't tell me that playoffs in every sport result in such a distinction every time, either.

As proof, I give you the St. Louis Cardinals, world champions.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Bubble Trouble

A look at some teams from recent years that have been hurt or helped by the BCS system:

* Florida State, 2005-06

Don't look to Bobby Bowden for complaints about the BCS system. After the Seminoles went a sterling 8-4 in the regular season, the 22nd-ranked team was sent to face third-ranked Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

* Auburn, 2004-05

The Tigers went unbeaten in the regular season, with only one game won by fewer than eight points. They finished third in the BCS standings and were relegated to the Sugar Bowl, where they beat Virginia Tech to finish unbeaten - and second.

* Boise State, 2004-05

This season worked out pretty well for the Utes, but the Broncos were slighted after finishing the season 11-0. Sent to the Liberty Bowl, they didn't help their case, losing 44-40 to Louisville.

* Pittsburgh, 2004-05

In a stellar year for the BCS, an average Big East team got to face the upstart Utes in the Fiesta Bowl. The Panthers got walloped 35-7 in a game that left Utah fans wanting more of a challenge.

* USC, 2003-04

With an overtime loss to California its only blemish, the Trojans were on the outside looking in as they were relegated to a game against fourth-ranked Michigan. LSU, also with one loss, won the Sugar Bowl and the BCS title while USC won the AP championship.