I couldn’t help but ponder that question when the final whistle blew at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last night, watching Cam Newton search the crowd for — and eventually finding — the father Auburn’s Athletic Director, and the ESPN broadcast, said wasn’t in attendance.
Sure, we as college football fans can choose to ignore a lot of things, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Auburn Tigers’ 22-19 victory over the Oregon Ducks marks the 5th straight BCS Championship for a team from the Southeastern Conference; a conference that now possesses 7 of the 13 Crystal Eggs awarded since the Bowl Championship Series’ inception back in 1998.
Here’s the breakdown:
- 1998: Tennessee (Beat Florida State 23-16)
- 2003: LSU (Beat Oklahoma 21-14)
- 2006: Florida (Beat Ohio State 41-14)
- 2007: LSU (Beat Ohio State 38-24)
- 2008: Florida (Beat Oklahoma 24-14)
- 2009: Alabama (Beat Texas 37-21)
- 2010: Auburn (Beat Oregon 22-19)
Now, considering there are five other conferences that are supposed to have a realistic shot at winning this thing — and the next best showing by any of them is the Big 12’s two Crystal Eggs — isn’t the SEC’s dominance of this party teetering on the precipice of preposterousness?
I wish I could say the absurdity of it all ended there, by merely looking at the actual champions, but it doesn’t. In fact, some of the SEC’s “misses” — within the context of its hits and intra-conference dynamics — actually add fuel to the fire…
2001: A Volunteer Odyssey
Let’s start by going back to 2001, the year that saw the Miami Hurricanes bring The Big East its first and only BCS Championship with a win over perhaps the most controversial BCS Championship Game participant in the series’ history — the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
As you might recall, Nebraska didn’t even win its Division, let alone the Big 12 Conference, that year, but, with only one loss, still managed to creep into the Championship game on strength of schedule rating and its position in the polls.
Only two years later, another Big 12 team, the Oklahoma Sooners, would employ some similar BCS magic by landing a spot in the Championship Game without having won the Big 12. Incidentally, this line of logic wasn’t good enough for the 2007 Georgia Bulldogs, but that’s a story for another day.
What’s pertinent here is the 2001 Tennessee Volunteer team that was ranked #2 in the country heading into the SEC Championship Game against #21 LSU. Tennessee had beat LSU 26-18, in Knoxville, in Week 4.
Unfortunately for the Volunteers — while the victors of the Big 10, Pac 10, Big East, and ACC sat idly by — they lost the rematch 21-31, and to a team that would eventually finish the season ranked #7. Without the SEC Championship game, Tennessee would have been playing for its second BCS Championship.
The point here isn’t to detract from the merits of a Conference Championship Game in and of itself, but rather to highlight the disadvantages of having one if/when your competition for a spot in the BCS Championship game gets to bypass a sufficiently similar hurdle.
Tennessee could/should have taken care of business, of course; the problem is Miami, and Nebraska, didn’t have to. They were on holiday.
The Volunteers would eventually finish the year ranked #4, behind Miami, Oregon, and #3 Florida — Tennessee had beat the, then 2nd ranked, Gators (in The Swamp) 34-32 the week before the SEC Championship game.
So just how potentially nefarious a hurdle is this SEC Championship Game thing?
With the plight of Tennessee’s 2001 season in mind, it’s probably a good time to look at what’s been in play in the SEC Championship Game during the BCS era (1998-2010):
- Number of years both SEC Championship Game teams were ranked in the Top 25: 13/13
- Both in Top 15: 8/13
- Both in Top 10: 5/13
- Both in Top 5: 3/13
- At least one team in The Top 5: 13/13
And the eventual fallout in the final polls:
- Number of years at least one SEC team has finished in the Top 5: 10/13
- Number of years at least one SEC team, other than the BCS Champion, has finished in the Top 5: 7/13
- Number of years more than one SEC team has finished in the Top 5: 5/13
Perhaps most notable in this context is the 2009 season: The one where, if not for the SEC Championship Game, no other conference would have even had a representative in the BCS Championship Game.
#1 Florida fell to #2 Alabama 32-13. Texas took Florida’s place in the Championship, losing to the Crimson Tide 21-37, but at least they had to beat #21 Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship to get there, right?
Lucky for the Longhorns, Bama and the Gators don’t play in the PAC 10, Big 10, or Big East, I guess.
Auburn: Champions Again?
But let’s focus on the team of the moment, shall we?
As Frump tweeted last night, depending on the complete findings of any and all investigations surrounding Auburn’s football program right now, 2010 may mark the third time in 17 years that the Flying War Tigers could reasonably claim they were the best team in the country — and still ultimately have nothing to show for it.
Since Auburn’s undefeated, probation plagued, ’93 season came prior to the BCS era, we’ll just focus on 2004 — yet another year where an undefeated Tigers team was unable to play for a National Championship, only this time through no fault of its own.
Despite defeating four ranked opponents (#5 LSU, #10 Tennessee, #8 Georgia, and #15 Tennessee (again)) on its way to a 12-0 regular season finish, Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers, amongst much controversy, were passed over for two other undefeated teams — Southern Cal and Oklahoma — for a place in the BCS Championship Game.
Notwithstanding any debate as to how deserving any of these three teams were, the Trojans went on to destroy the Sooners 55-19, while Auburn manged to edge 9th ranked Virginia Tech 16-13 in the Sugar Bowl — good enough for a #2 finish in both polls.
What makes this season particularly interesting, however, is the fact that the BCS has formally vacated the Trojans 2004 BCS Championship Game victory. I believe USC still remains the “official” 2004 BCS champion pending some sort of further decision, but it’s likely they’ll be stripped of the 2004 BCS title.
This naturally puts Auburn — and the SEC — in a rather nice position to “claim” another Crystal Egg, though surely not under protest from Oklahoma, and maybe even Utah.
So, should we really start referring to this awful system as “The SEC – BCS Challenge” ?
That’s up to you, of course, but why not? At this point, who’s going to bet against an SEC team at least making the 2011 BCS Championship game? I mean, assuming the Southeastern Conference doesn’t splinter off and form its own championship system, I think it’s a fairly safe wager.
With The Big 10 and Pac 10 adding their own Conference Championship Games soon, the SEC’s odds only increase, in my opinion, but we’ll see.
Until then, add the relative monotony of college football’s grandest spectacle to the long list of reasons of why the sport is in dire need of a playoff. You know, perhaps throwing the SEC a curve will curb its penchant for winning championships, or something.
I mean, we’ve got to try something. Don’t we?