The generally accepted narrative states that the winner of Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game will advance to the BCS title game to face No. 1 and undefeated Notre Dame.
Considering the SEC’s dominance over the previous six BCS games and the high regard in which it’s held nationally with six of the top 10 spots in all the polls, nobody is really arguing against it.
But perhaps they should be. Perhaps Oregon and Kansas State and even Florida should be furious that they are getting excluded from the annual BCS beauty contest judging while fellow one-loss teams Alabama and Georgia get to play for the last seat at the mythical national championship table.
Just because a four-team playoff is looming over the horizon in 2014 doesn’t mean the current process stinks any less this year and next. It would be just as imperfect this year even if 12-0 Ohio State were eligible to face the Fighting Irish. The entire SEC would be raising holy a fuss if it were excluded.
Instead, the SEC gets the benefit of bias with its championship winner gaining the coveted access. Considering last year’s SEC West runner-up won the whole thing, nobody should be surprised.
“I guess technically we don’t know for certain, but everybody’s pretty much saying that the winner is going to go play for the national championship, so that certainly adds something to it,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I said it the other day that the Southeastern Conference Championship to me stands alone as something that’s really, really special. Just look at our game, the ticket sales, and the people trying to get tickets. I was listening to the radio on the way in and somebody said that the cost of these tickets rival any BCS national championship game. There’s something about our league that’s special. If you win the Southeastern Conference, you’ve really done something special.”
We get it. The SEC is special. It has a pedigree that goes deeper than any other major conference. No victory is a given. Yada, yada, yada.
But explain what Georgia has done that deserves preference over the other one-loss teams? It’s beaten only two Division I-A teams that finished with winning records – and one of those was Vanderbilt. It got thoroughly trounced by a South Carolina team that was better in every phase of the game.
Oregon has beaten seven Division I-A teams with winning records and lost its only game in overtime to No. 8 Stanford.
Kansas State has also beaten seven teams currently with winning records, but it too got pushed around in its only loss by a Baylor team that might end up 6-6.
Then there is Florida, whose only sin was losing an ugly defensive showdown with the Bulldogs. But the Gators played a way tougher schedule than both Georgia and Alabama, beating No. 7 Louisiana State University, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 10 South Carolina and No. 12 Florida State. That’s why all but one of the six computers used in the BCS formula ranks the Gators No. 2.
Frankly, both Georgia and Alabama played the weakest schedules of any of the SEC elite, which goes a long way to explaining why they came out on top of their respective divisions. Neither played a premier crossover game. They each went 1-1 in the only conference showdowns with other top-ranked BCS teams. Florida went 3-1 in such contests and LSU 2-2. Both Texas A&M and South Carolina went 1-2, yet each of their wins was against their respective division winners.
Richt argues that none of that matters – only the bottom line.
“Every victory is precious in this league, and the style points don’t really matter all that much. Just win,” he said. “Whereas before when I was at Florida State, we were wanting to win, but we wanted to win with a certain flair or a certain style. At Georgia, I realized really fast that it doesn’t matter if you have style points or not. Just win. This league is so competitive on all levels, so it’s just fun to be a part of.”
It’s fun as long as you’re in the final conversation.
Style points have done no good for Oregon or Florida or K-State. They reached the same bottom line, but to no avail.
It’s a problem that won’t be entirely fixed with a four-team playoff. Will only conference champs be eligible? Will it favor teams that don’t have to face the added rigor of a conference title game? Will entrenched bias still dismiss non-traditional powers?
“I would say that if there is a four-team playoff and each league can only have one team in it, I don’t think I would like that as much as the format now,” Richt said. “But if you’re allowed to have at least two teams in it, I think it would be good.”
And which conference do you think will be the most likely to send multiple representatives? Imagine the national howling if the SEC placed three teams in the playoff.
For now, Georgia and Alabama get to savor the fruits of the conference’s reputation. It hasn’t always worked out in the SEC’s favor, as Georgia found out in 2002 and Auburn in 2004. But the odds grow more and more in its favor every season.
In the end, Georgia’s weak schedule and its Gamecocks blemish won’t matter. Right or wrong, if the Bulldogs can lay claim to victories over No. 4 Florida, No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Notre Dame, nobody can say they didn’t do enough to deserve the crystal.