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The good Senator is wrapping the season up like all good pollsters, by tallying one last round of votes. Here’s mine:

National Champion

Florida(13-1)

Cry, bitch, or applaud, but they won it. For all of you who refer to the national championship as mythical, the Gators hoisted a real crystal football last night. Regardless of what any other team (or pundit) says that claims a share of it, it doesn’t get any more real. Who cares if you don’t acknowledge it. The history books won’t have an asterisk by this one and even more importantly when Florida stumps to recruits they don’t have to say, “we should have won it that year”. That’s because they did… win it.

Top Four:

Oklahoma(12-2)

Texas(12-1)

USC(12-1)

Utah(13-0)

I believe USC to be the best out of that group. There is no doubt in my mind that they could beat Florida, but that conference plays such bad football – at least from the perception standpoint – it’s hard to forgive the loss. Had the Trojans had better competition down the stretch and the benefit of a conference championship game it could have been different. Were there a playoff they would be the favorite. Bottom line: USC’s loss to the Beavers looked much worse than Florida’s, or Texas, or Oklahoma’s then and now.

Texas probably would have fared as well against the Gators but to me there still is not that much difference between the two reps from the Big XII South. I don’t believe their road to accolades was any tougher than Utah’s – going 1-3 in bowl games somewhat reaffirms my belief that the Sooner’s and Longhorn’s division was overrated – but they have the perception. I would predict semi-final losses for either of those teams in a playoff scenario. On the whole though, a pretty good body of work.

Utah had a tremendous season and deserves much credit. If you look at the paradigm that says, based on the “body of work” view, Alabama’s bright season was dimmed by a poor showing in the bowl game, but they still fared well overall, then Utah, despite their tremendous showing in the bowl game still has a very mediocre season based on their relative body of work. Mainly, barley beating a bunch of mediocre teams. Meaning, if we cannot deflate a team too much fore poor showing in a bowl then we cannot elevate a team too much either.

I still think Utah is a good but not great team. They would have not stayed on the field with either of those teams last night. USC would mop the paint off the turf with them. They would easily be out in the first round of a playoff – in essence they should be loving the bowl system because it kept them form being exposed this year.

The Utes deserve much credit for a good year, but they didn’t beat the Alabama team that beat Georgia at home, or LSU. They beat the team that put up 188 yards on Tulane in contest that meant little more. That’s not their fault, I’m just saying they did not take the best shot of a great team, all year, and therefore in no way, shape, form, or fashion are they the best team in the country.

Sorry for the tangent, but that’s my problem with playoffs. Not that Utah did, but teams will dumb down their schedules to make their records look good and then get put out in the first round, laughably. That’s not good football. Cinderella’s are great in basketball. They suck in football. You’ll just have to trust me on that.

Finally, I believe Alabama to be, overall, a better team than Utah. Just like I believe Florida to be a better team than Ole Miss. The better team does not always win.  I ranked Utah ahead of Alabama.  They deserve it and that’s what rankings are about – somewhat. Florida obviously had the better body of work than Ole Miss. Utah had about the same as Alabama but the head-to-head makes it a no-brainer.

That’s the thing about this sport; series aren’t played and thus you will never get a true picture of who the best team is. It’s always going to be an “on this day” kind of thing. Thus a team that is better than yours might be ranked lower and a team that is not as good could be higher – even a team you beat. Just don’t act like a playoff will solve all of that. Hell, if it weren’t for debate this sport wouldn’t be half as fun.

Next Seven:

Alabama (12-2)

Penn State (11-2)

Boise State (12-1)

TCU (11-2)

Georgia (10-3)

Oregon (10-3)

Virginia Tech (10-4)

That’s my group of the rest. As always a few of those could be interchanged with a few others. More might be garnered from who I left off that list. I’ll say though that Virginia Tech is the only four-loss team I had. They finished the season strong with a bowl and a championship win, just the opposite of their ’09 season opening opponent, Alabama (see what I did there). Ole Miss (9-4) finished strong too, but the 10 in the W column for the Hokies looks better than the 9. Plus if I included Ole Miss that would be giving credit to Texas Tech (11-2).

If you take away the two FPS teams that the Red Raiders played in the pre-season (which in the Big XII South this year was anything prior to conference play) then they would not be at ten wins. The overrated standing of the Big XII South and Missouri makes the body of work not near as impressive. The biggest Red Raider win was against Texas but had Ohio State not allowed Texas to do the same thing to them that Texas Tech did against the Longhorns then they would be even less impressive. Which doesn’t say much for Texas.

Ohio State (10-3) was not impressive all year. Now that Notre Dame won in the post-season, will the Buckeyes take the mantle of the team that can’t get it done after November?

Cincinnati (11-33) and Georgia Tech (9-4) both had tenuous holds on the polls in my last ballot and bowl losses didn’t help that much.

There you have it. This was a lot of fun and certainly made me think through the process of who I voted for – for better or worse. Having my team in the mix all year helped with the motivation – I believe that my voting was fair all the way through. Plus, I’ve learned that when a person votes there will be some bias. That’s OK. There are many voters and the more there are the more bias works itself out.

Also, I really enjoyed the block voting aspect of this. I typically ranked teams as I put them down, but in the end the debate over a couple of positions – who should be ahead or behind someone else – is eliminated when you vote in groups.

Finally, I learned that polls are not about a direct correlation of who beat who (see above). Those are the domain of conference standings. With the size of the pool of teams, that would be impossible to keep up with and justify. Polls are based on perception (a strictly human trait) of record. The biggest factor of that is wins and losses. But record also has a component of the competition that was involved in compiling those wins ans losses. No matter what your formula, the opinion of that competition is going to vary form person to person.

I’ll close with this:

Football is not a type of race where there is a finite measuring point to determine victory. There is a winner of each contest, but even that comes into debate from time to time. It is also not a match or meet type of competition where a tally of many factors, including form and technical abilities, are recorded and exercised into a formula for determining champion.

It is a mixture of both.

It probably is most closely analogous to a boxing match.

Some rounds are clearly won by one of the opponents. Some are too close to accurately determine. Sometimes technical aspects come into play and while they may detract from the physicality of the contest, they are fatefully crucial to determining the outcome. Sometimes one opponent is clearly superior to the other and the knock-out only underscores that.

The blow that finishes it all is always the preferred method. There is little to argue then. But a winner is determined nonetheless (usually – a draw serves no one). And, just because the ending blow wasn’t delivered and the contest ends with questions, the promoters and patrons rush to deliver and view the next match.

But if the fighters are somewhat closely matched, the competition is fierce and the fight goes the distance. At the end of it all a winner is crowned. He is not always the favorite or the clear winner, but he walks away from the ring with some type of satisfaction. His fans are ecstatic and will defend his victory.

For the loser there is always the “what could have been thoughts”. He may fell cheated and begrudge the judged victor. His fans cry, “foul” and bemoan the system, the competition, and the judges. But for him there are two options; quit or preferably return to the gym to prepare harder and do everything in his power to not only earn the right to that fight again but to vanquish his opponent so badly that no one can say he doesn’t deserve the victory.

However you describe it, I’m hooked.

If the BCS is so horrible then what’s up with the media frenzy today? Why is Robin Mead telling me over morning coffee what a great game it’s going to be?

There will certainly be debate after tonight, regardless of the outcome, about who deserves a share of the national championship. Some will argue for Southern Cal, some Texas, and some Utah. Either way there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the winner of tonight’s game with Florida and Oklahoma will deserve a major share of it. Plus they get the opportunity to hoist a trophy that declares them champions.

This has the opportunity to be a great game between two powerhouse teams. I could go on and on about how good these teams are.

In the old system, this might not have happened. In fact it probably wouldn’t have.

The BCS has many, many faults. One of the major is that the four bowl games don’t always make for exciting matches. A tournament would, in all likelihood, do the same thing. Just look to the NCAA basketball tourney or pro-football’s playoffs for verification.

But what the BCS does is create highly anticipated football games between two teams with at least some legitimate claim to the title. Are some teams with a claim left out? Absolutley. Is it always their fault that they are left out? No. Would a playoff fix this? Not in any way.

The point here is that with the nature of football, the number of teams completing at the FCS level, and the range in disparity amongst them in both individual and team competitiveness, there is no way to field a tournament and crown a champion that will be completely without controversy.

In light of that, what we have is pretty damn good. Not perfect – present me a system that you think is and I’ll shoot holes all the way through it – but good enough.

Think I’m wrong? Then prove me so by not watching the game tonight.

That’s what I thought.

As everyone who cares at all knows, the BCS Championship game is tonight. I have no idea what percentage of the population follows college football on a regular basis but I do know that national news outlets, like Slate Magazine, don’t typically run stories about it in their headlines.

That’s not the case today as stats guru, Bill James, weighs in on the system he finds flawed.

Most of us claim to know next to nothing about the computer rankings that make up a component of the BCS scores. Nor do we want to. Mr. James, on the other hand, knows exactly what they do – and don’t do.

There are several things that a ranking system could do. It could rank teams based on their accomplishments over the course of the season—whom they played and whom they beat—or it could rank them based on the probability that they would win against a given opponent. It could rank teams based on how they have played over the course of the season, including perhaps in some early-season games against teams that were not quite sure who their quarterback was, or it could rank them based on how strong they are at the end of the season. It could rank the teams based on consistency, or it could rank them based on dominance.

Which of these is the goal of the BCS system?

Mistakingly, I guess, I thought that the computers tried to do a little bit of all that, and do it without bias in the form of team and conference loyalty.

He goes on to say that when the computers ranking do their job correctly and in the process differ from the polls, that the gurus add more parameters to keep them in line with the human polls, thus rendering them ineffective.

James’ is certainly a different voice mixed in the din of pundits and pontificates.

Just goes to show that when college football is big news, like it is today above maybe all days – because of the BCS, like it or not – then we get the opportunity to hear more than the usual voices.

The idea of a playoff to decide the champion of Division One (bite me NCAA) College Football is one that seems to gain more popularity all the time. Here we are sitting at Week Ten of the 2008 season and I see two excellent examples of why a playoff is a bad… wait, let me restate that – a horrible idea for big-time college football. The as-of-right-now unbeaten, non-BCS conference affiliated schools Utah, Boise State, and Ball State, and the Big Twelve South. Stick with me a minute.

The premise here is college football is a great game because every game matters. The de facto playoff essentially starts in Week One and goes all the way to the end of the year with the stakes getting higher at every turn. It is not a one-loss format per se, but it certainly can be. A true playoff will degrade that, not in the sense that the games won’t mean as much, but in the sense that, in a an effort to make sure that their teams have the best chance to make the playoffs, the Athletic Director and Coach at your school will schedule worse and worse competition. The quality of the opponents and therefore the quality of the games you watch will decline.

The example is the non-BCS conference unbeaten teams. Three this week – Boise State, Utah, and Ball State – and as many as five just two weeks ago. Let’s look at the most recent to fall form those ranks, Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane were unbeaten and ranked as high as 15th in the polls until they were beaten by Arkansas this past Saturday. The same Arkansas team who gave up about a billion points to Alabama, Florida, and Texas earlier this season and who is at most the the fourth best team in the SEC West. The 15th ranked team in the nation should never lose to a team struggling with bowl eligibility on Week Nine. How did Tulsa get the lofty ranking? They didn’t play any quality teams and beat them all. And that is how the other non-affiliated unbeaten teams are doing it. They are scheduling as weak a schedule as possible in order to position themselves with clean loss columns and lofty rankings come bowl selection time.

Obviously they aren’t doing that for the non-existent playoff. Instead they are doing it to place themselves in position to be undefeated at the end of the regular season and therefore be ranked high enough to be considered for a lucrative BCS bowl game. These teams can never have serious national title hopes but they can elevate their program in both prestige and revenue by having the appearance of being a quality team because their record is good and they get an invite to big paycheck game. Hawaii last year and Boise State the year before are prime examples. Don’t you find it a little odd that the number of the teams that are in this enviable position every season is on the rise? Hey, it’s good for them and I get that, but the overall quality of football suffers as does the reputation of schools that play tougher schedules both in and out of conference.

Let’s look at the three that still harbor a chance at a BCS bowl:

Utah is currently ranked 8th in the current BCS standings, 10th in the AP poll, and 9th in the Coaches Poll. They are 9-0 and boast victories over Michigan and Oregon State. This is the same Michigan team that isn’t going to a bowl for the first time in 33 years (granted they didn’t know that when they were scheduled to play one another) and Utah beat them by two points. The Utes also have a three-point win over a 5-3 Oregon State team that beat USC but lost to Stanford and Penn State. This is easily their signature win. The win over FCS team Weber State, not so much. Utah barely scraped by a 4-6 New Mexico squad this past weekend 13-10. They also have a big game against conference heavyweight TCU this Thursday night and a season finale against in-state rival BYU. Ohio State, Missouri, Georgia, and LSU are all ranked below the Utes and while they might run the table and have a legitimate claim for a good season, you can’t make me believe that they could beat any one of the four teams I just mentioned ranked below them.

Utah might run the table and at least they did schedule some so-called heavyweights but they don’t deserve a bid based on their overall body of work.

Boise State turned the football world on its ear two years ago by beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl but that might be the only prime-time worthy thing they’ve ever done. They currently sit at 10th in the BCS and Coaches rankings and 9th in the AP. The only praise worthy win they have is a five-point win over Oregon. FCS team Idaho State is on their list of victims. The only game against an opponent with a winning record the rest of the year is their last game of the season against 5-3 Fresno State. The Oregon defeat is a feather in their cap but their overall body of work is dismal. Once again, the four teams I mentioned for Utah, plus at least a couple others in the top 25 should beat them.

Ball State. David Letterman be damned, Ball State has beaten no one to make it to 8-0, 17th in the BCS, 16th in the AP, and 18th in the Coaches Poll. Their only game against BCS conference competition was a win over 3-6 Big Ten also-ran Indiana. Now, it’s obvious the voters are taking this into consideration, but you have to believe that any ranked team would take care of the Cardinals but the question remains. What are they taking space that others, who would punish them, are being denied?

The other example is the Big 12 South where , between the four teams that currently occupy the top eight (#2 Texas Tech, #5 Texas, #6 Oklahoma, and #8 Oklahoma State) , they’ve played four FCS schools (two for Texas Tech, none for Texas) compared to three BCS schools and only one team that is presently ranked and all of this coming before the first conference game. Someone touched on this earlier in the year and I apologize for not remembering who, but the point was that all of those teams front-loaded their schedules to play all of their out-of-conference games prior to conference play. The result was that they were all undefeated when conference play started and are now beating each other and getting credit for doing it, both in defeating ranked teams and not losing tremendous ground for losing to other ranked teams.

Are these team from the Big 12 South actually good? We’ll we have to assume that they are for now and the truth may not be known until bowl season. But, regardless the perception will be there. One thing is certain, those school play offense. I just want to know what will happen when they face good defenses?

So, what I have concluded is that to have a decent season a team needs to play in a weak conference and still hope for a little scheduling luck. I’ll be the first to admit that luck plays an important role in any good season. But what I fear is that with a playoff and the prestige that will come with making it as the reward college football fans will see more and more team front-load their schedules with weak out-of-conference opponents with the goal of being ranked and having the fewest losses as possible. Sure, the playoffs will carry a lot of interest, but the regular season will be diminished. Not by value but by the level of competition. So, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

[Update – after reading the first few comments I add the following mea culpa]

Alright, this was never intended to be about Alabama. But, since y’all are going to dissect their schedule (which is only fair) I’ll do a little brief defending. First of all Kevin, I think you mistook Ole Miss (5-4)  for Mississippi State (3-6). Second, personally as an Alabama fan, I am extremely happy to be where we are and believe it or not somewhat humble about it. The Tide have certainly been the beneficiary of schedule luck – no question about that. But they have no FCS opponents on their resume and Clemson was a top-ten team (maybe not deservedly so, but ranked nonetheless) when they met. Alabama did defeat the Ole Miss team that beat Florida at home and also defeated the Arkansas team that just handed Tulsa its first loss. To this point they are perfect in what – even if it is in  a down year by conventional standards – is the top one or two conferences in the country. They may not be after Saturday. But in order for them to get to the championship game they would still have to defeat LSU, not to mention State and Auburn, and then beat Florida in the championship game. They will “play their way in”, if they can, and isn’t that what all you playoff fans want?
I concede that there are positives to a playoff, and I have seen the need for one more and more the last couple of years. My point however, is that there are negatives to it as well, don’t kid yourselves otherwise. College football is not other sports. It shouldn’t have to improve. I am glued to the TV or at a game every weekend because it is the way it is. And if a team loses to a La-Monroe then they should be excluded from the conversation, no questions. In a playoff situation, you could conceivably win your conference, lose to La-Monroe and still play and win the playoff for a national title. That isn’t right.
One final thing, the BCS isn’t perfect. Projections a few weeks ago were for Alabama to be in the Sugar Bowl against Boise State. I can’t imagine a worse reward for a good season than to play Boise State.

The good folks over at 3rd Saturday in Blogtober are taking another crack at generating and moderating questions for the original roundtable. Leave it to the Vawl bloggers to start copying what we are doing.

Speaking of Tennessee, did you know that in the last six seasons (’02-’07) – the same stretch that Alabama has gone 1-5 with LSU, 0-6 with Auburn, and gone 43-33 with only three winning seasons overall – Alabama has gone 3-3 with Tennessee? I say all that, to say that even in the midst of one of the worst stretches in the history of the University of Alabama’s football program, they have manged to hold their own against one of their biggest rivals. I believe that there has been no discernible change in direction of the UT program and their fans can speak of the high expectations for the upcoming season but, as much as you can point to indicators of future success you can point to indicators of impending doom. The era of Phillip Fulmer will end in one of two ways; a massive blow-up, as I’ve been predicting for a while – Tennessee will be no better than 4-3 and out of the Eastern Division race coming into the Alabama game – or a continuation of the slow steady march into mediocrity that they are on now. I beleive that Dave Clawson will help the situation, if Fulmer lets him, but I don’t think he’ll have enough time to get it done before the Jabba the Fat is run out of Knoxville. The game has passed Fulmer by.

Also, their loss last season to Tennessee leads me to believe that Georgia isn’t as solid as they appear. Tennessee was a mediocre team, at best, last year – a very mediocre Alabama team handed their ass to them in a paper sack with cute little ribbons on it – and they caught UGA completely off guard. Maybe Richt will use that loss as a reminder, but truly elite teams don’t get surprised like that – I’m not saying they don’t get surprised, but that Georgia was done well before 60 minutes into that one. That wasn’t Stanford surprising USC or even La-Monroe surprising Alabama, that was a major rival shoving it down their throat. Really good teams are up for their rivalries. When you look at Georgia on paper this year they are downright scary but in the age of parity there is not a team out there that can take a week off. Georgia took at least one and probably two weeks off last season, and that’s not counting the other close games – Alabama and Vandy.

I would say that the Auburn game followed closely by the Florida game were the high-water-marks for Georgia last year. The Hawaii game, while impressive in many, many ways, shouldn’t give a true picture of Georgia coming into this season for two reasons. First, Hawaii had no business in that game. If that was played during the regular season it would have shocked no one. Second, I don’t believe that much, if any, momentum is carried from season to season. The Georgia team that takes the field in September will have to find their own identity and set the tone for the coming year. Richt may break through this year, but until he does the thing that will be in the back of my mind is that Georgia had a good team that was coming together and got blown away by a mediocre, at best, Tennessee team last year and that was not unprecedented for a Richt coached team. And it usually happens at home. His road record still amazes me. There is no doubt he can coach and is arguably one of the top two or three in the conference. Now he has to prove he can manage expectations and push through for the big one. If he runs the gauntlet this season he has my non-existent vote for Coach of the Decade.

On to the questions.

What record would you consider “sufficient progress” in the coming season?

The legendary golf coach Harvey Penick said, in one of his great books, that improvement usually comes in bunches. He observed that golfers scores don’t decrease point by point but rather they are lowered in bunches when the golfer improved one of his critical skills. I believe that it is the same in football. A team doesn’t improve by one win a year, at least not real improvement, because that can be as much a function of schedule than anything. Alabama needs to improve in two main areas in a general sense; it needs to beat the teams it is supposed to beat and it needs to beat its rivals that are supposed to be superior to be considered as a better than average team. Alabama will be the pre-season underdog against Clemson, Georgia, Tennessee (maybe), LSU, and Auburn. That means that seven wins would be over teams it was supposed to beat unless something changes to those five listed, and it will to at least one of them. If you do what you are supposed to do then that really can’t be considered improvement although in light of the past two seasons it would be considered so. If Alabama wants to contend or position itself to contend in the future it has to beat some of the teams it isn’t supposed to.

My answer is that for significant improvement, Alabama needs to beat two out of the last three games listed above (UT, LSU, & AU) that it plays this year. I don’t believe they will be improved enough to win the first two but they should be coming together by late October. I would be content with a 7-5 record. I believe that is where we should be statistically. But I will not be happy with another loss to Auburn (I have never been nor will I ever be). If you want it in numbers then I say 8-4 or 9-3 with a win over Auburn and I am more than pleased. Does that expect too much? Maybe, but then again I’m an Alabama fan – I’m not supposed to be content with mediocrity. I also will not call for Saban’s firing or Ross’ Brother to be carted from the field if that doesn’t happen.

Does college football need a playoff? Why?

No. I know who the national champion was last year. How could a playoff improve that? Georgia or USC might not like it but then again they shouldn’t have lost to Tennessee or Stanford. Ohio State would have still been in a playoff, as would Oklahoma, LSU, and then the fight starts all over again for the next spot. Maybe in the future but not now. I think every year but ’04 the BCS has worked, maybe not as well as it could have but certainly no worse than the old system. Call me old-fashioned but just because you’re playing your best ball at the end of the season doesn’t mean you get a shot at the title – this isn’t basketball. The best body of work will still get you there (with Auburn in ’04 being the lone exception). And it isn’t like we’re not tuning in because there isn’t a playoff.

If you’re an Alabama fan and a native Alabamian, then more than likely you became a fan sometime between conception and the cutting of the cord, but what moment do you remember best as being “the moment” that you became an active participant in your fandom?

When my dad parked in front of a house on 13th Street, walked me up 10th Avenue by the old man selling fresh roasted peanuts, into Bryant-Denny Stadium and the crowd rose and cheered in unison. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and still does to this day as I recall the moment. I don’t know how old I was (Dad says four) and I don’t know who Alabama was playing, but I have loved it every moment since.

What rule change would you most like see implemented?

I would like to see them tighten up the rules for roughing the passer – it is clear when the qb has passed the ball and there is a lot of extra activity after that point. The qb should be punished for holding to ball too long or having a lineman miss a block, but once he delivers a pass he shouldn’t be slammed to the ground as a reward.

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