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The Scarlet & Black

Undefeated Iowa won’t make it to BCS champs

If AC/DC has taught us anything as a society, it’s that it certainly is a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an aphorism that is proving very true of college football, as several teams without a loss vie for a chance to play in the BCS National Championship. There are now six teams that have a pretty good chance to finish undefeated—the SEC champion, which is either Alabama or Florida, Texas, Iowa, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State. But thanks to college football’s current bowl system, only two will get to play for the national championship. 

Obviously this is stupid, an opinion that is so widely agreed upon that President Barack Obama even cited the need for a college football playoff. In fact, most years feature a team that could legitimately argue they deserved to play for the national championship instead of who actually did. Friggin’ Greek tragedy, right? I mean, we’re talking Haemon lying next to Antigone in a pile of blood, here! Don’t we need to grab our pitchforks and torches and go rescue Belle from the Beast storm the BCS castle? Nah. This year will not be a catalyst for a playoff revolution because at season’s end only two teams will have truly earned the right to compete for the national championship of college football. 

This year will be like many others in that Cadillac programs like Florida, Alabama and Texas will have the easiest path to the championship. Some might say this is because every season they at least contend for the championship according to the best objective measures, record and strength of schedule, and thus ascend the polls with greater ease than other programs. To these cynics, perennial powers like the aforementioned teams—USC, Ohio State, Virginia Tech or (inexplicably) Notre Dame—can always work their way into the upper echelon of the Top 25 with a body of work that’s more Dennis Franz than Kim Delaney, while a team with less football history—like Oregon or Cincinnati—must work much harder. The fact that USC, before being completely pulled apart by Oregon last weekend, managed to get back into the Top 5 after losing to good-but-not-great Washington gives some credence to this argument. 

Obviously, teams that are usually superb will get the benefit of a doubt over teams that are usually mediocre. I hear the indignant masses when they complain that after getting the pole position (pun intended) at the start of the season, these old guard teams will be in the championship game if they win out, even if another team that did not begin as highly touted also has a perfect record and as much or more objective credibility. “Isn’t this a travesty?” they cry from Salt Lake City, from Fort Worth, and from Boise. “Good teams with undefeated records sometimes don’t make it! How does this happen? Why?!” they incessantly screech on sports message boards (they just yell at their computers and I hear them. It’s the lamest superpower ever, but you take what you can get). Their grievance does, however, present a quandary. How can we be sure that a deserving team makes it to the national championship? By asking rhetorical questions, which are really annoying in a written format?

The way we can determine who’s a contender and who’s a pretender is scheduling.  Boise State ranks 84th in strength of schedule right now—the Broncos are good, but in no way do they deserve to supplant Texas (31st), Florida (5th), or Alabama (34th). The TCU Horned Frogs have a slightly more legitimate case with the 39th toughest schedule, but that’s still not nearly high enough to leapfrog a school from a major conference that has played opponents of approximately the same toughness. I therefore see no great injustice in the possible exclusion of an undefeated Boise State or TCU from this year’s championship because neither played enough BCS-conference foes to merit placement with teams whose entire schedule, save for a few early cupcakes, is major conference opponents. 

However, that logic gets thrown out the window when we consider the cases of Iowa and Cincinnati, two BCS-conference teams that could very well finish undefeated and out of the title game. But do these teams have a more legitimate gripe than TCU or Boise? Not really, if you look at their schedules. Iowa’s strength of schedule is ranked 12th overall, Cincinnati’s 46th. This is especially damning for the Bearcats because in addition to their weak schedule, the Big East has the reputation of being a terrible football conference. To most voters, it doesn’t deserve an automatic bowl bid any more than the Mountain West Conference, so I’m going to ignore Cincy’s championship hopes.

That leaves Iowa as the only possible unbeaten that might deserve to play for the championship but be left out. While this would be unjust, nobody can honestly say that the Hawkeyes have looked better than Florida, Alabama or Texas, even though their strength of schedule, 12th, is exemplary and better than the Longhorns’ and Crimson Tide’s. The Hawkeyes simply do not have a championship-caliber quarterback. Jeremiah Masoli’s Oregon could be even more deserving, but losing the first game of the college season on The Blue at Boise will keep them out of title contention. The Ducks should still be very proud of handing Pete Carroll his worst loss as coach of USC and dominating the Trojans on both sides of the ball in Eugene. If anything, fault the Ducks for having too tough a schedule, which gave them their only loss and will relegate them to facing Iowa, where they’ll continue to assert their status as a new power program. The Ducks should take their lesson in scheduling from Florida. The Gators play three cupcakes and then a lot of good but unexceptional BCS schools through their SEC schedule. With proper scheduling, the road to the BCS doesn’t have to be a highway to hell, but rather a dirty deed, done dirt cheap. Or something. 

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