Hundreds of thousands of words have been wasted in the blogosphere, as well as in the mainstream media, on the Florida-Michigan "Who's Number Two?" debate (and I'm as guilty as anybody), but has anyone stopped to think that it all might end up being irrelevant? A brief glance at the results of national championship games under the BCS indicates that neither Florida, nor Michigan would have a great chance to win the game because they are one-loss teams facing an unbeaten, #1 ranked opponent:
1998 - Unbeaten #1 Tennessee beats one-loss #2 Florida State
2000 - Unbeaten #1 Oklahoma beats one-loss #2 Florida State
2001 - Unbeaten #1 Miami beats one-loss #2 Nebraska
And if we go back to the Bowl Alliance:
1996 - Unbeaten #1 Florida State loses to one-loss #2 Florida
1997 - Unbeaten #2 Nebraska beats one-loss #3 Tennessee
So what's the lesson, other than the fact that Florida State has lost a number of national title games? That the unbeaten team is 4-1 in match-ups against one-loss teams, and that one exception is one that Florida fans might choose to forget this time of year. You know, that precedent where a team vaults to the top of the rankings with a decisive win on the road in September against the pre-season Heisman favorite, stays in the top two all year, loses a three-point game on the road to its arch-rival, and then gets a rematch on a neutral field for the nationa title? Yeah, that one.
My point in reciting this precedent (admittedly, one with a very small sample size, but when has that stopped me before?) is not so much to show that Florida is unlikely to win in Glendale, but instead to point out that the argument between Florida and Michigan isn't really that meaningful because Ohio State has shown itself to be superior to both teams over the course of the season by not losing against a reasonable schedule. (The notion that Florida lost a game is apparently news to Tony Barnhart, who picks Florida to win the national title game because he "get[s] this feeling that the Gators, as they have all season, will find a way to win this game?" Barnhart, incidentally, shows his inability to be objective on a debate between an SEC team and an Auslaender in that column [or at least an inability to resist playing to his audience], claiming that a statement that Michigan is a better team is "subjective," but then goes on to argue that Florida has played a tougher schedule, which is equally subjective. Wait, wasn't the whole point of this post to argue that the Florida-Michigan debate was likely irrelevant anyway? I digress.)
My favorite example for this argument is 2001. That season concluded with 10-1 Nebraska getting the nod over 10-1 Oregon for the right to play 11-0 Miami. Nebraska promptly got abused by an epic Miami team, thus leading to predictable caterwauling that the wrong team played in Pasadena. As a result of the complaining, the BCS, perfectly illustrating an elite mollifying the discontented masses with symbolic means, removed margin-of-victory from the BCS rankings since that factor had led to Nebraska beating Oregon for the second spot in the Rose Bowl. In so doing, the BCS took a bad formula and made it worse, at least according to just about anyone who has ever looked at the factors that are relevant in measuring teams against one another. What was lost in the post-massacre griping was the fact that Oregon wouldn't have done any better. Specifically, leaving aside the fact that Oregon had a series of narrow wins over average teams (31-28 at home over 5-7 Wisconsin, 24-22 at home over 6-6 USC, 21-20 over 7-5 UCLA, and 17-14 at home over 5-6 Oregon State), the Ducks were 75th in the nation in yards per pass attempt allowed. They were 81st in total defense and 110th in pass defense. How would they have hoped to stop a Miami offense with Ken Dorsey throwing the ball to Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow, Jr. and handing off to Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, all with Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez blocking? If Google would help me out, this would be a good place to paste the picture of Mike Bellotti's face when he was interviewed at halftime of the game, because Mike couldn't even muster the strength to complain about not being in Pasadena, but instead, he had this dumb "thank goodness we played Colorado instead of Miami" grin on his face.
Anyway, if history is any guide, it's more than likely that Ohio State is better than either Michigan or Florida and we're all fighting over the right to lose to them. Or course, I reserve the right to pretend that this post never happened while whining and complaining as per tradition if Michigan wins the Rose Bowl and Ohio State wins in Glendale by more than three points. This is me tying myself to the mast before sailing past the Sirens.