LSU has a ticket to the title game. Everyone else has a pretty good gripe. The latest chapter in this crazy, unpredictable college football season was written Sunday when LSU won the sport’s version of the lottery, being picked to play Ohio State for the championship and leaving about a half-dozen other candidates with plenty to complain about.
The Tigers (11-2), ranked second in the latest AP poll, will be the first team to play in the BCS title game with two losses.
“It is something a lot of guys never thought we would have the opportunity to have after we lost to Arkansas,” LSU safety Craig Steltz said, “but the guys just kept on fighting and controlled the things they could control and now we are going on to play in the championship.
No. 1 Ohio State goes into the game, Jan. 7 at the Superdome in New Orleans, at 11-1.
“We always talk to our guys about the fact you better win all your games,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “We didn’t do that but we still have an opportunity in a crazy football season.”
Missouri and West Virginia, which came into the weekend ranked 1 and 2, lost Saturday to blow their title chances. Missouri was left out of the BCS bowls altogether.
Why did LSU, which was seventh in the BCS standings heading into the final weekend, make the jump to No. 2 and into the big game, while Oklahoma, Southern California, Georgia and a number of others were left behind?
The 174 poll voters and handful of computer nerds whose calculations make up the BCS rankings probably all have their own reasons. Among the best is LSU was rewarded for winning the Southeastern Conference, which is traditionally viewed as one of the toughest leagues in the nation.
There’s also the argument coach Les Miles and athletic director Skip Bertman offered up Saturday night: The Tigers went undefeated in regulation — their two losses both coming in triple overtime.
Paper-thin as that line of reasoning may sound, it’s as good as any in this topsy-turvy season during which the top-ranked team lost four times, the second-ranked team lost six times since October and Nos. 1 and 2 lost on the same week three times in the last two months.
“The brass ring was there for a lot of different teams to grab it,” SEC commissioner and BCS coordinator Mike Slive said during a conference call Sunday night. “Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, and when they didn’t it allowed two teams that were seen as two of the better teams in the country early in the year to find their way back.”
The rest of the BCS games are filled with teams that had every bit as good an argument as LSU for a spot in the title game.
In the Sugar Bowl, Georgia will play Hawaii. The Bulldogs (10-2) were fourth and idle coming into the final weekend — behind Missouri, West Virginia and Ohio State — but didn’t automatically rise two spots the way coach Mark Richt thought they should. Richt felt even though the BCS rules state a team doesn’t have to win its conference to play in the national title game, the fact the Bulldogs didn’t play for the SEC championship was held against them.
“At least we shouldn’t have gotten disqualified before we got started,” he said.
Hawaii (12-0) is the nation’s only undefeated team, but is penalized for playing a weak schedule in the Western Athletic Conference. The Warriors won’t complain. They just wanted to get a big-dollar bowl, make about $9 million for the WAC the way Boise State did last season, and get a chance to prove themselves against top competition.
“It doesn’t feel real right now,” Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan said. “It’s been a great ride ...”
The Warriors qualified automatically by finishing 10th in the final BCS standings. They needed to be in the top 12.
The Fiesta Bowl will pit West Virginia (10-2) against Oklahoma (11-2). The Sooners beat top-ranked Missouri twice this season, including 38-17 on Saturday in the Big 12 title game.
The Rose Bowl stuck with its traditional Big Ten-vs.-Pac-10 matchup, going with Southern California (10-2) against Illinois (9-3). USC, thought to be playing as well as anyone in the nation right now, was one of the two-loss teams that had a legitimate claim at the title game. A loss to 41-point underdog Stanford in October, however, probably doomed the Trojans.
The Orange Bowl chose Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia Tech (11-2), also a two-loss team. Hurting the Hokies was a 48-7 loss to LSU back in September. Virginia Tech’s opponent will be Kansas (11-1), which leapfrogged Missouri for a BCS spot even though the Jayhawks lost to Mizzou 36-28 only a week ago.
Of course not, though even in the most uneventful of years, the controversial practice of voting on bowl bids inspires debate among pundits, outrage among fans and outright indignation among coaches whose teams get spurned.
Need it be said this would have been a perfect year for a playoff? Or maybe the plus-one format, which would look something like a four-team mini-playoff and set the championship game after the four major bowls are played.
“I really feel like it’s heading in that direction,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “How quickly? We’ll see. ... it all makes sense.”
There would have been no clear favorite in a playoff this season.
Ohio State has been roundly criticized since the beginning of the season, after losing players from a team that was heavily favored in last year’s title game but flopped mightily in a 41-14 loss to Florida.
The Buckeyes were ranked first in November, but surrendered that with a 28-21 loss to Illinois that only added fuel to those who said they weren’t deserving. But they backed into the BCS game without even playing, beneficiaries of the fact the Big Ten doesn’t play a title game while many other conferences do.
Their opponents will be LSU, a program that appeared on the verge of losing its coach as late as a few hours before kickoff Saturday.
That’s when Miles held an angry news conference and said reports he would be leaving the Bayou for Michigan were false. In fact, he said, he had agreed to a new contract to stay in Baton Rouge.
Then, the Tigers went out and won. Later, they sat calmly and watched chaos reign for the rest of the day. On Sunday, they learned they were in the championship game for the second time in five years.
Weird. Wacky. A roller coaster. Yes, it was all of that.
Or, maybe it was the only fitting way to close out a very imperfect 2007 in college football.