Monday, January 27, 2014

BCS Review Series: 2011, LSU Robbed in All-SEC Absurdity

Part 14 of a seriesOver the next few weeks, I will be reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. Here is a look back at who got lucky, who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear throughout December and January.

Part 1: 1998, A New Beginning for College Football

Part 2: 1999, FSU Ends Michael Vick's Quest for Perfection

Part 3: 2000, FSU-Miami Sows Seeds of Controversy

Part 4: 2001, Nebraska Fiasco Rocks College Football

Part 5: 2002, Controversy on Field Mars Perfect Ending

Part 6: 2003, Nightmare of Split National Championship

Part 7: 2004, Unbeaten Auburn Left Out in the Cold

Part 8: 2005, Perfect Season Ends With Epic at Rose Bowl

Part 9: 2006, Dawn of SEC's Reign in College Football

Part 10: 2007, LSU Goes "Undefeated in Regulation"

Part 11: 2008, SEC Wins in Polls, Then on the Field

Part 12: 2009, Alabama, Texas More Equal Than Others

Part 13: 2010, SEC and Pac-10 Finally Get Together

The 2011 season was where the BCS got it all wrong.

And the victim that suffered the most amount of injustice was actually an SEC team—LSU.

The Tigers of 2011 put up possibly the most impressive resume of any team in the BCS era. They defeated five teams with at least 10 wins. They beat three teams that went on to play in BCS bowl games. And they became the first (and only) team to score a perfect 1.000 in the final BCS standings since the format was adopted in 2004.

Yet, thanks to the combination of a giant loophole that the BCS never closed and the media-driven groupthink mentality amongst the voters, LSU was forced to play a conference team that it had already defeated during the regular season—on the road, no less.

Alabama might have won the 2011 BCS title, but its place in the championship game was so richly undeserved. Let us count the ways:

1. Championship loophole: In both 2001 (Nebraska) and 2003 (Oklahoma), a team that failed to win its conference somehow ended up in the BCS title game. After each instance, an argument was made that a conference title should be mandatory for teams playing for the national championship.

That reasoning had both logical and historical roots. Every national championship team since the AP began publishing its final poll after bowl games in 1968 was a conference champion, all the way until the advent of the BCS era in 1998. Conference title was a requirement for teams to qualify for the biggest bowl games.

Yet, in 2011, Alabama didn't win its own division, never mind the conference, since it didn't even qualify for the SEC title game.

2. BCS precedent: Without the conference title requirement, it was up to the voters to decide the top two teams in the final BCS standings—an established fact after the formula was tweaked in 2004. Their only guideline was that the finalists be the nebulous "best two teams."

In 2006, they correctly averted rematching Ohio State and Michigan in the title game, even though the Big Ten rivals were Nos. 1 and 2 going into the final weeks of the season. The voters bought into the SEC argument (loudly advocated on CBS by Gary Danielson) that it was not possible to determine the best two teams in the nation if they were both from the same conference.

But in 2011, most of the voters forgot all about that after being brain-washed by the SEC dominance over the past five years.

3. Strength of schedule: Alabama's main competition was Oklahoma State, which lost out on the absurdity of the argument that one bad loss trumps all good wins.

The Cowboys' only loss of the season was to 6-6 Iowa State on the road in overtime whereas the Tide's only loss was to LSU at home in overtime. Yet, OSU had a higher computer ranking, having defeated four teams with at least nine wins, whereas 'Bama beat just two. OSU ended up losing the argument because it played in the underrated (by the human voters) Big 12.

Alabama also played one of the weakest schedules of any teams appearing in the BCS title games. Because it got to skip the SEC title game entirely, it played only nine and won only eight games against BCS conference opponents—in both cases the fewest of any team that won the title in the BCS era.

4. Post-hoc fallacy: Because Alabama did beat LSU, 21-0, in a snooze of a championship game, does that mean its selection was vindicated? Most definitely not.

The Crimson Tide were well-prepared to play in the championship game after getting an unearned reprieve. But that they played well was irrelevant because they shouldn't have been in there in the first place. SEC apologists like to excuse its teams' poor performances in big bowl games due to lack of interest (see, Alabama, in 2009 and 2014 Sugar Bowl), but if they win it just affirmed the conference's superiority.

In 2011, they wanted that argument to go both ways.

Final 2011 BCS Standings: 1. LSU, 2. Alabama, 3. Oklahoma State.

Likely four-team playoff: LSU vs. Alabama; Oklahoma State vs. Oregon.

The rematch would've been accepted here with the Tide no better than a No. 4 seed since they were the only non-champion in the field. Oregon would've gotten the nod over Stanford despite having one more loss because it beat the Cardinal and won the Pac-12.


Boise State Snub III: Whereas conference championship was not required for teams to play in the BCS title game, that requirement was iron-clad for non-AQ teams wishing to participate in a BCS bowl game.

For the second year in a row, Boise State lost its only game in a heartbreaker when its kicker missed a field goal at the end of regulation. This time, in their first year as a member of the Mountain West Conference, the 36-35 loss to TCU cost them the conference title.

As a result, despite finishing No. 7 in the final BCS standings, well ahead of three BCS conference champions (Big Ten, ACC and Big East), Boise State was snubbed again by the BCS bowls. The Sugar Bowl opted to match up No. 11 Virginia Tech with No. 13 Michigan, with neither a conference winner. The Broncos were relegated to play in the Las Vegas Bowl for a second straight year.

K-State Snub V: Bill Snyder returned to Manhattan and rebuilt the Wildcats program a second time, only to find that the BCS was just as inhospitable as when he left it the first time.

Kansas State was snubbed for a BCS bowl berth for a fifth time after finishing in the top 10 in the final standings. Just as No. 7 Boise State was bypassed by the Sugar Bowl, the eighth-ranked Wildcats ended up in the Cotton Bowl. K-State never received an at-large berth in the entire BCS era, as its two BCS bowl appearances (2003 and 2012) both came after winning the Big 12 title.

2011 BCS Bowl Matchups
BowlScoreAttendanceTV Rating
BCS Champ*#2 Alabama 21, #1 LSU 078,23716.2
Rose#5 Oregon 45, #10 Wisconsin 3891,24511.8
Fiesta#3 Oklahoma St. 41, #4 Stanford 38 (OT)69,9279.7
Sugar#13 Michigan 23, #11 Va. Tech 20 (OT)64,5127.1
Orange#23 West Virginia 70, #15 Clemson 3367,5635.3

Final analysis: Like it or not, Alabama's 2011 BCS title must come with an asterisk.

Unlike Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003, the Tide did win the BCS title game and took home the crystal ball. Their second championship in three years left no doubt that Nick Saban was building a budding dynasty, but doubts sprung anew about the viability of the BCS.

It has become clear to many of the BCS critics that the entire apparatus, built by its SEC godfather Roy Kramer, had become inexorably tilted in favor of his old conference both in perception and in practice. Its influence now extended to the AP poll, which had a chance to exercise its own independence, but declined. In the final poll, 55 of the 60 voters ranked Alabama No. 1 while four went with Oklahoma State.

The SEC's takeover of college football was now complete.

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