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LSU-Alabama: A Case Against a BCS Rematch


-by Braden Gall (follow him @AthlonBraden)

LSU and Alabama are probably the best two teams in the nation.

And when you play in a league that boasts the last five National Champions, you are going to get the benefit of the doubt.

That doesn’t make it right, however, for LSU and Alabama to play in the BCS title game. The top two teams in the nation played an undefeated, tightly contested, late-season game in which the No. 1 team beat the No. 2 team by three points.

Shouldn’t that game mean something?

If you are wondering why that scenario sounds so familiar, it’s because it is exactly what happened in 2006, when an unbeaten No. 1 Ohio State topped an unbeaten No. 2 Michigan 42-39 on November 18. The screams against a rematch echoing from around the nation — and from Gainesville in particular — were deafening.

And they were right.

Michigan easily handled a 12-1 Wisconsin team, outlasted a 9-4 Penn State on the road and dismantled a 10-3 Notre Dame team that played in the Sugar Bowl before losing by three on the road to the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation. Sounds awfully similar to an Alabama team that, assuming both LSU and Bama take care of business over the final two weeks, won at Penn State, handily beat a 10-2 Arkansas team at home, beat its Iron Bowl rival and lost to the No. 1 team in the nation by three points. A very simple, and very subjective, case could be made that the 2006 Wolverines deserved the right to play in the national championship game —precisely the identical case Crimson Tide fans are making today.

Through the joy of hindsight, we now know that Florida did, in fact, deserve to play in the BCS National Championship game against the Buckeyes. Obviously. But the 10.5-point spread favoring Ohio State certainly didn’t indicate that was the case before the game was played. Very few experts were picking the Gators to win that game.

And this is where my long-time personal sports philosophies and what I have seen on the college football gridiron this season decisively diverge.

Teams that do not win their division or conference are allowed to win championships in every other major sport. The Green Bay Packers or the St. Louis Cardinals wouldn’t be World Champions if “Wild Cards” were not allowed to participate in the championship format. Yet, the Packers and Cardinals had to prove their mettle by maneuvering an incredibly treacherous postseason path to the title game(s). These teams were rewarded for establishing themselves as “worthy” during the regular season, earning a chance to play for a championship against the sport's best competition.

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And they capitalized with epic and unexpected performances.

The Packers had to win three straight road games against the Eagles, Falcons and Bears before defeating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The Cardinals had to defeat the mighty Phillies, Brewers and Rangers in order to capture their 11th World Series title.

Herein lies the rub. I believe that Alabama and LSU (for now, Arkansas fans) are the two best teams in the nation. But that is, by definition, just a guess. There is no factual proof that Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Boise State or Stanford wouldn’t beat the Bayou Bengals or the Crimson Tide. Hypothetically, let’s assume each of those teams wins their conference championship, leaving them a combined 57-6. They would easily have established themselves as the best of the rest.

Did anyone pick the Cardinals to win the World Series? Or the Packers to win three road games and the Super Bowl? Assuming that LSU and Alabama would automatically defeat every one of those other teams is prognostication hubris.

In the non-playoff BCS format that is currently employed, the point is to try to objectively select the two best teams in the nation for a one-game playoff scenario. This makes college football’s regular season the most powerful and meaningful in all of sports – as every anti-playoff advocate will so readily point out.

So the 9-6 win by LSU over Alabama in Tuscaloosa on November 5 has to mean something, right? I may have watched that game and still felt that Alabama was the “better” team, but the better team doesn’t always win and LSU has to receive some sort of credit for winning that game.

If Alabama and LSU meet in the BCS National Title game, my eyes will agree that they are likely the two best teams in the nation. But if Alabama beats LSU, then what did that November 6 meeting mean?

Absolutely nothing. And my sports insides would be in a post-Turkey Day knot.

In a system that values the regular season at an unprecedented level, that contest at the Captsone has to have a cost associated with it. Alabama lost its division, its conference and the chance at a national championship that night — even if I still think they are the best team in the nation.

The point of athletic competition is having the opportunity to accomplish greatness against all odds. Joe Namath and John Elway pulled off two of the greatest upsets in football history on sports’ grandest stage. Jimmy V or Villanova would never have had the chance to cut down the nets if it weren't for the tournament. The Florida Marlins and Josh Beckett would never have ruined Steve Bartman’s life if not for the Wild Card. The 2007 Oregon State Beavers baseball team was one of the final at-large bids into the postseason and they captured the College World Series championship. None of which would have happened had we let our subjective hypotheses do the work for us.

The list goes on and on, full of Shining Moments that allow fans to dream big and then witness those fantasies unfold in front of them through the beauty of on-the-field competition. So if Alabama and LSU land in a four-team playoff, for example, and each wins its way to the title game, my inner sports-chi would be totally aligned and comfortable with a rematch. But in the current system, a team that doesn’t even win its own division simply does not deserve the right to play for a National Championship, even if we think it might be the second-best team in the nation.

Because if the BCS is such a perfect format, why is it the most heavily criticized postseason system in all of major American sports?