Sunday, December 07, 2003

Look at the sugar falling from the sky ...

Nobody in the LSU section of the Ga. Dome got my Larry Munson reference [above] near the end of the SEC Championship game. That's ok. And I think I did see some sugar cubes getting tossed out onto the field.

When Marcus Spears swallowed David Greene in the backfield on UGA's last 4th down, the notion that we might play for the national title began to sink in. And at 3:15 this morning, as Boise State finished off Hawaii - a move BCS experts correctly predicted would give LSU a 0.32 strength of schedule advantage over USC - it was all but set. I finally went to bed at about 3:30. [note: TCL and I had intended to stay out with Tiger fans until the wee hours, but we were consumed with BCS analysis, so it was back to the EAtl to break out the spreadsheet]

Then this morning came the computer rankings, the Coaches' Poll and finally the AP. We got what we needed from the machines, and the pollsters rightfully dropped Oklahoma behind us, sending my Tigers (and me) to New Orleans Jan. 4.

College football observers say this year's "controversy" of a USC team ranked No. 1 in both polls but not going to the BCS title game is evidence the system has to be scrapped. It's an outrage for the consensus No. 1 poll team to not be in the title game, they say.

There's an outrage here, alright. The way I see it, the outrage is that the pollsters would elevate USC to the No. 1 spot above LSU (and Oklahoma). A team never drops in the polls when they win, of course, and to boost LSU to No. 1 would throw disrespect on the proud Trojan tradition.

But after Saturday, how do you argue USC is No. 1? Six of the seven BCS computers say Oklahoma and LSU are better. USC's schedule strength lags behind both Oklahoma and LSU as well. And USC played one less game than either Oklahoma or LSU.

So of all the elements one might use to determine the two best teams out of three 1-loss schools, only the human ones say USC is among the two best. Simply put, the humans are wrong.

Only humans would look beyond all the on-the-field factors and rank USC No. 1 ahead of LSU and Oklahoma.

Did anyone notice that USC gave up 485 yards passing (and a total of 543 yards of offense to go along with the 28 points) to 7-5 Oregon State Saturday? Anyone check to see that those 485 passing yards were the most Oregon State had rung up all year? USC's 52 - 28 win only looked good because Oregon State turned the ball over 5 times.

By comparison, LSU held 10 - 3 Georgia (now the No. 11 team in the polls) to just 249 yards of total offense, the fewest yards gained by the Bulldogs this year. UGA's 13 points were the fewest for the Bulldogs since the Florida loss and the only team to hold UGA to fewer points than LSU did on Saturday was ... LSU, who held them to 10 points back on Sept. 20.

On the other side of the ball, LSU rang up 444 yards of total offense, the most yards the Dawgs have given up this season. And the Tigers' 34 points were 11 more than UGA had given up in any game this year.

But any chance LSU would pass USC in the human polls after these performances? Of course not. USC got 42 of 65 first-place votes in the AP and 37 of 63 in the Coaches' Poll. And they don't deserve it.

The voters obviously didn't compare USC and LSU's Saturday games to decide who's No. 1, and the didn't compare the seasons USC, LSU and Oklahoma are having, either.

Even after USC rang 52 up on Oregon State and Oklahoma was held to 7 against Kansas State, USC is averaging 3 points and 10 yards of offense less per game than the Sooners. USC scores 7 points a game more than LSU and gains 25 yards more on offense, but LSU's defense gives up 8 points and 77 yards per game less than USC.

And keep in mind USC has the weakest schedule of the three teams (37th in the country, compared to LSU at 29 and Oklahoma at 11). And, of course, they didn't play a conference championship game (or any 13th game, for that matter) like LSU and Oklahoma.

The one place you won't hear complaints about a No. 1-ranked USC missing the BCS is ... USC. See, if Oklahoma had won on Saturday, the Sooners and Tigers would still be the ones going to New Orleans (I did the math on that), and USC would have no real shot at an AP national championship. Getting to No. 1 in the polls is all that saved USC's (split) national championship hopes.

So the BCS is working as it should ... to reduce the influence of the purely subjective (human) rankings.

USC is the third-best team in college football this year, and they get a shot at a (shared) national championship anyway, just because tradition says you don't bump a team down on a weekend they win a game.

That's the outrage here. And it's the human system, not the BCS, that needs to be overhauled.

P.S. I was 1 - 0 on my picks this week, bringing the non-bowl total to 76 - 22 and 12 - 1 on my Tigers.

P.P.S. Damn but did we destroy Georgia Saturday night. Geaux Tigers!!


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