The big question everyone is asking is – what happened to Ohio State? Everyone is talking about how the Gators destroyed the Buckeyes to win the 2006 BCS College Football Championship. The Gators seemed like they were in a different league than the Buckeyes. And, the truth is, they are.
The 41-14 final score makes the game seem closer than it was. Half of the Buckeyes 14 points came from their opening kick-off return. After that play, the Buckeyes were completely dominated in every phase of the game. Florida had 370 total yards to Ohio State's 82. The Buckeyes' Heisman Trophy quarterback Troy Smith was held to only 4 pass completions (2 in each half); 35 passing yards; 1 interception; 0 touchdowns. The BCS Championship game was the worst game in Troy Smith's career.
It's not a coincidence that the National Championship game was also the first time Troy Smith had ever been on the same field with the speed and power of a Southeastern Conference (SEC) football team. I bet a lot of Buckeye players celebrated the day after the game. Celebrated the fact that they will never again play on the same field with a team from the SEC.
There is an old saying that "practice makes perfect." Playing in the SEC, Florida gets lots of practice. In 2006, the Gators had the toughest schedule in the nation (.643 opponents winning percentage). Florida beat four Top-25 teams (LSU, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee) and lost to a fifth– # 9 Auburn. Additionally, they beat four other bowl teams (Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida State). So, before last night's game, the Gators had already played against NINE other bowl teams.
Ohio State? Well, the Buckeyes play in the Big Ten and therefore only faced three Top-25 teams all year. They averaged over 36 points and 410 yards a game against mostly weak opponents. Ohio State simply was unprepared for the talent and intensity of a team like Florida. Gators defensive end Jarvis Moss said after the game that four or five SEC teams could beat Ohio State. I would not go that far, but it is true that all nine SEC teams Florida faced (including Vanderbilt) played the Gators tougher than Ohio State did.
You need more proof the SEC is in a league of its own? OK Since the advent of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system, the SEC leads all conferences (by a wide margin) with a 10-4 BCS bowl game record. SEC teams are an undefeated 3-0 in BCS National Championship games. In this past college football season, the SEC:
1. Led the nation with six teams in the final AP Top-25 poll. No other conference had more than four.
2. In the regular season, the SEC had an incredible 41-7 non-conference record. This .854 non-conference winning percentage was the best in the nation.
3. Had the most teams selected for bowls (9) and the most bowl wins (6). No other conference had more than 4 wins. Only the SEC (and Big East) had winning bow records. Even the three SEC bowl losses were close games that could have gone either way. Significantly, SEC bowl teams face higher seeded teams from other conferences. For instance, the Chick-fil-A Bowl has agreements with the SEC and ACC to select the # 5 SEC team to face the # 2 ACC team. The Music City Bowl pairs # 7 from the SEC against # 5 from the ACC. Yet, the SEC still dominates the bowls year after year.
The most amazing thing about the National Championship game was not what happened on the field. The most amazing (and scary) thing is that Florida almost was not picked to play in the game. In the narrowest of decisions, the BCS barely selected Florida over Michigan to play Ohio State for the National Championship.
Everyone disappeared the outcry from our Michigan (and other Big Ten) friends when Florida was picked over the Wolverines. Of course we also now know that Michigan went on to lose decisively to USC in the Rose Bowl.
In retrospect, it is clear, for all to see, that Ohio State vs. Michigan in the National Championship game would have been a national disgrace. Unfortunately, the reality is that a similar tragedy has happened in the past and will happen again in the future.
Why? Simple. SEC Football is so tough that it is virtually impossible for an SEC team to get through the regular season without at least one loss and without nearly losing a few other games. The SEC Champion invariably emerges from the crucible of an SEC schedule as a true champion, but bruised and battered. When the pollsters and computers combine to select which two teams will play in the BCS National Championship, a lesser team may appear more impressive than the SEC Champ due to a weaker schedule.
Many pundits underestimated Florida this year because they struggled to win several SEC games. Another example is 2004 when Auburn went 12-0 in the regular season (13-0 after their bowl victory), yet failed to qualify for the BCS Championship game (Oklahoma was picked over Auburn because some of Auburn's wins were not perceived as impressive enough ).
America was lucky last night that the right team ended up in the BCS Championship Game. But, the BCS system automatically guarantees future unfairness. A college football play system is the only way to really fix the problem.
Well, not the only way. Another option would be to have the SEC Champion automatically qualify for the National Championship game. While not the best solution, it would be more fair than the current system.