Commentary

The truth: I'll honestly miss the BCS

Originally Published: November 8, 2013
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

It hit me about the time Stanford's Jeff Trojan gathered in Oregon's last-gasp onside kick late Thursday night.

I'm going to miss the BCS.

[+] EnlargeHead coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesNick Saban probably will miss the end of the BCS, too, as more teams take aim at his crystal football.

For all the moaning and groaning that's gone on about everything that's not right with the current system of determining college football's national champion, let's be honest about something.

It's hard to beat the unpredictability and drama that we've seen down the stretch every year in that mad scramble to secure one of those all-important top two spots in the final BCS standings.

We were reminded yet again Thursday that what has made the BCS such a hit (at least in some quarters) is the incredible pressure that mounts these last few weeks of the season when there are only two tickets to the dance.

Some teams have thrived under that pressure. Most have not.

Here's betting Oregon won't be brokenhearted to see the BCS give way to the College Football Playoff next season. For the second straight year, the Ducks were seemingly soaring to the BCS National Championship only to be de-feathered by Stanford, and thus debunked as the team nobody could corral.

The Cardinal didn't just corral the Ducks for the second consecutive season. They beat them up, bashed in their beaks and literally left them teary-eyed.

And just like that, Oregon went from the most impressive team in the country to a team that might not play in its own conference championship game this season.

Again, welcome to the BCS.

Just when we thought we had it figured out over the past few years, and that this team or that team couldn't possibly lose, guess what? One of those teams, and sometimes both of those teams, usually lost.

Listen, the College Football Playoff is going to be a blast. For starters, it will add two more teams to the mix, and we'll get to see the four teams that the selection committee picks actually play it off on the field.

I'm sure there won't be any disagreements, either, over the four teams the committee picks every year. Condi Rice had a tough job as Secretary of State, but wait until she gets a load of a scorned fan base at Clemson, LSU or Ohio State.

There's never going to be a perfect system.

But as imperfect systems go, the BCS has provided plenty of compelling theater and helped to garner unprecedented attention for the sport of college football.

Oregon's 26-20 loss to Stanford on Thursday could be just the start to a chaotic finish to the season in this final year of the BCS.

We saw the Ducks crumble under the pressure.

Is Alabama next?

The Crimson Tide have been here before each of the past two Novembers and lost at home as one of the top two teams in the BCS standings. They're No. 1 entering Saturday's game against No. 13 LSU, and this one is again at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The odds of Alabama surviving a third straight November home loss and still winding up in the VIZIO BCS National Championship are about as long as Florida State dropping a game the rest of the way.

That cheering you heard late Thursday night as Oregon was being bullied at the line of scrimmage was coming from Tallahassee, Fla.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Lane Turner/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State got a huge opportunity with Oregon's loss.

The door is now wide-open for the Seminoles, who, according to several scouts I've talked to, have the most talented roster in the country from top to bottom, not to mention a quarterback, Jameis Winston, who just inched ever closer to becoming the second consecutive redshirt freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

As we've learned in the topsy-turvy world of the BCS, though, there are no givens.

The only given has been a heavy dose of intrigue (and, yes, a little controversy) as we draw nearer each year to the release of those final BCS standings the Sunday after the conference championship games.

It hasn't always been smooth sailing, and a few teams have gotten hosed.

But it sure has been a pulsating ride, and might get even more interesting these last few weeks before we say so long to the BCS forever.

The College Football Playoff is sure to be a huge success. Four teams will unquestionably become eight teams at some point, and the money generated will be astronomical.

Let's just hope the suspense can match what we've seen with those cursed three letters Roy Kramer introduced the college football world to back in 1998.

Like the BCS or loathe it, college football has never been more popular, and I suspect Kramer is sitting back in his retirement home right now in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains wearing a very contented smile.

This is exactly what he envisioned.

• • •

Briles part of star-studded Leach staff

Art Briles is obviously one of the hottest names right now in head-coaching circles, but go back and take a look at who was on that Texas Tech staff with him in 2000. It was Mike Leach's first season in Lubbock as head coach, and five of his nine assistants on that staff went on to become Division I head coaches. In addition to Briles (who was the running backs coach), Dana Holgorsen is in his third season at West Virginia, Sonny Dykes in his first season at California and Ruffin McNeill in his fourth season at East Carolina. Greg McMackin also was the head coach at Hawaii from 2008-11. And if you count Kliff Kingsbury, there were six eventual Division I coaches working under or playing for Leach, which says a little something about the Leach coaching tree. Kingsbury was the starting quarterback on that team, his first season as the Red Raiders' starter. Not only that, but Wes Welker was a freshman receiver and return specialist.

• • •

McCarron's Heisman hopes could get boost

[+] EnlargeA.J. McCarron
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsRemember AJ McCarron? He could still end up in the Heisman mix.

If Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is going to get into the Heisman Trophy conversation, here's his chance. He has some big-stage games on the horizon, starting with LSU on Saturday night, and McCarron has been money in big games. He's also playing his best football of the season right now, although, to be fair, the Crimson Tide didn't face a team in the month of October that was ranked in the top 50 nationally in total defense. Nonetheless, McCarron completed 70.7 percent of his passes in October, with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Here's something else to ponder: Since Oct. 1, he's the only FBS quarterback with at least three starts who hasn't been sacked, and during that stretch, Alabama has an FBS-low nine plays that have lost yardage. McCarron was on the field for only one of those plays, a screen pass against Tennessee that lost 2 yards. It's a reminder that a big part of why McCarron has been so successful (and, yes, he's played behind stellar offensive lines and with explosive playmakers) is that he's seasoned enough and smart enough to keep Alabama out of bad plays. It's one of the most overlooked qualities a quarterback can possess, but one Nick Saban demands if you're going to play quarterback for him.

• • •

LSU wide receivers pose threat to Tide

We've all seen the stifling defensive numbers Alabama has registered ever since being carved apart by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M back on Sept. 14. The Crimson Tide have given up all of two offensive touchdowns since that 49-42 win and allowed teams to convert just 28.8 percent of their third downs. But the matchup to watch against LSU is Alabama's secondary against the Tigers' receiving duo of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. It's easily the best receiving combo Alabama has faced this season, and remember what Texas A&M's Mike Evans did to the Crimson Tide in College Station. Landry and Beckham obviously don't have Evans' size, but they're both excellent after the catch, run precise routes and catch the ball in traffic. They're both big-play guys, too. They each have eight touchdown catches, with Beckham averaging 21 yards per catch and Landry 15.2 yards per catch. We'll find out a lot more about Alabama's secondary Saturday and just how much the Tide have improved back there.

• • •

Mason, Auburn quietly keep producing

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesTre Mason and Auburn lead the SEC in rushing.
Any guesses on which SEC player is in the best position to put together his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season? That would be Auburn's Tre Mason. He can hit 1,000 yards for the second year in a row if he gets 79 on Saturday against Tennessee. Mason also leads the SEC with 13 touchdowns and ranks right up there with some of the more underrated players in college football. The Tigers lead the SEC in rushing with an average of 306.2 yards per game. That's after averaging just 148.4 yards on the ground a year ago. For a "gimmicky, spread" guy, Gus Malzahn's teams sure seem committed to running the football.

• • •

Alabama a model for Ohio State hopes

The ball has bounced just right for Alabama each of the past two seasons in terms of the right teams losing following November home losses, clearing the path for the Crimson Tide to work their way back into the national title picture. Ohio State, despite a nation's-best 21-game winning streak, will need more than a few good bounces this season. The Buckeyes, who are off this week, will need every bounce. We're talking some of those bouncy-ball bounces. But it's happened before. In 2007, No. 1 Ohio State lost 28-21 at home to unranked Illinois the second week of November and dropped all the way to No. 7 in the BCS standings. The Buckeyes' national championship hopes might as well have been toast. They needed five of the six teams in front of them to lose over the next three weeks to climb back into one of those top two spots of the final BCS standings. As it turned out, all six lost, and Ohio State shot back up to No. 1 in the BCS standings. The Buckeyes wound up losing in the BCS National Championship to an LSU team that lost at home to unranked Arkansas on the final weekend of the regular season. If we have that kind of chaos over the final four or five weeks this season, good luck in picking the two teams that will land in Pasadena.

• • •

Wisconsin's underrated season

[+] EnlargeJames White
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsJames White is part of a stout rushing attack on an underrated Wisconsin team.

Is anybody in the country more underrated than Wisconsin this season? The Badgers (6-2) were No. 24 this week in the BCS standings, and you could easily make a case that they're a top-15 team. That botched ending (by the officials) in the Arizona State game cost them a chance to kick what could have been a game-winning field goal, resulting in a 32-30 loss on the road. Their only other loss was by a touchdown to Ohio State on the road. Wisconsin gets BYU at home this weekend. This is a team with a quietly solid defense and two really good running backs, but that controversial loss to Arizona State the third week of the season could end up costing the Badgers an at-large berth in a BCS bowl.

• • •

Bielema in for long fight

Speaking of the Badgers, it's pretty obvious that Bret Bielema left that program a lot more talent than he inherited in his new gig at Arkansas. The Hogs are taking it on the chin right now and hoping to avoid their seventh consecutive loss when they travel to Ole Miss this weekend. I spent some time with Bielema last week in Fayetteville, and he knew what he was getting into -- and also knew it was going to take some time, especially when you consider that he wants to play a style that is 180 degrees different from what they'd been playing at Arkansas. Say this for Bielema, too: He's not spooked by challenges. He traded a West Division in the Big Ten that next year will include Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue for a Western Division in the SEC that includes four teams -- Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M -- ranked in the top 15 of the current BCS standings.

Chris Low | email

College Football

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