Thursday night there’s a national title at stake for Oklahoma and Florida - the winner gets the big crystal BCS football while the loser gets two losses and knocked down in the polls, hopefully past all of the one loss teams and undefeated Utah. There’s a lot at stake for Sooner and Gator fans as these two teams meet for the first time ever.
There’s a lot at stake for the fans of the Big 12 and SEC conferences, too. Big 12 fans head into the national title game and hope that Oklahoma can hold up the honor of the conference. It’s been a big deal this season because it appeared the Big 12 would challenge the SEC for conference superiority.
Throughout the season we’ve heard about the Big 12 quarterbacks and the conference’s offensive firepower, all the while having fun ribbing the SEC geeks that they may not be the best after all. It's great fun. Not only that it's easy. Since losing the Civil War and deciding not to rise yet again this year, SEC football is about the only glory the South has to hang onto as a unified body.
This lasted until we’ve gotten into the bowls where the Big 12 isn’t near the juggernaut it appeared to be earlier in the season. Chalk the loss in Big 12 prestige to losses in three games - Ole Miss’ win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl; Oklahoma State’s loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl; and Texas near-loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta. The SEC lost prestige when Alabama was manhandled by Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
It seems silly that conference prestige could come down to a single game, but that’s how college football rolls. The unfortunate fact is that meetings between Big 12 and SEC teams are rare. To put the national title game in perspective, consider that out of 300 games the Big 12 and SEC teams played this season, teams from the Big 12 and SEC have played each other only twice with Texas beating Arkansas on September 13th and the aforementioned Ole Miss win over Texas Tech.
Conference championship madness is a fairly recent development. It took off when ESPN began sponsoring the "Bowl Challenge Cup" in 2002, but I have to believe it’s happened more so due to the proliferation of "body bag" games that are so prevalent amongst BCS schools these days.
There aren’t nearly enough games between powerhouses to provide a good measuring stick to determine who the best teams are at the end of the season. Non-conference schedules are as bad as they’ve ever been. Perhaps amongst the recent bowl hype college football fans have forgotten that there were as many as three weekends this season where there weren’t many games worth watching. Thus, we end up with what we have this season - a whole bunch of one-loss teams that have legitimate claims to the number one spot at the end of the season.
Fans are treated to a plethora of calls for a playoff system on a yearly basis. Along with those come numerous playoff proposals, offered as if they’re new and unique and will provide an orderly outcome to the chaos that is college football.
The creation of a playoff system is beyond the control of any conference. It would require the destruction of the BCS and that the NCAA move forward in a unified direction. That has as much a chance of happening as world peace.
What is directly within our control is lobbying for better games. This can be done by refusing to purchase tickets to body bag games. If athletic departments were to feel the pocket book pinch, they would feel compelled to schedule better games. Fans would end up with a better product, and better method of determining who the best teams really are because they would have played each other. At the least they’d end up with more common opponents.
Instead we’re left to arguing about whether the Big 12 is an offensive powerhouse or whether we can’t play defense. With nothing more to go on, the argument is left to statistical comparisons, or worse yet, the outcome of a single game. Even then, it won’t matter.
Regardless of the outcome between Oklahoma and Florida, SEC sites all over the nation will proclaim their conference the best, even if their team sucks and they haven’t won a bowl game since 1955. The same will happen for Big 12 sites. The argument will go on, covering every angle possible until next season when it will start all over again. Nothing will stop the chants of “S-E-C”, nor the constant talk about “SEC speed”.
The winner of the Oklahoma - Florida game determines a national champion or so says the BCS. But don’t fool yourself into thinking it determines who has the better conference. For that, college football fans need a lot more. Fans need a better product. It is within their control to get it. We just need to make it happen.