The 2013 Bowl Championship Series final standings have been released, and we can begin the countdown that will mark the end of the highly controversial and regularly villified BCS. After 18 mostly contentious seasons, the BCS is giving way to the new College Football Playoff, which makes its much-anticipated debut beginning next season.
Most of the controversy around the BCS over the years has been aimed directly at the selection process for determining the top two teams to meet in the annual so-designated National Championship game, the Super Bowl of college football. That’s not really the case in this, the final go-round for the BCS.
Most everyone can agree that top-ranked Florida State, the only remaining unbeaten team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of college football, and SEC champion Auburn, the only team to defeat two-time defending national champion Alabama this past season, are deserving and should be paired in this year’s title game.
There undoubtedly would have been a major dispute, though, had Ohio State won over Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday, thus preserving the Buckeyes’ unbeaten status (over two seasons, actually).
The Buckeyes did not get by a determined Michigan State team, however. And perhaps all of us, except of course Ohio State fans, can be thankful for that. Otherwise, it would have brought back vivid and extremely painful memories of what happened nine seasons ago, in 2004, when Auburn ran the table through 13 games and won the SEC Championship, but got snubbed by the BCS process in favor of USC of the then-Pac-10 and Oklahoma out of the Big 12.
The BCS may not yet be free and clear of another percolating dispute this year, and Oklahoma may again be at the leading edge of the criticism. The Sooners are one of the eight FBS teams this season, in addition to the two schools that will play for the national championship, to be awarded a prized BCS bowl. The 10-2 Sooners are paired against third-ranked Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Jan. 3 in New Orleans. Before losing to Auburn in their regular-season Iron Bowl rivalry game, the Crimson Tide were the odds-on favorites to oppose Florida State in quest of the Script A’s third consecutive national title.
Fans of the Sooners are understandably overjoyed at their team’s selection to play in the Sugar Bowl – maybe not so much, however, with the idea of having to face arguably the country’s best team in powerful Alabama. And why wouldn’t Oklahoma and its passionate fan base feel that way? Just three days ago, the Sooners, already with two conferences losses (to two of the three teams ahead of them in the league standings), were taking on their in-state rivals, Oklahoma State, and seemingly headed to the Buffalo Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., as the Big 12′s No. 4 team in the bowl selection order.
How does the saying go? “That’s why they play the games.” The Cowboys were within 25 seconds of winning Saturday’s Bedlam game over their hated rivals from Norman, a little over an hour’s drive south. A win would have awarded the then-sixth-ranked Cowboys the Big 12 championship and the conference’s automatic bid to the BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Had that happened, which is what just about everybody in the know was projecting, it might have been Baylor, an easy 30-10 winner over Texas on Saturday, heading to New Orleans to take on Alabama after New Year’s.
With three games left in a very up-and-down season for head coach Bob Stoops and Oklahoma, the Sooners were coming off a big-time beatdown at then undefeated and top-10-ranked Baylor and still had difficult road games ahead at Kansas State and Oklahoma State. After ending their home season with a 48-10 runaway victory over Iowa State, no one gave the then 8-2 Sooners much of a chance to win either of their final two regular-season games.
Somehow, though, OU seems to play better when they are the underdogs. With a lot of grit and determination – and, of course, some Sooner Magic thrown in for good measure - Oklahoma defied the odds and the oddsmakers with huge wins over co-defending conference champion Kansas State and Oklahoma State, and now finds itself in preparations for a ninth BCS appearance under Bob Stoops, the second most in the country.
Despite a fourth consecutive 10-win season, this has not been one of Oklahoma’s best seasons in the Stoops era. It may just be one of his best coaching jobs, however. The Sooners have faced adversity and uncertainty from the very start of the season. After four very successful seasons with four-year-starter Landry Jones at quarterback, OU introduced a new starting quarterback to start the 2013 season. Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight was hurt in the Sooners third game of the season and was replaced by junior Blake Bell, who everyone expected to be the heir apparent to the departed Jones. Bell was outstanding against Tulsa and Notre Dame, but his performance dropped off considerably after that.
Early in the season, two defensive starters, linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive lineman Jordan Phillips, were lost for the season with injuries, and just before the Baylor game, the Sooners lost their best all-around player, “Mr. Do Everything,” senior fullback Trey Millard to a season-ending knee injury. OU has also been without the services, off and on during the season, of two starting offensive lineman, and All-American candidate Aaron Colvin played hurt with a very painful shoulder problem the final two games of the season.
The week before the Kansas State game, the So0ners’ top running back at the time, senior Damien Williams, was dismissed from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Given all the injuries, and the fact the Oklahoma has gone from having one of the country’s best pass offenses to next to last in the Big 12 in that category in 2013, you can say that the Sooners willed themselves into the BCS picture this postseason by believing and never quiting, despite having the odds heavily stacked against them.
“Everybody just kept grinding, kept fighting, kept believing,” Stoops said to reporters after knowing his team was going to the Sugar Bowl. “We’ve had a great attitude and a tough, hardworking group of players all along.
“I’m proud of our assistant coaches,” the OU head coach added, “the way they’ve continued to put pieces together when we have lost guys…no one ever flinched.”
All but three teams that finished in the top 10 of the BCS standings are headed to a BCS bowl game. Missouri, runner up to Auburn in the SEC Championship, and South Carolina, which finished second to Missouri in the SEC East Division, are clearly deserving as two of seven two-loss teams in the BCS top 16. Because of the rule, however, that prevents any more than two teams from the same conference to appear in a BCS bowl in the same season, those two teams are not eligible, despite finishing eight and nine, respectively, in the final BCS standings.
Oklahoma finished No. 11 in the BCS, moving up from No. 17 the previous week. You can expect some debate and talk-show discussion the rest of the month over whether No. 10 Oregon, the team that everyone expected at the beginning of the season would be playing Alabama in this year’s BCS Championship is more deserving and would have been a better matchup against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl than Oklahoma.
The Ducks (10-2) lost to Stanford, which will represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl, but then were embarrassed in a 26-point loss to Arizona late in the season.
Perhaps the team that Oklahoma really ought to give thanks to for its BCS bowl berth this season is Northern Illinois. When Northern Illinois lost last week to Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference Championship. NIU was undefeated at 11-0 on the season and poised to be considered for a BCS bowl berth as a result of being ranked higher than 16th in the final BCS standings. A bitter and highly unexpected loss to Bowling Green ended all that.
You might recall that it was Northern Illinois, a winner over Kent State in last year’s MAC Championship, that effectively knocked Oklahoma out of a potential Sugar Bowl bid a year ago at this time. Instead, Northern Illinois received an Orange Bowl berth against Florida State, and Louisville went to the Sugar Bowl, instead of Oklahoma, where the Cardinals upset No. 3 Florida.
In case you’re wondering, Alabama is an early 11-and-a-half-point favorite over Oklahoma in this year’s Sugar Bowl game. About the same margin by which Oklahoma State was favored over the Sooners in Bedlam in Stillwater on Saturday.
Will Alabama feel disrespected, with its heart, mind and motivation this season having been set on going after its third consecutive national championship, and perhaps overlook or underestimate Oklahoma? Do the Sooners have enough able-bodied pieces left this season to compete against a team with very few weakenesses like Alabama?
The Big 12 is 3-3 against Alabama since 2002. Oklahoma owns two of those victories.