Are the BCS rankings the worst creation this side of P-Diddy's Mavericks uniforms? Or are they simply misunderstood brilliance?
Could it be that we're all so accustomed to the contrived and convenient resolution of postseason tournaments that we can't appreciate the understated elegance of college football's method for determining a champion? Sure, at first glance it might seem odd that Auburn could race undefeated through what's generally considered the toughest conference in the game and not make it to the title tilt in Miami. But indoor plumbing probably seemed odd at the time to those accustomed to the reliability of a chamber pot.
Maybe if more sports settled matters off the field, as college football does, the world would be a better place. After all, growth only comes from a willingness to explore new possibilities.
Right, Mr. Tagliabue ... ?
Week 12 in the NFL did little to clear up the Super Bowl Championship Series standings, leaving the road to Jacksonville as cluttered with contenders as a boxing federation with an offshore accounting department.
With the official SBCS standings still to be released, here are the projected top five:
1. New England: The Patriots should retain the top spot in the SBCS rankings, but it won't be without some controversy. Perhaps smarting over recent talk that his team continues to benefit from its preseason ranking despite several close wins over mediocre competition, coach Bill Belichick took out some frustrations on the Ravens and came up with 15 fourth-quarter points to pad New England's margin of victory. Some critics claim the Patriots own the top spot based more on last year's results than this year's production, and that "unimpressive" wins against Arizona, Seattle and Kansas City should outweigh the team's 10-1 record.
2. Pittsburgh: Bill Cowher is not a man prone to fits of aesthetics. Pittsburgh's head coach became testy when questioned about the way a 16-7 win against a mediocre Redskins team might look to voters, a week after a similar 19-14 win against the Bengals. "It's not our fault that ESPN has a bias against the AFC North," Cowher whined. "It's pretty clear they want one of those teams from the AFC East or NFC East playing for the title. Have you looked at the broadcast schedule? Two of their final four Sunday night games are NFC East games. I mean, they've got Dallas playing the Giants in Week 17. Dallas?! We've got a rookie quarterback in the running for MVP, and they're showing Drew Henson vs. Eli Manning. You tell me there's not some sort of conspiracy here."
3. Philadelphia: No single player has had as much of an impact on his team's title hopes as Terrell Owens. But since T.O. is also a pretty fair wide receiver, head coach Andy Reid has little choice but to keep him in the lineup. Seemingly poised to wrest the top spot from the Patriots just weeks ago, the Eagles are now clinging to third after beating the Giants on Sunday. A loss against Pittsburgh in Week 9 started their downward trend, but the real blow came when they mysteriously dropped to eighth in the media poll after they drubbed the Cowboys on Monday night of Week 10. But with Owens' touchdowns (1) again outnumbering his shower scenes (0) against the Giants, voters might cut them some slack this week.
4. Indianapolis: The darlings of the computer polls, the Colts kept rolling with a 41-9 win against the Lions on Thanksgiving, just four days after they whipped the Bears 41-10. Buoyed by an impressive margin of victory, the Colts own the top spot in several computer rankings, opening up the possibility that they might jump ahead of Philadelphia, and potentially even Pittsburgh, before the end of the season. But is Tony Dungy running up the score against helpless opposing secondaries? The backlash against beating up on NFL backwaters like Chicago and Detroit could cost the Colts in the human polls, even as it helps Peyton Manning's stock in the MVP race.
5. Atlanta: The Falcons don't hail from a powerhouse division and didn't start the season near the top of anyone's list of favorites, but they just keep winning games. And while the SBCS probably wants to look the other way in hopes the Falcons will lose a couple of games between now and the beginning of January, this plucky team with an exciting quarterback might just force its way into the mix for Jacksonville. The Falcons are gradually climbing in the human polls, but their fate might be linked to the computers, where strength of schedule has them lagging behind several teams with fewer wins. Despite impressive wins over non-division foes San Diego and Denver, they have just one remaining game against a team currently boasting a winning record.
That's five viable candidates. Seems like a little bit of a problem with room for just two teams in the Visa Super Bowl Presented by Gatorade. But at least we're guaranteed to get a game between two of five teams held by all to be the class of the league. There will be no interlopers getting hot at the right time and wasting a season's worth of work by the superior teams.
Well, sort of. There's still the matter of the NFC North and NFC West, who were promised automatic SBCS bids in exchange for going along with the system -- and letting Red McCombs move to Los Angeles, sans Vikings. So why does it matter whether it's the Vikings or Packers finishing 9-7? Or whether the combined genius of Mike Holmgren and Mike Martz can sort out the tiebreakers when the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams all finish 8-8?
Glad you asked. Imagine the following scenario ...
So how does the postseason picture shake out?
Super Bowl: Compelled to take the top two teams in the SBCS standings, the Super Bowl takes New England and Atlanta, despite the fact that the Falcons rank only third in the media poll. The Patriots dispose of the Falcons with relative ease.
Mastercard Bowl: Played at the Superdome in New Orleans, the Visa Bowl tabs Donovan McNabb and the Eagles, ranked second in the media poll, but passes on the Steelers in favor of local legend Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Eagles hang on for a win.
Pepsi Bowl: Played at Ford Field in Detroit, the Pepsi Bowl snags the Steelers, ranked fourth in the SBCS standings. But in order to assure a sellout, they opt for automatic qualifier Green Bay and those traveling Cheeseheads as the opponent. The Steelers run over the Packers.
The end result? The Patriots, Steelers and Eagles all finish the season with wins and 14-3 records. The Patriots are crowned champions, despite losing to the Steelers during the regular season. And despite beating both the Patriots and Eagles, the Steelers don't have enough momentum from their postseason win to finish better than third in the final polls.
All right, so it isn't a perfect system. But hey, at least it gives the NFL's players the rest of January to go finish up the degrees they missed out on because they were so tied up with college football's playoff system.
Graham Hays writes "Out of the Box" five days a week in-between moonlighting for Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.