John Walters
Thursday January 20th, 2005

Maybe I'm getting my stories mixed up, but I hear that folks in the Ukraine are so dissatisfied with the recent election results that they're clamoring for a playoff. Hey, how did Bill Scheft get into my column?

So I'm phoning the college buddies on Saturday evening, trying to gauge if anyone is optimistic enough to predict a Notre Dame victory against Southern Cal. And my friend Kramden, who was once Tony Rice's R.A. ("Tony, could you at least wait until I've shut the door to my room before you do that?"), asks a staggeringly simple question: "Outside of the Orange Bowl, why do these announcers make such a big deal about the other BCS bowls? As a fan, why should I care?"

Why, indeed. Sure, the Fiesta, Rose and Sugar have higher payouts than the other bowls. But, as a fan, what do you or I care about that? We just want to see the top games. So if Texas is not invited to a BCS bowl, yet is wooed by the Cotton (which has a much richer history than the Fiesta), why should we consider this a travesty? Especially if the Longhorns' opponent is, say, Louisville or Iowa? Wouldn't you rather see Texas-Louisville than Utah-Pitt, which is probably what the BCS' Fiesta Bowl will feature?

The ABC, CBS and ESPN announcers (as well as many a sportswriter) like to use the example of B.C. (before the Eagles lost to Syracuse) and now Pittsburgh or Syracuse playing in the Fiesta Bowl as proof that the system has failed us. Um, no it hasn't. If Pitt were playing in the Orange Bowl this year, then yes, it would have failed us. But as long as we can be assured that arguably the two best teams throughout the season are facing one another for the national championship (Read that again -- that's a promise that NCAA basketball cannot make), then how has it failed us?

Because, after the Orange, all of the other bowls are just bowl games. From a fan's perspective, the three other bowls have no more relevance than the Bowl or the Humanitarian Bowl.

When it comes time to discriminate between which of the 573 bowl games I'll watch, I choose the most compelling matchups. I don't care if a bowl has the BCS stamp of approval on it. Case in point: I attended the Cal-Virginia Tech Bowl in Phoenix last December. It was a lot more exciting than the Kansas State-Ohio State contest played a week later in the Valley of the Sun.

Auburn fans, I know you don't want to hear this, but these six words explain why the Tigers are unlikely to play in the Orange Bowl come January: Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel, Louisiana Tech.

Those three schools represent 1) Auburn's non-conference schedule this season and 2) nothing out of the ordinary. Look, it's not the players' fault. But the athletic administration at Auburn consistently schedules a trio of weak, non-BCS conference schools who agree to play at Jordan-Hare each year in order to pad both the Tigers' record and the athletic department's budget.

I crunched numbers. Actual chomping of data. Beginning with the 1993 squad that finished 11-0 while on probation (Terry Bowden's first season as Tigers coach), here is Auburn's out-of-conference combat record:

• 38 games overall

• 34 games played at Jordan-Hare, only four on the road

• Only two of those 38 opponents were ranked (Southern Cal both times) and the Tigers were 0-2 versus the Trojans in this period.

• Only seven of those 38 opponents are BCS schools (USC twice, Virginia twice, Syracuse twice, Georgia Tech) and in those games Auburn's record was 2-5.

Earlier this month Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville made a comment to the effect that he'd find it hard to believe a school from the SEC could finish undefeated and not be invited to play in the national championship game. Believe it, coach.

No school can control the quality of its in-conference opponents. You hope that they are tough enough to challenge you, but not so strong as to beat you. Oklahoma and Southern Cal were both fortunate in that they beat two schools, Texas and Cal, respectively, who have gone 10-1 and are in everyone's top eight.

Auburn, although it does play in the SEC, has beaten its in-conference competition, but no opponent this season has been as good as Cal or Texas. SEC folk -- I lived in Alabama and covered the conference exclusively for a year, and have returned many times since -- are usually correct when they argue that theirs is the best conference in the nation. However, the stifling parochialism displayed by Auburn (just one trip west of the Mississippi in the past 20 seasons) and its SEC kin has at last come back to bite the Tigers.

Not to mention -- although I'm about to -- that Auburn played seven home games (and four road) this season, which is about its average. Southern Cal, meanwhile will have played six and six; Oklahoma six home, five away (not including the Big 12 Championship game).

Auburn can control its non-conference slate, and year-in and year-out chooses to tackle patsies. A partial list of its non-SEC opponents from the past 11 seasons: Samford, Northeast Louisiana (three times), East Tennessee State, UT-Chattanooga, Appalachian State and Louisiana-Monroe (twice). Auburn, listen: Homecoming should only happen once a year.

Don't blame the players. And don't blame the system. But, if you agree that Auburn, Oklahoma and Southern Cal are the only three schools deserving of a bid for the Orange Bowl, well, then you have to play musical chairs with that trio. And you can't blame any one school for the quality of its in-conference foes. But while Southern Cal was scheduling Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, BYU and Colorado State (two of those games on the road) and Oklahoma was taking on Bowling Green, Houston and Oregon in Norman (at least one of those was a BCS program), Auburn stayed home, played three lambs and counted the gate receipts. And that, most likely, will make it the first undefeated SEC school not to play for a national title since ... the '93 Auburn Tigers.

I'm beating last week's dead horse here, but a few observations from this weekend's games. If we had an eight-team college football playoff, then we would have known coming into Saturday's Southern Cal-Notre Dame game that it would have no bearing on the national title. USC would already have sewn up a postseason berth, and chances are that the Irish might not have come out as fired up as they were; or that the Trojans would not have worried so much about making a comeback.

Meanwhile, how much coin would someone have had to offer a fan outside the Midwest to tune into Mizzou-Iowa State if there were a playoff system? However, because this game had a bearing on who would face Oklahoma, and because Oklahoma is gunning for the Orange Bowl, Mizzou-Iowa State had real drama. And a fantastic finish.

A college football record is a house of cards. Or, to be a little more current, like a game of Jenga. Each week you remain undefeated, the stakes become higher. The house or stack becomes more difficult to maintain. And it's that tightrope walk that the season happens to be that makes the sport unique and unmatched (even by TNT's cavalcade of syndicated programs) in terms of drama.

1. During the third quarter of the Texas-Texas A&M game on Friday, Utah coach Urban Meyer was interviewed by the ABC announcers via telephone. One announcer asked Meyer to comment on a system that might somehow exclude Cal or Texas from a BCS bowl (as if that matters; see above) and the coach replied, "I like to see things settled on the field." The announcer replied, "Amen," although it sounded a lot like, "Y'er damn right, Coach! We need a frickin' playoff so ABC can reap millions more on televised postseason games."

Anyway, my question to Meyer is, didn't you say you saw Cal play USC in October? Didn't they play on a field? Wasn't something settled? And, maybe you didn't get a chance to see it, but Texas played Oklahoma -- again, on a field -- in October. And there appeared to be a conclusive outcome to that game. So I understand: If you had a playoff and, say, Cal and USC met again, then the second game would mean more than the first one did? Why is that? USC would have to go 2-0 versus Cal to win a national title, but Cal would only need go 1-1 versus the Trojans?

2. OK, the horse is dead, beaten, ground to a pulp, and has been sold for parts. I'll stop yammering about that issue now. Promise. Sorry.

3. Did you see ABC's Todd Harris interview Trojans legend Anthony Davis on the sidelines (well, Harris is a sideline reporter, after all) during the Notre Dame-USC game? A.D. has gotten rather rotund. After the interview, Keith Jackson actually said, "Anthony Davis ... got a treadmill?" Ouch, babe.

4. Switching over to the Georgia Southern-New Hampshire I-AA playoff game on ESPN2, and this is the first thing I hear: "George Peterson, the senior from Clarendon, Vt., just outside of Rutland." Ohhh, just outside of Rutland. Yeah, that pinpoints it for us.

5. Found myself in the University of Oklahoma bookstore last Monday -- which, it may come as no surprise, is located inside the football stadium. Strangely enough, the bookstore currently sells no No. 28 (Adrian Peterson) jerseys. Even stranger, considering that the Sooners have four Heisman Trophy winners plus the notorious Brian Bosworth, the only former player whose jersey the store carries is that of Marcus Dupree. And he played in Norman barely more than a year.

6. I love Lee Corso, but I hate his philosophy. On College Gameday Final he (as did Kirk Herbstreit) announced that Southern Cal QB Matt Leinart had "wrapped up the Heisman Trophy." "No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 team," said Corso, who then added that Leinart had tossed "five touchdown passes against America's team, Notre Dame."

Back in Bristol, Conn., Trev Alberts displayed the previously noted (in last week's column) "He Took The Words Right Outta My Mouth" Effect. First, Alberts noted that the Irish have the 107th-ranked pass defense in the country (it's no coincidence that the Irish made Kyle Orton, Paul Peterson and Tyler Palko all look like Heisman candidates earlier this season). Then Alberts stumped for Peterson as the nation's most outstanding player and said that OU would be 9-2 without him. I've watched A.D. play twice this season in person, and I couldn't agree more.

7. Corso's "No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 team" formula is the same one that got Gino Torretta a Heisman a dozen years ago. Leinart is the best quarterback in the nation, it's true, and you can't really complain if he wins the H, but having a big passing day against the Irish is as special these days as, well, beating them.

8. If you're sick of rage rock, tired of the melody-devoid primal screaming of bands such as Slipknot, Staind, Tool and Papa Roach (we can't all be Rage Against the Machine), let me suggest Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers. Here's what (the second-best Web site out there) says about his latest album, ¡Americano!: "Americano is one fine album; it should be played at earsplitting volume in pool halls, bowling alleys and backyard bashes and on college radio stations. It should blare from the CD players of fast cars roaring down empty highways under the stars and just before dawn. Indeed, it should be savored and celebrated by those swaggering street denizens known as the rock & roll faithful as proof that the good stuff never disappears."

But don't listen to me. Or them. Listen to Roger. Try the tracks Counterclockwise and Switchblade. Then go ahead, raise your goblet of rock.

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