NEW ORLEANS -- I was completely prepared to do my part for a split national title if LSU lost a close one to Alabama on Monday. I had examined all the factors, and I had decided that in the event of a true one-possession game -- not a comeback-in-garbage-time close game, but a real nail-biter -- LSU's résumé merited a first-place vote on my Associated Press poll ballot.
The Tigers had beaten two AQ-conference champs. They had beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Within a terrible system that rams the "Every Game Counts" mantra down our throats, LSU had the best CV in the BCS.
All along, those who disagreed with the notion of a split national champ harped on the idea that the great teams play their best in the biggest games. By the very fact that the BCS termed Monday night a "championship game," we know that even the guys who spew the "Every Game Counts" propaganda consider one game more important than the others. So, in the highest stakes game of the year, LSU laid a big, fat goose egg. A national champion doesn't do that.
A national champion does what Alabama did. The Crimson Tide earned everyone's No. 1 vote with a 21-0 win on Monday. Alabama played the No. 1 team in the nation to a draw in regulation on Nov. 5, then crushed that same team with all the Allstate insurance policies on the line. The argument following the season was that Alabama didn't deserve to be in the game. Monday, as LSU rolled up five first downs and 92 yards of total offense, it didn't appear that the Tigers belonged on the same field as the Crimson Tide.
"Think about the hardest thing you've ever done in your life, doing it for six months and hoping that maybe one day you'll get the chance to be the best," LSU guard Will Blackwell said. "And once you get there, pretty much choking."
LSU put together a marvelous season, but the razor-thin margin of the Nov. 5 game plus Monday's demolition offers evidence that Alabama was clearly the better of the two. Entering the game, I thought otherwise. I thought LSU would win by a touchdown. Alabama proved me -- and a lot of others -- wrong. (Fortunately,
So where does this leave No. 3 Oklahoma State? We last saw the Cowboys celebrating an overtime win against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Do they deserve consideration for that No. 1 vote? After all, they have the same record as the Crimson Tide, and they won their conference.
My opinion is that Alabama would crush Oklahoma State if they played, but that's the problem. We have to rely on the opinions of people like me, and if you ask others -- my wife, for example -- I'm not terribly bright. We need a better system.
In the format conference officials have already begun discussing for the BCS cycle that begins with the 2014 season, LSU would have played Stanford and Alabama would have played Oklahoma State. Then the winners would have squared off for the national title. That certainly would have been much more satisfying than this, so maybe the most recent exposure of the flaws of the system will spur meaningful change. Hopefully, those conference leaders won't lose their nerve and cave in to those who would keep college football in the stone age.
As much as I would have loved to vote LSU No. 1 to help further indict the system, the Tigers simply didn't deserve it after Monday's display. Certainly Alabama's top-ranked defense deserved much of the credit for the shutdown, but the Tigers did much of the damage themselves. They looked discombobulated all night on offense, and LSU coach Les Miles refused to try backup quarterback Jarrett Lee even though starter Jordan Jefferson could not move the ball.
Miles likely will hear about that choice for months. The Jefferson-Lee question popped up immediately in the postgame press conference. Miles' inquisitor was none other than Bobby Hebert, the former Saints and Falcons quarterback and the father of LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert. Here is a complete transcript of that interaction:
Hebert (who works for WWL radio in New Orleans): "Coach, did you ever consider bringing in Jarrett Lee, considering that you weren't taking any chances on the field? Now, I know Alabama's defense is dominant. But, come on, that's ridiculous, five first downs. I mean, so it's almost an approach, I'll tell from you the fans' standpoint, that how can you not maybe push the ball down the field and bring in Jarrett Lee? So what if you get a pick-six? It seems like the game plan that not pushing the ball down the field, considering it's like a Rueben Randle or Odell Beckham, Jr. I know the pass rush of Alabama, but there's no reason why in five first downs you have a great defense, LSU is a great defense, but that's ridiculous."
Moderator: "Do you have a question?"
Hebert: "That's the question. Do you think you should have pushed the football more down field?"
Miles: "I think if you watch our calls that we did throw the football down the field. We didn't necessarily get the football down the field.
"And I can tell you that we did consider Jarrett Lee. But we felt like with the pass rush that we were getting that we needed a guy that could move the seat and not sustain that pass rush."
The elder Hebert wasn't the only one in purple and gold questioning Miles' wisdom. "In my opinion, [Lee] definitely deserved at least a series or two," said Blackwell, the LSU guard. "I feel like maybe if our coaches had that chance to go back and do that again, they'd do it a little differently."
Just as LSU players and fans will spend the offseason questioning Miles' decision to keep Jefferson on the field, everyone will spend the offseason questioning whether LSU deserved a share of the national title. Even in the Tigers' locker room, there wasn't a consensus.
Jefferson said he believed LSU deserved a share of the title. Miles said the voters need to figure it out, but not before he mentioned that LSU "played eight nationally ranked teams" and beat them all.
LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery disagreed. "I've said this before, and I'll say it again," Montgomery said. "No. Winner takes all. Hats off to Alabama."
LSU's Blackwell said it best, though. "I don't want to discuss that," he said. "I'd like no one else to ask me that question. It's tough. It's always going to be opinion-based. There's no concrete answer for that."
That's precisely the problem. If any good can come of the mess that was this postseason, maybe it's the fact that people are fed up enough to seriously consider a system that finally does provide a concrete answer.