"Mythical"

Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Mythical. It was an adjective you used to hear and see quite frequently when a national champion in college football was being discussed, but, now that there's a system which produces a game (no matter that the method by which the game participants are chosen seems to change every year,) it's rarely heard or seen.

In 1984, the Brigham Young University Cougars, playing in a second-tier conference, were the only NCAA Division 1-A football team to go undefeated during the regular season and beat a 6 and 5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl, to which they were, as champion of their conference, contractually bound. They were voted best in a poll of coaches and in a poll of sportswriters.

In 2006, the Boise State University Broncos were one of two NCAA Division 1-A teams to go undefeated during the regular season. They don't play in one of the six conferences which devised the current and ever-changing system for naming National Champions, but, under this year's rules, they did qualify to play in a bowl game played in 2007—not, of course, against the other undefeated team, but nonetheless a major bowl. A week ago they played and won a game for the ages against the winningest college football program since World War II, the Oklahoma Sooners, in the same stadium where, last night, the other undefeated team looked nothing like itself in a lopsided and embarrassing defeat.

So, hail and farewell to the 2006 Boise State University football Broncos. In mythical times they might have been called National Champion. Today they were called sixth best by a group of leaders of young men and fifth best by a group of recorders of history.

...and so it goes.

6 comments:

Skookumchuk said...

Broncos.

Hey, who knows? Look at what has happened to WSU in the last 15 years.

loner said...

Took me a second to notice two Cougars and one Broncos. Thanks, skook. I grew up liking Southern Cal. Might have gone there if I'd lived elsewhere. Still live and die with them if they're not playing Cal. Did a lot of dying on their account during the nearly two decades when the 49ers were a professional power. Now they're back. Boise State, blue field and all, was better in 2006 and, I now think, on New Year's Day.

Morgan said...

The problem is that College Football has the goal of picking the "best" team as champion - "quality" being a variable that isn't directly observed.

In most sports, quality is approximated by won-loss records through the regular season, then a champion is crowned based on a playoff system. We're all comfortable saying things like "the St. Louis Cardinals were probably not the best team in the Major Leagues last year, but they played well enough when it counted to win the World Series". No controversy (even though they were actually called "the worst team ever to win the World Series"), because MLB dropped the requirement that the "best" team be the champion, and replaced it with the rule that the winner of three consecutive series in a single elimination tournament is the champion, and simple rules regarding entry into the tournament.

With the BCS, college football has gone schizophrenic (in the layman's sense) - trying to put exactly the two "highest quality" teams into a one-game playoff for all the marbles. I don't think it's unfair. But, because there is error in measuring "quality", the best team might not even be in the championship game in a given year, and perspectives will vary, so you're guaranteed to have controversy. And then, even if the best team is in the game, it might not win. Some days you play well, some days you don't.

If they're really trying to pick the single best team, they should leave it to the computers (or the Vegas oddsmakers, who are slightly better at picking winners, which indicates that they may have a slightly better grasp on "quality" than even the computers do). The computers aren't perfect, but they'll give you the highest probability of picking the best team. Well, by some definition of "best".

On the other hand, if they want to remove the controversy, they should go to an eight or 16-team playoff, which would pretty much ensure that all plausible candidates for the "best team" had a shot, and would replace the goal of choosing the best team with the objective outcome of the tournament. Of course, it would also provide several chances for the best team to have one bad day, but c'est le vie.

I personally wouldn't have given Boise much of a shot in a playoff system, but they were probably among the top 8, certainly among the top 16. I would have loved to see them play Notre Dame.

Skookumchuk said...

Yes, Boise State was very good. I love to see this coming from nowhere stuff, even though the way the bowl participants are now selected is simply beyond me. I like Morgan's idea of some sort of playoff. And despite my attachment to both my schools making me a Bruin and a Husky, I have always hoped to someday see more signs of life from the smaller schools in the inland West. Maybe we are almost there.

Barry Dauphin said...

At some point there will be a playoff, as soon as the economics are worked out with the various bowls. This is inevitably about money, as I don't buy the "academic" arguments against the playoff system. Division II and III have playoffs, and those schools surely care more about academics than the big box schools. Also the Division IA men's and wmoen's basketball season goes on across two semesters, with traveling during the week, and a 65 team torunament after the conference tournaments.

loner said...

Boise State's was the best football team in the country this past year. Period.

When all is said an done they are the only Division 1-A team to have won every game they played. The defeated Oregon State who defeated USC who defeated Arkansas who defeated Auburn who defeated Florida who defeated Ohio State who defeated Michigan who defeated Wisconsin. Auburn and Florida also defeated LSU, etc. Louisville lost to Rutgers in the other game for the ages played last year.

The WAC sent four teams to bowl games: Boise State, Hawaii, San Jose State and Nevada. They beat Oklahoma, Arizona State and New Mexico and Nevada lost to Miami of Florida by a point.

Florida is the National Champion. They won the BCS. The computers are, as ever, a joke as far as I'm concerned. The coaches and writers made a joke of themselves, and not for the first time, by not voting Boise State, at minimum, second in their respective polls.

Nothing beats March Madness and National Champion (trophy or plaque and all) is the title which attaches to the winner. Best is an adjective that often applies, but not always. Favorite is the adjective I use when ranking, in terms of quality, a group of movies.

Best.