The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

Don’t worry: this is not another column decrying the BCS system and promoting a playoff. While a plus-one system (essentially a four-team playoff) would be great for college football, the postseason debate is more worn-out than the epic saga of Terrell Owens’ career.

Instead, let’s examine the question “who’s number three?” and the greater issue it raises: Should the BCS championship game involve two undefeated teams or the nation’s two best teams, regardless of record? The first question became the subject of national debate after Louisville’s 44-34 win over West Virginia last Thursday, a game that gave the Cardinals the No. 3 ranking for a brief moment … until they fell to No. 15 Rutgers.

Going into West Virginia’s Big East showdown in Louisville, many accepted the possibility of West Virginia playing in the national championship should it finish the season undefeated. However, when Louisville won, reversing the tables and setting itself up for a perfect regular season, the debates began to rage. When Rutgers in turn beat Louisville, everything went out the window.

What was so much better about having one Big East team in the title game over the others is beyond me, seeing as all three are from the same conference with relatively equal strengths of schedule. Fans in New Jersey will now be clamoring for the No. 3 spot since Rutgers is 9-0 and has as legitimate a claim to the ranking as Louisville or West Virginia ever did. It does not seem fair that an undefeated Louisville or West Virginia team was in the top five while Rutgers is not even in the top 10.

Still, a handful of teams are jockeying to play either Michigan or Ohio State, who are on a collision course for a one-two showdown on Nov. 18 in Columbus. Who would you rather see play in Glendale this January: Rutgers, Texas, Auburn, Florida, USC, Cal, Notre Dame or Arkansas?

Just because Rutgers has equal credentials as Louisville or West Virginia does not mean they should be playing in the championship game. In fact, Louisville should never have been the favorite to be playing in the title game either. Would you really take any Big East team in a game over Texas? Or Auburn? Or Florida? Or … you get the point.

Rutgers’ most impressive wins, other than over Louisville, have been against 2-8 Illinois and three mid-level 6-3 schools that would not stand a chance against a middle-of-the-pack SEC school: South Florida, Navy and Pittsburgh.

Compare that to Auburn’s victories over No. 6 Florida and No. 12 LSU; Florida’s wins over No. 13 Tennessee and LSU, part of a brutal five-game stretch that included wins over Alabama and Georgia; or even Texas’ wins against No. 17 Oklahoma and Nebraska.

In addition, all of those teams might end up having to play in conference championship games. In fact, Rutgers’ opponents’ total winning percentage is .512; Auburn’s opponents have a .532 winning percentage, Texas’ a .558, and Florida’s an impressive .600.

True, all of those teams have one loss while Rutgers is undefeated. And it is impossible to ask Rutgers to do any more to state its case for a spot in the championship game than dominate the schedule it was given. But does anybody honestly believe that Louisville is a better team than Auburn, Florida or Texas?

Of course, if the BCS does not take Rutgers, it will be left with a mess – which one-loss team is most worthy? Traditionally, if a team is undefeated, it gets a chance to play for a title, except for when Auburn was shut out in 2004 because of a flawed system (but I promised not to get into that). If Rutgers is kept out of the championship game and wins the bowl game, we would have to deal with the potential problem of a second undefeated team claiming a share of the national title, possibly the most unsatisfying ending to a season imaginable.

The question of “who’s number three” leads to a larger debate becoming increasingly poignant during the rise of the Boise States of the world: Should the national championship game pit the two best undefeated teams or just the two best teams period? This is the root of the debate, one that will not go away as long as the SEC is light-years ahead of the Big East, which does not measure up to the Big Ten, which is superior to the Pac-10, and so on.

For now, the question remains: Is a one-loss team that survived a brutal schedule, such as Florida, more worthy than an undefeated team that beat a series of Pillsbury dough-boy-like opponents? The answer is yes. But which one-loss team to choose?

Here is a suggestion: since the SEC is undoubtedly the nation’s toughest conference, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the country with five teams in the AP’s top 13 (versus, say, the ACC, whose highest-ranked team is No. 18 Wake Forest), why not just give the winner of the SEC championship game an automatic bid, provided it has at most one loss?

Hey, if the Big East receives an automatic bid to a BCS bowl, it’s only fair.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]