What a thriller last night between Texas and Ohio State! Texas came from behind to win the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl 24-21 on a TD pass with 16 seconds to play, and if football bowl games were simply written about on their own merits this one would be described as a classic. But they’re not. The Longhorns didn’t chew the Buckeyes up and spit them out, so it’s also being reported as the game that cost Texas its last claim to a national championship.
The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) version of that will be decided Thursday night when Oklahoma takes on Florida in Miami. Texas, you’ll recall, believed that it should be playing Florida instead, having beaten Oklahoma during the regular season. The calculations of the BCS computers basically came down to this: Oklahoma lost once all year, and it was to a really good team — Texas. Texas’s one loss was to a lesser team, Texas Tech, a team Oklahoma clobbered. Their games against Texas Tech became a more important measure of Texas and Oklahoma than their game against each other.
Of course, a lot of sportswriters didn’t see it that way. They wrote that it came down to Texas or Oklahoma, and Texas had answered that question on the field. That’s how Texas saw things too, and why it hoped a big victory over OSU would give it the inside track on the other national championship trophy, the AP’s, which goes to whichever team sportswriters end up voting for.
Alas, 24-21 didn’t cut it.
If Texas had clobbered OSU, then if and when Oklahoma clobbered Florida the first instinct of the football scribes would have been to write that Oklahoma and Texas were the two best teams in the country and what a shame they couldn’t meet to decide things on the field. But that would have been an awkward angle to take, given that they had met in October and Texas had won by ten points. So good thing Texas didn’t clobber OSU. We can all forget about Texas.
Whoever wins Thursday’s game, the storyline will be — How would they do against Utah (which beat everybody it played and clobbered Alabama, which barely lost to Florida)? And how would they do against Southern Cal (which lost one game but clobbered Ohio State, which barely lost to Texas, which beat Oklahoma)?
The lesson in all this, as I see it, is that there are two ways of deciding a national champion. One is to take the players out of school, give them semipro contracts, and put them through a four-or-five-week-long single elimination tournament until one team is left standing. The other is to play the bowl games, let voters and computers decide on someone as the “mythical” champ, and let the arguments rage. What the BCS has done is try to combine these two irreconcilable approaches, and the result can’t be taken seriously.
Which brings us to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous observation — “The test of a first class mind is the ability to hold two opposing views in the head at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” If you can tune in Thursday and get caught up in the drama of a national championship on the line, despite knowing that claim is indefensible, you have a first-class mind I guess.
That’s if drinking a beer and staring at a football game on the TV can be considered functioning.