Best or Most Deserving?

After eight years of practice of arguing over the BCS, the ninth season’s controversy finally boiled it down to two options. Do you vote for who is the best team by the eyeball test, or who is most deserving based on everyone’s resumes?

The ninth season was 2006, and Michigan represented the “best” team, while Florida was the “most deserving.” The Gators were helped out by two other factors, namely that voters didn’t want to see a rematch and wanted to honor the value of winning a conference championship. Anyway, that year the “most deserving” team barely won out and got to go to the national title game.

In 2007, LSU jumped from seventh to second in the final ballots because of the “most deserving” argument. However in 2004 undefeated Auburn was the “most deserving” team (having won the toughest conference), but the Tigers lost out to the two “best” teams in USC and Oklahoma.

Since human votes dominate the system, it should be no surprise that the choice of best or most deserving hasn’t been applied evenly. Oklahoma passed Texas in the second to last BCS rankings thanks to being the “best” of the two despite the “most deserving” Longhorns having beaten the Sooners in the regular season.

The fact that “best” won out over “most deserving” this year makes me feel better about the possibility of Florida winning the national title on Thursday. The reason? I have a hard time saying that Utah is not the most deserving.

By the BCS’s own criteria for determining which leagues get automatic bids, the Mountain West was the fifth-best conference, ahead of the sixth-place Big East and seventh-place Pac-10. Utah has defeated four teams that will finish the year ranked in Oregon State, TCU, BYU, and Alabama. Florida has defeated only two that will be for sure in Georgia and Alabama, and maybe a third in FSU (the third-highest in also receiving votes). However, the SEC rated as the second-best conference.

A lot of football is about timing, which is why season-long stats don’t predict the outcomes of bowl games precisely. If Alabama had played Utah the way it played Florida, the Sugar Bowl could have ended much differently. The Tide did not however, and here we sit with a 13-0 Utah team with probably the best resume of anyone.

If you’re going by the eyeball test, then I still say Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas are better. They have better players almost across the board, and on a neutral field I’d take them. There’s a reason all of them finished ahead of Alabama in the final poll, and right now I’d give USC an edge over the Utes as well. None of them had close scrapes with teams as bad as Michigan and New Mexico, two teams that Utah beat by a field goal or less.

We’ll never know, of course, who would win for sure since the university presidents and conference commissioners who run Div. I-A football think that a two-team playoff is adequate. The Coaches’ Poll has no choice about its national champion, but if the AP Poll was to vote Utah No. 1 at the end, I would have a hard time being upset with it. They’ve earned it.

I doubt it will happen, though, since people’s memories are increasingly short these days. Some people who were ready to give USC the national title after the Rose Bowl are ready to give it to Utah now, and they might give it to Texas after the Fiesta Bowl just before crowning either Florida or Oklahoma after the BCS Championship Game.

When history looks back at this year however, it will always remember this Utah team. When the system of determining the champion is such a joke, being remembered forever isn’t a bad consolation prize.


5 Responses to Best or Most Deserving?

  1. Jams says:

    While I do agree that Utah is one of the deserving teams, I think it’s hard to say that they have the best resume of anyone (unless you put more weight on number of losses than what they’ve accomplished in wins). Whoever wins between Florida and Oklahoma can probably lay a reasonable claim to the “best resume” as well.

    For example, let’s say Florida wins. Then they have one win that stacks up fairly evenly with Utah’s now-signature win, since both teams beat Bama at a neutral site by roughly the same score.
    So let’s go down Utah’s Schedule and match win-for-win a representative or better team: (Utah’s wins on the left, Florida’s on the right, in roughly decreasing value)

    Alabama (12-2) < Oklahoma (12-2)
    TCU (11-2) < Alabama (12-2)
    Oregon State (9-4) < Georgia (10-3)
    BYU (10-3) ? Florida State (9-4)
    Air Force (8-5) < LSU (8-5)
    Colorado State (7-6) < Vanderbilt (7-6)
    Weber State (10-4 in FCS) ? Kentucky (7-6)
    UNLV (5-7) < South Carolina (7-6)
    Michigan (3-9) < Miami (7-6)
    New Mexico (4-8) < Hawaii (7-7)
    Wyoming (4-8) < Arkansas (5-7)
    Utah State (3-9) Citadel (4-8 in FCS)
    > Ole Miss (9-4)

    Throwing out the FCS teams would make it even more lopsided for the Gators.
    Florida will have a win every bit as good as each of Utah’s wins, but they’ll also have one pesky loss hanging on there too. Notice that Florida played only three non-bowl teams all season, as opposed to 7 (counting the FCS team) by Utah.

    I’m not saying that Utah doesn’t deserve a share of the national championship, I’m just saying it’s not a slam-dunk that they are the most deserving of being the national champion. They may be the most deserving of another chance to play on the field, but not necessarily most deserving of the number one ranking.

  2. year2 says:

    You can’t do better than undefeated. Above all else, winning games is what’s important in football. If two teams are close, like a 13-1 Florida team and this 13-0 Utah team, I give the edge in “most deserving” to the team that didn’t lose.

    “Win them all” is the mandate given to every team at the start of every season, and only one team has done it.

  3. peachy says:

    It seems to me that the principal weakness of such a scheme is that it undercuts the importance of strength of schedule. If Team A has better wins down the line compared to Team B, but also one loss, and Team B is considered therefore to have had the superior season (which I’m not saying is the case with UF/Utah, necessarily), then where’s the incentive to play live opposition? The teams who benefit will be those like FSU in the ’90s and USC now, who can dominate a relatively weak conference, pick up one or two good-looking OOC wins, and strut into the post-season on top of the world. (I’m assuming that USC will one day learn how to beat their conference lightweights consistently – something FSU never had trouble with in their heyday.)

  4. year2 says:

    Strength of schedule is a concern generally, and not just with non-BCS teams. Kansas and Hawai’i both capitalized on pillow-soft schedules and got to BCS games in 2007. Utah is much different this season, and the Utes will likely finish with a top-30 SOS.

    What I would like to see happen is the BCS announce that 3 or 4 seasons from now the strength of schedule component is coming back. Schedules are usually set a couple years in advance, so this gives schools time to adjust accordingly.

  5. O-town Gator says:

    Folks, the bottom line is that the only way to feasibly determine a true National Champion in college football at this level is to institute a PLAYOFF. No more, no less.

    We’ve been going around in circles for years now trying to argue the validity of the BCS, and it’s pointless as well as futile.

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