As a University of Washington graduate, I’m not known for my ringing endorsements of the Oregon football program.
Suffice it to say that the Ducks were easy to root for when they were scrappy underdogs during the latter stages of the Rich Brooks coaching era in the early 1990s. They’re less sympathetic as the often overbearing Nike-fueled plutocrats of recent years, particularly after making an end run or two around NCAA recruiting regulations.
That said, my gut feeling is that Oregon is this season’s designated victim of college football’s BCS selection process — and few people outside of Eugene care.
While unbeaten Notre Dame and reigning national champion Alabama will collide for the national championship on Jan. 7, the Ducks have been relegated to the Fiesta Bowl four days earlier against Kansas State.
This seems to be fine with the vast majority of the national media, as evidenced by an Associated Press story that appeared last weekend.
“The BCS has been criticized plenty for not getting it right over the years, from all those teams that believed they should have been playing for a national title to last year’s all-SEC championship game,” the writer opened. “But for all its faults, the system seemed to work this season, producing a match-up for the ages: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.”
In terms of producing a television-friendly showdown of traditional college football powers, the system indeed worked. That claim is more questionable if the objective is to identify the nation’s top two teams.
Notre Dame, which emerged unscathed — although not always impressively — from one of the nation’s toughest schedules, is an obvious choice for play for a national championship.
But Oregon’s credentials for the other berth in the BCS title game are at least as strong as Alabama’s.
The Crimson Tide lost once, to 10th-ranked Texas A&M, and had several close calls this season. Aside from their lone loss, in overtime to No. 8 Stanford, the Ducks dominated every opponent.
For that matter, Pac-12 Conference champion Stanford (an unlucky loser to Notre Dame in overtime) would have possessed a legitimate BCS title game argument had it not suffered what now appears to be an inexplicable loss to Washington.
There are three reasons why Alabama got the nod over Oregon.
Most national powers purport to follow what has been called the ABC model of non-conference scheduling. That means one non-leaguer against a nationally ranked club, another game against a mid-level opponent and the third versus a cupcake foe.
Alabama (which played four non-leaguers) may have fattened up on the likes of Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina, but the Tide did open its season with a 41-14 rout of Michigan on a neutral field.
The Ducks, in contrast, seemed to have forgotten the entire alphabet. Their non-conference opponents were Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech — all in Eugene.
That’s the primary reason why Oregon was undervalued by the computer services that are mystifyingly given a voice in the national title process.
Then there’s the matter of conference championship games. Alabama rallied past a tough Georgia team in the Southeasterm Conference title contest. The loss to Stanford cost Oregon even a berth in the Pac-12 championship game.
Conference championship games are one element the NCAA selection committee needs to consider when the playoffs are expanded to four teams in a couple of years.
Alabama won last year’s national championship despite being excluded from the SEC title game. Two potential members of a final four this season, Oregon and Florida, were in a similar situation. No team should ever benefit from skipping a tough test.
There’s little doubt, however, that the biggest factor in the BCS matchup is the SEC mystique that evidently gives that conference’s champion (and sometimes an also-ran) a berth in the national championship game by divine right.
It’s a cinch that neither of this year’s finalists would want to play the Ducks as part of an expanded playoff system.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who always speaks truthfully and unselfishly about issues that affect the integrity of the game (except maybe for that one time when he repeatedly lied about negotiating with the Crimson Tide when he was still coaching the Miami Dolphins), made that clear earlier this season. Seemingly out of the blue, he said the no-huddle offense utilized by Oregon unfairly deceives the defensive club and promotes injuries.
Translated, that means Saban hopes the rulesmakers put some limitations on the no-huddle before his team faces the Ducks in a playoff game.
He should be relieved that it won’t happen this year.