(One of the few kinda relevant images I could find that was clearly covered under a creative commons license.
There was once a time in college football when field goals and the occasional simple-action run ruled the day. When possession of the ball went back and forth more times than Mitt Romney’s stance on [insert issue here]. When gain from scrimmage was measured not in scores or dozens of yards, but ‘yard.’
But then the forward pass was conceived, leather gave way to polymer, and LaVell Edwards was born (not necessarily in that order). And the game of college football evolved.
The 2012 Allstate BCS National Championship Game was supposed to represent a new zenith in that evolution, a display of two teams so utterly dominant and skilled in the game, it mattered not they had already played each other earlier in the season to a less than satisfactory conclusion. Clearly they, by virtue of the conference they kept, embodied squads and coaching staffs that would definitively best any other team – except, interestingly enough, each other.
Or so that’s what ESPN promised once the computers verified what we were already told was inevitable. A giant squid, the network – dually co-conspirator and apologist of the ‘Backdoor into the Championship System’ – utilized its every tentacle to suffocate the sports enthusiast with the message of SEC predominance. It even, with gun surely to his back, forced dear Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller to profess on camera the Southeastern Conference’s infallibility and the error of anyone who chose to turn their attention away from last night’s contest. (For those concerned, he’s hardly in the clear, if I read his tear-glinted blinks right).
But for as much production value as the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network can put into its HD, 3D, and newly-touted ‘All-D’ broadcasts, it couldn’t work the kind of technological magic sufficient to make LSU and Alabama look like competent offenses or even Tebowesque offensives. As the shutout persisted, LSU fans begged Les Miles for Jarrett Lee’s once-in-twenty arm. They should have instead been clamoring for Andy Serkis, who would most certainly deserve an Emmy if he could, clad in a green unitard dotted with neon ping-pong balls (the Duck’s next uniform revolution?), prance around the field successfully enough for Peter Jackson to conjure a computer-generated offensive threat for the Tigers.
This was (again) a game of field goals, where the quarterback earned the "Good Hands" honor not for a saved errant shotgun snap, or a sudden turn as receiver on a trick play, but for consistently holding the ball for his place-kicker. If we knew that having a kicker who nailed field goals but inexplicably missed PATs was all that a team needed to qualify for a national title, Cal fans could have petitioned for a BCS berth a third of our season in.
This was a game that induced vertigo with its logic so circular, where poor offense meant great defense and even shoddier offense meant a national title duly earned. No matter that an FCS QB could have heaved the ball in desperation and likely connected with LSU’s speedsters a quarter of the time on Alabama’s secondary, Jefferson’s inability to get the ball off even once under pressure was taken as undeniable proof of an all-stifling defense.
Without doubt Alabama’s defensive performance was impressive at times. But truly all-consuming, able to render inert the kinds of explosive offensives other conferences have dared? Who knows? The entire affair was constructed to reinforce and rationalize the SEC’s insular world where limited data points and maximum hype substitutes for strength of schedule and regular cross-AQ-conference challenges. Where a narrative is dutifully justified, so much so that your geriatric announcer, already pre-programmed with choice refrains, breaks down in an endless loop of "Honey Badger," "Roll Tide," and "Honey Badger…the Tide rolled all over him." Where reality is no longer sober, and the fanbase never was. Right down to the car commercial that told us that southern gameday ritual trumps attending your own daughter’s wedding.
Would a four-team playoff have settled all controversy? Maybe so, and maybe not enough, but it certainly couldn’t hurt network ratings…or non-SEC fandom’s collective plea for 21st century offenses. But despite increased playoff chatter, ESPN, AP voters, and other SECtarians remain awfully defensive. Their latest masterstroke of self-reference: clearly Alabama is the best team in the nation, head & shoulders above the fray. They walloped the number two team in the land after all.
(Again, thanks to http://rugby-pioneers.blogs.com for their awesome image-sharing policy)