I had forgotten that the Sugar Bowl was on two Fridays ago, so it was surprising to walk into that bar in Panama City Beach and see so many Tide fans that I thought it was their spring game. Even more surprising was when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that Alabama was down 21-3. That was hard to believe. I thought this game was a sure thing. I never put 'root against Alabama' on my things to do list because I never thought Utah had a chance. I was wrong...
Utah finished ranked #2 in the AP poll and was the only major FBS school to go undefeated. Along the way, they beat 5 teams ranked at the time in the top 25: Michigan, Oregon State, TCU, BYU and Alabama. This was their second season with no losses in the last five years. If you recall, they also went undefeated in 2004 along with us. Their 2008 team was much better than the 2004 one, though. I'm a believer now. They weren't some 1984 BYU who played nobody on the way to the MNC. These guys are good. I think they would give a Texas or Oklahoma a run for their money, but probably not Florida.
Now, Utes fans (yes, Utes.) are clamoring for inclusion as a national champion. Their coach even stepped out of bounds in the coach's poll and voted for his team #1 even though he was obligated to vote for the BCS champion. Can't say I blame him really. He wouldn't be the first. Anyone remember how Tubs voted back in 2004? (asking: I don't know) But Utah is in the Mountain West conference, which if you recall, is the offspring of the old WAC when it ballooned up to 16 teams then split again. I guess you can call them the Mountain WAC now. I do.
But the MWC is a non-BCS FBS conference, just like the MAC, C-USA, et al. They don't get any BCS bowls reserved for them. They have to fight for four 'at-large' slots, and one of those has Notre Dame's name on it if they have a pulse that particular season. That certainly doesn't lend well for competing for national championships if you're a non-automatic qualifier. Even worse, they don't have the name recognition to get ANY recognition at the beginning of the season. Poor Utah's best chance to win a MNC is to build on this season next year and start out ranked in the top 6 and have another perfect season. Then, and only then...
But is that fair? Who said CFB was fair? Of course, it's fair. Who is Utah? Sure, they've played ball since 1892, roughly the same interval as we have. They're #34 in all-time wins with 607, which sounds good, but who have they played? Their all-time strength of schedule rating is only ranked 87th best. That's because they usually play other teams like themselves. Half of the top 10 all-time toughest schedules belong to current and former SEC teams. When we SEC homers talk about eating our own, we can back it up.
Is it fair to the top teams to include teams from conferences that don't pull their own weight typically? Why should they be invited to the party? Sure, it might be easy for them to get up for one big bowl matchup against a marquee opponent, but how would they fare if they had to play a whole schedule of them, plus a conference title game? Do you really think they could compete then? Forget comparing the major teams to the mid-majors. Make it easy and compare the conferences.
Some say that's it's a country club mentality--that the haves are trying to keep the have-not interlopers at bay. I hate to say it, but yea, sometimes it feels like Ted Knight trying to keep Rodney Dangerfield out of Bushwood. But the heavy hitters of college football came upon it honestly. They've paid their dues for the last 120 years. In their history, there's been tremendous regional bias to overcome and we're still dealing with it today. No one east and west of the Rockies really care about football in between those twin down markers yet. It's only important to them. Respect will have to earned--gradually. Slowly. Like Darwin-kinda slowly...
Football used to only be a Northeast and Midwest game. No one cared about Southern football for decades except Southerners. Southern football owes a debt of gratitude to those Alabama teams of the 1920s who went to the Rose Bowl a few times and won. They put Southern football on the map. Now the epicenter of the CFB world has refocused to the south.To give you an idea of how small it used to be, the Big 10(11) was originally known as the Western Athletic Conference. My, how things change.
Now the game is mostly about money. TV ratings are the barometer that allocates where the power is seated. The free market is the ultimate judge, and yes, sometimes it may seem like the rich are getting richer. Is it fair, I ask again? Yes and no. Maybe all they want is an opportunity. But what you believe is opportunity won't come until we get some sort of a playoff, and that will be decades, I truly believe now. So what are we supposed to do in the meantime to level the field? Here is my modest proposal about what those feeling left out these days could do to change their lot. Notice that no where do I claim that any of it is fair. I'm only saying that it's practical.
Grow, join, or secede your conference into 12 teams and play a conference playoff game. No mega-blob conferences like the WAC was before it split back into the WAC and the Mountain WAC. Implore the BCS conferences (Pac10, Big10(11), Big Eas(y)t who don't do this to start, in order to set a good example for you.
All the attention shouldn't be just at the college level. It has to start in high school. It's a cultural thing. Your prep farm system must be able to provide sustenance for all your major programs. You grow it like any other crop.
Expand your stadiums and sell them out. Sorry, we SEC'ers don't want to play in a 30k seat stadium outside of Nashville or Starkville. We don't even like playing in them then. Some high schools down here have larger stadiums than your universities, or fill them better. It's an investment. Your checkbook is your friend.
And any of you pull a fast one like Boise State did with that abomination of a field, you're gone FOREVER!!!
Extort, bribe and demand BCS conference schools to engage you in a series, even if you do have to travel two to one. Some call it the Florida State model. You play anyone, anywhere, any time. How else to you think a women's teacher college rose to be a football powerhouse in 50 years?
So there you have it. My recommendations for the mid-majors to slowly rise to the level of the big boys. You can't sit around and wait for a playoff to rescue this differential in opportunity. Every down is 1st and 40 for you if you're a mid-major. Time to chuck it across the middle into two-deep coverage for a change.