July 19, 2009

Can BYU reach the national championship game?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: BYU is No. 29 in our 1-120 countdown. With the recent BCS Congressional hearings still fresh in our minds, that leads to this: If BYU is unbeaten this season, would it play for the national title?

That's hard to say until we know what other teams are unbeaten. True, BYU faces tremendous non-conference competition against Oklahoma and Florida State, and winning those games certainly would give BYU a strong case to be in the championship game. But what if Texas and Florida also are unbeaten? That means Texas will have a win over Oklahoma and Florida will have a win over Florida State, and both would have faced a stronger conference schedule. Personally, I doubt a team from outside the major conferences ever will play for the championship because the system is stacked against those teams. Congressional hearings brought more attention to the subject, but attention and pressure don't necessarily result in change. If BYU is left out of the championship game despite an undefeated season and there are no other unbeaten teams, there will be more hearings, more complaints and even louder calls for a playoff. But it probably won't matter. I think a team from outside the six major conferences will play for the championship only if it is unbeaten with wins over ranked opponents and everybody else has at least two losses.


No. I just don't think any team from outside the six major conferences ever would deserve to play for the national championship. I just don't think, week in and week out, those teams play as tough a schedule as their major-conference counterparts. No one in this galaxy can look themselves in the mirror and say an unbeaten record in the Mountain West is as impressive as an unbeaten record in, say, the SEC. Beat a Pac-10, SEC and Big Ten team on consecutive weekends in a different type of postseason, and then I'll be impressed.


Congress doesn't have a say with the BCS voters or computers at least not yet so the only way an undefeated BYU could sniff the championship game is if there's another crazy, upset-filled season, like we saw in 2007. There has been an unbeaten team from outside the six major conferences in each of the past three seasons Utah in 2008, Hawaii in 2007 and Boise State in 2006 and none were ranked higher than fifth in the final BCS standings. If BYU is unbeaten this season, the Cougars would have beaten Oklahoma and Florida State in non-conference games. But if BYU can beat Oklahoma, can't Texas? Or Oklahoma State ? Or Texas Tech ? Those teams certainly would get a crack at the national title before BYU.


Assuming there is just one or no other unbeaten teams, then, yes, I think BYU would be in the title game. The Cougars have a good non-conference schedule including games against Oklahoma and Florida State and beating those two, plus some tough teams in the Mountain West, would have the Cougars in Pasadena for the title game. If there are two unbeatens from major conferences, then, no, I don't think BYU makes it to Pasadena. One thing BYU has on its side is tradition; on the other hand, the Cougars likely will start the season ranked between 20th and 30th. If there are two major-conference unbeatens, it's extremely likely BYU will have too much to overcome. Thing is, I also don't think anyone will need to worry about this after the opener against Oklahoma.


If we learned anything from the way Utah ended its season last year, BYU wouldn't play for the national title even if it goes undefeated. Consider what the Utes accomplished last season on the way to an undefeated record. They won at Michigan. They beat Oregon State a week after the Beavers had knocked off mighty USC. They beat a TCU team that lost only once to Oklahoma all season. They buried a BYU team that had spent the entire regular season in the national rankings. And they put together this kind of season in a year when not a single major-conference team went undefeated. All those accomplishments apparently didn't impress the computers and Harris poll voters. Utah was sixth in the BCS standings that determined the bowl matchups. Those final regular-season BCS standings had Utah below USC, even though their only common opponent had beaten the Trojans and lost to the Utes. An undefeated BYU team probably would have a slightly better chance of getting to the title game. BYU has a tougher non-conference schedule that includes a season-opening date with Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas, and a home game with Florida State two weeks later. A victory over Oklahoma would at least get BYU into the national title conversation, whereas the national media never even mentioned Utah as a possible contender until it upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But I still fear an undefeated Mountain West team wouldn't get in even if the major conferences didn't have a single undefeated team. Is it right? Of course not. But it seems like that's an unwritten rule with the flawed system currently in place. Utah already taught us that lesson.



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