As it tends to happen in November, college football threw its fans a curveball and toppled the country’s top two teams, all but flipping the world on its head with just one week to go in the regular season. A week after an impregnable Alabama team fell to Texas A&M, the top two teams in the country, Kansas State and Oregon, lost as well. Oregon’s loss was dramatic, an overtime defeat to a Stanford team that battled back from three turnovers to vanquish an opponent that’s owned the Cardinal. Kansas State’s loss felt more like Cinderella after midnight, with the Wildcats turning into a pumpkin right before our eyes, getting steamrolled by a 4-5 Baylor team with the worst defense in the country.
Think about that. Collin Klein and Kansas State, called the best player and team in the country by Sports Illustrated just days ago, got blown out by a Baylor Team that lost four straight to the murders row of West Virginia, TCU, Texas, and Iowa State.
The beneficiary of all of this is Notre Dame. Brian Kelly’s squad, fresh off their most impressive offensive performance of the season, now jumps to the No. 1 team in the country. For Domers everywhere, things couldn’t get much better. After a decade of futility, life is good. A week after looking like the odd man out, the Irish ascend to the top spot in the country, all by beating Wake Forest to a pulp. Now, the only team between the Irish and immortality, is USC.
That’s right, Lane Kiffin, a black hat if there every was one, is the last enemy that needs vanquishing. You couldn’t script a better movie if you were spotted John Wayne and the Wild West.
But that’s where this story should stop.
Make no mistake, Notre Dame absolutely deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country. But this system deserves to be thrown in the recycling bin, a relic of yesteryear that is so outdated you’d look better pulling out a fax machine to check your Twitter feed at the sports bar.
The pollsters and the computers that determine who plays for the national championship have been over-matched for years. But watching Kansas State, a team that was considered the most battle-tested in the country lose by four touchdowns to a sub-.500 team, is just another notch in the belt of those that have forever screamed that the pollsters don’t know anything. Bill Snyder’s team losing isn’t another example of the SI cover jinx. It’s a fraud revealed. It’s college football’s Darwinism thankfully doing what pollsters weren’t capable of.
It’s a shame that it took Art Briles squad (a team that spotted Kansas State and Collin Klein seven points with one of the worst interceptions of the season) beating the Wildcats to understand that K-State just isn’t that good. This is a team that cancelled its best game of the year. (Ironically, against Oregon, who also benefited from a cupcake schedule.) It’s a team that scheduled Missouri State and North Texas, only leading the Mean Green by a botched extra point in the third quarter before pulling away. It’s a team with a Heisman candidate with an arm that makes Tommy Rees’ look strong, a guy who would’ve absolutely won the most coveted award in college sports if he didn’t collapse against the worst defense in the country, even though just about anybody who was honest with themselves — or who has actually seen Klein play — knew he’s a non-roster invitee in the NFL at best.
That’s not to spare Oregon. The Ducks, who worked their way to the top of college football in spite of an untested quarterback, have played such luminaries as Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Tennessee Tech before embarking on their conference schedule. They looked like the best team in the country for eleven weeks, if only because everybody assumed Chip Kelly and the Ducks were the real McCoy. That turned out to be incorrect as well, with the Ducks being toppled by a Stanford team playing a redshirt freshman at quarterback in his third state who survived three turnovers. Once again, an Oregon quarterback, this time Marcus Mariota, fell back down to earth when they played a legit defense. Stop me if you’ve heard that one.
None of this spares Notre Dame. That the Irish are the “best” team in the country in spite of struggling to beat Purdue, BYU and Pittsburgh shows you the system we’re working with. Yet in today’s college football, the Irish deserve to be at the top of the heap not because of their stout defense or improving offense, but because of the things they didn’t do: Lose football games and schedule cupcakes.
With a playoff system coming into fruition in 2014, articles like these will hopefully never be written again. But because there’s a championship to be played in Miami, and again next season, it is worth committing this to public record, if only to get in front of history, who will surely judge the current system as the dumbest in sports history.
Picking the top two teams in the country is hard work. So let’s get this on the table: Neither the media nor the coaches can do this job. It’s just too hard. The college football world is too flat, and the game’s best programs have spread too far across the country, all unwilling to play each other when it’s easier to simply battle familiar opponents and wage a PR war instead.
With college football’s warloads even making the computers irrelevant (formulas that can’t factor in margin of victory are less effective than a calculator missing a button), it’s down to the game’s power brokers and voters to steer the ship. We’d be better off with pro wrestling refs.
College football is filled with bias. Coaches, voters, writers, ESPN GameDay hosts. We’ve all got it. We wouldn’t love the sport if we didn’t. But it’s taken over the conversation and it’s all got to stop.
When Alabama works its way back into the national title game with a victory over a 1-10 Western Carolina team that hasn’t sniffed a victory in the Southern conference, it’s all too obvious this sport needs a hard reset. And thankfully in 2014, that’s coming with a playoff.
So while pundits, fans and talking heads will undoubtedly debate Notre Dame’s worthiness atop college football world, consider this a pleasant reminder: It’s not the Irish’s fault. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
No team has earned the right to call themselves No. 1 more than Notre Dame. And if they beat USC next weekend, that’s all the more clear.
Don’t get me wrong, I love college football. But that doesn’t mean the system isn’t broken.