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Saturday's Slate: Conference Championships

Posted: Dec 06, 2008

Here we are, after a week off due to technical difficulties, to find ourselves on the verge of crowning some conference champions and setting up the BCS Title teams.  It has been a long and exciting year.  Luckily for us, today's games have the potential to live up to the early season hype.

Patrick Snow's recent Dispatch tells the story - no matter what today's results will be, the BCS Championship will be SEC vs Big 12 South for the Swampland Title.

ALABAMA vs FLORIDA - Despite some who have complained about the SEC's overall strength this year, their championship game features two of the best (if not the best) teams in college football during the 2008 season. 

Alabama is the only BCS conference team to finish the regular season undefeated.  Florida has but one loss that happened much earlier in the season before going on fiery run, torching every team they faced down the stretch.

This game also serves to be a battle of opposites.  Alabama has been the historical standard bearer for the SEC going back to Bear Bryant.  Florida has been the team that best defines the modern SEC, starting with Steve Spurrier and now Urban Meyer.  Alabama also features the old style of football - ball control, great defense, muscle - while Florida sports the spread offense, lots of speed, and an opportunistic defense.

The winner of this game will play for a BCS Championship.  Both coaches already have one of these titles.  Saban would like to get his first at Alabama.

MISSOURI vs OKLAHOMA - In what should be a foregone conclusion, Oklahoma takes on Missouri as the Big 12 hosts its own "play in" game for the BCS Championship.  Texas might have been robbed of this chance after beating the Sooners earlier this season, but any blame must be placed at the feet of the Big 12 Conference itself for two reasons.

  1. The SEC has a better rule for three way ties.  Under its rule, the BCS ranking is a tie breaker, but it is subject to head to head win/loss if the two teams in question are within 5 spots of one another.  If the Big 12 operated under this rule, Texas would have gone instead of Oklahoma.
  2. The bigger issue was the decision at the formation of the Big 12 to put all of the best football schools in one division.  It is clear to us hear at TF that the two Oklahoma schools should be moved to the other division.  This would have had Oklahoma and Texas facing off for the Big 12 Championship today. 

Point 2 might be the most important issue for the Big 12 going forward.  Since the Big 12 started as the Big 8 adding four Texas teams departing the mortally wounded SWC, these Big 8 schools clearly had too much power in setting the Big 12's initial structure. 

Oklahoma and Nebraska ruled football in the Big 8 while Kansas ruled the basketball side.  This mindset is demonstrated in the way the Big 12 looks today.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Nebraska hasn't been a real factor in the Big 12's football picture since 1999.  Not coincidentally, that was also the last year that Florida State was relevant as well as Alabama before Nick Saban.  Nebraska now on their 3rd post-Osbourne coach, Bo Pelini, currently in his first year.

Try as they might, Kansas, Kansas St, and Iowa State will never be perennial football powers.  Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska have potential, but still seem a solid step behind Texas and Oklahoma in overall resources.  It's a different game now.  Maybe two of these three schools can emerge, but it doesn't look likely over the next yer or two.

The Big 12 must consider realignment.  The simplest move would send Iowa State and Colorado to the Big 12 South and the two Oklahoma schools to the Big 12 North.  It would also allow the Oklahoma/Nebraska game to become relevant again.  It could become the Big 12 North's annual play in game for the conference championship.

Yes, we realize that it wouldn't fit geographically.  They could always rename the divisions taking a page from the ACC which has a Coastal and Atlantic division that doesn't follow geography.  Instead, it ensures that Florida State and Miami are in separate divisions as well as splitting up the North Carolina schools.  This kind of conference alignment will make even more sense as Florida State, Miami, UNC, Georgia Tech and Clemson continue their climb back into the national picture.

For now, Oklahoma should prevail mightily.  They will then go on to face the SEC Champ in what should be the best BCS Championship since USC-Texas.

Just remember, don't blame the BCS when it's a conference problem.

BOSTON COLLEGE vs VIRGINIA TECH - After a promising 2008 season, the ACC fell back into a worst case scenario.  We have a rematch of last year's debacle game that featured the falied experiment (BC) against a lackluster Virginia Tech squad. 

The ACC got better in 2008.  All of its key football programs showed significant improvement with young rosters.  Unfortunately, these young players fell victim to what young players tend to do - play erratically.

Despite the overall conference mediocrity, the ACC did prove that it can compete with the SEC.  If you take out Alabama and Florida, the top ACC teams held their own against that next level of SEC teams.

However, that is the problem.  The ACC hasn't produced an elite team since the last time the Big North did - almost a decade ago.

For the greater good, Virginia Tech must win this game.  The ACC must also regroup, have a good bowl season, and hope that two out of this group (Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, UNC, NC State, and Clemson) will become elite programs by 2009.

EAST CAROLINA @ TULSA - Athough C-USA has had a mixed year in terms of results, their championship game gets it right.  Tulsa, despite their one-sided loss to Houston, was the best of the high-flying west while East Carolina was the best of the physical east also sporting the conferences most significant wins in 2008 beating both the ACC's Virginia Tech and the Big East's West Virginia.

C-USA remains in an embryonic state, but so does the Big 12 and ACC.  The greatest thing about C-USA in 2008 has been its continued success in creating an indentity.  The Western half of the conference mirrors its geographic big brother (the Big 12) while the Eastern half does the same with the SEC.  The conference's coaches are either veterans (Bob Toledo, Mike Price, and George O'Leary) or emerging young guys.

In fact, ECU and Tulsa both feature coaches (Skip Holtz and Todd Graham, respectively) who should be in line for big conference jobs in the near future.


Only the SEC has its act together which is why the conference has its champion poised to compete for a third straight BCS title.  Individual schools (USC, Ohio State, and Miami) have had three year runs like this, but no conference has.  If Alabama were to win today and in the BCS title game, they would be the third different SEC school in three years and the fourth different SEC school to win a BCS Championship.

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