After a controversy free year in 2005, everyone was looking forward to 2006, especially in the South. The previous year had been marred by Hurricane Katrina (and to a lesser extent, Hurricane Rita), complete with devastation and destruction as well as yet another reminder (a la 9/11) that it really is just a game. Prior to the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes were touted as national championship contenders, and they'd get a chance to show their bona fides early - they had a September showdown in Austin, Texas against the defending national champion Texas Longhorns....without their star QB Vince Young. The pre-season Coaches Poll looked thus: 1) Ohio State 2) Texas 3) USC 4) Notre Dame (tied for third in first poll) 5) Oklahoma 6) Auburn (with a first-place vote) 7) West Virginia (with an easy schedule) 8) Florida 9) LSU 10) Florida State Prior to the season, there were three games touted as having major relevance for the title: Ohio State vs Texas, Oklahoma vs Oregon, and Louisville vs West Virginia. As it turned out, the consensus was right in two of the three cases but not as it was imagined at the time. Texas was the first to fall, losing a 24-7 thriller to Ohio State at home. The very next week, Oklahoma lost a controversial game to Oregon that would be debated for years thereafter. Oklahoma led by six with a minute left in the game. Oregon attempted an onside kick. After a wild scramble, Oregon was given the ball and proceeded to score the game-winning touchdown and PAT. TV replays showed that an Oregon player had illegally touched the ball before it went ten yards. Making the officiating blunder worse, Oklahoma had actually recovered the onsides kick only to see it given to Oregon. Then, Notre Dame's four touchdown loss to Michigan eliminated the Irish and elevated Michigan into the national picture once again, the Wolverines rising from #15 at the start of the year to #6. Auburn was also climbing in the polls, up to #3 with some first-place votes. And then came October. Auburn went down to defeat to Arkansas as they unveiled their new weapon, Darren McFadden. Auburn righted the ship and took Florida down a week later. This loss appeared as though it had fully eliminated the SEC, a conference now with four one-loss teams. In retrospect, it may well have been perfect for the conference to slip under the radar and into the title game without much pressure. The first BCS standings on October 15th were: 1) Ohio State 2) USC 3) Michigan 4) Auburn 5) West Virginia The following week, Michigan rose to #2, thanks to their 20-6 beating of Iowa. And it was right about this time that a large number of Big Ten journalism graduates got under the collective skin of the country by suggesting the idea of a 'rematch' of Ohio State/Michigan.....IF the first game was close. ESPN resident hack Bomani Jones (not a Big Ten grad himself) was typical of those calling for a rematch, even saying, "These are, without question, the two best teams in America." We were a month from the first game and already there was talk of a second game. And then USC lost to Oregon State in Corvallis. The entire setup seemed to be building towards a rematch. West Virginia went down to Louisville, pretty much the only challenge on their schedule - and the Cardinals were now in the top five themselves. Louisville then defied all logic and common sense by pole vaulting to #3 in the polls. Naturally, they lost to Rutgers. Florida, meanwhile, ensured they would be overlooked by needing a blocked field goal on the final play - following an earlier blocked PAT - to escape South Carolina and a quagmire with a 17-16 win. But after shredding Oregon, here came USC again - leaping over Florida and back into the #3 spot. Florida was winning but getting no love while USC was getting a lot of hype after a couple of narrow misses. And then on the day before the big game, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler died. The Buckeyes and Wolverines put on a classic, won by Ohio State. The final score was somewhat closer than the actual game as Ohio State led by 11 with 2:16 remaining. Despite the loss, Michigan remained #2 in the BCS standings. And muttering about the pros and cons of a rematch began among other fans. The assumption was that when - not if, when - USC beat UCLA on December 2, the polls should overrule the current setup and place USC in the #2 spot to play Ohio State. It must be remembered that USC's reputation of 2002-2008 was much like Alabama nowadays. They got the benefit of the doubt whether they necessarily deserved it or not. A USC win over UCLA was thought to be enough to put the Trojans in their third straight BCS title game. Naturally, they lost to a 28-point underdog. It was at the conclusion of the USC/UCLA nationally televised game that the entire argument shifted in favor of Florida. CBS analyst Gary Danielson put himself in the role of resident truth teller, much as he had in 2003 during the K-State/OU game. Danielson argued in favor of Florida playing Ohio State. When Florida left the field after thumping Arkansas, Florida coach Urban Meyer got somewhat animated in making his own case for his team, going so far to say that if Michigan and Ohio State played and Michigan won, Ohio State should still get championship rings. The votes came in and - whether persuaded by the idea of a new football game, persuaded by Meyer, or even whether they just really thought Florida was a better team - the Gators got their date in Glendale against Ohio State. It was left to Michigan alums to seethe, but they found little sympathy outside the state. After all, the argument was that they had already had their chance - and btw, Florida played a much tougher schedule. The Florida Gators mauled the Buckeyes in a game that was never close. After returning the opening kickoff for a TD, Ohio State scored only seven points the rest of the way. Urban Meyer had his championship, and the SEC was off and running. Should Michigan have been selected? In a word, no. Florida played the tougher schedule, the SEC had an out of conference record of 40-10, and the conference wound up going 6-3 in the bowl games (the Big Ten went 2-5). While it is probably true that Michigan lost out primarily due to the rematch concept, the truth is that they beat a paper tiger (Notre Dame), a good Wisconsin team....and nobody else. Sure, Penn State was 9-4 but Notre Dame beat the Lions about as badly as Michigan beat the Irish. Penn State ran up wins over nobodies as well, although it should be noted that both Big Ten bowl game wins were over SEC teams, Penn State over Tennessee and Wisconsin over Arkansas. But if the BCS thought 2006 was a trial by fire, 2007 would be hell in a gasoline suit.