Bcs Controversies Revisited: 2008 - Oklahoma Messes With Texas


Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ
Jul 28, 2008
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At the end of the year in 2007 (which I'll discuss later), Captain Chaos was king. Restoring some luster to the old Superdome ruined by Hurricane Katrina, LSU reigned all by themselves this time after defeating Ohio St. Meanwhile in the SEC, two soon-to-be legends got to work, one improving his spread offense and the other putting into place the most devastating defense the game had ever seen.

2008 was supposed to be the year Georgia finally put it all together. Mark Richt's comet had blasted off from the depths of 1990s despair to an SEC title his second year, two more division titles, and the Richt system fully set in place. Bad breaks had hurt them in 2007 and left them on the outside looking in. Georgia, in fact, was one missed play in the South Carolina game from having squared off with LSU in what would have been the equivalent of a semi-final. Georgia headed the Coaches Poll prior to the 2008 kickoff.

1) Georgia
2) USC
3) Ohio State
4) Oklahoma
5) Florida
6) LSU
7) Missouri
8) West Virginia
9) Clemson

This would be the year of starting fast. Unlike most previous years that saw practice/warm-up games scheduled to get teams into the groove, 2008 began with a game that looked on paper to give Clemson the paper credentials to move out from their reputation as a team that could never put it all together. Indeed, Clemson's reputation was pretty much the same as their western neighbor, Georgia. Alabama was unranked in the coaches poll (#24 in the AP) and most agreed the Tide were at least one and probably two years away from contending. The game was a microcosm of what Alabama would become in future years, prior to Lane Kiffin anyway. The Tide held the ball with a rather vanilla offense of run to the left, run to the right, run up the middle, scorching Clemson for 239 yards while the defense gave up a combined ZERO rushing yards to the lethal combo of C.J. Spiller and James Davis. At the end of a brilliant if somewhat boring and methodical game, Alabama had knocked Clemson out of the top ten and set in motion the events that would land the Tigers Dabo Swinney as head coach. USC's demolition of Virginia moved them ahead of Georgia, not that it even matters in the BCS era at that point of the season.

An early season clash between Ohio State and USC promised that one would likely be eliminated from the race, and the final score did nothing to dissuade that view as the Trojans leveled the Buckeyes, 35-3. USC looked more powerful than ever, and the rankings were relatively stable until the night of September 27, 2008. It was the night a dynasty began and a coaching career began its end. In a game known as 'The Blackout' (with UGA players and fans wearing black to be intimidating), Alabama shelled the Bulldogs by tearing out first to a 31-0 halftime lead and then by settling in and cruising to a 41-30 win that was nowhere as close as the final score, which was a TD made by the Dawgs with 95 second left in the game. The result was shocking enough to blast Alabama from #10 to #4 in the country, right behind Oklahoma, LSU, and Missouri. Those rankings held until the season's most meaningless result took place in the Red River Rivalry.

In a game marred by awful officiating and lousy coaching (Bob Stoops' insane fake punt decision in the third quarter while leading the game), Texas outshone OU, 45-35, in a shootout. Meanwhile, Florida unloaded 51 points on LSU, ending the Tigers' bid for a repeat while Okie State worked their way into contention with a win over Missouri. When the BCS' first poll was released the following week, all pre-season prognostications were shattered:

1) Texas
2) Alabama
3) Penn State
4) Oklahoma
5) USC

The rankings held for two weeks until Texas suddenly learned a hard lesson - head-to-head losses don't matter as much as other losses. On November 1, Texas was finishing their fourth game in a row against ranked teams. They made it to Lubbock having won the first three. After falling behind, 22-3, in the first half of the game with Texas Tech, the Longhorns hit their stride and seemingly won the game with a touchdown and only 1:29 left. Trailing by one, Tech began to drive and eschewed a long field goal for a bomb into double coverage from Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree. Crabtree caught it, and the Longhorns were dead. Celebrations erupted in Lubbock....and in Tuscaloosa. As difficult as it was to believe, Alabama was now #1 in the nation for the first time since the final game of 1992. Twenty-eight years to the day of their last #1 ranking during the season, Alabama was on top.

The new BCS polls reflected chaos as well:
1) Alabama
2) Texas Tech
3) Penn State
4) Texas
5) Florida

After a demolition of Texas A&M, Oklahoma appeared in the following poll, replacing Penn State after a stunning loss to Iowa. Entering November 22, the SEC and Big 12 occupied the top five spots in the BCS.

And then Texas Tech fell by the wayside, victims of beating from Oklahoma. After the dust cleared and the schedule entered December, the controversy began: why is Oklahoma ranked ahead of Texas? Bob Stoops's arrogance didn't help matters, as he kept shifting the burden of proof from head to head by noting that Texas Tech had the same record and had beaten Texas head to head - which was true but irrelevant given the beating Stoops' troops had ministered to the Red Raiders. Oklahoma plowed Missouri by forty points in the Big 12 title game, but it was the SEC title game that garnered the ink. Indeed, the two-year series between Alabama and Florida as well as the Alabama-Georgia game may have served as well to implode the BCS given that each of those games functioned as de facto semi-final contests, with the winner advancing to the title game (and winning all three times). Alabama and Florida played an entertaining game that saw the Tide heading into the fourth quarter with a three-point lead only to be undone by the superior talent on the other side of the ball. Urban Meyer was in his fourth year as Florida coach and had his system in place while Nick Saban was still playing with one hand behind his back with a team that was still about half of Mike Shula's recruits. Tim Tebow rose up like a champion and led Florida on two consecutive drives that broke Alabama's back.

Indeed, it may have broken their will as the Tide gave their own contribution to the non-AQs in the Sugar Bowl. Whether it was off-the-field distractions such as Andre Smith being suspended, disappointment in playing little more than a consolation game, confusion caused by Utah's misdirection offense, or just plain old failure to prepare properly, Alabama lost a 31-17 Sugar Bowl rout that didn't feel anywhere near that close. Florida won their second title in three years by (once again) watching Bob Stoops come up short in a big game. Urban Meyer was adding to his legend.

Why wasn't Texas chosen?

Texas was undone by their opting to play a non-conference schedule that consisted of FAU, UTEP, Rice, and Arkansas. Oklahoma, meanwhile, was beating Cincinnati and TCU as well as a former big-name school now in the doldrums, Washington. Given that both TCU and Cincinnati would be in the hunt just one year later and had a combined 22-5 record in 2008, it's difficult to argue that Texas should have been chosen. Yes, Texas won the head-to-head game, but not only did the Sooners lead that game for much of the day, the final margin of ten was a tad bit deceptive in light of the fact that Texas scored on a 62-yard scamper with about five minutes left. Oklahoma lost after facing Cincinnati, Washington, an off week,TCU, and Baylor before playing Texas. It's true Texas played four tough foes in a row, but the fact their four tough foes came later than Oklahoma's tough five-week stretch (though not as tough) or earlier than OU's tough two-game trek against Tech and Oklahoma St. doesn't alter anything. Let's put it another way: Oklahoma played Texas Tech and Oklahoma St. in consecutive weeks and won BOTH by an average of 26 points while Texas played both in consecutive weeks, barely winning one and losing the other.

While it was indeed controversial, this choice was really no different than when Florida State was chosen over Miami. Despite the carping from the nation's largest landlocked state, the choice was right and didn't matter anyway - would it really matter whether Florida beat Oklahoma or Texas WITH Colt McCoy? Doubtful.
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