Bcs Controversies Revisited: 2011 - Storm Surges Demolish The Bcs


Hartselle Tigers (15-0) 5-A State Champ
Jul 28, 2008
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The 2011 college football season for all intents and purposes began - and ended - on the day of April 27, 2011. On that day of terror, the Southeastern United States was pummeled by a series of tornadoes. Hardest hit was the Heart of Dixie, the state of Alabama, that lost two towns, 250 of its finest citizens, and six students who attended the University of Alabama. There was never any doubt that given the importance of college football to this state and given the role it would play in returning things to normalcy, Alabama was the surest bet to win a championship since a horse named Secretariat ran away from the field at the Belmont in 1973. And the route they took there would make them a team of forever and demolish the very championship system of college football.

Auburn was given less chance of repeating as national champions than perhaps any BCS champion ever, but it's understandable why. Their superstars - most notably Cam Newton on offense and Nick Fairley on defense - were gone to the NFL from a team that had walked a tight rope all year long, winning SEVEN of their 14 games by a single score. One play the other way in each game and Auburn would have been an 8-5 team at best. The assumption ws that Auburn had lost way too much to repeat. As it turned out, the pundits were right - on this occasion. The pre-season AP poll was as illogical as it was stupid:

1) Oklahoma
2) Alabama
3) Oregon
4) LSU
5) Boise St

Auburn was included in the poll at #23, a ranking that basically said they didn't even think the Tigers deserved to be ranked, but it's hard to pick against ANY team that has just won the championship. And their votes got tested on opening day.

In a strange twist, Alabama's 2011 season opener was against head coach Nick Saban's alma mater, Kent State, a school known primarily for a tragedy that occurred in 1970 when four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a protest. The opening of the season was a much needed relief for the Tide, and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was crystal clear - this was an EXCELLENT defense. As it turned out, they were even better than Smart could have imagined. The Tide blasted Kent State in the opener, 48-7, and the Tide still had not settled on a quarterback. The other Alabama team without a quarterback survived a harrowing near miss against Utah State in the opener, rallying from a 16-point deficit in the final two minutes to eke out a four-point win and continue their winning streak.

And one of the three most important games of the season saw LSU trounce Oregon, 40-27, in a game that the Tigers led, 33-9, with about nine minutes remaining. The SEC was off to a good start. The win was impressive enough for LSU to jump Alabama for #2 in the standings. As the two teams would have to play head-to-head anyway, this made no difference. The Tide climbed back above LSU the next week after an impressive win over Penn State in what would turn out to be Joe Paterno's final game against Alabama (more on Paterno in a moment). More importantly, the Tide seemingly found a new quarterback in the steady if unspectacular AJ McCarron. A week later, Auburn finally lost a game and their wining streak to Clemson. And then LSU made their claim.

Squaring off against a highly respected West Virginia team (still in the Big East at the time), LSU clobbered the Mountaineers, 47-21, giving them two quality wins over good foes. Oklahoma was now second and Alabama was holding steady at third. The Tide was not doing poorly, either, having dispatched Arkansas, 38-14, the same day. A third straight year of demolishing Florida, this time by a 38-10 count, saw the Tide move back ahead of Oklahoma. Just below the top three, here came Wisconsin with six blowout wins to contend. There were several unbeatens when the first BCS polls were released on October 16:

1) LSU
2) Alabama
3) Oklahoma
4) Oklahoma St
5) Boise St

Other unbeatens included Wisconsin, Clemson, Stanford, and Kansas State, with Oregon as the highest ranked one-loss team. The next week saw the Sooners lose a shocker to Texas Tech, moving Oklahoma St. to #3. And now came hype like none of us had ever seen before.

The 2011 LSU-Alabama game was, without question, the most hyped regular season college football game in history. For starters, it was only the fifth REGULAR SEASON 1 vs 2 matchup in 20 years, but more importantly were some other facets that set this game apart - the 2006 Ohio State-Texas game was early in September when nobody knew that Texas wasn't really that good of a team. And in NONE of the regular season 1 vs 2 matchups had BOTH teams had off weeks the prior week, a circumstance that permitted a TWO-WEEK hype-fest and build-up of the game to fans of neither team. Indeed, the only previous time both teams had both had something resembling an off week for a late-season 1 vs 2 clash was the infamous 1969 Texas-Arkansas game, played on December 6. Even before the game there was discussion that the loser of the game might actually be the winner if the two teams met again in the BCS title game.

The day of the game was marred by disturbing news out of Pennsylvania - authorities had arrested former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on charges of child rape. Over the next few days - reminiscent of the 2010 Cam Newton scandal - the horrible news would engulf college football and lead to the termination of the game's winningest coach, Joe Paterno, who would shortly thereafter announce a cancer diagnosis and be buried in late January with the case still moving towards the inevitable convictions. The same day was seeing both the worst of off the field crimes and the best of on the field times.

The game itself did not disappoint in terms of excitement. Two fantastic defenses put on a prime time Saturday night show, defiantly pushing through controversial plays, missed special teams plays, crucial penalties - virtually all of them by Alabama - until LSU won the game on an overtime field goal. Alabama's dream of furthering healing with a national championship had been, if you'll pardon the pun, blown away. While the two SEC foes were demonstrating stronger defenses than world powers at the UN, Oklahoma St. knocked Kansas St. from the ranks of the unbeaten and moved up into the #2 spot. Alabama was not harmed badly, however, falling only to #3. Their performance was impressive even if their schedule was soft by Nick Saban Era standards.

If the Alabama loss was stunning, the circumstances that set up the most improbable game in BCS history were even more amazing.

The rankings on November 6, 2011 were:
1) LSU
2) Okie St
3) Alabama
4) Stanford
5) Boise St
6) Oklahoma
7) Oregon
8) Arkansas

Alabama had a loss to LSU while Arkansas had a loss to Alabama; the other teams were all undefeated. And then one-by-one, each fell by the wayside.

Boise St was the first to fall, losing a shocking upset at home to TCU, 36-35, on (wait for it) a missed field goal. Just as poor kicking had deep-sixed Alabama against LSU, the Broncos lost just as they had to Nevada the previous year, with a poor kick. The same night saw Stanford get blown out by Oregon, 53-30, ending their unbeaten season. The year was only one improbable upset away from the biggest BCS controversy since 2003. Not only did it happen, but it owed its end result to...a missed kick!!!

On November 17, two Oklahoma St. women's basketball coaches were among four persons to die tragically in an airplane crash. The Cowboys were scheduled to play Iowa St. in Ames the following evening. The football coaches awakened to the tragic news but no more was said at the time. Needing only to win out to play LSU, the Cowboys blasted out to a 24-7 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Iowa State scored a touchdown and then stunned the Cowboys with an onsides kick that they recovered. It mattered not as the Cyclones fumbled it away a few plays later at the Cowboys four-yard line. Moments later, the Cowboys gave the ball back to Iowa State, who kicked a field goal and ended the third quarter trailing only 24-17 and with the momentum. Iowa State then put together an impressive 89-yard drive to tie the game with six minutes left. All across the nation, fans of teams potentially affected by the outcome were telling their fellow fans what was going on in Ames. And then the Cyclones let the Cowboys off the hook.

With only 3:17 remaining and needing but a field goal to win, Iowa State not only threw an interception at their own 45, they tacked on fifteen yards on a penalty that put Okie State in field goal range on first down. The Cyclones held but Okie St lined up for a relatively easy 37-yard field goal - which just like Alabama and just like Boise St., they missed. Iowa St ran out the clock and overtime was going to settle the thing.

On the first play of overtime, the Cyclones shocked the Pokes with a lightning quick touchdown on the first play. Needing to respond to salvage their season, Okie State converted a third and two for a game-tying TD and took the ball for the second overtime. Going for the kill, Brandon Weeden threw an interception, and when Iowa St. took only three rushing plays to score a touchdown, the Cowboys were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten - and the Tide was rising again in Tuscaloosa.

Just to make the controversy a little clearer, Oklahoma went down to Baylor the following night while Oregon was losing a stunner to USC on - wait for it - a missed kick - and the BCS carnage was thought to be complete. As it turned out, the argument had barely begun.

1) LSU
2) Alabama
3) Arkansas
4) Okie State
5) Va Tech
6) Stanford
7) Boise St
8) Houston (unbeaten)

Alabama won out, but the Tide were in the bizarre position of having to root for LSU to BEAT Arkansas in order to clear out any unnecessary controversy for them. After all, if Arkansas beat LSU, it might actually drop the Tide below Arkansas AND LSU in any final poll. Okie State beat the Sooners in a bludgeoning at Bedlam, and the fans went to bed on the night of December 3, 2011 not totally clear who would be selected to play LSU (who after a rough start had run roughshod over Georgia). Oregon beat UCLA to win the Pac 12, adding to the intrigue.

Who should play LSU and why? That was the debate as the rankings looked like this on December 4:

1) LSU
4) Stanford
5) Va Tech
6) Houston
7) Boise St
8) Arkansas
9) Oregon
10) Oklahoma

Should Alabama or Okie State be #2? The argument appeared as though it would turn on the question of "best team" or "most deserving." Very few disputed that Alabama was the nation's best team. Anyone who had seen the LSU game knew that Alabama had had a list of bad luck occur all in one game. One argument was to say that Alabama had not won their conference title. This argument, however, had some major problems behind Oklahoma St. Stanford had not won the Pac 12, either, but because Oregon had lost to LSU, the Cardinal had the best record in the Pac 12. Boise had won the conference but had not beaten anyone substantial, and how could anyone choose 2-loss Oregon when Alabama had only one loss and had played much better against the common opponent LSU?

If the argument was strength of schedule, Okie State should have been the choice (Sagarin 3 vs 15 for Alabama). If the argument was the eyeball test, it appeared to be Alabama. And if the argument was "who lost to a team they had no business losing to" then Alabama was also going to be the choice. In the end, some politics prevailed when teams leaving the Big 12 voted for their new conference (SEC) and dropped Okie St in the rankings. In the end, the human polls prevailed, and Alabama got the title shot. Making the most of their second chance, Alabama obliterated LSU in a game that was nowhere as close as the final 21-0 score, a game that saw LSU cross the 50-yard line only once the entire game. The SEC was firmly entrenched on the mountain now, having won six national titles in a row and losing one only because they sent both representatives to the game.

And this dominance made the other conferences decide that something had to be done. Even though the SEC dominance in the BCS had only truly erupted in 2006, the additional titles won by Tennessee (1998) and LSU (2003) left the other conferences angry. On June 27, 2012 - less than six months after Alabama beat LSU in the rematch - the NCAA Presidents voted to permit a four-team playoff with a selection committee beginning with the 2014 season.

Three weather events - a tornado, a cyclone, and a raging Tide - had demolished college football and the BCS. The only thing left to do was wait out two more years to build the new storm proof house. In the meantime, the raging Tide was nowhere close to calming. Thanks to a tattoo scandal and (wait for it) a missed field goal, Alabama's days atop college football were just getting started.
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