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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...THE CLOSING CHAPTER OF THE BCS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Now that the Bowl Championship Series is about to disappear forever, we have to wonder if perhaps the concept was spawned in an unknown Ian Fleming novel from more than a half-century ago. After all, only Fleming’s James Bond seemed to have as many last-minute escapes as the BCS over the past fifteen years. Though it has often taken a circuitous route to get there, the BCS usually delivered a satisfying 1-2 matchup in its title game, like Bond narrowly averting potentially disastrous consequences and controversies on an almost annual basis.

Such as this season almost became, when a win by Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last Saturday vs. Michigan State in Indianapolis would likely have sent the Buckeyes into the championship tilt vs. Florida State. Or maybe not, as after its thrill ride down the stretch of the regular season and impressive SEC title game win over Missouri, one-loss Auburn was going to generate an enormous amount of support from the national football audience. Whatever, had the Tigers been bypassed in favor of an unbeaten but far less-tested Ohio State team, controversy would have raged. As it would had Gus Malzhan’s Tigers leapfrogged an unbeaten Buckeyes team and into the national title game at Pasadena. Michigan State, however, spared a lot of angst for the last edition of the BCS when it beat Ohio State last week, setting the stage for a tidy finale between the Seminoles and Auburn.

Next year, of course, the BCS is replaced by the creatively-termed College Football Playoff, in which four entries will be involved in a mini-tournament to decide the national champ. We do not expect, however, any potential controversies to decrease; in fact, we suspect the opposite might in fact be true. However quirky the BCS, it mostly delivered a no-argument title matchup. We imagine that future controversies involving the third or fourth teams to enter the final quartet have the potential to stoke some major flames of discontent in the selection process, which have already caused a stir by the composition of the future “selection committee,” of which some of its members (which include former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice) have already been revealed. The movers and shakers in the new playoff are not exactly borrowing a page from the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee, whose ranks are almost completely filled by college sports people, mostly Athletic Directors, and also the occasional conference officials. Members of the NCAA Hoops selection committee also serve a specified term, with new members rotated in as others cycle out every year. Such nuances in the College Football Playoff committee, however, are yet to be determined.

Of course, there has been a large chorus echoing a cry for some sort of college playoff for decades. We at TGS began to formally endorse the idea almost a quarter century ago, but the concept has effectively been bandied about for more than a half-century. As far back to its 1965 College Football preview edition (with none other than a Nebraska fullback named Frank Solich appearing on the cover), Sports Illustrated devoted space to the possibility of a playoff; indeed, in the 1965 preview, SI provided a chart for a proposed 16-team playoff that ran alongside of the legendary Dan Jenkins’ season preview.

Entitled “How A National Playoff Would Work,” SI’s tourney looked somewhat like the NCAA Basketball Tourney of the day, consisting of East and West Regionals, divided into eight teams each. In the East Regional, champions from the Big Ten, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Southern, and Ivy Leagues were all invited (don’t laugh; SI’s forecast for 1965 included projected Ivy champ Princeton against an “Eastern independent” entry, in SI’s case, Rip Engle’s Penn State), plus the aforementioned Eastern Independent (Penn State, as noted), a Deep South independent (Georgia Tech), and either a Midwest indie or the Mid-American champ (SI opted for the former, in the form of Notre Dame, in its projected ‘65 tourney; specifics such as the fact the Fighting Irish didn’t even participate in bowls in those years, nor did the Ivies, were conveniently ignored by the piece, which served as only an example of the elimination tourney that could be implemented if the powers-that-be decided to do so). As for the West Regional, champs from the Southwest, Big 8, AAWU (soon to become the Pac-8), WAC, and Missouri Valley had automatic entrance, plus an extra Southern and Far West independent, and either the Big Sky winner or a “Northern independent” (for SI’s 1965 purposes, the latter was represented by...Idaho).

The details of the proposed SI tourney within Dan Jenkins’ 1965 preview were not important; rather, the simple fact that national publications were seriously devoting space to the idea almost a half-century ago suggests how long the college football playoff debate has raged.

Three years ago, we devoted space on these pages to the excellent book penned by Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and other contributors entitled Death to the BCS, which was the definitive denouncement of the bowl system.

The Wetzel, et al. book introduced some new evidence to the debate about not only the validity of a playoff, of which Death to the BCS presented a viable 16-team model, but also what a ruse the power brokers of college football continue to pull with the bowl system and BCS. Portions of the book’s material address points that we had been making on these pages and on our website over the years, some involving the deceptions regarding the most time-worn pro-BCS arguments, which were stripped bare by Wetzel & Co. As is the overriding theme of the BCS, the power of which rests with a handful of college presidents and conference commissioners, all looking out for their own self-interests and making sure to never cede any power to the NCAA or other pro-playoff forces, lest they lose control over the enterprise. As Death to the BCS pointed out, as we long believed, the BCS had many of the characteristics of a cartel. But rather than spike prices or cut off the oil supply like OPEC, the BCS “Cartel” controlled the college football postseason and the revenue it generated while pretending a playoff would put at risk the history and traditions of the Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl.

It is worth mentioning that Wetzel was never doing any victory laps when the plans for the four-team College Football playoff were eventually introduced not long after the publishing of his book. That’s because much of the same bowl system that Death to the BCS suggested was self-serving and corrupt was still to be kept in place even with the advent of the new mini-playoff. Like us, Wetzel believes the four-team playoff is an improvement, however slight, over the BCS model, but still falls well short of the truly expanded playoff and other reforms to the bowl system that Death to the BCS felt were long, long overdue.

For the moment, however, we instead concern ourselves with what looks like a truly worthy final BCS title game between Florida State and Auburn, specifics of which we will touch upon in upcoming weeks as we get into our detailed bowl coverage (which begins in next week’s issue; more on that in a moment).

In the meantime, we like everyone else, have been mesmerized by college football events of the past couple of weeks, especially the inexplicable Auburn wins over Georgia and Alabama to put it in position to, first, win the SEC title game over capable Missouri, and second, qualify for the BCS finale. It’s not the first time, however, we can recall Tiger miracles, especially in regard to the annual Iron Bowl grudge match vs. the Crimson Tide. In fact, we’re not even sure that hard-to-believe, recent 34-28 Auburn win over Bama was even the most bizarre in Iron Bowl annals.

Before Chris Davis, there was David Langner. Before Kick Bama Kick, there was Punt Bama Punt.

In the 1972 Iron Bowl, Shug Jordan-coached Auburn, not expected to contend in the SEC after the graduation of Heisman Trophy-winning QB Pat Sullivan, entered the Bama game as an improbable one-loss team, its only setback (as in 2013) at the hands of LSU. As in 2013, the Tigers were also a double-digit underdog (16 points, in fact, in ’72) against another unbeaten Crimson Tide entry. That year, Bear Bryant’s Bama entered the Iron Bowl ranked second in the country behind John McKay’s Southern Cal, and had received some number one votes from pollsters in the week preceding the Auburn game.

Few gave Auburn a chance in 1972. And Bryant didn’t seem to think much of the Tigers, either. The Bear, who had already accepted an invitation to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl, chastised his state rival in the week before the game. “I’d rather beat the cow college (Auburn) than beat Texas ten times,” said the Bear to the assembled masses at the Birmingham Quarterback Club.

For most of the game the Tigers did not disappoint naysayers, failing to generate any offense and seeming to lose touch of the game into the second half, as Bama inexorably stretched its lead to 16-0. Along the way, what seemed a harmless development, Crimson Tide PK Bill Davis’ PAT blocked by Auburn CB Roger Mitchell after a 2nd quarter Bama TD, would come back to haunt the Tide.

The Auburn offense would only gain 81 yards all afternoon, and when a rare foray into Bama territory stalled at the Tide 27 with just over nine minutes to play, Jordan called on PK Gardner Jett to try a 44-yard FG, which was converted. Some Auburn fans at Birmingham’s Legion Field (where the Iron Bowls were played through 1988) booed Jordan, believing all Shug had done was avert a shutout.

Lightning, however, would strike twice in the final 5:30 of action. With a seemingly-safe 16-3 lead and punting from his own territory, Bama’s Greg Gantt, who, at the request of his coaches had moved a couple of yards closer to the line of scrimmage, ostensibly to reduce the angle of the outside punt-kick rushers, saw his boot blocked by LB Bill Newton, the ball then bouncing perfectly into the hands of the aforementioned David Langner, who raced the rest of the way to a TD to cut the lead to 16-10.

After the kickoff, the Tide, behind its big OL anchored by All-American T John Hannah, seemed poised to bleed the rest of the clock by punching out a couple of first downs, but then, on a third-and-short, Bama QB Terry Davis was caught from behind by Auburn’s Mike Neel. The Tigers called their final timeout, and on to the field once again trotted punter Gantt.

In an amazing carbon copy of the previous punt, Newton once again swooped in on Gantt and blocked another kick, this one again bouncing into the hands of, you guessed it, David Langner, who in a repeat of events just moments before, ran in the blocked punt for a TD! Jett’s PAT gave Auburn a shock 17-16 lead with 1:34 to play. Then, to put a cherry on top of his afternoon, Langner intercepted a Davis pass on the next (and final) Bama possession to seal Auburn’s 17-16 win.

(Bryant’s Tide, by the way, would lose to Texas, 17-13, in the Cotton Bowl; Jordan’s Auburn, which won six times as an underdog that season, would upset Colorado, 24-3, in the Gator Bowl.)

And, in another coincidence, Langner and recent Auburn kick-return hero Chris Davis had both graduated from Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, as did former Alabama punter Greg Gantt, whose punts got blocked by Newton and recovered by Langner in Punt Bama Punt!


BOWL COVERAGE BEGINS NEXT WEEK!


With the bowls beginning soon, we can’t waste much time beginning our coverage, which be spread over our next three issues. Following is the complete TGS bowl schedule for the next three weeks; keep this for handy reference.

Issue No. 17...Fifteen bowls from Dec. 21-28 (Dec. 21-New Mexico, Las Vegas, Idaho Potato & New Orleans; Dec. 22-Beef O’Brady’s; Dec. 24-Hawaii; Dec. 26-Little Caesar’s & Poinsettia; Dec. 27-Military, Texas, Kraft Fight Hunger; Dec. 28-Yankee Pinstripe, Belk, Russell Athletic, Buffalo Wild Wings). To be mailed, and available online, December 16; TGS EXTRA!!! bowl issue also available December 16.

Issue No. 18...Fourteen bowls from Dec. 30-Jan. 1 (Dec. 30-Armed Forces, Music City, Alamo, Holiday; Dec. 31-Independence, Sun, Liberty, Chick fil-A; Jan. 1-Gator, Dallas, Capital One, Outback, Rose, Fiesta). To be mailed, and available online, December 23.

Issue No. 19...The last six bowls from Jan. 2-6 (Jan. 2-Sugar; Jan. 3-Cotton, Orange; Jan. 4-Compass; Jan. 5-GoDaddy.com; Jan. 6-BCS title). To be mailed, and available online, December 30.


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