Zemek: Will we have a real national champion?

Posted Jan 6, 2013

Matt Zemek: Will college football have a real national champion?

By Matt Zemek
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This is a point that's always worth repeating, given that college football claims to crown a "national champion" (emphasis on the word national ) each season: The segregation that exists between certain conferences is appalling and unacceptable, a profound stain on the sport in the BCS era.

If Notre Dame wins on Monday night, college football will have a controversy-free national champion (at least since Ohio State is ineligible). However, if Alabama wins, you know that some folks in Eugene, Ore., would like to play one more game. Yes, with Florida losing and Oregon drilling Kansas State this bowl season, an Alabama victory over Notre Dame would put the Crimson Tide and the Ducks on relatively equal footing. Everyone in the nation would want to see those two teams play in the event of an Alabama triumph over the Golden Domers, but that game would remain unplayed.

College football would, in the process, allow yet another year to go by in which the SEC's and Pac-12's national powers needed to face each other in a supreme showcase… but did not.

USC and LSU didn't get to play in the 2003 season.

USC and Auburn didn't get to play in the 2004 season.

USC and LSU didn't get to play in the 2007 season. (USC didn't even get to play Georgia in the Rose Bowl that season. The alternative? Illinois – THREE-LOSS ILLINOIS!)

USC and Florida didn't get to play in the 2008 season.

The point of this brief stroll through the history of the BCS era is not to say that certain teams deserved the national title more or less than others. Under the rules and procedures set forth by the BCS system, the accepted champions won and earned their rewards. The point of this history lesson is to show that these "national" championships almost always emerge from seasons in which the best, sexiest, and most enthralling matchups – the ones the general public would die to see, the ones that would settle arguments and allow questions to be answered – do not ultimately occur on the field.

If Alabama beats Notre Dame, the public would love to see Nick Saban face Chip Kelly seven to twelve days later for all the Tostitos… or Discover Cards… or whatever product suits your imagination. Yet, in a BCS era that has pitted a Pac-12 team against an SEC team only one time, such a matchup would not in fact take place. This is bad for the sport, and it undercuts the notion of what a "national" champion should be: a team that gets exposed to and tested by teams from every other corner of the country.