The three most popular things in college football are the backup quarterback, another team's offensive coordinator, and the No. 3 team in the country. It was no surprise that, the moment Oklahoma State finally put away Stanford (with help from the bowl season's kicker hex), the "Split national title???" talk began. It would have probably begun had Stanford won, too.
As college football fans, we have an incredible fetish for outrage. No fans hate the sport they love more than we do. And to be sure, with shady bowl committees, recruiting, transfers, skyrocketing coach salaries, and, of course, the lack of a true playoff with a bracket we can print, pore over, and bet on, major college football gives us plenty of ammunition for such hate.
But even if complaints are justifiable, they get incredibly tiresome. For every great, heavyweight matchup we see in September, we get to hear "Too bad these teams can't meet again in a playoff." For every incredibly entertaining minor bowl we watch, it's "Too bad these games don't mean anything without a playoff." And every time we get a strong (major-conference) No. 3 team (2003, 2004, 2008, 2011), we get talk of a split national title once they win their bowl game; it doesn't matter whether we think they are as good as the 1-versus-2 winner, it's just that "The system's broken" and "This whole thing is meaningless without a playoff." Even when the point is legitimate (and plenty of very smart people can make very smart cases for Oklahoma State and/or a one-loss LSU team), it just blends in with the sentiments of people who root for chaos and mess at all costs.
We've got ourselves a perfect storm in 2011. Quality No. 3 team with a solid resume? Check. The dreaded title game rematch (something we've complained about for a long time, even though it hadn't actually happened until this year)? Check. Cries of SEC favoritism? Check. All of the above, plus the possibility that, should No. 2 beat No. 1, No. 1 would still get some votes? That's a new one, and check.
The good folks at Sports Illustrated ably discussed the topic of split titles Monday:
To me, the best point in this discussion is made by Stewart Mandel: whether we like it or not, the current system is designed so that any talk of resumes is meant to determine who plays in the national title game. The winner of the national title game is, then, the national champion.
I've said it before, and I've been met with plenty of resistance in saying it, but for all intents and purposes, the current system does indeed have a two-team playoff. Two teams clearly isn't enough in most years, but for now, this is the system we have, and it indeed serves as a playoff, where the winner is the winner. Like Georgetown to Villanova, or Oklahoma to Kansas in 1980s college basketball, just because you beat a team in the regular season doesn't mean you get to share the national title if you lose to them in the postseason.
We may be on our way to a better, more inclusive way of picking champions in the near future, but for now, the winner of the two-team playoff takes home the title. Monday night, the two best teams in the country (yes, the two best teams) are playing. Future pros will litter the field on both sides of the ball, two great (in their own ways) coaches will call the shots from the sidelines, and what is potentially a high-quality game will take place.
It will be college football at its best. (It may even include some touchdowns!) Oklahoma State and a potential one-loss LSU team would certainly have high-quality resumes, but let's stop trying to sully the championship just for sport before we even know who the champion is.