(Glendale, January 10) The impossible has happened.
Written off for dead at mid-season at a mediocre 4-4, the Texas Longhorns parlayed an unlikely sequence of events into an improbable championship run which ended tonight at the University of Phoenix Stadium with a 26-23 win over fellow Cinderella North Carolina State in the NCAA Division I Championship Game.
No one thought the Longhorns would be here after the Horns dropped back-to-back games at home against Iowa State and Baylor at the end of October. And though Texas never looked particularly impressive in winning any of its last four regular season games (who can forget needing a game-clinching 97-yard punt return against Oklahoma State?), an improbable series of events down the stretch in the Big 12 South allowed Texas to win the division at 5-3 in a multi-team tiebreaker.
After defeating Nebraska yet again in the Big 12 Championship Game, Texas qualified for the NCAA playoffs as Big 12 Champion. Texas knocked off an arrest and suspension-plagued top-seeded Oregon team in the first round and then took out fourth-seeded TCU in the national semis 6-3 in a defensive struggle for the ages.
Meanwhile, North Carolina State did some of the Horns' dirty work for them, knocking off second-seed Alabama and third-seed PU to set up the most unlikely of championship games.
If the NCAA had a Division I football playoff (at least any playoff system with at least eight teams), the scenario I described would be possible. Unlikely, but possible.
I point this out not to say that the Longhorns would still have hope but for the lack of a playoff system but rather to get across the point, to playoff advocates and foes alike, that a team as mediocre as Texas has proven to be would still have a chance at being National Champions if we had a playoff. (And for those who are unable nowadays to type the word "Texas" without simultaneously unleashing a load of profanities, please feel free to substitute "Florida" or "Clemson" or "Syracuse" if it makes you feel any better.)
Would it be a Good Thing for college football to allow so many teams to still have hope, no matter how faint, of winning a championship this late into the season, or would it be a Bad Thing to allows teams which have displayed mediocrity over much of a season to still have a chance at being awarded with the crystal football in two months? The concept of a four-loss college football champion seems sacrilegious. Yet an 9-7 Arizona Cardinals team came within seconds of conquering Evil and winning the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, and the cries of outrage at such mediocrity being awarded were few and far between. Similarly, an 83-win St. Louis Cardinals team won the World Series in 2006, and only a few old guys sipping on their Ovaltine seemed to be bothered by this.
Would it be a Good Thing for a program like Texas to still have a national championship out there as a possible target, or would it be a Bad Thing to allow teams and coaches to delude themselves into playing for something almost certainly unobtainable this season when building for the seasons beyond would be the smarter move?
So what say you, playoff advocates? Viva mediocrity? And what say you, playoff foes? Give up all hope?
(The specific scenario is predicated on my belief, which I haven't bothered to prove or disprove one way or another, that, even with three conference losses, Texas is still mathematically alive in the Big 12 South, much in the same way that a baseball team 15 games out of first on Labor Day hasn't been officially eliminated yet. If we are in fact already eliminated, well, um, pretend that we're not.)