The more I think about this year's B.C.S. controversy, the less I understand it.
It seems to me that there are three possibilities:
- Ohio State wins the national championship game
- Florida wins the national championship game and Southern California wins the Rose Bowl
- Florida wins the national championship game and Michigan wins the Rose Bowl
In the case of the first possibility, there is no room for argument. The Buckeyes will be the only unbeaten team from a major conference and Ohio State will have beaten three teams (Florida, Michigan, and Texas) ranked in the top two at the time the game was played. The Gators and the Wolverines each will have gotten their shot and the Buckeyes will have beaten them both.
In the case of the second possibility, there is no serious room for argument. The Maize and Blue will have finished with two losses, thereby blunting their argument for a rematch, and the Orange and Blue will have claimed victory over the team that beat the Wolverines.
In the case of the third possibility, both Florida's and Michigan's resumes will come into play. At first glance, the Gators would appear to have the better claim, inasmuch as Nancy Meyer's team will have beaten a team to which Lloyd Carr's team lost, but the difference between a narrow loss on the road and a victory at a neutral site may be appreciable enough to bring other factors into play.
Fortunately, the bowl structure provides us with a ready mechanism for judging Florida's and Michigan's final records in a way that settles the significance of their respective accomplishments on the field.
The Gators' best win was over Louisiana State. The Wolverines' best win was over Notre Dame.
The Gators' second-best win was over Arkansas. The Wolverines' second-best win was over Wisconsin.
The Gators' third-best win was over Tennessee. The Wolverines' third-best win was over Penn State.
L.S.U. and Notre Dame will meet in the Sugar Bowl. Arkansas and Wisconsin will meet in the Citrus Bowl. Tennessee and Penn State will meet in the Outback Bowl.
Short of adding a Georgia-Central Michigan Music City Bowl to the mix, that's about as comprehensive a mechanism for drawing reliable head-to-head comparisons between Florida and Michigan as you are liable to find.
The problem with a national championship game rematch in 2006 is the same problem I had with the Florida-Florida State Sugar Bowl a decade ago; if the two teams go 1-1 against one another, don't we need a third game to break the tie? (I have never been able to understand why playoff advocates, who state a preference for certainty, are willing to countenance the real and regularly recurring risk of split decisions between repeat opponents in which one game, inexplicably, counts more than the other.)
This year, though, we have a much better best-of-three scenario in place. If we are left to decide between a 12-1 Rose Bowl champion Michigan squad and a 13-1 national championship game-winning Florida squad, we will have adequate information with which to evaluate the two contenders' resumes.
If two of the three best teams the Gators beat defeat two of the three best teams the Wolverines beat, doesn't that demonstrate pretty clearly that Florida's achievement is more impressive than Michigan's? If two of the three best teams the Wolverines beat defeat two of the three best teams the Gators beat, doesn't that demonstrate equally clearly that Michigan's accomplishments are more noteworthy than Florida's?
If one team's three best victims go 3-0 against the other's, doesn't that end the argument?