As the time for casting postseason BlogPoll ballots is fast approaching, the Dawg Sports community has been considering the case for Utah to be No. 1. While I hope that conversation will continue, now is the time to ask whether, as my good friend and colleague Peter Bean claims, Texas has "as plausible a claim to #1 as any of the other one-loss teams." With all due respect to Peter, I do not believe that this is the case.
For purposes of this discussion, I will leave aside the Utes’ undefeated season and look only at the other once-beaten squads to whom Peter compares the Longhorns. I would have a hard time building a case for Texas over Southern California because the Trojans won their conference championship and throttled the Ohio State team the ‘Horns barely beat. However, I will concede for the sake of argument that a case might be mounted for U.T. over U.S.C. in light of the former’s strength of schedule and the relative quality of their respective losses.
Where Mack Brown’s crew runs into trouble is with respect to the contestants in the B.C.S. title tilt. Florida, which captured its conference championship, would match the Longhorns’ best win (over Oklahoma) with a victory on Thursday night, and U.F.’s lone loss (to Ole Miss) would mitigate strongly in the Gators’ favor, in light of the Rebels’ Cotton Bowl victory over the team that beat U.T. (Texas Tech).
That just leaves the real fly in the ointment . . . an O.U. victory in Miami. Burnt Orange partisans would shout "45-35" to the highest heavens, citing the head-to-head tiebreaker. The only problem is that the two teams are not tied: Texas is 12-1 and Oklahoma would finish 13-1.
The Sooners would have one more win, they would be the Big 12 champions, and they would (perhaps ironically) have suffered their only setback to a better team, the one-loss ‘Horns, than the one that beat Texas, the twice-beaten Red Raiders.
The Longhorns had a legitimate argument for getting into the Big 12 title game, but the primary thrust of that argument was their head-to-head win over O.U. That point, though, was rendered moot by the Longhorns’, Red Raiders’, and Sooners’ 1-1 records against one another. The league reasonably elected to use the B.C.S. standings to break the tie, in exactly the same manner that the S.E.C. chose to do when deciding the Eastern Division representative in the Georgia Dome in 2003. Fairly or unfairly, that ship has sailed.
Oklahoma and Texas were two of the three teams that shared the Big 12 South title. The Sooners, however, have the conference championship all to themselves. With that laurel goes all legitimate claim to a piece of the national crown.
The most controversial and indefensible moments in the history of the B.C.S. have come when teams that did not win their league crowns were allowed to play for the final No. 1 ranking. Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003 simply received berths that ought to have gone to Oregon and Southern California, respectively. The arguments for a Michigan rematch with Ohio State in 2006, and, yes, for Georgia to have gotten in ahead of either the Big 12 or the S.E.C. champion last year, likewise were weaker than the opposing position.
The bottom line is that a team cannot plausibly argue that it is the national champion without first being a conference champion. In an era in which all of the major independents have acquired league affiliations---no offense, Notre Dame, but, when beating Hawaii in a bowl game represents a breakthrough win for your program, you’re strictly small potatoes, no matter how big a deal you were in the ‘40s---it is a non sequitur to suggest that a team can be the best in the country if it is not first the best in its conference. Such a claim is as absurd as arguing that a fellow can be the tallest person in his neighborhood without being the tallest person in his household. It’s just plain cognitive dissonance.
Texas boasts an elite program, both currently and historically. Unlike some teams I could name, the Longhorns have had a fine year and they deserve a top five ranking. In the national championship sweepstakes, however, they simply are not entered. I can make a case with a straight face that Texas is No. 3, but they have no credible argument---none---for No. 1.