Unanswered Questions for the 2011 College Football Season

Did the Big 12 screw itself over? Why did RGIII win the heisman? Andrew Smith tackles some difficult questions in his latest column.

Saturday’s Heisman Trophy presentation and Army-Navy game marked the end of the 2011 college football regular season. While those 14 glorious fall Saturdays determined the BCS Title Game participants and this season’s most outstanding player, a number of questions about the season, and college football in general, remain.

Here’s a look at some questions that this football season didn’t answer:

Did the Big 12 Cost itself a spot in the BCS Title Game?

The national media has fallen all over itself blaming this year’s All-SEC Championship Game on bias in favor of traditional power schools, voter ignorance, and the not-so-subtle persuasive efforts of ESPN. Lost amidst the criticism is the Big 12’s own role in its BCS demise, however.

The Big 12 chose not to expand last offseason partly because it wanted to get rid its conference title game, fearing that a title game upset might one day knock its highest ranked team out of a title shot. Ironically, the lack of a conference title game instead deprived Oklahoma State of a chance to play its way in to the title game this year with one more quality win.

Oklahoma State lost out a BCS Title Game appearance by the smallest fraction of a decimal point. One more quality win would have boosted the Cowboys to a unanimous number 2 position in the computer polls, nearly eliminating the entire gap between OSU and Alabama in one swoop. Had OSU followed up its destruction of Oklahoma with another win against a top-10 Kansas State team, just a small handful of voters would have had to move OSU up one spot for the Cowboys to secure their place in the title game.

It likely would have happened.

The Big 12’s fear of a title game prevented it. And the Big 12 has only itself to blame.

How Much Did Timing Affect the Heisman Vote?

While the Big 12’s decision not to hold a title game cost it a spot in college football’s title game, it did help Baylor’s Robert Griffin, III win the Heisman Trophy. The absence of a Big 12 title game meant that its teams could schedule games on the last Saturday of the regular season. Thus, while Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Alabama’s Trent Richardson sat home on college football’s final Saturday because their teams didn’t win their divisions, Griffin got to showcase himself against a disinterested Texas team in one of the few daytime games viewers could watch that day.

The result was a wave of last-second support for Griffin, who ranked third in voting cast prior to the season’s final Saturday, that likely propelled him to the Heisman Trophy.

While the Big 12 might have broken even on its lack of a title game, this episode begs a question of whether the season’s scheduling needs to be standardized.
Is it fair for the Big 12 Heisman candidates to reap benefits of playing on the first Saturday in December if the conference isn’t willing to risk a title game upset? How can voters judge between competing conference champions when they play a differing number of games? Is there any logic behind the NCAA’s requirement that a conference have 12 teams in order to hold a title game?

Perhaps the next time so many impactful questions hinge on college football final Saturday, some of these questions will be addressed.

Who is the Big 10’s Best Team?

Wisconsin and Michigan State played two terrifically entertaining games, with two different results. It’s a shame for college football fans they can’t play a rubber match in a bowl game. The result might well be more entertaining than that other rematch taking place this January.

Could the Pac 12 Have Salvaged Its Title Game?

The Pac 12 found itself in a bind this year because it had three good teams and nine teams that were varying shades of atrocious. Unfortunately for the league, two of its three good teams resided in the same division, and the third was ineligible for the postseason play. As a result, the Pac 12 was forced to pair 10-2 Oregon against a UCLA team that ended the season with a losing record. While the league theoretically could have allowed USC to play in its title game and declared Oregon its champion regardless of the result, this would have led to anticlimactic game devoid of relevance or drama.

The real problem that forced the Pac 12’s hand is the NCAA rule mandating that a conference championship game must pit two opposing division winners against each other, rather than just pairing off its two overall best teams. If not for this pointless rule, the Pac 12 could have staged an entertaining rematch between Stanford and Oregon, and Alabama and LSU could have had their rematch in the regular season. The winner of that game could have then faced Oklahoma State, in a game that would have solved this season’s biggest unanswered question.

Got any more questions (or answers)? Drop us a line in the comment box below

Andrew Smith writes for TheFanManifesto. Follow us on twitter

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