Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer is doing a lot of complaining about
the BCS these days, as Ivan Maisel reports over at ESPN.com. And
complaining about the BCS is a national pastime. One problem: Meyer's
criticisms don't really make sense.
As Maisel tells it:
"Urban Meyer is a big believer in doing things the right way. Win the game. Don't embarrass the opponent. Move on to the next game.
Yet when No. 4 Florida took over the ball on downs at the Florida State eight-yard line with :58 to play and a 21-14 lead, Meyer forgot all that. He wanted to put another touchdown on the scoreboard so that voters across the country would see a 28-14 victory that might camouflage how much the Gators struggled to put the 6-6 Seminoles away.
"I thought about it," Meyer said. "On the headset, I
said, 'Let's go score.' Somebody said, 'What are you doing? Let's win
the game and get out.'"
As Maisel tells it, Meyer is concerned about how the need to impress
pollsters works against sportsmanship. What should matter is winning
games. What does matter is impressing pollsters. And, the latter can mean playing contrary to sporting principles.
Meyer contends that winning games is all that can be asked given the rugged schedule Florida faces:
"Here's our style," Meyer said. "Let's see, you got at Tennessee, you
got Kentucky, who's 7-4 [7-5 after the loss to Tennessee on Saturday],
you got Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Auburn and at Tallahassee. So much
for style. You want to put that against anyone in the country, let's go
ahead and go. … The style points? That's what's wrong with it. [If]
that's what making decisions, I want to stand by my comment a week ago.
Implode it. It's over. If that's what making a decision, style points,
which that's what I imagine it is, you got a problem. Let's call it
winning and losing and playing a difficult schedule."
A couple of problems with Meyer's defense.
1) the Gator's schedule is not that hard. Yes, the SEC is a
killer conference, but according to the Sagarin ratings, not including
today's games, of the top ten teams in the Sagarin ratings, only Texas
and West Virginia are rated as having a weaker schedule. Like all of
the major powers, Florida has some patsies on its schedule (Central
Florida and Western Carolina), as well as a couple of teams that have
performed way below expectations, like Alabama and Florida State. And,
while Vandy played some tough close games this year and pulled off a
surprise win at Georgia, they've only won three games this year, and
two of their wins came against Tennessee St. and winless Duke.
And, speaking of sportsmanship, did Florida really need to beat Western Carolina 62-0 in order to impress pollsters?
2) contrary to popular belief, winning close games isn't a strategy.
In fact, it's often just luck, as was painfully evident in Florida's
17-16 win over South Carolina a couple of weeks back. The reason Meyer
has to think about piling on points against the shockingly mediocre
Seminoles at the end of the game is because Florida is not naturally
impressive enough during the competitive phases of the game. I think
the voters understand the difference.
Of course, I agree with Meyer that in an ideal world we'd have a
playoff, and if we did Florida would be in it (pending the outcome of
the conference championship game). But, Meyer is making it sound like
his team is being penalized because he's such a scrupulous and
fair-minded guy who chooses to play close games that don't humiliate
opponents. And, Maisel is playing along by playing the role that
journalists too often assume for themselves, as stenographers to the
powerful. Instead, Maisel should be scrutinizing Meyer's spinning.
Florida is a great team that's played a tough schedule, but then so are
USC, Michigan and Ohio State, none of whom has gone out of its way to
humiliate its competition any more than the Gators have. They've just
been more impressive. Playing ragged, close football games, even if
against good teams, isn't a choice. It's just the best Florida's been
capable of. And, it doesn't make them better than the teams ahead of
them in the polls.