Legitimacy and Merit: Why LSU was the only champ in 2003
**This essay is divided into three major categories: Legitimacy, Merit, and an Epilogue**
We must go to the contract signed by the PAC 10 and SEC. There we will find the answer to the question of legitimacy. The BCS contract explicitly states that there is only one national championship game, and that game will determine the national champion. USC agreed to this by agreeing to be in the PAC 10. USC fans will quote a sidepage of a webpage, but neither conference or team agreed to the conditions of the webpage. They agreed to the contract.
The BCS champion is the champion. BCS is the genus and the AP and Coaches votes are the species. Both the AP and Coaches polls are subsumed by the BCS. The BCS is correctly viewed as the plumbline of champions. The National Championship game is essentially a one game playoff. The winner of that game is the National Champion. It is the in essence the same as the Final Four national championship game.
Notice that in every BCS Championship game, the winner is awarded the Championship Trophy before the coaches or media vote. That is most significant. It doesn't matter if the coaches or the AP vote another team as their #1. The BCS Trophy and Championship have already been awarded to the legitimate National Champion. Even in college sports that have playoffs, there is still a final Coaches and AP poll. The coaches and media members are free to vote anyone they choose as the champion. That they have always voted the champion as their champ is besides the point. It shows only consistency for those voters.
That was why the 2003 vote of USC #1 by the AP made no sense. They voted a team that obviously did not deserve to even make the championship game as their #1. You will see below why USC had no meritorious argument for even belonging in the national championship game.
Now I ask this question, why are the votes of some 40 out of 65 AP voters more important than the outcome of the national championship game? What would the outcry be if the same happened in basketball? You will say, of course, that basketball has a playoff. But I say that college already does since our season is so much shorter and that the Championship Game is an official one game playoff.
Some USC fans say that the BCS Championship = the USA Today Coaches Title. That is, the BCS is just a new and superfluous name given the Coaches' Title. Let us then go to the official NCAA CFB Championship page:
Official NCAA DI Past Champions Page
There you will notice that the BCS is listed independently of the "USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll" title. Also you will see that the BCS is the one and only title that is in bold. Obviously, the NCAA sees in the BCS National Championship greater significance and legitimacy than an any of the other 15 titles.
The BCS is the ONLY poll that wasn't self-appointed.
It is the ONLY poll and championship that grounds and draws its legitimacy from all the conferences and their teams that agreed to its contract. That includes USC.
It is the ONLY championship that is decided on the field.
The correct view, one upheld by the NCAA, is the view that was held by everyone until the 2003 AP/media crusade convinced some of irrational nonsense in order to prop up USC. The correct view, as the NCAA page suggests, is BCS=genus, AP / Coaches=species.
And just why was the BCS instituted? It was to provide a system that incorporated both objective and subjective elements, equally balancing them. The Coaches and AP polls had proven time and again through the years that their final votes did not always follow any logical pattern or reason. Take for instance in 1978 when USC beat Bama at Bama and finished with the same record as Bama. Who wins the AP title? Bama. It was years of this sort of nonsense that led the conferences to take absolute power out of the hands of a select few voters who had no accountability (The AP withdrew from the BCS formula largely because the BCS wanted to make the voters' ballots open to the public). The fact that USC was boosted greatly by being #1 in both polls going into the final BCS calculations and still finished #3 should show just how weak their results during the season were. Even with the pro-USC crusade, the computers could not be fooled. That's how far behind USC was in the merit category.
The view of splitting is a non sequiter, as the BCS is the determinant and legitimate source of national champions, and not the vote of Coaches and AP.
Now on to the argument of merit. You shall see below that USC and backers have no rational way to defend its ranking of #1 in the AP.
Determining the relative strength of teams that do not play each other:
We make judgments about the relative strength of teams that do not play each other. It is silly to say we don't make these judgments. For instance, how do we know that LSU was better than Boise State in 2003, even though they had the same record? Or that Georgia was better than TCU?
Of course, we cannot know with any empirical certainty because to get that certainty would require that the two teams play each other.
Nonetheless, we make such judgments all the time. A team that finishes in 10-1 in the SEC or Big 10 is almost always thought of as a much, much stronger team than a CUSA team that finishes 10-1.
For instance, why in 1998 when Tennessee finished 12-0 everyone said they were the champion when Tulane also finished 12-0? It is because we have criteria on which we base these judgments. But what are the factors we use when making such a judgment? Here is a critical breakdown of what I think are the important elements that go into our rational decision making. They are ordered in order of most important to least important.
1. Win / Loss Record
2. Strength of schedule
3. Margin of victory
4. Number of ranked teams played (similar to strength of schedule, but not exactly the same because to be the best you have to beat the best).
5. Results against common opponents, if any.
6. How teams did on the road (used in NCAA bball tournament decisions)
7. Strength of defense (defense wins championships)
8. Talent and coaching
It's interesting that when it comes down to 2003, LSU was ahead of USC in each of the above categories. It makes you wonder why a slight majority of AP voters decided that USC was better than LSU, doesn't it?
Fact, Fiction, and Opinion
Fact: LSU had a tougher strength of schedule than USC.
Fact. LSU had a larger margin of victory than USC.
Fact: LSU played four times the number of ranked teams during the regular season than USC. That 400% more! Fact: LSU's only loss was to a ranked team. USC's only loss was to unranked, six loss Cal.
Fact: LSU had better results against common opponents, Arizona and Auburn, than USC.
Fact: Common opponent coaches and players, Arizona and Auburn, said after playing both teams that LSU was superior to USC. Source: Common Opponents Opinions
Fact: LSU had the #1 defense in the nation. USC had the 30th, including the 110th rated pass defense.
Fact: LSU had more wins than USC, granted one was to a Division2 team, but that team was better than two Division1 teams USC played.
Fact: LSU won two championship games, including the National Championship Game. USC won zero championship games. Its bowl win was against a team that finished #7.
Fact: LSU ended the season in what was a [i]de facto[/i] playoff. Lose, and there was no shot at a championship game. It was all quality competition, as well. LSU ended the season playing #13, #27, #5, and #3. LSU won by an average of over 15 against each.
Fact: USC finished the season playing three unranked mid-level teams before beating 3 loss Michigan (one of those losses was to an unranked team).
Fact: LSU played ranked teams on the road.
Fact: USC played zero ranked teams on the road. Considering how it did against unranked Cal on the road, had USC played some real competition on the road who knows how many they would have lost.
Fact: LSU had 5 more players from the 2003 team on NFL rosters in 2004, including 3 more starters, than USC. USC evened that number in 2004. Most of USC's 2003 talent was young, while LSU's was mature and ready for the NFL. Slight edge to LSU.
Fact: LSU's coach is currently one of the most respected coaches in the NFL. Pete Carroll? We all know how he did at the next level.
Schedules compared and analyzed
LSU proved it is #1 by beating top teams. USC went through the season playing almost exclusively #50-#60 teams. In fact, USC was voted #1 by the AP after playing just one top 25 team! And zero ranked teams on the road!
Schedules compared side by side (LSU on left/ USC on right).
Oklahoma (12-2) vs Michigan (10-3): OU favored.
UGA (11-3) vs. Washington State (10-3): UGA favored.
UGA (11-3) vs. Auburn (8-5): UGA beat Auburn.
Ole Miss (10-3) vs. Cal (8-6): Ole Miss favored.
Florida (8-5) vs. Oregon State (8-5): UF favored.
Arkansas (9-4) vs. Notre (5-7) Dame: Arkansas favored.
Auburn (8-5) vs. UCLA (6-7): Auburn favored.
#62 South Carolina vs. #54 Washington : Washington favored.
#68 Alabama vs. #56 Hawaii: Hawaii won.
#77 LA Tech vs #67 Stanford: Stanford favored.
#89 Arizona vs #72 Arizona State: Arizona State won.
#95 Mississippi State vs #74 BYU: BYU favored.
#117 ULM vs. #89 Arizona: Arizona favored.
Western Illinois: No USC opponent to compare with.
So despite LSU playing three of the worst teams, LSU's strength of schedule is better than USC's in every computer except one. A top 5 team should be able to #60 as easily as #117. Should the strength of schedule consider beating #117 and #1 as indicative as beating #60 and#61? Would you be more impressed if LSU had beaten #1 Oklahoma and #117 Louisiana Monroe or if LSU beat #60 North Texas and #61 Tulsa? LSU's SOS was hurt greatly because of its bottom half schedule (even so, LSU's SOS was tougher than USC's!). But a great team is defined by its ability to win the tough games, which LSU has done. Beating abunch of 45-75 teams is nice for your strength of schedule, but it does nothing to prove that your team deserves a shot at the national title.
Looking at USC's schedule, it's no wonder they looked impressive onpaper. They simply played inferior opponents.
One ranked team during the regular season.
Zero ranked teams on the road.
As many losses to unranked teams as wins over ranked teams.
The LSUoverUSC Breakdown:
1. LSU is 3-0 vs. teams ranked in the final AP Top Ten with wins over #3 Oklahoma and #7 Georgia (Twice). USC is 2-0 vs. AP Top Ten teams with wins over #6 Mich and #9 Wash State, a team that was comparable to an unranked LSU opponent Arkansas.
2. LSU is 4-0 vs. teams ranked in the top 15 (top ten wins plus #13 OleMiss). USC is 2-0 vs. top 15 teams
3. LSU has FIVE wins against teams that finished in the AP Top 25. USCl has TWO wins against teams that finished in the AP
4. The seventh-highest ranked team LSU defeated (30th-ranked Auburn) was the third-best team that USC played.
5. Losses compared:
LSU's lone loss was the 24th ranked Florida. The Gators five losseswere ALL to top 15 teams (final rankings): Miami (5th), Tennessee(15th), Ole Miss (13th), Florida State (11th -- game refs stole from Florida) and Iowa (8th). In addition to beating LSU the Gators posted a win over No. 6 UGA and Arkansas (27th-RV). LSU lost the game due to turnovers. The game was close, and it took a late game fumble at the Florida 20 to seal the game for the Gators. Florida only outgained LSU by 20 yards.
USC's loss was to UNRANKED and SIX LOSS California. Cal's six losses were to Kansas State (13th) and Utah (21st) and UNRANKED Colorado State, Oregon State, UCLA and Oregon. Cal beat no other ranked teams. Cal dominated the game, and the only thing that kept USC in the game was Cal's turnovers (5 in total). Cal outgained USC by 100 yards.
6. Margin of Victory
LSU's margin of victory (22.9) was greater than USC's (22.6).
7. SECCG > Rose Bowl
USC plays a home game in the Rose Bowl against #4 Michigan (a team which also had a loss to an unranked opponent as well) and wins by 2 TDs. The media calls it a dominating victory and immediately declares USC national champs days before the polls come out.
LSU defeats #5 UGA in front of heavily UGA-partisan crowd in the Georgia Dome by 3 touchdowns. Good game says the media.
8. Common Opponents, Auburn and Arizona:
LSU defeated common opponent Auburn 31-7 after AU had won five straight including wins over then-Top Ten ranked teams in Arkansas and Tennessee. LSU sprinted out to a 21-0 lead early in the first quarter and cruised the rest of the way, taking its starters out of the game in the middle of the 3rd, up 31-0. USC defeated Auburn 23-0, but was forced to keep its starters in the entire game, up by only 2 TD's in the 4th quarter.
LSU defeated common opponent Arizona 59-13, scoring 38 first half points. The Trojans scored 35 first half points en route to a 45-0 win over the Wildcats. Pretty much a wash, until you realize that Arizona players and coaches said that LSU was a superior team to USC. Whose opinion matters more than those of the players and coaches who faced off against both teams?
9. SEC and PAC 10 Compared:
5 SEC teams finished the season ranked in the AP Top 25 compared to 2 for the PAC. The PAC went 4-2 in the bowls with the only wins over ranked teams by USC and Wash State. The SEC went 5-2 in bowls with wins by LSU over No. 3 OU, UGA over then No. 18 Purdue, Ole Miss over then No. 22 Oklahoma State. Florida lost to No 8 Iowa and Tennessee was upset by No. 22 Clemson. All 7 SEC bowl opponents were from BCS conferences, compared to 4 for the PAC. Only two Pac-10 won 10 or more games, compared to four in the SEC.
10. Bowls Compared
OU was much better than Michigan. The National Championship Game, even though it was in Louisiana, was a good 50-50 split between LSU and OU fans. The Rose Bowl, played 15 minutes from USC's campus was a good 80-20 split for USC. OU was playing for a national championship. Michigan was playing for a higher ranking. Both LSU and USC were equally dominant. The difference was that LSU was playing a far better team that had much more motivation to win in a non-LSU dominated atmosphere.
11. USC fans wanted to go to the Sugar Bowl because it was the Championship Game.
All year long, the goal of all top teams was to make it to the Sugar Bowl. Everyone rightfully assumed that if you didn't make it to the BCS Championship Game, you couldn't be named a champion. USC fans know this quite well, and you can see in the following link to pictures the sentiment among USC fans following their last regular season game against Oregon State, where they clearly want to go to the Sugar, not Rose, Bowl.
Beware of those revisionist USC fans who say they wanted the Rose over the Sugar. Not true!
Proof that USC fans wanted Sugar:
http://public.fotki.com/LSUoverUSC/ The password is "lsu" in lowercase letters.
Final BCS Standings after the bowls
The computer polls actually post new rankings after the bowl games. And since SOS changes can still be determined, Rich Tellshow has come up with the final tally.
Final Computer Rankings:
LSU wins 6 of 7 computer polls, most by SIGNIFICANT margins over USC. Only the NYTimes poll gave USC the #1 spot, by a VERY SLIGHT margin. LSU finishes 13th in the nation in SOS, ahead of OU who finishes 14thand USC finished 20th. LSU was mere fractions away from actuallyfinishing 10th. Remove the Western Illinois game, which should havenever been scheduled, and LSU finishes 8th. Computer poll results:
3 Ohio St.....4.604
5 Miami OH...4.550
4 Miami OH...91.89
5 Miami FL....91.21
4 Ohio St.......0.927
(Note: The NY Times computer was readjusted time and time again DURING the season. It continued to get whacky results. For those reasons, the BCS discontinued its use in 2004.)
4 Miami FL.......291.686
5 Ohio St.........290.926
(Note: LSU started the season 30 points behind USC in the first pollingfor Billingsley)
3 Miami OH....0.758
5 Ohio St.......0.744
3 Miami OH......6.910
3 Ohio St......0.87783
5 Miami FL.....0.84364
As you can see, there is as much distance between LSU and USC as there is between USC and the 3rd place team in Massey, Sagarin, Anderson-Hester and Peter Wolfe. These polls are handing #1 to LSU without a doubt. Billingsley is only close because teams are not considered even going into the season, he uses a preseason ranking and USC had a 30 point margin on LSU to start off with. Colley also gives LSU some breathing room ahead of USC. What can you say about the NY Times? Maryland #3 says it all. Computer polls tell the whole story. Humans do not get to meddle with it and show their bias like the AP/Coaches poll.
Reasons to question and disregard the AP (and Coaches Poll for that matter):
1. Voters are not able to watch all the games. Saturdays are sportswriters and college football coaches' busiest days. If they cover the local college football beat or coach their team, they are going to be at just that game, worried almost exclusively about that game. There is not enough time to gauge accurately the other 100+ teams that play that day.
2. The AP is irrelevant. In 1998 when the BCS was formed by the major conferences, the AP was stripped of its power of giving a national championship that is recognized by the teams involved in college football. The AP saw what it perceived to be the perfect opportunity to discredit the BCS in 2003, and used the power of the press to campaign for an inferior and less deserving team. How many anti-BCS, implicitly pro-AP articles were written during December 03 and January 04? The AP was motivated to destroy the BCS for selfish reasons; so that it might once again be able to proclaim a legitimate national champion of its own.
3. The human polls are inherently flawed:
a. First, they start with a preseason poll. A team ranked in the preseason at #10 and finishes 8-3 will be ranked ahead of a team that starts unranked and finishes with the same record. Is that fair? There simply is too much emphasis, which carries over the entire season, put on preseason rankings.
b. Second, it rewards teams for losing earlier rather than later. Because USC lost a week before LSU in October matters in determining who is better and more deserving? Did you see how LSU finished its 2003 season, playing a [i]de facto[/i] playoff against 4 great teams?
The strange absence of USC fans' arguments. Where is it?
There has never been any substantial USC argument for 2003. This essay has been worked and reworked in a dialectic between USC and LSU fans. You would think, then, with an essay as comprehensive and compelling as this one, that USC fans, who claim to be smarter than LSU fans, would have an elaborate, convincing argument.
But there is none.
Why is that? Before USC beat Oklahoma in 2004's National Championship Game, its last title was in 1978. The results from the 2003 season are out in the open for everyone to see. USC fans have had ample opportunity to disprove me or prove their own case. Yet they haven't, even though the internet brings out pride in people and their causes. If USC had a case, it would have already been made. Simply put, 2003 USC is one of the most overrated teams in college football history, even more than 1984 BYU. USC fans who have analyzed their season in 2003 I think have realized this, and hope that the media will continue to pull the fleece over the public's eyes.
Wait a minute, you say human voters are wrong, but you use their rankings throughout!
Human voters are somewhat reliable in rankings. I am not saying that the AP/Coaches is irrational through and through and should be thrown out with the bathwater. By and large their rankings are close to accurate. It is a lot easier in an argument like this to say "#13" rather than "Ole Miss who finished 10-3 with a strength of schedule in the top 25." Of course, I could do it, but I choose not for your benefit. When it comes to the top spot, however, we must seriously bring into question the motives for and justification of anyone putting USC over LSU in 2005. If this were a court of law, LSU would be found legitimate and more worthy.
How can you win the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WHEN YOU DON'T EARN A BERTH IN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME? For the above reasons, USC did not deserve to be in the title game. But we're going to accept the biased, ignorant, and motivated to destroy the BCS opinion of the AP voters and its media friends? Miami OH had a more legitimate claim to the title than USC because at least Miami didn't agree to the BCS system as the way in which the two top teams would earn a spot in the title game to play for the championship. USC simply did not have the credentials in 2003 to earn a spot in the title game, muchless win the title.
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