The Colorado Buffaloes have never made the Rose Bowl Game. The USC Trojans have played in 32 Rose Bowls, more than any other school by a large margin (12 over Michigan’s 20).
Playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in eight years (2009) would mean a lot for USC, but in relative terms, it would mean so much more for Colorado to make the pilgrimage to Pasadena. Such a moment would instantly become iconic in CU’s history, in ways that would not apply to USC or other programs for which the Rose Bowl is an expectation or at least an annual goal.
Before saying anything else, it should be said that Colorado can lock down (at worst) a Rose Bowl berth by beating the Washington Huskies Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship Game. “At worst” simply refers to the reality that if Colorado doesn’t make the playoff, the Rose Bowl will be its destination.
Colorado can avoid a debate about whether it deserves the Granddaddy Of Them All… or not.
The complicated part: What if Colorado loses to Washington? The (then-)10-3 Buffaloes and the 9-3 USC Trojans would both be in the mix for a January 2 reservation in the Arroyo Seco. The College Football Playoff committee’s final rankings will likely shape the Rose Bowl representative from the Pac-12.
Let’s get ahead of this debate instead of being ambushed by it next Sunday morning in Boulder and Los Angeles.
At a previous employer, I chronicled the BCS era on several levels, one being the awarding — and denial — of BCS bowl bids to teams which lost conference championship games. (No link is available — it has been taken down.)
Here are my findings, which do not include all instances of conference title game losses (because some teams, such as 2005 Colorado, never did deserve a BCS bowl in the event of losing a conference title game):
“Notable BCS bowl snubs involving teams that lost conference championship games:
1998 season: Kansas State
2001: Tennessee and Texas. Texas did not get in because of the two-team limit per conference in BCS bowls. (Tennessee was simply snubbed in favor of Florida in a political decision.)
2003: Georgia. The Bulldogs weren’t snubbed on a purely political level; they were essentially locked out by Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, which gave the Big 12 an extra BCS berth.
2005: LSU and Virginia Tech
2011: Georgia and Michigan State. Georgia was a victim of the two-team-per-conference limit, while Michigan State was straightforwardly snubbed in favor of Michigan.
2012: Georgia. Again, the Bulldogs were a victim of the two-team-per-conference limit in this case.
2013: Missouri. The Tigers were also a victim of the two-team-per-conference limit.
Notable BCS bowl inclusions involving teams that lost conference championship games:
2003 season: Oklahoma (made not just a BCS bowl, but the 2004 Sugar Bowl, which doubled as the BCS title game that season)
2011: Virginia Tech
2013: Ohio State”
Among teams that had a reasonable claim to a BCS bowl ticket, exclusions outnumbered inclusions in the 16-season BCS era.
In the 2014 season, as the BCS gave way to the New Year’s Six, Wisconsin was knocked out of the NY6 after a conference title game loss. So was Missouri. On the other hand, Georgia Tech and Arizona made NY6 bowls despite losing conference championship games.
In 2015, Florida, North Carolina and USC were knocked out of the NY6 by conference title game losses, though USC was a proper exclusion, having lost four games heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game against Stanford. Iowa stayed in the NY6 despite its loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Nevertheless, the unfair exclusions (2) outnumbered the appropriate inclusions (1).
Reasonable people can and will disagree, but it is my fervent view that college football — as a matter of process, structure and principle — must reward good teams (defined as having fewer than three losses entering the conference championship game) which lose conference title games.
This past week, and continuing through the playoff announcement on Sunday, a lot of discussion is flying through the college football community about Ohio State, and this specific question:
“Is it good or not that Ohio State doesn’t have to play a 13th game in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title?”
Understandably, many feel it’s a PLUS for the Buckeyes to not be in Lucas Oil Stadium against the Wisconsin Badgers. OSU can’t lose another game. Ergo, in the eyes of many, it is safe regardless of what happens elsewhere in the country on Friday and Saturday.
Conceptually, the arguments make perfect sense.
From the view of a competitor, however, they’re absolute nonsense, insulting to the very idea of competition, excellence and human aspiration.
What kind of a world do we live in when it is “good” for a team to not win division or (especially) conference championships? What has gone wrong when a team’s long slog through autumn against familiar backyard foes does not lead to a title… and that team is rewarded for the lack of said title?
Yes, divisions should be banned in college football — few people who write about the sport have been as adamant about that need as I have. Yet, as long as we have divisions, that accomplishment — not so much the winning itself but the earning of a 13th game — has to be honored.
It’s ridiculous — for teams with 10-2 or 11-1 records (we can debate 9-3, and we can exclude 8-4 or worse teams from this discussion) — to be punished for earning that 13th game.
Colorado, without a 13th game, would finish its season 10-2 with losses to USC and Michigan (UM on the road). USC has finished 9-3 with a win at Washington — better than any CU win — and the head-to-head win over Colorado, but with losses to Utah and Stanford plus a loss to Alabama on a neutral field.
The resume comparison is close, and a strong argument can be made for either team. The problem: Colorado losing a 13th game — as would be the case for any team in a similar situation — should NEVER be the reason the Buffs lose out on a Rose Bowl berth.
Let that point sink in for USC fans or advocates: The resumes are relatively even, and USC has a valid claim to a Rose Bowl berth in a head-to-head with Colorado. This is not a resume argument.
No, Colorado should get the Rose Bowl ticket not because its portfolio is obviously superior to USC’s. It should get the Rose Bowl berth simply because it should not be punished for losing a 13th game it earned, a game which empirically — and competitively — marks an INHERENTLY more successful season than what USC produced.
Colorado, not USC, won the Pac-12 South. Colorado has only two losses and did not win the division title with four losses the way USC did last year.
This isn’t about punishing USC; arguing for a Rose Bowl for Colorado — in the event of a loss to Washington on Friday — is about rewarding the Buffaloes for measurable and substantial achievements this year, including the earning of a 13th game… which should always be seen as good, never bad, in college football.