It's the BCS, of course. Two critical games yesterday set the stage for yet another--thankfully, final--mess in college football's attempts to set up a conclusive single game for the national championship.
The first was the narrow victory of Ohio State over a mediocre Michigan team, 42-41, when Michigan went for a two-point conversion late in the contest rather than a more certain tie and the randomness of college football's overtime scheme. (The result would not be random if the teams were unequally matched, but, of course, overtime presumes the teams have ended up tied after 60 minutes of play. One could argue that Michigan's coach knew their team was weaker, thus the gamble rather than opting for a fair chance at a 50-50 proposition.) The victory allowed the Buckeyes to finish their regular season undefeated and, as such, hold onto their bid for a berth in the finale, if they can win their conference championship game next week, a game against a very respectable 11-1 Michigan State team.
The second result was the real wild card, though, as #1 Alabama lost on the final play of the game to their in-state rival, Auburn (which was once defeated and ranked #5 going into the game). The improbable finish was a 100+-yard return of a missed field goal attempt--itself the result of other improbable outcomes, most immediately a referee's decision to put one second back on the clock and give Alabama that chance for a long field goal try. Auburn, which had escaped defeat in its previous game on a last-minute desperation "Hail Mary" pass, has to qualify as one of the most fortunate potential champions in history, but they did hold their own against, and finally defeat, a team which has had a historic run of quality over the last three years, winning two national championships and which seemed headed for another one this year until yesterday.
Besides Ohio State and Alabama, there was one other team from a "top-level conference" (defined as being one that has an automatic berth in one of the four BCS games) which entered yesterday undefeated. That was Florida State, and they closed out their regular season with a decisive victory over Florida, normally a close matchup but not with this year's underperforming Gators. Florida State still needs to win the ACC championship against #20 Duke to earn its berth in the championship game, but it seems very likely.
The problem is that today the SEC has the #3 (Auburn), #4 (Alabama), and #5 teams (once-beaten Missouri), as well as several more top 10-quality teams (#8 South Carolina, #15 LSU, #22 Georgia, and #24 Texas A&M, all of which dropped down only because they have to play so many games against other SEC teams). Also worth noting is that the SEC is 7-for-7 in the championship game since it was established, usually defeating its opponents decisively. Effectively, the winner of the SEC championship game has been the uncrowned national champion even before the championship game most years--it was that obvious. Only the absence of an SEC team with an unblemished record (Auburn lost to LSU fairly early in the season), combined with unbeaten teams from two of the stronger also-ran conferences, could produce an outcome in which an SEC team would not get an invite.
I am no fan of the SEC football establishment--it is truly the AAA pro league training "amateurs" for the NFL--but, honestly speaking, having a national championship game in which no SEC team is included would be yet another sad BCS joke. There is some possibility Florida State or Ohio State could lose, just as it was conceivable Auburn could beat Alabama before it happened, and if Auburn should lose to Missouri in its conference championship (more likely but still not probable), there would be a less-strong top claimant from the conference. More likely, though, there will be a sham championship game between OSU and FSU, while the two best teams in the country--Alabama and Auburn--will be excluded. I would love to see them play each other in a rematch, for "the real heavyweight title".
If the NCAA had just moved a little faster, the scheme they have planned for next year, with four teams in a two-round playoff, would have worked perfectly. Match the four of them (assuming Auburn, Ohio St., and Florida St. each win their conferences, and adding the defending champs) any way you want, you would have gotten an honest championship game out of the winners. I predict that this format, although improved, will still prove to be more than a little faulty, with the problem then moving to the identity of the fourth-best team (as opposed to the fifth-best), because that's just the way the BCS ball bounces. Their karma is bad enough that I think they will have to continue to pay for their sins.