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MURRELL COLUMN: College football landscape was much better 25 years ago

You know how we got to this point, right?

The big wigs complained when two teams split college football’s national championship in 1990, let alone a team unbeaten with one tie and a once-beaten team also with one tie sharing the title.

The next year, two 12-0 super powers shared the national championship. Two years later, the team that beat the eventual national champion lost the next week to 17th-ranked Boston College, opening the door for unbeaten Nebraska to make things right. But Scott Bentley entered the national forefront Adam Vinatieri-style, and Florida State — not Notre Dame — won it all.

Meanwhile, during this four-year span, I was just a middle schooler minding my own business in the glory of my innocence, accepting the college football landscape as it was. If one poll ranked one team No. 1 and another poll listed another team at No. 1, there were two national champions. It made for fun debate until September.

Then, the politics of the sport really became politics.

First came the Bowl Championship Series, and since its inception in 1998, nine unbeaten teams did not win the title. One of them, Ohio State in 2012, faced sanctions from an association that has never sponsored the championship. Go figure.

Both Boise State and Utah ran the table twice. Not that any poll would vote either No. 1.

Herein lies one of the problems with the politics of big-time college football. The so-called mid-majors — Utah no longer fits the label as a Pac-12 school — hardly get a chance in any championship system, be it the now-defunct BCS or the College Football Playoff. Teams from five conferences fill 11 New Year’s Six spots, with one team from a pool of five more conferences earning the 12th bid.

It’s possible a second deserving team from the lower-tier conferences known as the Group of Five could break into the New Year’s Six mix, but don’t expect them to get the 1984 Brigham Young treatment.

Yeah, Brigham Young. Your 1984 Cougars really made a dent in the championship landscape. And the big wigs paid the money to make the repairs, slimming the chances of other programs like yours.

The second problem: The College Football Playoff still uses a poll to name the final four teams and create more controversy. This year, Michigan State leapfrogged Oklahoma on the Sooners’ week off to get into the No. 3 spot and play Alabama. There’s no way to calculate the legitimacy of the move; it’s just a poll move.

One explanation I’m waiting to hear: Clemson vs. Oklahoma is a more traditional matchup for the Orange Bowl, and that, in the minds of the CFP, prompted Oklahoma’s move to No. 4.

The third: Jan. 1 has become a diluted football holiday, not good for the innocence of a middle-school boy.

It meant something to watch the King Orange Parade the night before New Year’s on NBC, the Rose Parade on ABC and the Cotton Bowl Parade on CBS. (Hey, I was raised by all ladies.) Then, flip between the Citrus and Fiesta bowls around noon, the Cotton and Rose bowls late afternoon and the Orange and Sugar Bowls at night.

If some bowls needed to wait until Jan. 2, I was fine with that, as long as I wasn’t in school that day. Thanks, BCS, for taking away my youth.

So, as you can see, today’s major college football championship system hardly excites me, although college football itself is still a joy to watch. (I cannot wait to see Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. It’s the only time I hear about R+L Carriers.)

The championship system should be called the College Football Showoff. The big wigs exert their influence to try and show bigger is better, pressing harder each year for complete autonomy from the NCAA.

But it’s taken away almost 25 years of college football’s innocence.

I.C. Murrell can be reached at 721-2435 or ic.murrell@panews.com. On Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews


About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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