Well, that does it.
Another trip to Pasadena’s not the end of the world, I guess.
But this stings. It really stings.
One week ago today, Michigan sat comfortably at No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
No one seriously thought that UCLA would knock off a heavily-favored Southern Cal squad, re-opening the door for Michigan’s national title hopes.
But on Saturday, we all were glued to our television screens. We all held our breath in the desperate hope that the Bruins would somehow beat the mighty Trojans, punching Michigan’s ticket to Glendale, Ariz. We all felt our hearts race as Karl Dorrell’s squad hung tight with Pete Carroll’s crew.
Then, with an absurdly acrobatic game-clinching interception by UCLA linebacker Eric McNeal, Wolverine nation’s wildest dreams appeared to come true.
Horns honked. People screamed. Joy reigned in Ann Arbor.
But at the Georgia Dome, events were unfolding that would put everyone here in a much more somber mood less than 24 hours later.
Florida, a team which rested two spots below Michigan in the BCS Standings when the Wolverines stopped playing two weeks ago, was taking on Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference Championship game.
Conventional wisdom stated that Michigan would remain ahead of Florida, as long as the Gators didn’t completely destroy the Razorbacks.
Conventional wisdom was wrong.
Florida didn’t crush Arkansas. The Gators didn’t even outplay them. But as the final minutes of the thrilling, but sloppy, matchup wound down, a new line of thinking came to the forefront of the college football world.
CBS announcer Gary Danielson fired the first salvos. And powerful salvos they were. The SEC’s color commentator stated “it’s hard to win a championship” at least five times, a not-so-subtle-dig at Michigan’s failure to lock up the Big Ten title against consensus No. 1 Ohio State on the Buckeyes’ home turf.
Indeed, for Florida, winning a championship was hard. The Gators squad that failed to beat its last four Division I-A opponents – all unranked – by more than a touchdown looked shell-shocked as Arkansas stormed past them in the third quarter.
Then, Razorback punt returner Reggie Fish attempted to field a punt over his shoulder on a dead sprint at his own three-yard line. Inevitably, he muffed the kick, Florida recovered it, and the entire course of history was altered.
Comfortable that the Gators would come out on top, Danielson began making his already-prepared campaign pitch for Florida in the fourth quarter. The center of his argument was a handy-dandy chart, which evaluated Michigan and Florida’s schedules side by side. According to Danielson, this analysis – which didn’t include margins of victory (Florida’s six-point win over Vanderbilt was rated as a “push” with Michigan’s 20-point victory over the Commodores) – clearly proved that Florida was the better team, deserving of a national title shot.
As Danielson beamed his pro-Gator message to millions of football fans (and poll voters), elation over the result of the Southern Cal-UCLA game transformed into stomach-churning discomfort for Wolverine fans.
From there, Florida’s National Championship momentum continued to build. Television analysts who previously ignored the Gators as a national title contender began arguing that Florida “deserved a shot” against Ohio State after Michigan “blew” its chance.
With Florida’s hype swelling, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr took the high road, declining the opportunity to campaign for the Wolverines on ESPN’s SportsCenter Saturday night. Immediately after hearing Carr’s classy statement, Florida coach Urban Meyer shamelessly continued his weeks-long push to get Florida into the National Championship.
Even the BCS coordinator Mike Slive – who, by the way, just happens to be the SEC commissioner – checked his impartiality at the door to argue for his conference’s Gators.
“I think any team that wins our league with one loss should have the chance to play for the national championship,” Slive said.
By mid-afternoon Sunday, Florida’s wave of public backing had become a tsunami. Voters, who for weeks had consistently picked the Wolverines over the Gators, suddenly reversed their positions.
Were these voters blown away by Florida’s inconsistent-at-best performance over Arkansas? If Southern Cal had won, would Florida have jumped Michigan to take over the No. 3 spot in the polls?
Instead, the voters let the media’s jabbering and Meyer’s whining get into their heads. For dozens of poll voters, figuring out who really was the second-best team in the country took a back seat to avoiding an “unfair” Michigan-Ohio State rematch.
The voters bought the hype. And so, the second-best team in the country must suffer.
The team that lost by three points to the nation’s best must suffer.
The team that was never really challenged by its other 11 foes must suffer.
The team that easily beat its common opponent with Florida must suffer.
The team that played 12 straight weeks and never really slipped up must suffer.
The better team must suffer.
I know, “suffer” is a strong word when the Rose Bowl – long the Wolverines’ ultimate goal – is the consolation prize. And I have a feeling that when it’s all said and done, Michigan will end up in its rightful place as the No. 2 team in the country.
But for now, with all the exhilaration, frustration and crushing disappointment of the past 36 hours, it’s hard for me to get excited for the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
I’m just hoping that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach subsides by the time I board my plane for Los Angeles.
– Singer can be reached at email@example.com.
Accustomed to Letdowns?
Even though you’re hurting right now, the latest Bowl Championship Series controversy isn’t the first time Michigan has been marginalized on the national stage. In the Wolverines long and storied history, there stand two clear-cut years when the pain was just as great as FOX personality Chris Rose announcing Florida in the National Championship game.
1973: Heading into Michigan’s season-ending matchup with Ohio State, both teams were undefeated. When the Nov. 24 game finished with the two squads knotted at 10-10, most believed the Wolverines would get the nod over the Buckeyes to make the trip to a Rose Bowl to play for a possible national championship. Ohio State coach Woody Hayes even wished Michigan coach Bo Schembechler good luck in the Rose Bowl. But when it came time for the Big Ten athletic directors to vote, they nominated the Buckeyes to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, leaving Michigan home for the winter.
1997: The dominating Michigan squad led by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson finished the regular season undefeated and handled a Ryan Leaf led Washington State team in the Rose Bowl to finish the 1997 campaign unblemished and ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. But Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer decided that Nebraska was a better team than Michigan and gave the Cornhuskers a first-place vote in the Coaches poll. Due to Fulmer’s decision, the Wolverines were forced the share the national championship with Nebraska.
“(The voters) did get it right. The right team is the No. 2 team in the country, and that’s Florida. It’s based on what they did the entire season. I’m glad that the voters waited until the season was over, after the championship games to cast the final ballot.”
– ESPN analyst Mark May
“I appreciate the Gators. They had a great year, and they deserve to be there. It’s just my humble opinion that I still feel that Michigan is the second best team in the country. The voters clearly did not want a rematch.”
– ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit
“Quite frankly, I’m surprised that Florida has been able to make up that much ground on Michigan. Michigan fell behind two weeks in a row and hasn’t played. It’s obvious that the pollsters didn’t want to see a rematch.”
– FOX analyst and former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez
“I think that people were voting for Ohio State and not against Michigan. Florida deserves this opportunity because of the schedule they played during the year. But what people were saying is, ‘We don’t think it’s fair for Ohio State to play Michigan twice.’ “
– FOX analyst Charles Davis