In my freshman year of college my school hired an alumnus to coach it’s football program. From the first game he coached (in my sophomore year) until he left, he was constantly quoted in the press saying that there was one championship that he and his players had some control over, and that was the one championship that was his goal going into every season. That was their conference championship.
I’m several years removed from my college days now, and I can’t go to games with any regular frequency anymore, but I still watch… I’m still a fan… I’m still on the wagon, whether the band’s along for the ride or not. This year Florida had a pretty tough road to travel: including a tough schedule with several of their big rivals on the road. They had a tough season, with the dismissal of arguably their best player (due to drug use) coming mid-season. With injuries they finished the season with two reserve offensive linemen… and one of those was a tight end that kept a different pair of shoulder pads on the sideline in case he had to fill in as a tackle. In the first half they lost their third leading tackler on defense (the starting safety), and arguably their best remaining defensive lineman – two key defensive players, to injury. Yet they played on, as they did the whole season, and they won the one championship they had any control over: the SEC championship.
Now there’s going to be a debate: who should play Ohio State for a national title? As a Gator fan, I’m tempted to say that team should be UF. But you know what? I can’t say it in good conscience. Florida owed their one and only national title to a rematch game… one that shaped up sort of like the Ohio State / Michigan game will undoubtedly shape up (the differences being UF was number one when they lost to number two FSU – and when they lost, later in the season, they dropped to number four).
With more twists than a season of Lost, UF made it to the Bowl Alliance game (the precursor to the Bowl Championship Series) after the ’96 season. The only reason their victory in the Bowl Alliance game over FSU got them the national title (they were ranked number three going into the game) is because the Rose Bowl was not yet part of the Bowl Alliance, and the PAC-10 champ after the regular season, Arizona State (#2 going into the Rose Bowl) was bound to playing in the Rose Bowl… where they lost. Don’t forget the series of events that got the Gators into the Bowl Alliance game in the first place (namely the BIG upset in the Big Twelve Conference Championship Game where Texas knocked off #3 Nebraska). And THEN, had the Rose Bowl not held out of the bowl alliance, Arizona State would have been playing FSU for the Championship by virtue of their better ranking.
So to recap ’96: #1 UF loses to #2 FSU in the last regular season game. FSU moves to #1, Arizona State to #2, Nebraska to #3, and UF to 4 (I may have the Arizona and Nebraska rankings mixed up). Nebraska loses their conference championship, moving ASU to #2 and UF to #3. However, ASU is forced into playing in the Rose Bowl, which isn’t part of the Bowl Alliance, and which allows UF a rematch against FSU. Arizona State loses in the Rose Bowl and UF beats FSU in their rematch… giving UF the title. At the time Spurrier said God must have been a Gator fan. Usually I don’t think God is much of a sports fan… but the way it worked out this might have been an exception.
So you see, I can’t begrudge Michigan their second shot at Ohio State. UF is hardly in a position to argue… considering their history.
The only real argument here is for a playoff – which will probably never happen. Although, never is a long time.
**Correction (12/3): this entry previously identified Ohio State as the loser of the ’97 Rose Bowl. In fact, Arizona State went into the Rose Bowl #2… and lost to OSU (as this entry now states).