The real national champion -- and it isn't Utah

The undefeated Utes, ineligible for the title, are this year's poster team for a playoff system. But one school has an even better claim.

By King Kaufman

Published January 6, 2009 12:00PM (EST)

Here we go again. It's Utah this year, thanks to the Utes' upset win over Alabama in the Sugar Exhibition Game Friday night.

Utah is undefeated and beat four top-25 teams, including No. 4 Alabama and Oregon State, which wasn't in the top 25 at the time but will end up there after a thrilling 3-0 win over Pittsburgh in the Sun E.G. But the Utes have no chance at the national championship, because it's already been decided by a series of levers and pulleys that Florida and Oklahoma will play for that.

So Utah is this year's model of the idea that a significant number of teams in the so-called Bowl Subdivision, which used to be called Division I-A, have literally no chance at the national championship. There is nothing more that Utah could have done, but what it did wasn't enough to qualify for the title.

And it's not as if the Utes are in line behind other undefeated teams with tougher schedules. Florida and Oklahoma have both lost.

There's a word for that: "ineligible." Imagine a league in which some teams are simply ineligible for the championship. Wait, you don't have to do that. Just think about the Bowl Subdivision. About half of the teams are ineligible to win.

What this goes to show is that college football needs a tournament, a playoff system. Of course, lots of things go to show that. Common sense. Simple logic. Every conversation you hear or participate in on the subject that doesn't involve a person who works for an exhibition game committee. Asking a reasonably intelligent 7-year-old how the champion should be crowned.

There isn't really much of an argument against a playoff system, except that the people who don't want one don't want one because they'd have to give up a lot of power to make it happen, and nobody wants to give up power, and the thing about having power is it comes in handy when you want to stop something from happening that everybody who doesn't have power wants to happen.

It never works forever, but for a while, it comes in handy.

And so every year we have a poster team. This is actually Utah's second time on the poster. The Utes were undefeated and ineligible for the national championship in 2004 also. That amazing season earned Utah's coach a ticket to eligibility. Urban Meyer went to Florida, where, one loss on his ledger, he'll coach in the Championship Game Thursday.

You go ahead and argue about whether Utah should have had a shot at Florida or Oklahoma. My new friend R.J. Bell, owner of the betting site and quick with the relevant press release, says in his latest that a survey of Vegas and offshore bookmakers reveals that Utah would open as a 14-point underdog against Florida on a neutral field, a 12-point dog against Oklahoma. Alabama was favored by 10 over Utah.

This column has already crowned its national champion. With its background in the boxing world, this column believes if you're not going to have a fair championship system, the best alternative is to crown the guy who beat the guy who beat the guy.

That guy is Tulane.

The Green Wave went 2-10 this year, but they made those wins count. One of them was over Louisiana-Monroe, so I think you see my point.

No? OK: Tulane beat Louisiana-Monroe, who beat Troy, who beat Middle Tennessee, who beat Maryland, who beat Wake Forest, who beat Mississippi.

Aha! Mississippi!

What do you mean, so what? Ole Miss beat Florida. But that's not all. The Rebels also beat Texas Tech, who beat Texas, who beat Oklahoma.

There's a direct line of losing from both teams in the BCS Championship Game to Tulane. That's what makes Tulane, last seen losing 45-6 to Memphis, your 2008 national champion.

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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