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Dispatches: Burnt Orange Nation, Part One

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Dispatching from the lavish confines of Gene Chizik's farewell party in Austin, proprietor Peter Bean of Burnt Orange Nation initiated a week of deep, thoughtful e-mail exchange of important ideas he promised would include at least one appropriate photo of chap-clad Texas cheerleaders As if there were ever an inappropriate time for chap-clad cheerleaders.

In his opening salvo, Peter questions the sudden rise and fall of "Rematch Fever," and how, exactly, to meaningfully distinguish from one another this pack of deeply flawed contenders for the mythical championship game. SMQ's deranged response is below.

Where the Series is concerned, Peter, poor Michigan can consider itself, predictably, leaped, I'm afraid.

I, too, maintain my longstanding and persuasive stance of "Duh, playoff." Outside of that, much talk abounded this weekend concerning which team is "second-best," as if there existed some sort of permanent, video game-style rating to be attached to each team if studied closely enough, rather than an amalgam of disparate, inconsistent, contradictory, heavily qualified and only awkwardly comparable information wide open to interpretation and constant revision. In case of an OSU-Michigan rematch, should Michigan win, are the Wolverines suddenly "better" than Ohio State? The concept is too abstract, especially in the case of college football, where so little information is available for comparison.

This is a growing peeve of mine - even in the NFL, where arbitrary comparisons and "power polls" could not be less relevant, because the professionals can actually, you know, play for the championship based on completely objective win-loss data rather than on opinion-monguering, analysts still spent all day Sunday bickering over which team was "the best" in the AFC. Without a doubt, it's the Chargers, according to Merrill Hodge. Well, congratulations, Charger fans. So what?

I use the 2004 World Series Champion Red Sox as an example of the foolishness of thinking in terms of "better" or "best," except in the broadest possible terms (as in the obvious, such as Michigan, for example, is clearly "better" by any conceivable measure than Ball Was Boston the "best" team in baseball? After the rally against the Yankees and a World Series sweep, certainly most people would have said so. But the Red Sox trailed New York three games to none in the ALCS - if that's the best-of-five division series, played a week earlier, it's over at that point, right there. The Yankees win, the series is over, New York is "the better team," while the bunch that eventually rallied to win a championship, "the best" as we claim to know it, is instead maligned as an incorrigible, hopeless loser when it comes to high stakes situtations. Boston emerged as a winner because it had the chance to rally from down 3-0 and dramatically made good on it, but how many comparable teams were bounced in the division series because they didn't have that chance? The popular conception of "the best" was hugely influenced by the format of the competition as much as by the actual play on the field; many, many variables come into play in determining the outcome of any game, often entirely at random, and lead to wildly variable results, such as one team winning three straight games, then losing four straight to the exact same opponent. Who's "the best"? Which way was the wind blowing?

Mostly, this is semantic. My basic argument is that the discussion shouldn't be "Who is best?" or "Who is second-best?" because blatant contradictions, inadequate grounds for fair comparison and constantly shifting points of reference render these terms fatally, indefinably abstract. Rather, it should be "Who has the best resume?" based on the accumulation of "evidence," free of hypothetical dead ends like "who's the best?" or "who would win if these teams played on a neutral field?" (what, only once? And you'd take the result as gospel?).

Here are Brian's admirable efforts today to do exactly that among primary challengers USC, Florida and Michigan, though he does at one point say "LSU is a better team than Notre Dame." I wouldn't quibble with a statement like "LSU is a better team than Louisiana-Monroe." In the case of Notre Dame and LSU, though, it's more like, "LSU has a resume I interpret to be more impressive so far, on the whole." If this could be widely agreed upon as the definition of "better," then strike all this as useless jibberish, if you haven't already. Again, semantics.

I've consistently argued this season for the "resume" system of ranking teams, and drawn a very explicit distinction - "This is not a power poll" - between that method and ranking based on undefined notions of which team is "better" in my mind's stupendosuly flawed eye. But I get the feeling people are using some sort of resume voting and completely abstract, arbitrary conceptions of strength, such as "OMG Steve Slaton." Forgive that reference for being so November 24, if you can.

So I'd say everyone has been perfectly aware since Louisville and Texas went down three weeks ago, even before OSU-Michigan, that it's USC's position to lose, which obviously now is the case. All the "Michigan is the second-best team" rhetoric aside, nobody has taken the rematch option seriously, in my opinion, because it's so obviously illegitimate if Michigan were to win the mythical title after having already been beaten by OSU. Is the game with the corporate "championship" label supposed to invalidate the result of the first game because of the label? Nobody wants that. We all recognize that scenario as unfair. No other one-loss team has that opportunity, and the winner of the first game would be screwed simply for winning the wrong end of the doubleheader. But if the regular season game is going to carry the weight we all seem to agree it should, a "championship" rematch wouldn't be a "championship" at all, just a hollow spectacle hoping to ward off maximum confusion and controversy. Which is all the bowls have really ever been, outside of the actual game on the field, for a hundred years, and still are.

This was pretty effectively demonstrated in the still-brewing cauldron of pandemonium that followed the 2003 season, and that should have followed Auburn's snub in 2004. These situations were no different than the "old system" that routinely split champions based on a few opinions - champion by opinion poll is champion by opinion poll. The AP, at least, realized in 2003 that "championship" in its current incarnation remains just a label, and voted USC over LSU hopefully out of sheer defiance. No one else seems willing to say, "They can call the game whatever they like, but when it's done, it's just another big game to consider, like any other." LSU fans, especially, are bound diehard by circumstance to the idea the game dubbed by an independent, non-oversight corporate entity as "The Championship" is the real, infallible McCoy.

Oh, McCoy, sore subject? [Literally! Ha! - ed. Sorry about that.] And on the subject of subjects, I've veered far, far off the one originally proposed. What was that again, confines of the system, fever of some sort? Properly sorting things out?