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A Brief Word on the Mythical Championship

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In which SMQ indirectly addresses "SEC speed" while pretty much shattering at least one of his resolutions already. So sue him.

Back in November, SMQ and Peter Bean from Burnt Orange Nation volleyed back and forth a series of dispatches which dealt in part with semantically striking down the notion of "better" or "the best" as an inherent trait rather than a cumulative assessment of inconsistent and often flatly contradictory performances. At the time, just after OSU's three-point win in Columbus, there wasn't much friction against the conventional wisdom that Ohio State and Michigan were clearly "the best" two teams in the nation. Tuesday, Peter asked SMQ to revisit that idea in the wake of the Big Ten titans' overwhelming January demise:

...based on last night's performance, everyone will say that the Gators are "clearly" better than Ohio State. They beat them by a huge margin, statistically and on the scoreboard. There are no arguments about whether a one-loss Ohio State team deserves some sort of rematch, and there exist no sane fans wondering whether the voters who placed Florida in the title game over Michigan made a mistake. Yet, on December 4th, this was not the case. On that date, of course, there was great debate about which two teams were the 'best' in the country. Looking further back, Florida was damned fortunate to beat South Carolina in Gainesville this season. Watching last night's game, though, you'd have thought the 2006 Gators probably just came off one whale of a regular season in which they waxed everyone and everything in their path. What gives?

Doesn't last night's result give us reason to embrace even more strongly a holistic, resume-based approach to team evaluation? I mean, we can't honestly say that Florida's four touchdowns better than Ohio State. I don't even think you could say Florida would win that game eight times out of ten. So as everyone races to rubber stamp this season and the teams within, maybe it's time to revisit those ideas about how we conceptualize 'better' and 'best.'

First rule of order, as it were: recognition and celebration that sometimes this game makes no sense. Maybe we're fools for attempting to impose decorum on entertainment fundamentally fueled by its predilection for shock and anarchy.

Certain truths emerge which cannot be reconciled with any other existing facts or theories.
- - -

But we try to make coherent the naturally disordered anyway, even as our efforts at methodically synthesizing disparate facts are repeatedly mocked. In some way, then, method must account for anarchy, or inevitably succumb to it. Because this isn't science; sometimes this game makes no sense.

The bowl season - not only the mythical championship game, but also the Rose and Fiesta bowls, most prominently - vindicated the November conversation and SMQ's resume argument in myriad ways, primarily by broadcasting live to a stunned nation unmitigated dismantlings of the two teams it was repeatedly assured were "the best" and had only a little more than a month earlier engaged in a timeless struggle of wills for unquestioned supremacy rather than put on just another entertaining, emotional shootout on the same level of play as, say, Louisville-West Virginia.

But what SMQ would most like to point out in light of Monday's merciless pantsing of the team officially earmarked as the "best" in America through the three-month regular season is not that Ohio State was "exposed" or that Florida "proved" to humbled skeptics the indomitable essence that dwells eternally in its collective soul of souls. Rather, he'd like to defend the conviction that Ohio State really was, in fact, the "best" team in the nation from September through November, in the sense the Buckeyes' cumulative performance over that span deserved by all available evidence to be considered superior to that of any other team, and offer the untimely demise of that perception Monday as evidence there is nothing dwelling in the blood pumping through a team's metaphorical veins that can tell us anything about any single performance outside of itself; that is, what occurred in the championship game, like any other, was representative only of the championship game, and should inform our opinions about its participants only as an addition to the months-long whole. A prominent addition, of course, but by no means the all-defining one or, very importantly, one that can be extrapolated to prove great inner truths about certain conferences or larger trends within - unless, of course, you're willing to argue the relative merits of Ohio State's "speed," however that is supposed to be measured, and by extension that of Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Texas, in relation to the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence of Vanderbilt and South Carolina, which each fared exponentially better against the Gators than the Buckeyes. Sometimes this game makes no sense.

Somewhere in there is a defense of Troy Smith, a terrific player probably inevitably doomed to history as the latest in a long line of Most Outstanding™ speed bumps in the path of ferocious championship defenses. SMQ spent all season straining to keep in perspective the irresistible Smith bandwagon, finally stuck a toe on it after his heady, composed performance against previously-infallible Michigan, and was instantly burned. By a great Florida defense? By a a fast Florida defense? Yes. But by one that many times greater than Michigan's, or of Texas'? That many times faster? Many forces combined Monday to slow and stunt Smith's decision-making and his offensive line's ineffectiveness, forces strategic, psychological and, yes, physical, extending from an early injury to one of his top weapons to the ability of Florida's alignment and coverage to force double-clutching indecisiveness and the Gator line's frothing ability to exacerbate and exploit the disarray. And the extent of this dominance had virtually zero precedent. Over three full months, a dozen games apiece, hundreds of snaps involving championship-caliber athletes, no one saw such overwhelming dominance in the cards. It was decisive, but not typical.

It's also all we have of Florida vs. Ohio State, of any game that can call itself the benefactor of a championship, mythical or otherwise. Once the opinions and machines merge perceptions in unholy union, there is but one night, and the night belonged to the Gators. The very same Gators who would not be considered for any such distinction, would not have had any opportunity whatsoever to "prove" their awesomeness, if similarly awesome USC doesn't bite the bit for no discernible reason against the nation's most enthusiastic embodiment of mediocrity. It's only with the most improbable help Monday's greatness could have ever existed.

The point being that - because games aren't rematched next week, there are no seven-game series - there is nothing, ever, "clear" at the top levels about which collection of 18-22-year-old men is "better" than any other. All such conceptions are confined to the wild inconsistencies of the prevailing system. What matters are the games. And the games, sometimes, make no sense. And once the real thrill has finished, the strategy, psychology, emotion and peak physical execution of the battle having receded to memory and its accompanying myths and revisions, it's the anarchy that makes the sport so fascinating to untangle. Perhaps that's part of what mentally doomed Ohio State once it became clear it didn't have exclusive rights to any title, after all. If the season lasted another month, does Florida still emerge "the best"? Would the Gators beat Ohio State again? Without a 50-day layoff? In Columbus? In a series? Was Boise State dealt a grave systematic injustice? Is UF "clearly" better than USC? After a tumultuous season that had featured but one single, reigning constant, did Monday's crescendo make sense?

You have eight months to show your work.