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Playoff system really isn't needed after all

Bill Plaschke

January 03, 2007|Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

Standing in a midfield tailgate party late Monday afternoon, confetti flying, players crying, none of them national champions, none of them caring, the truth pricked like a thorn.

I was wrong about the Rose Bowl. It does still matter. It always will matter.

Later, back upstairs in the press box, standing with sportswriters laughing like children in front of a television set as Boise State ran an ancient play to defeat a modern powerhouse, the truth bucked like a Bronco.

I was wrong about the BCS. It's not killing the college game. It's strengthening the college game.

From Oregon State's white-knuckle two-pointer to Texas Tech's iron-stomach comeback, from USC's craziness to Boise State's charm, this season's bowls have produced an argument that has flown in the barbecue-sauce-stained faces of critics everywhere.

Who says college football needs a playoff?

If there was a playoff, Boise State would not be playing in a prime-time game against Oklahoma on New Year's night. The teams would have met in the first round, on a weekend afternoon, in some place like Houston or Jacksonville, surrounded by other games, just another pairing in a bracket.

But because of the BCS, America was allowed a singular peek into the playground passion that lines the heart of a sport that is truly America.

"What we saw was pure, raw emotion," said Keith Jackson, the retired legendary announcer. "What we saw, you can only see in college football."

I mean, seriously. A team ties the Fiesta Bowl in the final seconds with a hook-and-ladder play that covers half the field, then wins it in overtime with a Statue of Liberty?

"Lord almighty, I nearly fell out of my chair," Jackson said. "You have a football team winning a BCS bowl game with a 100-year-old play? If I was having a party today, I think I'd have it in Boise."

If there was a playoff, the Rose Bowl party also doesn't happen. That would have probably been a semifinal game. Instead of dancing around the wet grass like a Pop Warner team, the Trojans would have calmly jogged off to prepare for a bigger game.

I have written that when it doesn't involve a national championship, the Rose Bowl is increasingly irrelevant. Turns out, the BCS system has made the Rose Bowl even more relevant, the only remaining bowl game with a combination of real history, live pageantry and a timeless pulse.

"Even with the BCS, there are many people out there who will only watch one bowl game on TV," Jackson said, "and that's the Rose Bowl."

I wish he had reminded me of that before I wrote my Monday column.

Many of the other bowls have felt the brunt of my jokes about names and locations, but as the last month showed, the fans aren't listening and the players don't care.

Thirty-one supposedly meaningless bowls, 62 teams acting as if a championship is at stake, the winners dancing around as if they own the joint.

How else does one explain Florida State essentially beating UCLA on a touchdown pass on fourth down and nine in San Francisco's Emerald Bowl?

"Hey, why not go for it?" said Seminoles linebacker Buster Davis. "We figured, you guys on the West Coast should be used to seeing it, USC does that stuff all the time."

How else does one fathom Oregon State attempting -- and scoring on -- a two-point conversion with 22 seconds remaining to beat Missouri in the Sun Bowl?

"It's bowl season," said Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel to reporters. "What do you have to lose?"

If there is a playoff, Oregon State Coach Mike Riley and his bold decision is nowhere near it. If there is a playoff, everybody is playing it safe and going for the tie.

"Why get rid of all these great little bowls?" Jackson said. "Why not keep spreading the fun around?"

The fun was spread to the Insight Bowl, where Texas Tech rallied from a 31-point deficit in the third quarter against Minnesota to pull off the biggest comeback win in bowl history.

A meaningless game? Afterward, Tech Coach Mike Leach was nearly moved to tears, while Minnesota Coach Glen Mason was summarily fired.

The fun even stopped in the garage, at the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, where a soccer player named Steve Aponavicius kicked a 37-yard, game-winning field goal with no time remaining to give Boston College a victory over Navy.

Until two months ago, Aponavicius had never played organized football. He joined the team when the regular kicker was suspended. He may not even be asked to return next year.

This was all about one moment in college football's long month of moments. His moment, and our moment.

"To be able to win a game like that was more than I could ever ask for," Aponavicius told reporters afterward.

This bowl season has been more than any of us could ask for.

So stop asking.

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