Bryan Burwell: Mizzou still has work to do

COLUMBIA, Mo. — By Sunday evening, the mind-blowing buzz from the best darned football party this college town had witnessed in years had finally receded. The polls were out, the Bowl Championship Series rankings had been released and the harsh reality was right in front of Mizzou like a bracing slap in the face.

As great as this season has already been, there still is work to be done.

The penultimate BCS standings came out Sunday evening and listed the 11-1 Tigers at No. 5. That’s close enough to see the top of the mountain, but still just out of reach of ascent to college football’s highest plateau.

With the SEC championship game showdown against No. 3 Auburn just five days away in Atlanta, the SEC East champion Tigers still haven’t done enough to impress the pollsters fully. It’s going to take a small miracle – actually a string of complicated miracles – for Mizzou to leap over Ohio State, Auburn and Alabama to reach the No. 2 slot in the BCS standings and the golden ticket to the BCS championship game.

It’s going to take a series of rather fortunate events for Mizzou to rise to No. 2, and the Tigers all know it. But for the time being, the journey starts with a victory over Auburn for the SEC title.

Win that and the rest takes care of itself.

“We’ll see what happens,” coach Gary Pinkel told reporters on a Sunday evening conference call. “Bottom line is we’re playing a terrific football team, and we’ll see where it goes.”

The BCS has been haunting us, tormenting us, driving us nuts for years. It has been this annual winter hair-pulling show that keeps reminding us why major college football is lagging behind every other intercollegiate sport. It is this constant reminder that the BCS has never gotten it right, will never get it right and will go out swinging in a manner befitting its flawed and phony existence.

You see, I don’t know whether Mizzou deserves legitimate consideration for the BCS title or not, and neither do you. I also don’t know if Auburn or Ohio State or Florida State or even poor old frustrated and confused Alabama ought to get an invite either.

And that’s the fatal flaw of the darned BCS and why we’re so glad this is the final year of this maddening folly. We’re supposed to guess which teams belong in the top two. Everything about the final week of this regular season is about conjecture, not competition. It should be about a system that allows the best teams in the land to go at each other on the field of play and settle this thing just like every other sport in college athletics does.

With a playoff.

But we have to endure one more annoying month of this mess that won’t truly give us a legitimate national champion. Over the course of the next few days, we’re going to hear a lot of folks from all five schools doing their best lobbying, politicking and schmoozing in front of any microphone they can find.

On Sunday morning, Auburn AD Jay Jacobs was all over ESPN making his pitch for his once-beaten football team. On Saturday night after the exciting victory over Alabama, Jacobs told USA Today, “An SEC team can’t get left out of the (BCS championship game) with one loss. We just beat the No. 1 team in the nation… and a one-loss SEC team that wins in Atlanta – if it’s us or Missouri – you can’t get left out of the BCS after you beat the No. 1 team. We have a better argument because we beat the No. 1 team… It would be a disservice to the nation if we got left out.”

On Sunday evening, Pinkel responded to a question about why his team should be considered for the BCS championship game, and while not stumping outright, the Mizzou coach didn’t back away from the opportunity. “Well, like with anyone who plays in the SEC, I would have to think strength of schedule (is Mizzou’s best case),” Pinkel said. “I think hopefully that will be taken into consideration hopefully. … I think that people should look at that.”

If this were next season, we wouldn’t have to deal with this. Next year the four-team playoff begins. Next season, the winner of the SEC championship game would be a lock for the playoffs. But for now, we’re left with this final BCS hangover with everyone searching through hypothetical possibilities to figure out how either Auburn or Mizzou could _ or should _ leap ahead of unbeaten Ohio State or Florida State to get into the championship game.

If you asked my opinion today who belongs in the BCS championship game, I would vote for Florida State for sure. Even though the No. 1 team in the country hasn’t exactly done a lot of heavy lifting with its soft ACC schedule, the Seminoles have dominated everyone put in front of them. If you look at them on TV, the Noles look a lot like an SEC team, loaded with big, fast, strong and gifted athletes up and down the lineup.

With or without a loss in this weekend’s ACC championship game, I feel like FSU belongs in this championship game.

But I also wonder why there is such resistance to the idea that either Auburn or Mizzou might be deserving, too.

When you weigh the simple fact that the SEC dominates the latest BCS rankings, with three teams in the top five, four in the Top 10, five in the Top 15 and and seven in the Top 25, shouldn’t that be the most emphatic evidence of just how demanding the SEC is and why it’s not so outrageous to leap the SEC champion over an unbeaten Ohio State?

If Mizzou beats Auburn, it will have played four teams in the BCS Top 25 and beaten three of them. If Mizzou beats Auburn, it will have played six opponents who were in the Top 25 at the time of the game and beaten five of them.

But I still don’t know if the Tigers are better than Ohio State because they haven’t played each other. The spirit of sports, the greatness of the ultimate championship competition, is putting the best teams in the room together and see who rules the day.

This is why I’m so glad we are saying good riddance to the BCS’s fraudulent championship format. As exciting as this regular season has been, it still is going to leave us with more questions than answers at the conclusion of next weekend.

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