This Week's Rankings

1985 Orange Bowl Rematch Should Be in the Works
(published the week of Nov. 19, 2000)

In the 65-year history of the Orange Bowl, a Pac-10 team has appeared in that game only once:  in 1985, when Washington beat Oklahoma. 

This season has set up what should be a rematch of 1985, as (10-0) Oklahoma and (10-1) Washington have been the two most accomplished teams in the country.  But Washington will not get invited to the Orange Bowl, and it will not get invited for two reasons:  one, its jerseys do not read “Florida State,” a fact that weighs heavily upon the poll voters’ minds; two, 7 of the 8 BCS computer rankings are largely driven by margin of victory, a fact that severely penalizes a team such as Washington—whose most exceptional characteristic has been its ability to repeatedly triumph over good teams in dramatic fashion. 

Let us review Washington’s credentials:  the Huskies have beaten 2 teams that are ranked in the A.P.’s and the BCS’s current top-5; the other 114 teams in the country have combined to beat 2 teams in the A.P.’s and BCS’s current top-5.  Miami and Florida State—the two teams ranked immediately ahead of Washington in the polls and in the BCS—have combined to beat only 1 team in the A.P.’s and BCS’s current top-5.  Washington is the champion of the Pac-10, the conference that this season has been the nation’s best (see Just How Good Has the Pac-10 Been This Season).  Washington has played the toughest schedule of any 1-loss team.  In relation to Florida State, Washington has played more top-10 teams (Washington has played 3 to Florida State’s 2), more top-40 teams (7 to 6), and fewer non-top-75 (bottom-40 or 1-AA) teams (1 to 2).  In relation to Miami, Washington has played the same number of top-10 teams (each team has played 3), nearly twice as many top-40 teams (7 to 4), and fewer non-top-75 teams (1 to 3).  And, of course, Washington beat Miami, and Miami beat Florida State.

Yet neither the poll voters nor most of the BCS computer rankings are primarily focused on these accomplishments; rather, the polls are largely focused on how good they prejudged Washington, Miami, and Florida State to be, and both the polls and the computer rankings are focused on the teams’ respective margins of victory.  The computer rankings in particular seem quite driven to find new and ingenious ways to reward teams for dismembering the likes of Duke:  witness 4 of the BCS’s 7 margin-of-victory-driven computers having ranked Florida State #1 this week—ahead of undefeated Oklahoma.  Both the polls and the margin-of-victory-driven computer rankings seem to forget that posting large margins of victory is not the object of the game; that winning against quality opponents is the object of the game.  They seem to forget that a team’s actual accomplishments (see Washington) are far more important than its unrealized potential (see Florida State).  Yes, the Seminoles have a roster full of future NFL players, but when they had their chance to be truly great, when they had Miami on the ropes, they couldn’t finish the job, and they lost.  Washington doubtless has fewer future NFL’ers on its team, but when Washington played Miami, Washington won.  That is the difference between accomplishment and potential.

The poll voters and the margin-of-victory-driven computer rankings also miss the point that a tremendous part of sports is showing the character to perform in the clutch.  The odds of a team randomly going 6-0 in games decided by less than a touchdown, as Washington has, if the team were to have a coin-flip chance of prevailing in each game, would be 64-1. “Luck” is not the word to use to describe the Huskies’ recurringly dominant performances in the 4th-quarters of close games.  The words to use are these:  “great 4th-quarter defense” and “Marques Tuiasosopo, leader.” 

Washington deserves to play in the Orange Bowl, and, unless Oklahoma stumbles, Miami and Florida State do not.  As Washington plays in the granddaddy of them all on January 1, in the majestic Rose Bowl, the Husky team will play with the peaceful sense of one whose accomplishment—a Rose Bowl berth—has been earned.  In the end, this is worth more than any bowl berth, as reaping honest rewards for genuine accomplishments cuts close to the essence of sport.

But if Washington were playing Florida State or Miami in the Orange Bowl, and if the Huskies were within shouting distance as the 4th quarter rolled in, then I surely wouldn’t want to have bet my last dollar on their opposition. 

Contact AndersonSports

Copyright 2000 by AndersonSports, all rights reserved