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.
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