Two things before we get into this.
First, Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel makes a good point. We tried to prevent this mess from happening. Mike Slive proposed a plus one format a couple years ago with the ACC's support, and the rest of the BCS conferences shot it down. We could be talking right now about how awesome it'll be to see LSU play Oklahoma State and Alabama play Stanford with the winners set to play for the championship. And it would be awesome.
Second, the BCS doesn't strive to match up the two best teams in the national championship game regardless of what you might have heard. By its own definition, its goal is to match up the two "top-rated" teams in the country. How to rate the teams is an exercise left up to voters themselves.
With that said, this year's BCS debate feels completely backwards. The case for Oklahoma State is the one most often made by SEC schools this time of year. The Cowboys defeated five teams that were in last week's BCS standings; Alabama only defeated two. They defeated nine bowl eligible teams; Alabama only defeated six. They defeated seven teams currently above .500 on the year; Alabama only defeated three. Oklahoma State is the team that won what is probably the best BCS conference in this particular season.
I've also seen a lot of parallels drawn between this year's BCS conundrum and the one in 2006, when it came down to whether Michigan would get to rematch Ohio State or Florida would get a crack at the Buckeyes. It's not a bad comparison, but it's not perfect either.
That year Florida lost to a 10-2 Auburn team, not a 6-6 Iowa State team that wouldn't be bowling absent the upset. Losses do matter much more than wins in the BCS debate. Had Oklahoma State beat Iowa State, we wouldn't be having any arguments today despite how slim the margin was between win and loss in that game. Michigan also had nothing going for it like Alabama does with it being the leader in a wide variety of defensive categories. The Crimson Tide is first in points per game allowed, yards per game allowed, yards per play allowed, rushing yards per game allowed, passing yards per game allowed, yards per pass allowed, and passing efficiency defense. It's merely second in yards per rush allowed, however.
Ultimately, this debate is much deeper than one about two teams. It goes to the heart of the BCS itself, which is purposefully vague as I pointed out above.
There is no rule requiring a conference championship to play in the BCS Championship Game. That anyone promotes that rule is fascinating in this day and age, because such a requirement would exclude Notre Dame entirely. In any event, it's happened twice before that a team without a conference title has played in the BCSCG (2001 and 2003). The possibility of it happening again did not sneak up on anyone.
There is no rule preventing a rematch in the national championship game. They happen in conference championship games with regularity—this year's ACC Championship Game and last year's SEC Championship Game are recent examples. The nature of the national debate and history tell us a national title game rematch is unlikely, but nothing is in place to prevent it from happening.
At some point, the BCS needs to make an explicit ruling on these two issues. There is a difference between allowing something and not preventing it psychologically, even if there isn't in practice. Not that Bill Hancock issuing a press release will quash future debate, but it'd be nice to hear something officially.
It wouldn't hurt too if the BCS was less vague than asking for the two "top-rated" teams.
Right now, we're basically having a debate over whether the BCS Championship Game should feature the "best" team or the "most deserving" team. Those are really just synonyms at their heart, but here they represent two different ways of judging the difference between teams. That's why I use them in quotes: to indicate that they have very specific meanings here.
The "best" team argument revolves around who looks better and, to a lesser extent, who accumulated better overall statistics. Alabama wins that argument this year, just as Michigan did in 2006. This is another reason why this debate feels backwards.
The "most deserving" team argument revolves around who a team beat and to a lesser extent how it beat them. Oklahoma State wins that argument this year, just as Florida did in 2006. It springs forth from the same source as resume voting, and it also is one of the most used and most powerful arguments for keeping non-AQ conference schools out of the national title game.
I first noticed the BCS debate framed as "best" versus "most deserving" in 2006, and ever since then I've firmly been on the "most deserving" side. In that, I mean I have favored lining up teams in order of "most deserving" and picking the top two to play in the championship game.
I've done some reflection on that stance this week. It has gotten me thinking on a few things. For one, a team can't control how good its opponents end up being and typically can only choose who a quarter of them are anyway. Plus, what if the gap in the "best" argument is much larger than the gap in the "most deserving" argument or vice versa?
I've come to the conclusion that there is no satisfying answer to any of this. The BCS is built on a creaky foundation (all three formula components have terrible flaws), and it's almost always going to end up unsatisfying. The only solace I have in this particular year is that I am quite confident that LSU will win the national championship game no matter who it plays, which renders a lot of this debate moot for those who agree.
Ultimately, I would be fine with either Alabama or Oklahoma State playing LSU. I lean towards OSU because I still do favor "most deserving" over "best", and because I like to think winning a conference does mean something (even if the margin between LSU and Bama winning the SEC is about as slim as they come).
The only thing I'm certain of is that I'm still a playoff proponent. Go figure.