The issue is not who's second-best. The issue is who deserves to be #1 if they can beat Ohio State.
The game has been played and the debate has begun. Will we see Round Two in Glendale, or will Michigan have to content itself with "only" playing in a BCS bowl game for perhaps the #2 ranking in the final polls. As I write this, the BCS standings have not come out. But the AP poll has. Though the writer's poll is not used in calculating the rankings, it may be a helpful hint as to what will happen later tonight when the ballots they do count arrive. Michigan is holding at #2 in the AP, with Southern Cal coming in third. If this holds up in the official rankings, and through the next two weeks, Michigan will get a crack at redemption in Tempe.
I hope a rematch does not happen, and certainly not under these circumstances. It's one thing if a series of upsets over the next couple weeks takes place, and leave Michigan as the only realistic option. That would not be ideal, but at least it would be understandable. But to simply leave them at #2 is not fair to other strong one-loss teams who have actually have won conference championships. USC being one, and the Arkansas/Florida winner being the other. The Trojans still have to deal with Notre Dame & UCLA, while the Hogs and Gators each have tough games this weekend before their SEC title bout. But if one of those teams wins out, it would simply be absurd not to give them a shot at winning at all.
There's only one situation even approaching a precedent for creating this type of rematch, right after a late November #1 vs. #2 battle. In 1996, Florida State beat Florida. The Seminoles won that game on their home field by three points, just like Ohio State this year. The Gators got a rematch in the Sugar Bowl and won the national title. But there are several differences between that year and what seems poised to transpire ten years later.
Florida did not hold at #2 in the polls. In '96, the Rose Bowl was outside the "Bowl Alliance", as the BCS was then called. Arizona State was unbeaten and ranked second at the end of the regular season. Under today's rules, the Gators would not have gotten another chance.
And even to get that chance, they needed three big games to break their way, two of which were major upsets. After Florida's loss, Nebraska moved past them in the polls. But the Cornhuskers were stunned by a middling Texas team in the inaugural Big 12 championship game. That opened the path for the Gators to get to New Orleans. But Ohio State was also unbeaten. One week prior to the big #1 vs. #2 showdown, they were stunned by a less-then-stellar Michigan team, in Columbus. That ensured the Rose Bowl would not feature a 2 vs. 3 battle of the unbeatens. And after that, Ohio State then helped the Gators out by beating Arizona State in the Rose. Only after all this was done, did Florida have a clean shot at winning the national title. And I haven't mentioned that Florida actually had to win the SEC championship game in the middle of all this.
Michigan should have to see a similar meltdown to even get this discussion rolling. Let Notre Dame or UCLA knock off the Trojans. Then let Arkansas (vs. LSU) or Florida (at Florida State) lose next weekend. And have the team that does lose then turn around and beat the other in the conference championship game. If this happens, then the case for the rematch can be made...and maybe it can be granted.
In 1996, there was still a one-loss BYU team sitting out there that I would have preferred to see get a shot at the top dog, rather then sending Florida in there again. Even in the event of a meltdown, I'd still prefer to give a one-loss Big East champ a chance this year. The odds that they would win are quite long, but if they can pull it off, who's to deny them the crown?
ABC's Bob Davie spoke for rematch proponents yesterday, when he made the sound-bite friendly argument that the best two teams should play in Arizona, and that Michigan and Ohio State were clearly the best two teams. I would argue that the team that should go to Glendale as the #2 team is the one who can best fill in this sentence--"If_____________ beats Ohio State, how can you not say they're national champs?
I can fill in that sentence with a one-loss SEC champ. I can fill it in with one-loss Southern Cal. I can even fill it in with a one-loss Big East champ. The issue is not who's second-best. The issue is who deserves to be #1 if they can beat Ohio State.
There's only two contenders I have trouble filling in that sentence with. One is Michigan. Yesterday's game was not as close as the score made it sound. The Wolverines went to halftime in serious trouble, down by 14 points. In spite of their comeback, the reality is that not once did they have the ball in the second half with a chance to tie or take the lead. Not once. When Michigan got close, Ohio State answered. It was a good football game, but not one so outstanding that you can't imagine anyone else possibly playing the Buckeyes. And not so close that a Michigan win in the desert would deserve to supersede yesterday's events.
The other team I can't fill in the sentence with is Notre Dame. Not when they lost so badly to Michigan on their home field. As much as a rematch is unfair to Ohio State, I couldn't see voting the Irish into the title game, and saying with a straight face that them beating the Buckeyes in Arizona is definitive enough to wipe out the Michigan game, simply because the Wolverines lost to OSU in Columbus.
So there's one scenario where a rematch could be justified. If the other major conference champs have two losses, and it's a vote between Michigan and Notre Dame. Otherwise, let's see someone else.