Dec. 30, 2006
CARSON, Calif. (AP) -To hear the Michigan Wolverines tell it, the debate is over. They had their chance, they didn't make the national title game and there's no use crying about it now.
This being college football, of course, the debate is never really over.
And regardless of all the political correctness going on this week as No. 3 Michigan discusses its Rose Bowl matchup Monday against No. 8 Southern California, there are still questions and maybe a few hurt feelings among the Wolverines and their faithful.
Because maybe justice wasn't really served when Florida surpassed Michigan in the final BCS ranking of the season. Maybe the Wolverines really do deserve that rematch with Ohio State on Jan. 8 in the national title game.
"Justice is in the eye of the beholder, or the victim, or whatever," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Saturday.
He was making a joke. Sort of.
Truth is, if you're Michigan heading into this bowl week, the trip to Pasadena is great, but there really is no justice. Deep down, most of Carr's players probably feel they're better than Florida and at least as good as Ohio State.
"They're going to crush them," said Michigan running back Mike Hart, an outspoken critic of the current system, when asked how he thought Ohio State would fare against Florida.
Ohio State certainly didn't crush Michigan.
Still overcoming the shock and distraction of the death of Bo Schembechler less than 30 hours before kickoff, Michigan traveled to Columbus last month and put on a heck of a show.
In the 1-vs-2 matchup, the Wolverines went back and forth with the Buckeyes, but in the end, couldn't stop them. They lost 42-39 and the debate raged on. Did Michigan deserve a rematch on a neutral field?
The `yeas' said the national title game should be between the two best teams, regardless of what conference they were in or whether they'd played before.
The `nays' said the powers in college football wanted to add more value to their regular season and a rematch would completely deflate that intention.
The `nays' won, thanks to dozens of voters in the coaches' and Harris polls who ranked the one-loss Wolverines ahead of one-loss Florida after the Ohio State game, but flipped two weeks later when the Gators won the Southeastern Conference title game and USC, which was also in the mix, lost to UCLA.
That flip-flop landed Florida in the title game.
"I can see why they didn't want to see Ohio State-Michigan again, although maybe people in that part of the country did," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Most people wanted to see something different. It may be unfair to say Florida is the better team. That's the aspect of the voting thing that I don't really like. Let's let them play and we'll see."
But there will be no Florida-Michigan or Michigan-Ohio State II, and there's nothing anyone can do about it except guess who might beat who if all this could be played out.
"It's tough to say," said safety Tom Zbikowksi of Notre Dame, which lost 47-21 to Michigan early in the season. "They're definitely a good team. If you leave Florida out, you feel like they got shafted. Definitely, if there was a playoff system, I think Michigan would be one of the front-runners to be a winner."
Even Carr, the solid football traditionalist, has changed his tune recently. He used to be a staunch supporter of the bowl system, even with all the quirks and imperfections it brought. A playoff, he believed, would make the season too long.
A too-long season used to be a major argument in favor of the bowl system. But when the NCAA voted to add a permanent 12th game to the schedule, Carr realized that argument was quickly becoming a charade.
"That was a tipping point for me," he said. "Now, I think they should just decide it on the field."
Instead, it is decided the way it has always been - in the court of public opinion, on the TV and radio and in newspapers and polls.
For much of November, Florida coach Urban Meyer openly campaigned for his Gators, and hardly anyone could blame him. He touted Florida's schedule, the strength of the SEC and, all the while, insisted there had to be a better way to determine a champion.
At one point, Meyer said if there was a Michigan-Ohio State rematch, all the university "presidents need to get together immediately and put together a playoff system. I mean like now, January or whenever to get that done."
Carr, meanwhile, refused to get embroiled in the debate.
"There were a lot of things I would have loved to have done and said," he said. "But as the head coach of Michigan, and what we believe in, I made the decision not to. I don't regret that. If I had to do it over again, I would have done the same thing."
A noble gesture, indeed. That and a well-played game Monday will get Michigan a Rose Bowl trophy.
Nothing more, nothing less.
"You're disappointed because you feel there was an opportunity that opened up for us there, and we lost and put our destiny in other people's hands," Michigan receiver Steve Breaston said. "I'm not going to say justice has been served. But it happened. If we're going to wind up being thought of as a great Michigan team, we've just got to move on."
AP Sports Writers Tom Coyne and Larry Lage contributed to this report.