USC-Illinois not that bad a choice

Submitted by Jeff on June 1st, 2009 at 11:24 PM

Yes, USC-Illinois turned out to be a terrible game but probably any team that was picked to face USC in the Rose Bowl was going to get blown out. That year, USC lost to Dennis Dixon and had their seemingly-annual loss of focus when they lost to Stanford. However as Michigan knows from experience, USC is always focused in the bowl games.

The first question we can ask is whether Illinois was deserving of one of the BCS at-large spots. The answer to this is actually a fairly strong yes. Here's how it broke down (according to BCS rankings):

#1 OSU and #2 LSU were in the championship game

#3 Va Tech was slotted for the Orange Bowl
#4 Oklahoma for the Fiesta
#7 USC obviously for the Rose Bowl
#9 West Virginia was the Big East champion (but not tied to a bowl)
#10 Hawaii was automatically an at-large team.

So, there were 3 at-large spots to be filled with the following eligible teams:
#5 Georgia
#6 Missouri
#8 Kansas
#11 Arizona State
#12 Florida
#13 Illinois
#14 Boston College

Only one of Georgia/Florida and one of Missouri/Kansas could get picked. So that left Arizona State, Illinois and Boston College fighting for one spot. As Black Shoe Diaries talked about,… it is completely reasonable to pick Illinois over those other teams.

Now the Rose Bowl could have taken another team, but it wouldn't have been Georgia since the Sugar Bowl was certainly going to be lobbying to keep an SEC team. That means they were deciding between Kansas, West Virginia, Hawaii and Illinois. Any bowl game is going to avoid Hawaii at all costs so the Rose Bowl is down to Kansas, West Virginia and Illinois. Here are their results against AP-ranked and other notable opponents and what their OOC schedule was:

Team Wins vs Ranked Losses vs Ranked Other Notable Opponents Non-Conference Schedule
Kansas none #7 Missouri 36-28 None. They didn't play Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma Central Michigan, SE Louisiana, Toledo, FIU
West Virginia #20 Cincy 28-23 #23 USF 21-13 Lost the last week of the season to Pitt 13-9 Western Michigan, Marshall, Maryland, East Carolina, Mississippi St,
Illinois #1 OSU 28-21, #18 Wisconsin 31-26 #7 Missouri 40-34 Beat Penn St (receiving votes team) 27-20 Missouri, Western Illinois, Syracuse, Ball St

So Illinois had the best and second best wins of the three teams. They also had the best loss (or at least tied with Kansas for the best loss). Kansas only had one loss, but they literally did not play any good teams except for losing to Missouri. None whatsoever.

Also, Kansas and West Virginia lost their last games of the regular season while Illinois beat Ohio State and then creamed their rival Northwestern 41-22.

So, although we know in hindsight that the Rose Bowl should not have picked Illinois ("we should have had hindsight"), it actually was a reasonable pick at the time.



June 2nd, 2009 at 12:44 AM ^

If a Big Ten or Pac-10 team goes to the National Championship game and there is a replacement who is eligible (in the top 14 of the BCS rankings) I don't think it's that bad to pick them. It is going to be on paper a good matchup.

Granted it may turn out poorly, but who thought before the games that year that West Virginia was going to blow out Oklahoma?

Sandler For 3

June 2nd, 2009 at 8:42 AM ^

I think it would have been very interesting to see what West Virginia could have done against USC. I'm not saying they would have beat them but I think it could have been a very interesting game based on WVa's performance against Oklahoma that year. Not that the Rose Bowl committee can see into the future or anything.. but in hindsight that would have been a high scoring entertaining match up.


June 2nd, 2009 at 10:03 AM ^

... is clearly that Ohio State should have been passed over for the National Championship game. I don't care what their record is, they just can't win it.


June 2nd, 2009 at 10:21 AM ^

But are you glossing over Georgia? I'm sure the Sugar would have "lobbied" for Georgia, but didn't the RB have the right to pick them? As for Illinois being selected as an at-large, sure, I get that, given the options as you state them. But to the Rose Bowl, with a potential USC v. Georgia matchup?

I might be misremembering, Andy Pettitte-style.


June 2nd, 2009 at 3:52 PM ^

The "Iowa rule" (dating back to the Miami-OSU championship game, where the Orange Bowl took Iowa with the first pick after the auto-bids, leaving the Rose Bowl without a Big Ten team to take) meant that the Sugar Bowl could have vetoed any pick of an SEC team by the Rose Bowl. (Basically, the rule is that the bowl picking to replace the #1 team cannot pick a team from the same conference as the #2 unless the bowl that the #2 team would have gone to if not for the MNC agrees.)


June 2nd, 2009 at 10:39 AM ^

The Rose Bowl had the FIRST pick available after everyone was slotted. They easily could have taken Missouri which was CLEARLY a better choice.

10 teams are going to BCS games and sometimes the bottom of that barrel isn't all that great, particularly in a year such as 2007. The fact Illinois was IN A BCS game wasn't really the issue (and I could see a scenario where they could have gotten an Orange Bowl bid). It's the fact the Rose Bowl decided to take a team that was immediately declared a 2 TD underdog.

And let's not rewrite history here. The Rose Bowl didn't take Illinois because they were as "deserving" as the other teams mentioned. They took them simply because they qualified as a Big Ten team.


June 2nd, 2009 at 5:17 PM ^

Good summary. I agree from below that the Pac 10 should have taken Missouri over Illinois, but tradition probably convinced them otherwise. That USC team was pretty good, and I think any of the teams up for grabs, outside of West Virginia, would have been blown out by the end of the first half. I think WVU would have put up a fight because their system is one that USC does not see in the Pac-10, and might have taken them some time to neutralize.