One of the beauties of the NFL is its sense of fair play. Go 2-14 one year, be praised as a rising playoff contender the next. Or you can win a Super Bowl and two years later still be searching for your first win of the season in mid-October.
College football isn’t the same. At most levels, it’s the haves and have-nots. At the FBS level, unless you’re Notre Dame, you have to be a part of the Southeastern Conference, Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10, ACC or the new American Athletic Conference to win a national championship. Teams from other conferences have little to no shot at winning a national championship.
A team like Georgia, at 4-1, is still very much alive in the national championship picture. East Carolina is also 4-1. But this member of Conference USA will not win the national championship, even if East Carolina wins every single game the rest of the season.
Georgia and Louisiana State are ranked in the top 10 with one loss each. Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference, and Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference are undefeated and ranked. But neither are even in the top 20. Fresno State is ranked 21 and Northern Illinois is 23. Should either of those teams go undefeated, they will not play for a national championship. Maybe play in the Orange Bowl, but the national championship is out of question.
This is how it works in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Everyone is not on equal ground. Some conferences are stronger than others. It’s the way of the FBS world.
For NJCAA schools, the playing field is nearly equal for every team in every conference. Yes, some conferences are stronger than others, and the schools in Mississippi, Kansas, Texas, Iowa and Arizona are often considered stronger than the teams of the Northeast Football Conference and in Minnesota.
Yet, looking at the current NJCAA poll, it seems as if every team and every conference is getting a fair shot.
And that’s woefully naïve.
In particular, the teams in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference are treated in the NJCAA poll like any other conference. In this week’s poll, the MCAC has three ranked teams – Rochester (10), Ridgewater (15) and Central Lakes (17). The Jayhawk Conference, generally one of the nation’s strongest conferences, has two ranked teams – Dodge City (12) and Butler (14). Every other conference has a team ranked higher than Dodge City, including the independent ranks, which has No. 1 Georgia Military.
Based simply on the poll, you could come to the conclusion that the Jayhawk Conference is weak this year. Obviously, that’s not the case. Butler could beat anyone in the nation. Dodge City has rattled off five straight wins. Unranked Hutchinson’s only losses have been to Dodge City and former No. 1 Navarro, Texas. Unranked Garden City’s only losses are to Butler and Hutchinson. Unranked Highland, which hasn’t gotten a single vote all season, beat Butler.
If we used the current poll – which takes into account human voters and a computerized system – it would seem if the top three teams in the Jayhawk Conference played the top three teams in the MCAC, it would be a series of good games. The MCAC might even be favored to win the series 2-1.
The MCAC teams don’t play nonconference games, except during bowl season, so it’s tough to gauge how those potential matchups would go. But we can use history to come to the conclusion that the results would be as competitive as Hutchinson High’s varsity football team playing a junior varsity schedule. You could even come to the conclusion that the top MCAC team would struggle to beat any Jayhawk Conference team not named Independence.
The data I’m about to reveal is sobering. And it makes you realize that in no way should any team from the MCAC be ranked ahead of any team from the Jayhawk Conference.
- Since 2000, Minnesota teams have played in 16 bowl games. Their record is 2-14.
- The average final score of those games is about 49-11 (48.9-10.7 to be a little more precise).
- In 10 of those 16 games, the Minnesota team entered the bowl game ranked higher. The Minnesota team lost nine of those.
- Of those 10 games, the average final score is about 45-12.
- Three of those games featured a battle of top-10 teams. The Minnesota teams have lost all three of those games by an average score of 58-2.3.
- Minnesota teams have allowed 40 points in 11 of the 16 games.
- Minnesota teams have scored in single digits in eight of those 16 games.
- Minnesota teams are 1-6 against Iowa teams, 0-3 against Kansas, 0-2 vs. Utah, 0-1 vs. Texas, 0-1 vs. North Dakota, 0-1 vs. Arizona and 1-0 vs. Pennsylvania.
- The closest game a Minnesota team has played against the Jayhawk Conference since 2000 came in the 2009 North Star Bowl, a 54-12 Coffeyville win against Rochester.
The point here is not to rip apart the MCAC. While many schools have dropped football in the last 10 years – including schools like Joliet, Ill., and Grand Rapids, Mich., that were national powers – Minnesota is going strong with 10 football schools. Only Mississippi (14) has more football-playing junior colleges in the NJCAA. Minnesota also tried a bowl game, the North Star Bowl, from 2008-2010, which deserves kudos.
But in no way should the Minnesota teams be considered equal to any other NJCAA football conference, especially the Jayhawk Conference. Recent history backs that up, even more so when you consider how strong the Jayhawk Conference has been since 2000. Garden City (2000) and Fort Scott (2009) reached the national championship game but lost. Butler won titles in 2003, 2007 and 2008. The Grizzlies finished No. 2 in 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Hutchinson and Coffeyville are often found in the final NJCAA polls.
Also, look at Minnesota’s recent history. No Minnesota team played in a 2012 bowl game, which meant there was no way to figure out how good those teams were. But in 2011, two Minnesota teams played in the two-game Graphic Edge Bowl against Iowa teams. First, unranked Iowa Central slapped No. 15 Central Lakes 42-12. Then, No. 8 Iowa Western played No. 7 Rochester. Should have been a barnburner, right? One of the top NJCAA bowl games of 2011.
Iowa Western 62, Rochester 0.
The NJCAA doesn’t need to worry about being fair with its weekly poll. It needs to worry about producing something that looks like an honest poll.