Let’s play What If.
What if a sports-minded outdoor fan (maybe me) was suddenly made Grand Poo-Bah of college football’s Bowl Championship Series?
Why not? The current BCS system baffles most people with its mashup of polls, algorithms and computer rankings, and its bowl pairings make too many people grumpy. So let's try an alternative.
Ditch the existing formula and try my Big Colossal Scenery approach:
Using that (ha) logic, here’s what I come up with:
BCS Top 25 (with Big Colossal Scenery factor)
1. Notre Dame: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
2. Alabama: Little River Canyon National Preserve
3. Georgia: Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
4. Florida: Everglades National Park
5. Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
6. Kansas State: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
7. Louisiana State: Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge
8. Stanford: Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park
9. Texas A&M: Big Bend National Park
10. South Carolina: Congaree National Park
11. Oklahoma: Chickasaw National Recreation Area
12. Nebraska: Oregon National Historic Trail
13. Florida State: St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge
14. Clemson: Clemson Experimental Forest
15. Oregon State: Mount Jefferson Wilderness
16. UCLA: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
17. Kent State: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
18. Texas: Padre Island National Seashore
19. Michigan: Isle Royale National Park
20. Boise State: Sawtooth National Recreation Area
21. Northern Illinois: Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor
22. Northwestern: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
23. Oklahoma State: Winding Stair National Recreation Area
24. Utah State: Grand Teton National Park
25. San Jose State: Yosemite National Park
So, who gets assigned to the big-time bowls? In the Big Colossal Scenery system, it's your proximity to great views, not your record, that earns you a plum postseason position. Accordingly, here are our picks:
2013 All-Scenery Bowls
SUGAR: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 9 Texas A&M (Crater Lake NP vs. Big Bend NP): A pairing of 2 great national parks and two great offenses—coach Chip Kelly’s run-and-gun Ducks and A&M’s Johnny Football, freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. (Boy, imagine if these 2 teams actually did meet. Wowza. Final score: 99-98.)
FIESTA: No. 20 Boise State vs. No. 16 UCLA (and 2 prime National Recreation Areas, Sawtooth vs. Santa Monica Mountains): It's Idaho's high-rise summits (Castle Peak tops the Sawtooths at 11,815) vs. Southern California’s ocean-hugging Santa Monicas (high point: Sandstone Peak, 3,111 feet). Snow-capped vs. sun-kissed.
ORANGE: No. 4 Florida vs. No. 10 South Carolina (Everglades NP vs. Congaree NP): It's fitting that schools close to America's swampiest national parks should square off, particularly since Florida's home stadium is nicknamed The Swamp.
ROSE: No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 19 Michigan (Sequoia/Kings Canyon NPs vs. Isle Royale NP): The Rose Bowl’s traditional Pac-12/Big Ten matchup is preserved in this high-contrast matchup of High Sierra summits vs. a primal north-country island. Cardinal vs. Wolverines? More like marmots vs. moose.
BCS championship: No. 24 Utah State vs. No. 25 San Jose State (Grand Teton NP vs. Yosemite NP): Flipping the BCS concept totally on its head, the bottom 2 teams in the top 25 earn a high-profile rematch (the Aggies topped the Spartans 49-27 in October) because both are close to mind-breaking scenery. Both lie about 200 miles away from a national park powerhouse: first the mighty Tetons, then Half Dome and Yosemite’s vast, polished-granite backcountry. How colossal is that?
Note: A Utah State official assures me that the school, in the mountainous northern Utah city of Logan, and locals identify more with the Tetons and Yellowstone, both in Wyoming, more closely than southern Utah's arid red rock country (e.g., Arches NP).
Y'know, forget football for a minute. Think about Tetons-Yosemite; what a classic pairing of national park titans. The imagination runs wild. As a hiker I'd need 12 overtime peroids on the trails before I could decide on a favorite.
How do you see it? In the matchups above, which outdoor destinations win out for you?
Yosemite Valley photo (top) courtesy of National Park Service. Half Dome photo (bottom) by T.D. Wood; artwork by Chris Mahan.