bcs

Stuck Between a Crimson Tide Rock and an Irish Hard Place

Tonight is the BCS National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  I plan to watch the game, but I have absolutely no idea who I’m going to root for.  For me, it is a no-win, find the lesser of two evils proposition.  Consider:

A win by Alabama would be their third championship in four years, matching the run of dominance set by the Nebraska Cornhuskers from 1994 – 1997.  As a Nebraska alum and fan, I take great pride in that accomplishment, and I don’t want to see any other team match or exceed that feat.  In addition, I think I speak for all college football fans north of the Mason-Dixon when I say that the constant fawning over the almighty greatness of the Southeastern Conference.  It wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all to see the vaunted SEC knocked down a notch or two.

But on the other hand, there is Notre Dame.  To a lot of college football fans (myself included), Notre Dame is the team you love to hate; the team you always root against.  Think of the Duke Blue Devils in basketball, the New York Yankees in baseball, or the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL.  This is probably where I should provide a rational reason for disliking the Fighting Irish so much.  Maybe it is because of Lispy Lou Holtz.  Or the national infatuation with a program that hasn’t done much since the Reagan administration.  Or it could be any number of other reasons.  That’s the thing about disliking sports teams – it is rarely based in rational thought, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

So I must choose a side – especially since my preferred outcome (a hole opens up in the middle of the field, swallowing both teams) is unlikely to happen.  Therefore, I will grudgingly back Notre Dame*.  Maybe if I focus really hard I can convince myself that the Notre Dame fight song is meant for my high school, but it won’t be easy.

*That sound you heard was me throwing up in my mouth for having to type that. 

Why ND?  Because my loyalties to Nebraska trump everything else.  I don’t want a slime bag like Nick Saban to have the same bragging rights as the legendary Tom Osborne.  Nor do I want the sports media hype machine (beginning with the “worldwide leader”) proclaiming Alabama’s run as the greatest in modern history.

Especially since they would likely forget that Nebraska was a missed field goal away from a fourth title, and a flu outbreak/lucky 4th down call from playing for a fifth title.  In five years.

 

 

The BCS Worked (and a playoff wouldn’t)

Hello!  It’s your friendly, neighborhood playoff hater here to remind you of a little fact:

For the 2012 season, the BCS worked.

I’d also like to point out something else:

A four team playoff would leave at least two teams at home with considerable complaints – and legitimate claims that they should be playing for the title.

Let’s start with the BCS:  the purpose has always been to match up #1 vs. #2 in a winner-take-all Championship game.  And while the BCS has definitely struggled with fairly determining who the two best teams are, the consensus is the system got it right this year (just like they did last year).

Notre Dame is 12-0, the only undefeated team.  Alabama has one loss (to a pretty good Texas A&M team), but they won the SEC, widely considered the nation’s best conference.  While there are other very good teams with one loss, there has been very, very little talk that any of those teams were “slighted” out of a championship game appearance.

But let’s pretend that it is 2014, and the new four team playoff in effect.  A still to be named committee will be tasked with picking the four teams, using a still to be determined selection process.  Let’s assume that Notre Dame is in no matter what.  It still leaves the question:  who are the other three teams?

The committee would have a handful of worthy candidates, each with their own pros and cons:

  • Alabama.  Pros:  SEC champs, #2 in BCS.  One loss was to a good Texas A&M team.  Cons:  Not too many.  They’re almost guaranteed to be in.
  • Florida.  Pros:  #3 in BCS.  Lone loss was to Georgia.  Cons:  Didn’t even win division; Only beat Mizzou & Louisiana-Lafayette by seven.
  • Oregon.  Pros:  #4 in BCS.  Only loss was in OT.  Cons:  Didn’t even win division.
  • Kansas State.  Pros:  Won the Big XII.  Cons:  Got blasted by 7-5 Baylor
  • Stanford.  Pros:  Won the Pac 12; beat Oregon; took Notre Dame to OT.  Cons:  Lost to 7-5 Washington.
  • Georgia.  Pros:  Won SEC Eastern division.  Beat Florida.  Almost beat Bama in SEC title game.  Cons:  28 point loss to South Carolina.

And of course, just picking from this pool of teams leaves out conference champions from the ACC (Florida State), Big Ten (Wisconsin), and Big East (Louisville), as well as 12-1 Northern Illinois*.  But for now, let’s focus on the six teams above.  Which three deserve/have earned a chance to play for a championship?

*I don’t get the Kirk Herbstreits of the world who are up in arms about Northern Illinois getting into the Orange Bowl through a series of loopholes (being ranked in top 14, being ranked ahead of a BCS conference champion, having a coach who is pure of heart and can remove the Sword of Slive from a stone…),

Is Northern Illinois a weak 12-1 team with a loss to a dreadful Iowa team?  Yes.  Did they play an impossible weak schedule  (Iowa, Army, U Mass, Kansas, among other bottom feeders)?  Absolutely.  But so what?  These are the same people who complained in the past when the non-AQ darlings like Boise State, TCU, and Utah had to scratch and claw and beg and plead to get a BCS bowl bid.   Hypocrites.

When picking the teams that get into the playoff, what criteria and rationale do you use to make those picks?  I think you could make a case for using one or more of the following.  For each one, I’ve put who the four teams would likely be under that scenario:

  • BCS rankings.  I know, I know, you hate the BCS – especially those blasted computers – but the combination of human polls and computer rankings provides a pretty decent consensus of national opinions and metrics.  Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, Oregon.
  • Human polls.  Are you going with the AP?  The coaches?  The Harris poll?  Here you’re looking at ND, Bama, Oregon, and Florida.  (Ohio State is actually #3 in the AP, but they are banned from the postseason this year.  Sorry Bucks!  Maybe you can get a tattoo of a championship trophy).
  • Conference champions only.  You can be in if you don’t win your conference.  ND (technically not in a conference, but we’ll let that slide since they’re 12-0), Bama, Kansas State, Stanford.
  • Strength of Schedule.  Who played the toughest schedule?  I found SOS rankings that included Florida, Bama, Georgia, and Stanford.  You should note that in both of the rankings I found, ND was not in the top four…
  • Best loss(es).  The idea here is that a 35-34 triple overtime loss at your blood rival’s stadium is “better” than a 56-9 home loss to Nobody State.  This is more subjective, but I’d say the four end up being ND (no losses), Oregon (to Stanford in OT), Florida (lost to Georgia), and Alabama (lost to Texas A&M).  Too bad KSU – that Baylor blowout kills you.
  • Eyeball test.  The most subjective of all:  my personal opinion.  An opinion that is tainted and influenced by all of the biases (school and conference affiliations, geography, rivalries, etc.) that I possess.  My eyeball four would be ND, Bama, KSU, and Oregon as I think they’ve been the best throughout the season.

You’ll notice that pretty much every set of criteria brought back a different four teams, which illustrates my biggest gripe with a playoff:  the more teams you have involved, the more teams that will have a legitimate gripe to claim they were snubbed.  Folks think a playoff is going to solve all the BCS controversy, when all it will do is shift the controversy from “who is #2” to “who is #4”.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed college football’s post-season….Read more about:

And feel free to let me know how right (or wrong) I am in the comments.

Boo Hoo for Boise

On Friday, #24 Boise State will kick off their season in East Lansing, Michigan as they face the #13 Michigan State Spartans.  Boise only returns a total of five starters (offense and defense), and will be playing their first game without their starting QB of the last four years, Kellen Moore.  Michigan State won the Big Ten’s Legends Division in 2011, and will feature a very stout defense led by defensive end William Gholston.  Despite the fact that Michigan State is a seven point favorite, I fully expect Boise State to win.

Why?  Because that is what Boise State does – they win games against “name” programs.  Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Oregon in 2008 and 2009, Virginia Tech and Oregon State in 2010, TCU in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, Georgia in 2011, and Arizona State in the 2011 Las Vegas Bowl.  They have a very impressive resume of big wins.  Many of which, I should add, were played away from Boise State’s famed blue turf.

A Boise State victory will renew a lot of buzz around the program, stoking expectations for their season, including their potential to end up in another BCS bowl game.  Heck, it is conceivable that if Boise wins on Friday, they could go undefeated through the regular season and make it to the BCS Championship game.

And that would be a shame.

Building the Perfect Playoff

It seems inevitable that a college football playoff is coming.  As somebody who has long opposed playoffs, this frightens me – mostly because the odds are very, very low that the powers that be create something that isn’t worse than what we have now*.

*Yes, that is very much a possibility.  This playoff will likely be built by the same folks who brought you the much-maligned BCS.  Chew on that for a while.

So with that in mind, I want to offer some much-needed advice to make a college football playoff work:

The BCS – How it should work

Even though it is practically guaranteed to go away, I still think College Football can survive (and even continue to thrive) without a playoff and with a system like the BCS determining who plays for the national championship.

You’ll notice I said “like the BCS” and not “using the BCS”.  As much of an anti-playoff guy as I am, I will freely admit that the BCS is a flawed creation.  Somewhere it was allowed to move away from the original focus (pitting #1 vs. #2 in a “true” National Championship game) to a controversial and convoluted system for determining which teams get to play in the four most prestigious bowl games (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta) along with the title game.  Add in the complex and ever-changing BCS formula, which seemed to encounter a bizarre one-off scenario every year, and you have a recipe for disgust and an easy target for fan (and media) outrage.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.  It is possible to determine a college football national champion fairly, without a 4, 8, or 16 team playoff that takes focus (and importance) away from the greatest – and most meaningful – regular season in sports.  All it would take is three simple steps:

College Football Playoffs – Blow it all up

I am not a proponent of a playoff in college football.

I feel this way for a number of different reasons, but my key reason is this:  Playoff proponents hate the BCS and the bowls because they are “unfair”, yet there has never been a playoff proposal that is “fair”.  They are subjective on who gets in and who gets left out, they do not always reward conference championships, providing equal footing for all teams.

So I decided to find a fair way to do a playoff – one that addresses some of the core feelings of the playoff and anti-playoff crowds.  Namely:

  • The regular season and results on the field, need to matter
  • You cannot play for the championship if you do not win your conference.
  • All teams need to have a clear path to a championship – no haves and have-nots

Accomplishing these goals is not an easy task.  But I have done it.  That is the good news.

The bad news?  Well, that really depends on your point of view.  Let’s just say that creating a “fair” system meant blowing up almost everything that is in place today.  And I mean everything.  Quite frankly, that is both good and bad.

Just Say No to Playoffs

I have written a lot of things, expressed a lot of opinions, and have touched upon some controversial topics.

But nothing that I have ever written is as controversial (or as likely to have my sanity questioned) than the following sentence:

I think a college football playoff is an absolutely horrible idea that would irreparably damage the game.

That puts me in a serious minority among college football fans (I saw a 2007 Gallup poll that said 85% favored a playoff of some fashion). But I don’t care. You all are wrong. And I am right. Let me prove it to you…

The BCS Got It Right.

The BCS got it right.  Alabama should be playing for the National Championship.

I keep seeing people complaining about the LSU-Alabama matchup for the National Championship.  From what I can tell, their main complaints are 1) Bama already had a chance at LSU and lost, 2) the first game was an ugly and boring 9-6 game, 3) Oklahoma State is more deserving and 4) OSU would provide a better (i.e. more entertaining) game.  I disagree on all counts.

1.  Alabama already had a chance at LSU, and lost.  Therefore, they do not deserve another chance.

Frankly, this is the best point the anti-Bama crowd can make.  Alabama already lost to LSU this year – at home.  That fact is indisputable and it gives people a solid reason to deny Alabama a rematch.  Of course, doing so ignores the fact that no other team has been within 12 points of LSU – let alone taken them to overtime.  It also ignores the fact that if Bama had a kicker who could connect from beyond 40 yards (1 of 5 in the game) the argument would be which team is good enough to face #1 Alabama.

2.  The fans do not want a rematch of November’s boring 9-6 defensive struggle.

What is an exciting football game?  Exciting for most people is the season opening game between TCU and Baylor (a 50-48 Baylor win), that featured over 1,000 yards of offense, 5 touchdowns by a QB, and numerous big plays.  There is no way to spin it – the first go-round of LSU-Alabama was not what most people would call exciting.  But was the issue boring play, a lack of scoring, or did the weeks of pre-game hype (“Game of the Century”) set the expectations too high?  LSU and Alabama are evenly matched (as witnessed by the 3 point win in November) and I believe they offer the best chance for an epic title game.  Put it this way – if the first game had been a 38-35 thriller, would you still be opposed to a rematch?

3.  Oklahoma State is more deserving than Alabama.

This is a great example of using a vague term (“deserving”) to make an argument.  Yes, Okie State beat more ranked and bowl eligible teams that Alabama.  Yes, the computer rankings believe that the Big XII was a tougher conference than the vaunted SEC.  But Alabama’s sole loss was to the #1 team, by a field goal, in overtime.  Oklahoma State’s lone loss was to an Iowa State team who came into the game at 5-4, and finished up at a very pedestrian 6-6.  I understand that the OSU team was rocked by the tragic plane crash that took two of their women’s basketball coaches that day.  I also understand that Iowa State beat Northern Iowa (a FCS team) by 1 point.  Face it – if Okie State wins at Iowa State, they are in this game.  They had their chance to be undefeated and they blew it.  So now they have to be judged with all of the other 1-loss teams, and their loss is worse than Bama’s (and it is also worse than Boise State’s lone loss).

4.  Oklahoma State would provide a better (i.e. more entertaining) game than Alabama.

On paper, this one is dead wrong.  The basis for this argument is all about matching strength against strength:  Okie State’s high-powered offense against LSU’s amazing defense.  That would be fun to watch, but unfortunately, there is another match-up:  LSU’s offense against OSU’s defense.  LSU has an average offense (375 yards per game, 75th nationally), but Okie State has a putrid defense (445 yards per game, 107th nationally).  LSU would not have much trouble scoring 28 points against OSU’s defense, but I don’t think you would find many people who believe OSU could put up 28 on LSU’s defense.  Oklahoma State’s defensive weakness would be the key to another SEC title game blowout – and nobody wants to watch that.

You may have noticed that I’m ignoring the elephant that always comes into the room this time of year – the cries for a playoff in college football.  I’m planning to talk BCS vs. Playoffs in more detail this week, but there is something that I find interesting (and slightly hypocritical):  Many people hate the idea of a LSU-Alabama rematch as determined by the BCS.  Yet, I’m guessing that if LSU and Alabama made it through a 4, 8, or 16 team playoff to the championship game (as would be expected given their #1 and #2 seeds) nobody would have a problem with the rematch.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed college football’s post-season….Read more about:

And feel free to let me know how right (or wrong) I am in the comments.

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