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02 Dec 2011

VN: Playoffs, Fairness and LSU

by Bill Connelly

This was a fun week to be a college football writer. Mike Leach reentered our lives, somebody named Tyler Van Tubbergen had a big game, and my whining about Andrew Luck being the undeserving Heisman favorite gained further traction. But it was mostly fun because of the wide range of opinions regarding the current Alabama-Oklahoma State situation.

Here are a couple of excerpts from some pieces I wrote this week. From my "Why An Alabama-LSU Rematch? Because Every Game Matters" piece on Tuesday:

I've always said the reason people hate the BCS is that it cannot figure out how to get three teams on the same football field. This year, however, its biggest problem is that it must select more than one. If LSU defeats Georgia this weekend, the Bayou Bengals will have established an airtight resume and will be as much of a slam-dunk title game selection as has ever existed. It isn't the BCS' fault that it cannot select LSU twice. [...]

[T]he job of the BCS is to pit the two best, most deserving teams in a two-team playoff. That is exactly what it is doing. Oklahoma State had its chance and suffered the worst loss of any one-loss team. Stanford and Virginia Tech had their chances and got blown out. Boise State got its chance and watched it sail wide right. Unless you want to advocate for Houston (I'm all ears), you just cannot get very far with any sort of "Someone else is more deserving" argument, and if you want to advocate for a playoff, you are just diluting a field that is still inferior to LSU (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Alabama) in every way.

From this morning's Morning Tailgate Mailbag:

If you want to make the case that Oklahoma State has the better resume, fine; they do indeed have more wins over Top 25 teams. But here's where I blow my own mind and defend Alabama by the same logic I usually use to defend Boise State: a team's true "resume" is built by how they perform on the field, not who they've had the opportunity to play. We can talk about how Oklahoma State has better wins, and we can talk about how Oklahoma State has by far the worse loss, but that's not how I care to evaluate teams.

At Football Outsiders, we evaluate teams based on every play and every drive. Simply assigning value based on a sample size of 12 results limits us severely. By comparing a team's performance on every play to how they should have been expected to perform, we get a much better read for which teams are truly the best. However, if you look at the current F/+ rankings, you see that the teams who play at the highest level aren't always the teams that win the most games. Wins and losses do matter, after all. If we had some playoff system in place, I wouldn't be arguing that a four-loss Florida State team deserves a spot over, say, 10-2 Kansas State just because their F/+ rating is higher. That said ... Oklahoma State and Alabama share the same record, and the Tide outpace the Cowboys by 5.2 percent in the F/+ ratings. That is a lot. And if you have performed better overall and can boast the same record, you get my (nonexistent) vote.

Here at Outsiders, I made it clear a couple of years ago that I do not hate the idea of a college football playoff. I do not hate the current system, but I am not either naive or principled enough to believe that I would protest against change in this regard. I fear bracket creep with a righteous passion (a four-team playoff would become six, then eight, while a 16-teamer would expand to 20 or 24 within a decade or two), but that is a concern for another day. The BCS will be redrawn in the next few years, and I fully expect a Plus One model to be adopted.

But as I mentioned on Tuesday, this year's primary problem is that only one team has truly separated itself from everybody else this year. Obviously, a playoff wouldn't help in years like this.

Let's look at some of the options on the table:

The Current System. In our current model, if LSU beats Georgia (or perhaps even if they don't), they will play either Alabama (a team they already beat) or Oklahoma State (a team that has suffered the worst loss of any one-loss team, a tumble against 6-5 Iowa State). LSU has proven itself against one of those teams already (and I cannot wait for the "LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama beat LSU on a neutral field, but Alabama gets to be champion??" outrage if the Tide win), and FO's advanced stats are not enormous fans of Oklahoma State.

The Old System. When complaining about the BCS, a lot of people claim to want to go back to the old way of doing things, where SEC Champion LSU would end up whipping somebody like Michigan in the Sugar Bowl and claiming the national title. Honestly, that might be the most fair way to go this year, with LSU having already knocked off No. 2 Alabama, but in most years it would simply deprive us of finishing the season with a No. 1-No 2. matchup. We may want to claim that the old way was as good or better than the BCS simply because we don't like the BCS very much, but that doesn't make it true.

A Plus-One. There are two general approaches to a "Plus-One" model: either the top four in the BCS standings (or in some new method of choosing teams) are broken out into semifinals -- No. 1 versus No. 4, No. 2 versus No. 3 -- with the winners facing each other in a title game, or bowls unfolding as they did before (determined mostly by automatic bids and bowl allocations) with the top two teams meeting afterwards.

  • Semifinals. Using the former approach, we would get something like No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Stanford and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State if the Cowboys were to beat Oklahoma this weekend. If they fell, then it would probably be LSU versus Virginia Tech and Alabama versus Stanford.
  • After the Bowls. This method would result in BCS bowls like the following: LSU vs. Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, Wisconsin vs. Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma State vs. Alabama/Stanford/West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl and Virginia Tech vs. Alabama/Stanford/West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

With both of these approaches, the odds of us ending up with an LSU-Alabama finale are quite high, but that is neither here nor there.

The Perfect Playoff. Let's expand it all the way to 16 teams using the method I established a while back. This season, it would result in something like the following matchups: Louisiana Tech at No. 1 LSU, No. 9 Oregon at No. 8 Arkansas, No. 18 TCU at No. 5 Virginia Tech, No. 23 West Virginia at No. 4 Stanford, No. 15 Wisconsin at No. 6 Houston, Northern Illinois at No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 7 Boise State and Arkansas State at No. 2 Alabama.

All of these playoff scenarios would be enjoyable (especially a 16-teamer with matchups like Boise State-Oklahoma on the blue field), but none of them would change the one thing we've learned in the regular season: LSU has been the best team. No matter who they play in the BCS championship, and no matter who they might play in a playoff structure, that is, to date, not really up for debate.

When college football began naming national champions, they did it with "best team of the season" in mind. The closer we get to a playoff, the further we get from that premise; it becomes more like "Best team in December and January." Maybe that's okay. It works for baseball and other sports, and hell, in our current structure, LSU could still lose to either Georgia, Alabama or Oklahoma State and still have been the "best team of the season" without winning the title. But it is worth noting that college football doesn't have to be like all of the other sports. It's okay to be different once in a while.

F/+ Rankings

There were not many changes in this week's F/+ rankings, at least near the top. As always, check out the full S&P+, FEI, Off. S&P+ and Def. S&P+ rankings at Outsiders as well.

F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Last
Week
Chg Off
F/+
Rk Def
F/+
Rk Spec.
Tms
F/+
Rk
1 LSU 12-0 37.5% 1 0 14.9% 2 18.8% 2 3.8% 3
2 Alabama 11-1 30.3% 2 0 12.1% 10 18.9% 1 -0.8% 80
3 Boise State 10-1 27.3% 3 0 12.8% 8 10.5% 5 4.0% 2
4 Oklahoma State 10-1 25.1% 4 0 12.3% 9 10.3% 6 2.5% 13
5 Oregon 10-2 24.6% 5 0 13.1% 6 10.0% 7 1.5% 25
6 Wisconsin 10-2 24.5% 6 0 19.1% 1 5.2% 22 0.1% 61
7 Oklahoma 9-2 20.0% 7 0 11.8% 11 7.6% 13 0.6% 48
8 Stanford 11-1 18.9% 13 5 13.2% 5 5.0% 24 0.6% 49
9 Florida State 8-4 18.6% 8 -1 4.8% 34 9.7% 8 4.1% 1
10 Michigan State 10-2 18.3% 10 0 6.4% 27 8.7% 10 3.3% 6
11 USC 10-2 17.0% 14 3 12.8% 7 2.6% 43 1.6% 24
12 Michigan 10-2 16.5% 12 0 11.5% 12 4.9% 27 0.1% 59
13 Georgia 10-2 15.7% 23 10 9.9% 15 6.1% 18 -0.3% 72
14 Virginia Tech 11-1 15.3% 15 1 9.0% 18 6.8% 15 -0.5% 74
15 Notre Dame 8-4 15.0% 9 -6 7.9% 21 6.2% 17 0.9% 42
F/+ Rk Team Record F/+ Last
Week
Chg Off
F/+
Rk Def
F/+
Rk Spec.
Tms
F/+
Rk
16 Arkansas 10-2 14.4% 11 -5 10.7% 13 2.0% 48 1.6% 22
17 Nebraska 9-3 13.9% 18 1 6.4% 26 5.0% 25 2.4% 14
18 Texas 7-4 13.8% 20 2 -1.2% 67 12.0% 3 3.0% 8
19 TCU 9-2 13.7% 17 -2 9.2% 17 3.0% 39 1.5% 27
20 Houston 12-0 13.2% 21 1 13.6% 4 -1.3% 67 0.9% 40
21 Texas A&M 6-6 12.7% 16 -5 8.1% 19 4.2% 31 0.4% 54
22 Temple 8-4 9.9% 27 5 1.8% 48 4.5% 29 3.6% 4
23 Cincinnati 8-3 9.6% 34 11 6.5% 24 1.8% 50 1.2% 32
24 Penn State 9-3 9.5% 19 -5 -1.2% 66 10.8% 4 0.0% 64
25 Kansas State 9-2 9.4% 26 1 5.7% 32 1.2% 53 2.5% 12

"What The...?" Team of the Week

Texas A&M. The Aggies mastered the art of playing well without winning. They led 11 games at halftime, most by double-digits, and finished 6-6. Coach Mike Sherman, "the patron saint of dour, milquetoast refugees from the [NFL]," was fired yesterday to boot. You can legitimately make the case for Texas A&M as a top-25 team because, looking at every play and every drive, they were a damn fine team. But they continued to figure out ways to avoid actually winning, and now a new coach will lead them as they join the SEC.

Big Movers

Notable Rises

South Carolina (17 spots, from 43rd to 26th). The Gamecocks still probably aren't as good as their 10-2 record, but you have to give them credit for persevering through quarterback Stephen Garcia's dismissal, running back Marcus Lattimore's injury, and receiver Alshon Jeffery's disappearance. Steve Spurrier has himself a pretty good defense in Columbia, and wow, did they do a number on Clemson last week.

Cincinnati (11 spots, from 34th to 23rd). The Bearcats beat Syracuse 30-13 last week, and quarterback Munchie Legaux looked quite strong in his second game succeeding the injured Zach Collaros. The win extended Cincy's Big East title hopes, but those were dashed last night when West Virginia beat South Florida at the last second. They do, however, hold the Big East's fate in their hands. If they beat Connecticut, West Virginia takes the title; if they lose, it's Louisville.

Vanderbilt (11 spots, from 59th to 48th). I was a little skeptical about the hire of James Franklin, but he has crafted a nice season for the 'Dores, who will go bowling after whipping Wake Forest.

Georgia (10 spots, from 23rd to 13th). As I wrote earlier today, Mark Richt has himself a damn fine team this year, even if they are still probably going to lose to LSU tomorrow.

Others: Florida International (60th to 51st), Air Force (89th to 80th), Central Florida (61st to 53rd), UConn (70th to 62nd), Minnesota (102nd to 94th).

Notable Tumbles

Georgia Tech (17 spots, from 25th to 42nd). Georgia's two-touchdown win over Tech resulted in pretty heavy shifts for both teams. Still, Paul Johnson did a nice job of crafting an 8-4 bounceback season after missing a bowl in 2010; the Yellow Jackets were uneven and inconsistent, but they were still better than last year.

Wake Forest (13 spots, from 51st to 64th). The Deacs are going bowling and overachieved compared to their preseason projections, but they lost five of seven to finish the regular season. Jim Grobe's bag of tricks seemed to go empty after Wake beat Florida State on October 8.

Illinois (13 spots, from 45th to 58th). It is a rare feat, starting 6-0 and finishing 0-6, but Ron Zook's tenure as a head coach (at both Florida and Illinois), was nothing if not unique. Illinois failed to score more than 17 points in a game after their 41-20 win over Indiana on October 8. That's how you finish 0-6 despite a strong defense.

Virginia (10 spots, from 44th to 54th). The Hoos' four-game winning streak (and division title hopes) ended with a thud, as Virginia Tech wiped the floor with them. Still 8-4 is a nice second season for Mike London and company.

Others: UTEP (81st to 92nd), UCLA (74th to 84th), South Florida (31st to 41st).

Upset Watch

Texas over Baylor (Spread: Baylor -2.5 | F/+ Projection: Texas by 4.0). The numbers don't trust either Baylor's defense or Texas' offense in this one, but Manny Diaz's spectacular defense gives the 'Horns the nod in the numbers. I'm not convinced, but we'll see.

Ohio over Northern Illinois (Spread: NIU -3.5 | F/+ Projection: NIU by 1.3). It's the same story with this one. Northern Illinois' offense and Ohio's defense are both spectacular. Their other units? Not so much.

Favorite Moment of Last Weekend

I'm going with most of the Texas Tech-Baylor game. Baylor led 31-28 at halftime and ended up pulling away for a 66-42 win that included 1,061 yards (617 for Baylor, 444 for Tech). My alma mater (Missouri) might be heading off to the "field position and special teams" conference next year, but my heart still yearns for the occasional, ridiculous, light-up-the-scoreboard Big 12 night game. And with Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez headed to the Pac-12, we might have two ridiculously offense-and-pace-centric conferences soon. Go ahead and win the titles, SEC; these conferences will continue to win the aesthetics, which is almost as good. (Okay, it is nowhere near as good. But it sure is enjoyable.)

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 02 Dec 2011

61 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2011, 12:16am by Alternator

Comments

1
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 5:35pm

"LSU has been the best team. No matter who they play in the BCS championship, and no matter who they might play in a playoff structure, that is, to date, not really up for debate."

Hellooooo 2003 Oklahoma. Step on down, 2006 Ohio State! We're crowning BCS champions early this year, so you guys should step right up as the biggest favorites entering conference championships of the BCS era. Obviously you smoked the competition in your remaining two games (which were only a formality) and were the best teams on the season!

3
by Kal :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 5:48pm

Neither 2003 Oklahoma or 2006 Ohio State played the schedule that 2011 LSU has. 2003 Oklahoma dominated their schedule but played a weak Alabama (9 losses) and a weak UCLA (6-7)team as their OOC.
2006 Ohio State had Texas as their big win - and that was a good win. That was the only one out of conference of note, and Texas that year was 10-2 before their bowl loss.

LSU has beaten the Pac-12 champion, the possible Big East champion and two teams with 10+ wins in their own conference, with a potential third tomorrow night. While I agree that they could lose for some reason in one game - heck, they could lose tomorrow - the fact is that LSU has been the best team, and it's not been remotely close. They've played one of the hardest schedules both in and out of conference of any good teams, they've dominated competition week in and week out (there were no 16-14 wins over Tennessee this year), and they've been consistent.

It's pretty stupid to argue anything else. If you do, your only argument is that 'bad things could happen so neener neener' - which is true, but pretty weak.

23
by sjt (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 9:54pm

It's pretty stupid to argue anything else. If you do, your only argument is that 'bad things could happen so neener neener' - which is true, but pretty weak.

No, what's stupid is to say that a team will definitely win before they play the actual game. Like anyone who picked 2006 OSU over Florida. Or 2002 Miami over OSU. Or the Patriots over the Giants. Or the height of stupidity: ESPN's weeklong lovefest for the 2005 USC team, which was dubbed "bestest team ever in the history of the Universe", neglecting the facts that 1) Texas went on to beat them and 2) the 2004 USC probably was a stronger side than the 2005 team.

LSU certainly deserves to be there, and it all likelihood it appears they'll beat whoever the BCS spits out to face them, but they don't just get handed the trophy at this point.

27
by Lance :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 10:59pm

"LSU certainly deserves to be there, and it all likelihood it appears they'll beat whoever the BCS spits out to face them, but they don't just get handed the trophy at this point.

Unless you're Bill Connelly, who seems to think that in some cases, having a play-off is moot when you have the All Time Greatest Team, Ever, in the Universe, Ever, like LSU.

33
by mansteel (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 12:43am

Having a playoff IS moot if the regular season has clearly shown which team is the best. It's silly to argue that, for instance, the 2007 Giants (and I'm a die-hard Giants fan) were the best team in the NFL that year. Clearly the 18-1 Patriots were better over the course of the season than the 14-6 Giants. Playoffs are not about crowning the best team; anyone who understands sample size recognizes that. They are about drama, excitement, TV ratings, and money...not that there's anything wrong with that.

37
by Lance :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 3:59am

Yeah, obviously. Play-offs aren't about determining the "best" (which we define as... oh, right, we can't), but about determining a champion in a way that eliminates as much as possible, the bias of perception.

This is mostly because "best" is just perception. And it is baffling that people here are satisfied with just saying "well, a bunch of experts and some computer dudes more or less agree that this team is best, so that's that." Indeed, why have any of these "postseason" games at all? If all the experts can just say that LSU is so awesome, then why don't we all agree that we don't even need to bother with some sort of crowning game? Same thing in the NFL-- we can just say that in some years, a team is so great (lots of wins, great offense, defense, etc.) that they're the "best" and having a playoff would be-- as you have just said-- moot.

This is stupid, though, and most reasonable people realize that there is little satisfaction in just saying "they're best" and being done with it. Having some on-the-field way if crowning a champion gives most fans a good deal more satisfaction. It does this better when, as I noted, there is less perception bias. And the only way to do that is to have a reasonable number of participants. I don't know what that number is (though I feel like 12 is the best number), but I know that i's more than two.

42
by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 9:21am

It's absolutely the case that if we want to determine the best team in an unbiased manner, we should avoid postseason games altogether. The system most likely to produce the best team as champion is the European soccer model: double round-robin for whole league, no playoffs, best record is champ. If you include playoffs, you become less likely to name the best team champ as you include more teams or as you play fewer games per round. So baseball is still pretty good on this front (few teams, multi-game series) and college basketball is about the worst.

Of course, college basketball might also be the most exciting, but this is precisely because anyone might win. We trade off likelihood of crowning the best team champ for entertainment value. We'd be doing the same thing with a college football playoff. This is a perfecty legitimate end (in fact, I think creating good TV is a much more important aim in this context than identifying the best team), but let's not pretend a playoff helps to find out who's best.

55
by dryheat :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:26am

So baseball is still pretty good on this front (few teams, multi-game series) and college basketball is about the worst.

Yet baseball seems hell-or-high water-bent on changing this with expanding the playoffs...forcing a one-game playoff between two teams that might have a difference of 20 wins between them over the course of 162 games. Even if the superior team wins, the system forces them to burn their best starter in a play-in game. For all the slings and arrows that the NHL has suffered over the years about cheapening the regular season, the other leagues, professional and "amateur", can't move fast enough to do them one better.

I, for one, had no problem with the old bowls system. But then again, I never saw the problem with two (or three) schools thinking that they were #1.

35
by Kal :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 3:48am

If you'd point out where anyone actually said that, that'd be awesome.

They're the best team so far. Period. And it's not really close. That doesn't mean they're the champion. That doesn't mean they get the trophy.

That just means that they are the clear #1 team. The only team that is undefeated. The only team that has beaten two other conference champions from AQ conferences. The only team that has beaten 3 teams in the top 8. By any way to measure it - by quality of wins, strength of schedule, margin of victory, games at home or away, conference champion - they have it. They are considerably stronger of a choice than Ohio State was in 2006 and about the only teams that remotely come close to their pedigree are Texas or USC in 2005.

Yes, they could lose to anyone. They could all catch scurvy aids and die tomorrow. No one is disputing that. At the same time, even if they had lost they were still the best team in the nation. And they didn't lose.

39
by Lance :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 4:16am

Yeah, look: we can all agree that LSU has been great, and by any reasonable measure has had the most success of any team this year.

But a number of questions remain: if we're not going to just crown them champions, then what do we do about crowning a champion? The basic answer-- which is what we have-- is we take LSU and pit them against someone with the winner being the champion.

But who do we pit against them? The answer to that question is the source of this year's debate.

And let's agree that this year is an anomaly: most years, there are a handful of teams that can make the case for inclusion in a #1 v #2 game. And that's why just having a #1 v. #2 game is stupid.

And also: if LSU loses in the National Title game, then what? Are they still "the best"?

44
by Alternator :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 12:18pm

If they lose to Oklahoma State, I'd say no. If they play anyone else and lose, I'd say that yes, LSU had shown through the season that they were dominant and superior, and just had one bad week.

That's just me, though. I hate the pro-SEC bias and pretending no other conference is ever remotely as good, but LSU this year really HAS earned the accolades they're getting. Only Oklahoma State has the range of wins (plus one bad week that is excusable, given the timing) to even be in the same conversation.

59
by Adam H (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 2:09pm

No matter what happens in the NCG, LSU will stay #1 in any objective poll or ranking system. They will have so many more good wins than Alabama it's ridiculous. And that's why I would have liked an Oklahoma State/LSU game. Because if Oklahoma State wins then I don't think anyone would have a problem giving Oklahoma State the championship.

60
by dryheat :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 3:20pm

It's hard to argue that the loser of the "National Championship Game" should be declared the National Champion. Alabama will pick up a hell of a good win with a W.

Your scenario really defeats the purpose of the BCS. If the NCAA wanted to name a champion based on the season's entire body of work, there wouldn't be a National Championship game.

Or to put it another way, Declaring LSU the #1 team after losing to Alabama would be akin to declaring the 2001 Rams or 2007 Patriots the Champs after losing the Super Bowl.

61
by Alternator :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:16am

I don't think many people would argue that the 2001 Rams and 2007 Patriots weren't the better teams, though. If college football is going to put such heavy emphasis on the regular season, then it only makes sense to include it when trying to objectively name the best-performing team.

2
by Mikey Benny :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 5:38pm

Have you forgotten that OK State was on the road, and had just suffered a horrendous, earth-shattering real-life tragedy a couple of days before their loss? Why does no one ever remember this? In something as subjective as this, it needs to be taken into account if you're looking at the strength of the team.

If strength of loss mattered, Michigan would have played Ohio State a couple years ago, because their only loss was to #1. Strength of loss means next to nothing.

You have so few games in college football; we consider the regular season to be the playoffs.

If a NCG has a rematch, then the regular season is not a playoff, end of story. LSU and Alabama already had their playoff game, and Alabama was eliminated, at home no less.

Bring on the next challenger, or lose your right to argue against a playoff system, EVER AGAIN.

6
by Kal :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 5:59pm

I kind of agree, and I do think that a very reasonable argument can be made for OKST.

But the 'you had your chance' argument really isn't one. The notion that college football is like boxing where everyone gets a shot at #1 is ludicrous. At the end of the season, as it stands now, the two highest ranked teams play. How they got there can be very circuitous (LSU in 2007)or very straightforward (USC/Texas in 2005, Auburn/Oregon last year) but ultimately it doesn't matter.

And yes, it means that the two best teams in the nation can be in the same conference and could have played each other already.

Just because it's a playoff doesn't mean it's a single elimination game.

51
by Mikey Benny :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 9:42pm

>But the 'you had your chance' argument really isn't one.

In a sport where "the regular season is the playoffs", it's a argument that's very hard to refute.

>The notion that college football is like boxing where everyone gets a shot at #1 is ludicrous

It's far from ludicrous. It's ludicrous to give the same team a chance at #1 twice when there are other worthy opponents who haven't had a shot.

52
by NYMike :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 11:44pm

This is the most succinct statement of what I've been thinking I've read. The idea that we would give Alabama another chance, when they LOST AT HOME, just seems ridiculous.

5
by Kal :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 5:56pm

The Perfect Playoff. Let's expand it all the way to 16 teams using the method I established a while back. This season, it would result in something like the following matchups: Louisiana Tech at No. 1 LSU, No. 9 Oregon at No. 8 Arkansas, No. 18 TCU at No. 5 Virginia Tech, No. 23 West Virginia at No. 4 Stanford, No. 15 Wisconsin at No. 6 Houston, Northern Illinois at No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 7 Boise State and Arkansas State at No. 2 Alabama.

Uh...Okay, there are a couple good matchups there. Oregon/Arkansas, WV/Stanford, Oklahoma/Boise.

But you think "All of these playoff scenarios would be enjoyable " - no. Alabama and Arkansas state is stupid as an argument. So is LSU vs Louisiana Tech. So is Northern Illinois and OKST. Why bother? Furthermore, the notion of 'conference champion' is ludicrous when conferences don't matter in the slightest and one can create a conference or dissolve a conference at the drop of a hat. This type of scheme would reward playing as easy a conference as you can possibly do in order to get into the playoffs. When you can both make sure that you play in the NFC West and you're the best team in the NFC West, it's a pretty poor choice to say that conferences is the right way to go.

7
by Portmanteur :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 6:03pm

I love it when folks argue that a particular system "would reward playing as easy a conference as you can possibly do in order to get into the playoffs." We already have a two-team playoff, and I don't see teams jettisoning from the SEC in order to have a better shot at going undefeated. Rather, you see teams leaving easier conferences and moving to tougher conferences. In every conference switch this year, the school's level of competition increased.

No, the scheme we have now is money, and teams are rewarded for playing in a tougher conference.

9
by Kal :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 7:54pm

Yes - in the current system teams are somewhat rewarded for playing a hard schedule, especially teams that were coming from a non-AQ conference. I'm not sure how you can compare what we have now with the notion of a playoff that allows any conference champion from any conference the ability to play in the playoffs and say that the two make sense to compare.

You see teams moving from easier to harder right now because of AQ money and TV contracts. If you have a team like ND or Texas who has their own TV contract, why would they bother staying in the Big-12? Why not have their own easy conference and just guarantee a playoff berth as long as you want?

Mostly, the notion that conference champions are some special thing when the basic unit of 'conference' is ridiculously mercurial is fundamentally flawed. There is nothing stopping the Big East from being a 6-team conference. Nothing at all.

16
by sswoods (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 5:17pm

The fundamental problem with the BCS system, and the system that preceded it, is they excluded teams before a game was ever played. It doesn't matter if Boise St, or Houston, or Hawaii, or Akron for that matter, goes undefeated, their season's are irrelevant. If Houston is the best team in the country this season - as I write this they are getting stomped by S Miss, but the point is still the same - it doesn't matter, they were already eliminated for not being in the proper conference. THAT is the fundamentally unfair aspect of the BCS. Would a playoff always give us a true match up between the two best teams? No, of course not. Neither does the BCS. In a playoff, if Boise St loses in the first round to an undefeated and considered #1 LSU, well then they had their shot. In the current system, we crown LSU and tell Boise St F off. We give credit to LSU for who Kentucky plays, but punish Boise St for who Idaho plays.
Frankly, if we are going to dismiss certain teams for no other reason than for the conference they play in, I'd prefer we go back to the old system of just picking one by vote instead of the dog and pony act preceding picking one by vote.

21
by DRohan :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 8:04pm

This is exactly the problem I have with the system as it exists. If certain conferences/teams are excluded from consideration from the get-go, that's a clear indication that there are too many teams in the FBS division.

Personally, I think it should be split into upper and lower tiers (as it is effectively anyway). Four super-conferences could produce a championship game each, leading to a natural final four. The "undeserving" conferences could play for a national championship of their own.

Furthermore, I am fascinated by the concept of relegation in European soccer leagues, and I think that could be applied here as well. If, for example, a team from a smaller conference such as Boise State proved itself on the field, they could be promoted to the upper tier the following season to replace one of the Washington State's of the world, who don't perform well enough to maintain their preferred status in a major conference.

24
by sswoods (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 10:32pm

I'm not sure how much I'd favor the relegation concept. However, I would understand splitting Division 1A again. I'd hate what that meant to the Boise States and TCUs of the world, but at least there would be an even playing field. To take it further, though, I'd insist that games against the new division would count towards the standings - just like I don't think Division 1AA games should count in the standings.

25
by sswoods (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 10:33pm

Oops, that should read those games should NOT count in the standings.

36
by Kal :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 3:50am

100% agree. I think relegation would be a perfect fit for college football. Allowing teams that are up and coming to compete and kicking out moribund teams who are down for a while for whatever reason would be very healthy when talking about 120 teams.

It's a great idea. I don't know if it could ever gain traction, but it's a really good fit.

56
by dryheat :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:32am

I think the problem is actually the pre-season rankings. I'd be very happy, and very curious, to see what would happen if the first BCS rankings came out after Week 4 or 5. Right now, if your team isn't in the pre-season top 20 - based purely on reputation -- your team has virtually no shot at the Championship.

8
by JOliver (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 6:30pm

He was talking about the four options for determining a champion (current, old, plus one, "perfect" playoff), not that particular slate of games. I would worry about his sanity if he thought LSU-Louisiana Tech would be an enjoyable game to watch.

10
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 8:33pm

I would enjoy it, but I'm weird. And yeah, I was talking about the structure as a whole, not any particular draw.

13
by Kal :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 3:00am

Guess you must really love those Alabama/Georgia Southern games then. :P

17
by sswoods (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 5:22pm

And the current system eliminates the Joe Montana 49ers for playing in the NFC West before the season ever started.

4
by Portmanteur :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 5:54pm

"Paul Johnson did a nice job of crafting an 8-4 bounceback season after posting GT's first losing season in 14 years; the Yellow Jackets were uneven and inconsistent, but they were still better than last year."

FTFY. Georgia Tech lost to Air Force in the Independence Bowl last year.

Great article as usual, Bill. Excellent recap of a fun week.

11
by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 8:34pm

Ha, dammit. I erased that bowl from my immediate recall.

12
by Joshua Northey (not verified) :: Fri, 12/02/2011 - 9:29pm

Umm...isn't it clear that the real problem is pretending to crown a #1 team with wildly (and I mean wildly) insufficient information.

The real problem isn't the BCS, or people who want a playoff, or people who want the old bowls, the real problem is that the vast majority of people really believe being crowned #1 after 13 games actually means something definitive about the strength of your team.

"and I cannot wait for the "LSU beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama beat LSU on a neutral field, but Alabama gets to be champion??" outrage if the Tide win"

It is exactly right there would be huge outrage, but the problem isn't the method of detemrining the "champion" it is the obvious lie that 13 games each in a field of 119 teams can tell you much of anything about who is "truly #1". Some years you might be able to make a good guess, but that is about it. People are way too emotionally invested in these really meaningless lollipops handed out at the end of the year.

Just enjoy the good football and relax!

14
by batbatt :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 4:08pm

Another argument against including Alabama in the national title game would be: Alabama not only didn't win their conference, they didn't even win their division of their conference. Not winning your conference hasn't stopped teams from competing for the national title before, but not winning their division of their conference would be a first, wouldn't it? That's the biggest problem I would have with Alabama being in the title game.

18
by Eddo :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 6:03pm

In 2001, Colorado won the Big XII North, but Nebraska still played in the BCS championship game.

20
by Yup (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 8:03pm

... and then got obliterated by Miami.

The "plus one" concept would ultimately needs to allow for the common situation that there isn't a clear-cut 1-2 matchup. Basically there shouldn't be a BCS game this year.

15
by Lance :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 4:53pm

"When college football began naming national champions, they did it with "best team of the season" in mind. The closer we get to a playoff, the further we get from that premise; it becomes more like "Best team in December and January."

This is completely wrong. The current system ABSOLUTELY favors people who are hot now and not in the early part of the season. After all, if a highly-touted team stumbles early, they have 9+ weeks to work back up the rankings and watch as others gradually fall by the wayside. (A great example is Florida in 2006.) But if you lose late-- say, in your second-to-last game-- then it's over.

"All of these playoff scenarios would be enjoyable (especially a 16-teamer with matchups like Boise State-Oklahoma on the blue field), but none of them would change the one thing we've learned in the regular season: LSU has been the best team. No matter who they play in the BCS championship, and no matter who they might play in a playoff structure, that is, to date, not really up for debate."

Well, with that sort of appeal, then why even have bowls? Hell-- why even play a season? Just anoint the Preseason #1 as the champ and be done with it. You can argue that that's absurd, but no more so than saying "well, if we had a play-off, it would probably be LSU and Alabama (or whomever) anyhow, so there's no need for it."

"But it is worth noting that college football doesn't have to be like all of the other sports. It's okay to be different once in a while."

This isn't "worth nothing" at all. College football is like it is because it has a long, complex history; it has nothing to do with some desire to be different.

28
by ndbogacz (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 11:00pm

You can lose one of your last two games and make the title game....just ask 2001 Nebraska, 2003 Oklahoma, and 2007 LSU and Ohio St.

19
by NHPats (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 7:10pm

No first downs?

22
by QQ (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 8:29pm

YAY another 9-6 BCS Championship Game where QBs either overthrow everybody or throw into Double Coverage.

26
by TomTom (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 10:47pm

Well, I can't wait for Oregon in the Rose Bowl, and Stanford game (given they get someone like Oklahoma St., and not Houston). We should get some good bowl games this year anyways, even if the NC will be boring except for LSU special teams, or if Alabama finds a way to use Trent Richardson more.

This comment becomes void when Arkansas and Michigan both get chosen over Boise St. to a BCS bowl.

46
by Tom W (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 12:34pm

After the conference championships, I'm not entirely convinced that either Wisconsin or Oregon is the best team in its conference, but the Rose Bowl should be one of the most entertaining games of the season - can't wait to see the over/under.

Also, I totally agree that a 16-team playoff is feasible. I'm a Wisconsin fan, so the following is not a partisan comment: if Michigan goes to a BCS bowl and MSU doesn't, it's yet another argument for blowing up the system.

58
by Tom W (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 1:35pm

...and Michigan State gets screwed because it won its division, while Alabama, Stanford, and Michigan got to kick back and take advantage of not playing in a conference championship game. Let the exhibition games begin.

29
by hypocrite (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 11:30pm

Every game matters, except possibly Bedlam since I made judgements before 1/12th of a teams season was played.

30
by hypocritical (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 11:35pm

Every game matters, except possibly Bedlam since I made judgements before 1/12th of a teams season was played.

31
by Alternator :: Sat, 12/03/2011 - 11:55pm

Amusing tidbits:

LSU ruined Georgia, as expected. If you don't think LSU is the clear #1, you're not just on crack, but you're taking bribes while suffering a severe concussion, and watching as the entire LSU football team takes turns sleeping with your wife

Houston got run off the field, so Boise is now the highest ranked non-AQ team and will be playing in a BCS Bowl.

Oklahoma State is inflicting a beating on Oklahoma reminiscent of smallpox against the indians. Anybody looking for a reason to drop Alabama out of the #2 spot, there's all the justification you need: in basketball terms, Oklahoma has the much stronger resume and deserves the higher seed.

Virginia Tech is on its way to losing to Clemson, again, so any thoughts of them possibly leaping up are history.

32
by No, dummy (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 12:38am

Boise needed to be the highest ranking non-AQ *conference champion*. Being the highest ranked team from a non-AQ conference in itself means dick.

34
by Alternator :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 2:59am

I'm not saying they auto-qualify. What I am saying is that the fact that no non-AQ has an auto-qualification means that Boise is going to get in, and I think Baylor is going to jump TCU.

Arkansas can't earn a BCS bid, nor can USC. Virginia Tech just lost, again, to Clemson, so they certainly aren't going to be taken as an at-large. Alabama is basically in, either as the #2 or as the first at-large selection, and Stanford is going to be an at-large. Arkansas isn't eligible, neither is USC.

LSU, Oregon, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Clemson, and (I think) West Virginia are automatically in due to winning the auto-bids. Alabama and Stanford are going in as at-large selections ahead of Boise. Which other two teams would you expect to be taken over the Broncos?

38
by Kal :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 4:01am

Yeah, that's incorrect. Boise is I believe eligible because of their ranking but because they're not a conference champion they're not an auto-bid; they'd have to be ranked 4th or higher. TCU is an auto-include if they're 16th or higher and rank above WV, in which case they take one of the two auto-includes and remove WV from theirs. And right now, that seems very likely; TCU will almost certainly be ranked higher than WV and they just have to move up two spots. Not that hard to imagine at all.

Baylor jumping TCU doesn't matter in the least. The rules are simple: if an AQ champion is ranked 16th or higher and they are ranked higher than one of the AQ champions who is lower than 16th they get in and the AQ does not.

Note that if Alabama gets taken as the first guaranteed at large due to their ranking then Stanford is not guaranteed anything. They're in the pool just like everyone else.

41
by Thok :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 9:16am

I wouldn't be shocked if some humans deliberately underranked or didn't rank TCU this week, in order to keep them out of the BCS. (I guess a few people might overrank TCU as well, but on average I'd think the human voters probably would consider TCU to not be worthy of a BCS bid.)

Edit: Huh, Baylor was already ahead of TCU in the BCS standings. Who knew?

43
by Alternator :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 12:12pm

Georgia and Oklahoma are going to drop below TCU, which would ordinarily mean that TCU will end up at 16th. However, if Baylor jumps them, TCU will be stuck at 17th, leaving the spot open for Boise. Thok's comment says that Baylor was above them already, which I hadn't believed true--I had seen Baylor at #19 and TCU at #18.

Spelling everything out:

Alabama and Stanford are going to be selected as at-large teams. They aren't a literal automatic selection, but they are a figurative one, and that's how I used the term. Andrew Luck plus a top-four ranking is going to be too tempting to turn up, regardless of Stanford's fanbase not traveling especially well.

I do not expect TCU to end up in the top 16. I had given Baylor jumping them as one of the reasons for this, and if I was looking at the wrong standings, maybe I'm wrong, but my post was written with that in mind.

I do expect Boise to be a more appealing at-large choice than anyone except Stanford and Alabama. With the six conference champions, Stanford, and Alabama already included, two other teams would have to be picked over Boise. Neither USC nor Arkansas is available, and those are the only two I would have expected to make the appearance.

Does that clarify my initial post?

40
by t.d. :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 4:45am

I'll bite: I think Oklahoma State actually has a much better resume. In fact, Alabama's most impressive game this season was actually losing by three to LSU, at home. Sorry, but beating Penn State and Arkansas is less impressive than curbstomping OU and Baylor.

45
by Alternator :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 12:20pm

Gah. That "Oklahoma has a much better resume" should have been "Oklahoma STATE has a much better resume." I agree that Alabama's wins are a little below-average for a top-tier team: the SEC was top-heavy and their out-of-conference opponents didn't end up being that strong.

I'll give them credit for scheduling some legit schools, but it didn't pan out for Alabama.

47
by Anger...rising (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 12:52pm

At Football Outsiders, we evaluate teams based on every play and every drive. Simply assigning value based on a sample size of 12 results limits us severely. By comparing a team's performance on every play to how they should have been expected to perform, we get a much better read for which teams are truly the best. However, if you look at the current F/+ rankings, you see that the teams who play at the highest level aren't always the teams that win the most games. Wins and losses do matter, after all. If we had some playoff system in place, I wouldn't be arguing that a four-loss Florida State team deserves a spot over, say, 10-2 Kansas State just because their F/+ rating is higher. That said ... Oklahoma State and Alabama share the same record, and the Tide outpace the Cowboys by 5.2 percent in the F/+ ratings. That is a lot. And if you have performed better overall and can boast the same record, you get my (nonexistent) vote.

Until you figure out how to treat turnovers as more than freak events that really aren't that meaningful -- see the thousand justifications for Notre Dame's ranking on the basis of "they moved the ball up and down the field, they just turned the ball over five times" -- you'll pardon me for not sharing your absolute faith in these "advanced" numbers' ability to judge the relative merits of these teams.

49
by Mikey Benny :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 6:59pm

"Until you figure out how to treat turnovers as more than freak events that really aren't that meaningful"

That's not a correct assessment of ther advanced metrics.

Only fumble RECOVERIES are treated as random. Forced fumbles and INTs are both treated as both predictive negative for offense, predictive and positive for defense.

48
by deep64blue :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 6:18pm

You really think the Big 10 will sign up for a Plus1 where their Champion has to play TWO games thousands of miles away from their territory to win a National Championship? I'm not holding my breath.

50
by JonFrum :: Sun, 12/04/2011 - 8:18pm

How many ranked teams did Alabama beat - one? O. State bean multiple ranked teams. By strength of schedule, Okalahoma State should be ahead of Alabama. All you can say for Alabama is that they played LSU tough - in a single game - and that somehow you just know that if Alabama and O. State played ten times Alabama would win a majority of them. Because, you know, Alabama is Alabama.

IF Alabama played better teams, maybe they would have beaten them all. Looing at the Penn State game, that's debatable. What we know is what happened on the field. If you gave teams points for degree of difficulty, Okalhoma State would be far ahead of Alabama. If you only knew the ranking of the opponents of each team, and saw the scores, you'd pick Oklahoma State every time.

53
by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:00am

The "plus one" that the SEC put forward and was rejected. I thought this was a foolish half-effort suggestion that was doomed to fail.

Could a "Classic Bowl Plus One" be viewed more favorably?

"Plus One" is pretty self-explanatory. The BCS championship teams would be determined after the Bowls are completed. The computer rankings and polls could determine this in short order on the 2nd or 3rd of January.

"Classic Bowl" indicates that the normal bowl ties would be held. SEC Champion would go to the Sugar Bowl. PAC-10 and Big Ten would play in the Rose Bowl. There would be a few "big bowl" openings for teams without automatic tie-ins for teams like Alabama this year.

Advantages:

Classic Bowls are maintained. PAC-10 and Big Ten want to play each other in the Rose Bowl. They would.

Contracts. There are a number of TV contracts that might prevent playoffs. However, this system should be able to fit in existing contracts.

Only two teams play a single extra game. The wear on the bodies would not be too significant, as a whole.

Little or no (more) missed school. The championship could be played a week or two later. This is about the same time frame as the current championship, so little or no additional time away from school for these students.

Guarantee of one "quality opponent". How good would an unbeaten Boise State or Houston be? This might lend some insights. A non-AQ team would have a better chance to prove themselves worthy of being in the Championship. (i.e. If an unbeaten Boise State beats unbeaten SEC champion in Sugar Bowl)

It would be less likely that there would be 3 unbeaten teams to pick from.

More Bowl Games matter. The computers would determine matches and compare these, so even the #7 SEC against the #5 Big Ten might help determine which teams will be in the Championship.

Disadvantages:

Quick turn-around. Teams and fans would have to get tickets and make travel arrangements more quickly. Instead of a month of planning there would only be a week or two. This would not be insurmountable, but could be a challenge.

This would not prevent a rematch, although the pollsters would still have their votes counted. A playoff system may not prevent a rematch if there are any "at large" (non-conference champions) teams.

No guarantee that undefeated "at large" team would make it to the Championship. After the Bowls there could still be 3 undefeated teams. It would be more likely that there is only a single team that is undefeated (or no teams that are undefeated).

54
by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:01am

NOTE: A playoff does not determine the "best team". It provides a tournament championship and a tournament champion.

57
by Tom W (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 1:17pm

Yeah. That's pretty much the whole point of athletic competition, which is why every other NCAA sport at every level decides its champion in such a manner.