Football Junkie vs. Barack Obama
by Russell Levine
Those of you in favor of President-elect Obama's college football playoff plan, please take a close look at the state of college football this season.
Mr. Obama appears to be calling for an eight-team playoff that features the top eight teams, regardless of conference affiliation. As of this week, here is your eight-team field: Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Utah, Texas Tech, Penn State. Sounds great, right? But consider that such a plan would not include half of the BCS conference winners (if Oregon State beats Oregon to share the Pac-10 title). The ACC and Big East champs would also be left out.
I just don't think a playoff of only the top eight teams is fair. You have to reward teams for winning their conferences, and because of the limited head-to-head non-conference games between members of BCS leagues, it's impossible to rank the conferences before bowl season.
Take the SEC this season, a conference that I feel very strongly is living off its reputation of the past few campaigns. It is a league with one great team (Florida), one very good one (Alabama) and not a whole lot else. And before the SEC backers start bashing, please go take a look at the conference standings. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Back now? Good. Then you've seen that beyond Florida and Georgia in the East, the rest of the division is a combined 23-21. The West is even worse. Beyond Alabama, the other five teams are a collective 27-28. And consider those records are fattened up against what is generally the softest non-conference schedules of any of the six BCS leagues.
In aggregate, the SEC's non-conference record to date is 36-8. Sounds dominant, right? Dig a little deeper. Against BCS league schools, the SEC is just 5-6, with four games left (Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson, and Vanderbilt-Wake Forest).
Before you cite Ole Miss, which has beaten Florida and an increasingly bad LSU, as being an example of SEC depth, remember that the Rebels lost to Wake Forest. Here are the rest of the non-conference embarrassments: Tennessee lost to UCLA and Wyoming. Arkansas was destroyed by Texas. LSU trailed Troy, 31-3, at home, before rallying. Mississippi State lost to Louisiana Tech and Georgia Tech. Auburn lost to West Virginia. Vanderbilt lost to Duke.
My point is not that the SEC is terrible; clearly it's not. My point is that assumptions about conference strength are pretty meaningless year-over-year. Those who would argue that an eight-team playoff shouldn't include the six major-conference winners risk losing a potentially very good team based on reputation.
Everyone assumes the ACC is terrible this year, but maybe it's just very, very competitive? If the ACC goes 3-1 against the SEC this week (with Georgia Tech beating Georgia, Clemson over South Carolina, Wake over Vanderbilt, and Florida State losing to Florida) the ACC will have gone 7-4 against the SEC head-to-head. And yet, two SEC teams would make an eight-team, purely merit-based field ahead of the ACC champion.
Another popular version of the eight-team playoff, which involves the six BCS conference winners plus two at-large teams in a three-week tournament to decide the "true" national champion, would be a disaster along the lines of the U.S. economy this season.
If such a plan were in place this year, we would be left with a field that includes the Florida-Alabama and Big 12 winners, but also with potentially Cincinnati and Boston College. Oregon State would get in, but USC wouldn't. Let's pretend these are your six conference champs: Boston College (ACC), Cincinnati (Big East), Penn State (Big Ten), Oklahoma (Big 12), Oregon State (Pac-10), Florida (SEC). Fine. That even presumes there is no upset by Missouri in the Big 12 game. Who are your wild cards? Presumably, any such system would offer some guarantees for a non-BCS conference team that achieved a certain ranking. Utah and
Fresno Boise State would likely both qualify. Any system that calls itself a true championship would have to include teams that went undefeated against a reasonable schedule, but let's just pretend the have-nots are limited to a single bid, and it goes to Utah. Who gets the eighth spot? Is it 11-1 USC? 11-1 Alabama? 11-1 Texas? 11-1 Texas Tech? 10-2 Ohio State?
Would this solve anything?
Yes, it would provide a tournament winner. But if you think Texas fans would be any less bitter about being left out of an eight-team playoff this year than they will be if they get jumped by Oklahoma next week and miss the BCS title game, well, you've never been to Texas.
Would it be any fairer than what we currently have with the BCS? No.
Setting aside all the issues of trying to work a playoff system into the bowls, I just don't see that there is a perfect system out there. Eight teams is not enough. Sixteen might be, but it's too long and it also risks messing up the best thing the sport has going for it -- the intensity of its regular season.
Like it or not, an eight-team playoff is no guarantee of a fairer conclusion to the college football season. To me, anything short of 16 teams is likely to cause as much controversy as the BCS does now. And since 16 teams is never going to happen in my lifetime, I see eight as just some sort of a bad compromise that's not going to solve anything.
Even eight teams isn't likely to happen for another decade or more. ESPN's ownership of the BCS only strengthens that entity's existence. About the most we can hope for is a plus-one championship after the bowls, which I do see happening after a second rotation of the current double-hosting model is complete -- another five years from now.
Until then, let it go. Some years, we'll have controversy. Others, we won't. Always, there will be intense interest. These are things not even our new President-elect can change.
Mr. President-elect, you claim not to know a single serious college football fan who opposes an eight-team playoff.
Clearly, we haven't met.
John L. Smith Trophy
Those who took part in the SDA LiveBlog Saturday night know where this one is going.
As the Texas Tech-Oklahoma game quickly devolved into an enormous blowout, some channel surfing to other games of note set in. I spent quite a bit of time checking in on Oregon State at Arizona, a game with major Rose Bowl implications.
Many felt this was a trap game for the Beavers, and Las Vegas made them a slight underdog. Indeed, the game was close throughout before Oregon State prevailed on a last-play field goal.
Maybe it was the pressure of the moment that got to Oregon State coach Mike Riley. After all, the Beavers were two wins away from their first Rose Bowl berth in more than four decades. How else to explain his decision-making in the fourth quarter?
The game was tied, 10-10, when Oregon State took possession at the end of the third quarter. After three plays netted nine yards, Riley decided to go for it on fourth down -- from his own 40-yard line. Just because the Beavers converted didn't make it the right call. Why risk giving your opponent a short field in a tight, defensive struggle? With nearly an entire quarter to play, the proper call is to punt and play defense.
Emboldened by his success, Riley pushed his luck three plays later -- and it nearly cost him a shot at the Rose Bowl. Faced with another fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 49-yard line, and with his best running back on the bench, Riley went for it again but this time the Beavers were stuffed. Arizona took advantage of the good field position to march for the go-ahead touchdown.
Riley deserves congratulations for getting the Beavers this far, but he also deserves this week's JLS Trophy.
This season, I am again voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and now available on CBS Sportsline. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment, and I may make changes based on comments for a revised ballot later in the week.
Rankings that may require further explanation: Last week, I punted. After weeks of feeling that Alabama was a very good, but not great, team that was living off one unbelievable half against Georgia, I dropped the Tide down behind Florida and the Big 12 South trio, who I all believed were superior teams. A week later, and not much has changed, except that Texas Tech is getting punished for being exposed on the road at Oklahoma.
Alabama will have its chance to prove me wrong against Florida, and a win in that game would move the Tide right back up to No. 1. But not now.
I have also done what the human voters decided not to, which is remember that Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field. I do recognize, however, that the looming three-way tie in the Big 12 South renders head-to-head among the three teams largely irrelevant. For now, it's Texas by a nose over Oklahoma and Florida. The Big 12 pair get the nod over the Gators and Tide because I feel the Big 12 is a far stronger conference.
Games I watched at least part of: Ball State-Central Michigan, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan State-Penn State, Syracuse-Notre Dame, Ole Miss-LSU, BYU-Utah, Oregon State-Arizona, Texas Tech-Oklahoma.
(Ed. note: Our "No Politics" rule in the comments still applies to any of our President-Elect's non-football related opinions. Thanks. -- Aaron Schatz)