Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Futures: Josh Rosen

UCLA's quarterback clearly has the talent to succeed as an NFL starter. The question is whether or not he can avoid enough mistakes to become a superstar.

05 Nov 2009

SDA: Rivalries and Retirements

by Bill Connelly, Brian Fremeau, and Rob Weintraub

The college football world gets a taste of rivalries old and new this week. Oklahoma and Nebraska wake up the Johnny Rodgers echoes in Lincoln; Navy and Notre Dame stir up Staubach-versus-Huarte (aka Heisman vs. Heisman) memories in South Bend; LSU and Alabama face off in Saban Bowl III; and Sunflower State rivals play a Big 12 North elimination game in the Little Apple. Meanwhile, how does Florida State respond to the announced retirement of their all-time great defensive coordinator? What does Oregon do for an encore after a historic thrashing of USC? There is plenty of intrigue to go around on the first Saturday in November.

This Week's Games

(Teams are listed according to BCS ranking.)

No. 23 Virginia Tech (-12.5) at East Carolina (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)

It’s vengeance versus passion. Virginia Tech wants to get some payback for last season’s upset loss to ECU. Meanwhile, this is the biggest home game by far for the Pirates -- on midweek national TV. A “Pirate-Out” is planned for the game, with students encouraged to avast ye matey or something. ECU is playing better of late, having won four of five, although that could be a function of a weaker October schedule. ECU’s run defense has been stout, holding opponents under 100 yards in four of the last five, and its monster tackles, Jay Ross and Linval Joseph, will hope to emulate UNC’s success in stuffing Ryan Williams and Virginia Tech’s ground game. The Hokies were suffered in a home loss to the Heels a week ago, and a once-promising season will go belly-up with a third consecutive loss. It will likely come down to the play of the erratic, alliterative quarterbackss, Tyrod Taylor and Patrick Pinkney. Whoever establishes a downfield threat will emerge victorious.

The Picks -- Rob: ECU | FEI: Va. Tech | S&P+: Va. Tech (LOCK)

Kansas (-2.5) at Kansas State (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. EST, Versus)

What can anybody make of Kansas State right now? They have both looked great and terrible on offense, defense, and special teams. In their last four games, they have allowed 66, 14, 6, and 42 points. Special teams cost them a game against UCLA, then won them a game against Iowa State. Oh, and they lost to Louisiana-Lafayette. That's not even the good hyphenated Louisiana team. And yet they lead the Big 12 North at 3-2. Go figure. Meanwhile, Kansas entered the season with the North's only proven commodity at quarterback, and he was benched in the second half of a still-winnable game in Lubbock last weekend. Todd Reesing seemingly hasn't rediscovered his mojo since certain pictures floated around this summer, and Kansas sits at 1-3 in the conference. Kansas State controls their own North destiny, but they are underdogs at home against a Jayhawks team on a three-game losing streak. In other words, nobody has any clue what to think about either one of these teams.

The Picks -- Rob: K-State | FEI: Kansas | S&P+: Kansas

Navy (+11) at No. 22 Notre Dame (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. EST, NBC)

The last time these two teams clashed in South Bend, a triple-overtime thriller ended the longest streak of one team over another in college football history. (Or if you like sea shantys, muppets, and denial, 2007 never happened). The Irish smothered Navy's triple-option last year for three quarters, then lapsed on special teams (two onside kicks) and in the secondary before finally escaping a repeat disaster. Special teams and secondary play haven't been hallmarks of the Irish this year, but the defense has been stronger against the run and improving each week. The offense welcomes back injured star receiver Michael Floyd, meaning Golden Tate can get back to being spectacular in single coverage. Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs was instrumental in last year’s furious comeback against the Irish and returns to the starting role after missing most of the Wake Forest and Temple games with a cracked bone in his knee.

The Picks -- Rob: Navy | FEI: Navy | S&P+: Navy

No. 9 LSU (+9) at No. 3 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)

LSU certainly hopes to play better than its previous Game Of The Year effort last month against Florida. The Tigers are an awkward 7-1, having impressed few in attaining its lofty record and ranking. Nevertheless, a win against Alabama would propel them to a rematch with Florida and possibly a BCS title berth. LSU nearly derailed Nick Saban’s perfect regular season a year ago before falling short in overtime. You know Les Miles is dying to get on the good side of his fan base for once by knocking off the dearly departed Nicktator and his unblemished record this time around. Once dominant, the Tide have looked vulnerable recently, and their schedule looks more tissue-soft with every passing week. LSU desperately needs raw quarterback Jordan Jefferson to outplay Alabama’s raw quarterback, Greg McElroy. Otherwise, the teams match up rather evenly across the field. There will be bruises.

The Picks -- Rob: LSU | FEI: Alabama | S&P+: Alabama

No. 16 Ohio State (+3.5) at No. 11 Penn State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, ABC)

Even though Iowa has the upper hand, the Big Ten title chase has hardly been decided. Penn State has regained momentum after their loss to the Hawkeyes and have been virtually impenetrable on defense this season. They lead the nation in fewest points allowed per game, though Iowa is their only opponent to data ranked in the top 60 in Offensive FEI. Ohio State’s explosive victory over pathetic New Mexico State last week was nice, but it doesn’t instill much more confidence in their ability to move the ball against the Nittany Lions. In order to win, they’ll need to resort to their old standby of playing keep away. The Buckeyes have given up only five touchdowns this season on 56 opponent drives starting 80 or more yards from the end zone. Penn State’s offense has only started that deep in their own territory 26 times this year.

The Picks -- Rob: Penn St. | FEI: Penn St. | S&P+: Penn St.

No. 8 Oregon (-5.5) at Stanford (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, FSN)

Rumors abound that suspended pariah running back LeGarrette Blount will be reinstated for the game. He has hardly been missed, thanks to LaMichael James, who should top 1,000 yards for the season against the Cardinal. The Ducks are this week’s media favorite, coming off the loud beatdown of USC Saturday night. But an upset in Palo Alto isn’t impossible. Stanford is unbeaten at home, and possess a pretty good bellcow tailback of its own, Toby Gerhart, who is a mere six yards shy of a grand himself. He’s been handled by the Ducks the last two seasons, and he needs to bust out if Stanford is to break a seven-game losing skid against Oregon. Frosh quarterback Andrew Luck has been steady under center for Stanford this season, but he needs to make some big plays and have a healthy dollop of his last name for Stanford to pull the stunner.

The Picks -- Rob: Oregon (LOCK) | FEI: Oregon | S&P+: Oregon

Oregon State (+7) at No. 20 California (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. EST, FSN)

The Golden Bears were written off after consecutive hammerings at the hands of Oregon and USC. But the former top-10 team has righted itself against the conference smaller fry, eking out a third straight win last week in Tempe. Defenses have been keying on running back Jahvid Best, and the passing game hasn’t compensated enough. Quarterback Kevin Riley will probably recall the 2007 Cal-OSU game in Strawberry Valley -- as the freshman quarterback of the nation’s No. 2 team, Riley insanely scrambled and was tackled inbounds with no timeouts remaining, his team down three. Time expired before a kick could be tried. Cal’s defense will have to be on the spot if Cal hopes to enact some retribution. Stopping the Rodgerseseses, running back Jacquizz and wide receiver James, has proven impossible this season. The brothers have 20 touchdowns and more than 2,200 yards of offense between them. If they run wild Saturday, the Beavers should win its fifth straight at Cal’s Memorial Stadium.

The Picks -- Rob: Ore. St. | FEI: Ore. St. (LOCK) | S&P+: Ore. St.

Florida State (+8.5) at Clemson (Saturday, 7:45 p.m. EST, ESPN)

Fun fact: Before Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews landed the final job of his career in 1984, he held the same position at Clemson in the late-1970s. The more you know ...

The big story regarding what was until recently known as the Bowden Bowl (before Bobby's son Tommy was fired last October), has been Andrews' retirement. Florida State is suffering through possibly their worst defensive season since Andrews took the job 25 years ago, and while Clemson's offense is far from dominant, they should find room to get C.J. Spiller rolling. Meanwhile, the more interesting battle could take place when Florida State has the ball. Christian Ponder leads a strong Seminoles passing attack against an equally stout Clemson secondary. Clemson can seize control of the ACC Atlantic by playing spoiler in the Game No. 1 of the Andrews Retirement Tour.

The Picks -- Rob: Fla. St. | FEI: Fla. St. | S&P+: Clemson

Connecticut (+16.5) at No. 5 Cincinnati (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

The Huskies have had their hearts ripped out two weeks in a row after the fatal stabbing of cornerback Jasper Howard. Against both Rutgers and West Virginia, Connecticut gave up a touchdown on the opening kickoff and a long touchdown late, losing each game 28-24. They statistically dominated the 55 minutes in the middle, which may give them some confidence heading into their toughest test of the season. Cincinnati’s offense hasn’t missed a step after Tony Pike went down. Zach Collaros (9 touchdowns, 1 interception) has been stellar, and of the other undefeated contenders, Cincinnati has been the most consistently in control. This game grabs the Saturday night primetime TVs for the northeast, providing the Bearcats with a significant opportunity to show off. If they struggle, even in a win, it will be all the voters need to keep them out of the discussion at the end of the year.

The Picks -- Rob: Cincy | FEI: Cincy | S&P+: Cincy

No. 24 Oklahoma (-6) at Nebraska (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, ABC)

From Johnny Rodgers and Eric Crouch to Spencer Tillman and Keith Jackson, for decades the best players in these two magnificent programs saved their biggest plays for this rivalry. While Saturday night's face-off in Lincoln might not have the same stakes as some of those epic battles, both teams still have plenty to play for. If Nebraska wins, they take a giant step toward winning the Big 12 North (especially if Kansas beats Kansas State). Oklahoma, meanwhile, can still make a Jan. 1 bowl despite early-season disappointments (then again, after losses to BYU and Texas in Dallas already this season, maybe the Holiday Bowl in San Diego is sounding like a more attractive option), and they are looking for any possible momentum to build for another title run next season. Beyond any medium-sized stakes, however, isn't it still pretty cool to see these teams on the same field?

The Picks -- Rob: Oklahoma | FEI: Nebraska | S&P+: Nebraska

Storylines of the Week

Rob Weintraub: There was much crowing in SEC circles after USC was whacked at Oregon Saturday night in Eugene. Nothing gets a southerner worked up like saying the Pac-10 is better than the King of All Conferences. But for the third straight season, the SEC is quite mediocre. Sure, Florida and Alabama reign at the top, but their difficulties have been well chronicled. Wouldn’t you love to see a spread-off between Urban Meyer’s Gators and Chip Kelly’s Ducks next week on a neutral site? It’s the rest of the SEC that looks more and more average with each kickoff. Auburn has crashed to earth, Ole Miss was never more than OK, South Carolina can’t play offense, Arkansas can’t play defense, and Georgia can’t play either. Tennessee -- Tennessee! -- might be the fourth best SEC team. When Georgia Tech longs for a return to its SEC roots, you know the conference has a problem.

Brian Fremeau: There are seven undefeated teams right now, ranked one through seven in the current BCS standings. That’s more than at this time in each of the last five seasons. In 2004, there were six undefeated teams in the first November BCS standings, and five of them survived unscathed heading into bowl season. From this point through the final BCS standings last year, only three losses were suffered by the BCS top-7 teams and two of those were head-to-head matchups within that group. I used to treat 2004 as a bit of an anomaly -- five undefeated teams, more than two from BCS automatic qualifying conferences -- but I think the growing lack of interconnectivity among top teams may make it more common. I think that problem needs to be addressed before playoff arguments are taken seriously. The 2004 finale is often held up as the poster child for the need for a playoff, but it would have been a nightmare for most playoff proposals, either keeping several conference champions out or not including one or more of the undefeated teams. It’s looking more and more like we’re careening towards the same conclusion in 2009.

Bill Connelly: Well, it was a fun month of flirting with potentially new, fun Heisman candidates. Jahvid Best sure did look good at first, and Jimmy Clausen has had some nice, late-game heroics. Mark Ingram has thrown himself onto the scene, and Tony Pike sure had something going before that injury. And remember the defensive players? Ndamukong Suh had his moments before the Nebraska offense fell apart (because that somehow disqualifies him), and those Eric Berry videos sure were entertaining. But after all the flirtation, and all the open-minded exploration, it appears we are basically right back where we started: Tim Tebow versus Colt McCoy. Ingram still has a chance to crash the party, but I don't think anybody's going to bet too much on that happening.

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home Rob FEI S&P+
Virginia Tech -12.5 East Carolina ECU VT VT*
Kansas -2.5 Kansas State KSU KU KU
Navy +11 Notre Dame Navy Navy Navy
LSU +9 Alabama LSU Alabama Alabama
Ohio State +3.5 Penn State Penn St. Penn St. Penn St.
Oregon -5.5 Stanford Oregon* Oregon Oregon
Oregon State +7 California Ore. St. Ore. St.* Ore. St.
Florida State +8.5 Clemson Fla. St. Fla. St. Clemson
Connecticut +16.5 Cincinnati Cincy Cincy Cincy
Oklahoma -6 Nebraska Oklahoma Nebraska Nebraska
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
S&P+: 7-3 (1-0) 52-36-2 (5-4-0)
FEI: 6-4 (0-1) 42-46-2 (3-6-0)
Rob: 2-8 (0-1) 37-51-2 (1-8-0)

Remember to discuss games all weekend long on our new college football discussion board.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 05 Nov 2009

50 comments, Last at 08 Nov 2009, 11:04am by Eddo


by Dean :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 6:00pm

This is a HUGE weekend. And as soon as the politicians get their way, it becomes a nothing weekend.

If the NCAA were dumb enough to institute a playoff system, Oklahoma/Nebraska would not be a sellout. Certainly nobody'd care about Cal/Oregon State or Texas aginst UCF. Even Penn State/Ohio State would probably sell 50,000 tickets instead of 100,000.

Right now, we are 9 weeks into the greatest playoff system in sports. 8 teams are alive. Another 8 are dead and don't know it, and the remaining 104 have been eliminated, and every week we are reminded how great things are.

And every week, idiots like Lee Courso - who would be laughed off this site if he covered the NFL - call for a playoff. We're smart enough to ignore blowhards who cover the NFL - so why are we dumb enough to listen to them when it comes to the NCAA?

If it ain't broke, don't break it.

by Bill Connelly :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 6:09pm

I don't have a ton of problems with the current system -- I would embrace a playoff if it happened, but I'm in no hurry. That said...

a) Oklahoma/Nebraska would ABSOLUTELY be sold out.

b) Penn State/Ohio State would ABSOLUTELY sell 100,000 tickets.

c) What happens if Texas and Florida/Alabama win out? Then what are the other undefeated teams playing for? The right to say "We went undefeated, and if we'd done it in a different year, we might have had something to play for"?

by Floyd (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 1:52am

Florida/Alabama and Texas haven't won out yet. They still need to win their games. And if they don't, there are the Iowas and Cincinnatis and Boises waiting in the wings. That's what keeps it interesting. A playoff moots all of this.

I like March Madness, but the college basketball regular season means absolutely nothing. I would hate to see the same thing happen to college football.

by Darren (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 10:22am

This is an *absurd* comparison, and I don't know why people keep making it. March Madness is a 64-team playoff. A college football playoff would have between 4 and 16 teams at most. In my preferred version of a playoff with 8 teams, you'd have the 6 current BCS conference champions plus two at-large teams - the regular season would feel more or less the same as it does now (some games would lose importance, but others would gain importance), and you'd have a much more exciting December and January to look forward to.

by Dean :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 11:02am

Florida and Alabama will play each other. They can't both win out.

As for the other schools, they made their own schedule. I have no sympathy for them. If you schedule easy opponents, and someone else schedules more difficult opponents, then you have weeded yourself out before the season even starts. If there was some sort of centralized schedulemaker, then your point would have merit, but when each school makes its own schedule, then have no one to blame but themselves.

by Bill Connelly :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 2:07pm

No one to blame but themselves? Really? Come on...Iowa has (according to the computers) the toughest strength of schedule, TCU played on the road against two ACC teams to improve their SOS, and Boise took out everybody's new favorite team, Oregon. Exactly what else were they supposed to do? Texas and Florida/Alabama (written that way because obviously only one will end up undefeated) have three things those other schools don't: 1) a name, 2) a big-time conference, and 3) a high preseason ranking (which "weeds teams out before the season even starts" a lot worse than scheduling). All three of those things play a much bigger role than simply scheduling harder. And I'm pretty sure TCU or Boise would do absolutely anything you asked them to end up in a big-time conference...pretty sure they're doing everything they possibly can. But it's not going to work because Florida is Florida, Alabama is Alabama, and Texas is Texas.

by Kevin 11 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 11:56am

What would I like Boise State to do? Specifically, I'd like to see them stop struggling against teams like Louisiana Tech, I'd like to see them get teams like UC-Davis off their non-conferenced schedule, and I'd like them to accept the fact that they might have to accept road games (as opposed to home-and-home arrangements) if they want to be considered for a #1 or #2 spot in the polls while playing in the second-weakest conference in the country.

by Brendan Scolari :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 8:10pm

"Right now, we are 9 weeks into the greatest playoff system in sports. 8 teams are alive. Another 8 are dead and don't know it, and the remaining 104 have been eliminated, and every week we are reminded how great things are."

I'd say that's the exact problem with college football. When half the teams are eliminated before the season starts, and 90% of the teams are eliminated withing the first 5-6 weeks of the season, the season becomes meaningless for most fans.

What does Cal have to play for at this point? An outside shot at the Rose Bowl? So what? They have zero chance of being national champions, and so does nearly every other team. They do have a chance of being a top 16 team, so there would be a chance they would qualify for a playoff spot.

It'd be like if the NFL only took the top team from each conference to play in the Superbowl after the regular season. Most NFL teams would have nothing to play for the rest of the season because they won't be able to catch the Saints or Colts, but in a playoff system the season is exciting for the good teams all season long.

What according to you makes "the greatest playoff in sports" actually makes the bulk of the season meaningless for most teams, I don't see what's so great about that.

by Muldrake (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 2:26am

First off, I would imagine that teams would be playing for the same thing as they are now. I'm a life long Husker fan that has no illusions of getting into the top 16 but I would really, really like them to beat OU this weekend. Really. A lot. But even if they lose I would still like them to beat Kansas. And so on. I haven't completely lost interest in the season just because my team as been eliminated from the national title hunt. In the deed the glory...

Secondly I would like to point out that this season is a textbook example of why a playoff system would never work. As bad as the bunching is at the top, everything from 8 to about 30 is a complete mess. There is no way I could make any sort of argument that, say, Miami is in but Virginia Tech is out that isn't completely arbitrary.

So, yes, Cal could be playing for a playoff spot. But the flip side of that is that Cal could be playing for a playoff spot. The same team that laid massive, stinking eggs in its biggest games could make the playoffs at the expense of, say, a Notre Dame that hasn't played anyone but hasn't been dominated like Cal. That's something that playoff proponents never really address...the fact that you're not eliminating the controversy of who gets into the postseason, you're just moving the controversy down 14 (or whatever) spots in the polls where things are always way murkier than the top 2. Going back to last year, Ole Miss would be out and Texas Tech would be in. Virginia Tech would have been out but Cincinnati would have been in. And that's assuming that the playoff format would just be the top 16 of the BCS with no automatic qualifiers...when you start to add automatic qualifiers things really start to get confusing.

by Brendan Scolari :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 2:31pm

"Secondly I would like to point out that this season is a textbook example of why a playoff system would never work. As bad as the bunching is at the top, everything from 8 to about 30 is a complete mess. There is no way I could make any sort of argument that, say, Miami is in but Virginia Tech is out that isn't completely arbitrary."

Completely disagree. Being the 17th best team and not getting a chance in the playoffs is a lot less controversial and unfair than being the 3rd or 4th best team and not getting a shot. This would be a great year to have playoffs.

"So, yes, Cal could be playing for a playoff spot. But the flip side of that is that Cal could be playing for a playoff spot."

Right, which is exactly my point. Losing 1-2 games makes the rest of your season meaningless usually as far as winning a national championship. Imagine if the NFL like this, teams like the Giants, Cowboys, Niners, and Chargers are out for all intents and purposes as there's no way they finish with a top 2 record so they have nothing to play for. Exactly how is this system more exciting?

"That's something that playoff proponents never really address...the fact that you're not eliminating the controversy of who gets into the postseason, you're just moving the controversy down 14 (or whatever) spots in the polls where things are always way murkier than the top 2."

Again, yes, because the 1th-18th best team has a lot less room to gripe than the 3rd best team. You could say the same for college basketball, but how often do you see the 66th best team making a huge fuss? The playoff system adds more exciting games and lets the best teams play each other to decide the national championship.

by Ben Johnson (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 3:27pm

I have said for years and years, to any one who will listen, I would much rather argue about numbers 16 and 17 than numbers 2 and 3. Someone will have to stay home, everybody agrees on that. I would much rather that the team that doesn't come to the party is the 17th best team in the land than the third best team in the land.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 3:55pm

But it isn't arguing about numbers 16 vs 17. It's going to be arguing about numbers 8 through 30 - they're all about equivalent, and you can make a case for almost all of them against the others.

by Muldrake (not verified) :: Sun, 11/08/2009 - 2:29am

If you really don't care about the difference between the 16th and 17th teams, then what is the point of the playoff? What you seem to be suggesting is that it doesn't matter if lower seeds get in because they are unlikely to win anyway. So why bother with any of it?

The way I see it is if you have a playoff there has to be some logical reason for letting some teams have a shot of the championship and some not, and looking at this year (especially after this weekend!) I have no clue whatsoever how to rank basically #4-#30. Do I really think that, say, TCU could beat Oklahoma? No. Do I think Cincinnati could beat Oregon? No. Does it make a difference? Yes...because, for example, I do think that Oregon could beat any of the top 3 on a good day.

Under the current system it doesn't make a difference because however good Oregon is, it clearly isn't one of the top 2 teams. It's just the type of team you don't want to face in a playoff. And if we start to throw in automatic qualifiers, is there any person on the planet that can make a case for Troy being more deserving of a shot at the title than LSU?

Under a 16 team system who gets in and who stays home matters immensely and I don't think that there is a system that can really determine who the top 16 teams are in the country with any sort of precision in any year...let alone in this crazy year.

by Dean :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 11:32am

They'd be playing for the same things as now, but with a small fraction of the fan interest.

When was the last time anyone cared about a regular season college basketball game?

Right now, there are 720 games that people care about. 708 if you want to stipulate that nobody cares about Syracuse anymore.

Why would you reduce that number to 15, or 7, or 3 games and render the rest meaningless? That's what happened in basketball, and that's exactly what would happen in football.

by Brendan Scolari :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 2:24pm

College basketball is an even worse system, but that's not what I said at all.

720 games? Huh? How do you get that? There's really only a handful of games that matter at all the rest of the season. If there were a 16 team playoff there would be an explosion in the number of games that had an effect on the championship, just like if you reduced the NFL playoffs to the 2 teams with the best records there would be a huge drop in the number of games that mattered.

by Jetspete :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 6:13pm


how is it possible that the NCAA has both the best (or at least the most fun) method of finding a champion of any sport in any amateur or professional league (ie March Madness) in the country, and the worst (a convuluted computer formula that emphasizes the opinion of writers and coaches who barely watch games)? A playoff is entirely possible of occurring with little controversy (take 16 teams and square them off).

As for this year's conclusion, the BCS is a marathon not a sprint. Just because a team will be favored in every game does not mean it will win. A few weeks ago this site had a column acknowledging that same fact that there's a team every year that falls off the radar even when entering November undefeated. Cincinnati still has two difficult matchups, and Iowa has a buzzsaw game at Ohio State. Throw in the Bama/Fla matchup and the bound-to-happen upset, and I would be surprised if more than three teams are undefeated at season's end. What is happening this year could have as much to do with weighted scheduling (tough games later in year) as much as anything else.

by Brian Fremeau :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 6:25pm

Again, I'm not advocating for or against a playoff. Any playoff proposal will fail, however, if we don't figure out how to improve the regular season connectivity first. 90+ teams are playing FCS opponents instead of one another. It was about half that only a few years ago.

by David W. (not verified) :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 7:14pm

Is it possible that a playoff system itself would improve connectivity? If a regular season loss didn't devastate your chance of making a college football playoff, the top conferences might be more inclined to play each other.

by Brian Fremeau :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 8:30pm

With 16 teams, most (if not all) 2-loss BCS conference teams would be in good shape. Why would, say, Oklahoma or Texas play a tough out of conference game when a 2-loss Big 12 season would get them in? How about Texas Tech?

Let's imagine Ohio State loses to Penn State this weekend and wins the rest of its games, including a win over undefeated Iowa. 9-3 Ohio State would be on the outside looking in on a 16-team playoff. Had they not scheduled USC, they'd be 10-2 and in. I think most playoff proposals would discourage non-conference challenges, not encourage them.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 8:56pm

The connectivity problem is economic, not structural, and the reason it's getting worse is... well, the economy, and you haven't felt the full brunt of it yet.

If a regular season loss didn't devastate your chance of making a college football playoff, the top conferences might be more inclined to play each other.

Scheduling teams from the BCS conferences roughly halves the revenue you get from the game, because you have to do a 2-game home-and-away series (and probably share gate receipts, as opposed to the fixed payout FCS teams get).

You can't fix this problem in the short term - I think you have to do something to stem the crazy growth of the major BCS power teams and then work to bring their budgets down to something a little more sustainable, all the while trying to make the lesser teams more economically sustainable.

by Matt Snappel (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 4:26pm

Agreed on connectivity.

I think relegation and promotion would do a world of good. If you think about it, no teams come from out of no where. Even Boise st and utah were considered relatively good (preseason) before they "surprised" everyone.

Limiting the pool of eligible teams at a "tier 1" level is needed.

If you had 5 or 6 9-team divisions based on loosely on geography (teams like Tennessee would be eligible for multiple divisions), with forced connectivity in non-division games (only playing other "tier 1" teams)... The outcome would be much more merit based.

Of course everyone knows the following, but some people choose to ignore or marginalize it.

1. Being a big name school helps your ranking.
2. Playing a weak schedule, either from a conference OR nonconference standpoint, helps your ranking.
3. Scoring Margin is important. You can debate the degree to which it is effective, and in what cases it may be misleading- is 17-0 W better than a 42-21 W. But nontheless, the best is the enemey of the better, and scoring margin should be used in some capacity.
4. With the above mentioned, what is the point of preseason rankings or for that matter rankings until week 5 or so. Other than to anchor polls for unobserving humans.

Of course, I fully recognize for various reasons, many, if not all of these changes will never be made.

by Eddo :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 5:46pm

2. Playing a weak schedule, either from a conference OR nonconference standpoint, helps your ranking.

You do realize that having a poor conference schedule is the only thing that kept Utah out of the championship last year and Hawaii the year before, right?

by Matt Snapple (not verified) :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 12:44pm

My point is that wins are almost always valued above strength of schedule. I think thats why, in addition to revenue issues, that teams are increasing heading towards soft non-conference schedules. Think of Mike Leach, one of smarter minds in college football. He figured out this when he started at Tech.

You rarely see teams with 2 losses (unless there a big name school, from a power conference, at the end of the year) ranked ahead of a 1 loss team. Regardless of the fact that the 2-loss team may have had 7 or 8 competitive games, with a real chance of losing. While, the 1-loss team may have only had 2 or 3 of said games.

by Eddo :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 1:06pm

And yet a two-loss LSU team played for the National Championship in 2007 over a one-loss Kansas team and an undefeated Hawaii team, because it was generally accepted that LSU played a tougher schedule than those two teams. Voters are more perceptive than you think when it comes to the difficulty of teams' schedules, and have been for years.

by Brian Fremeau :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 7:46pm

At the top of the rankings, I agree with you. I don't think voters would be as perceptive on strength of schedule when it comes to separating out teams 8-20 for at-large playoff bids.

by Eddo :: Sun, 11/08/2009 - 11:04am

No argument from me, there, Brian. I was only addressing the top of the rankings.

My (totally subjective) opinion is that the "name" schools get a much bigger advantage from #10-#25 than other, (sometimes) more deserving schools.

by Chris F. (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 11:24pm

There's one tried and true way of establishing connectivity between the regular season and post-season of college football: conference championships = bowl games.

Win your conference, go to the bowl. That formula has worked for decades, and even the rash of "barely 0.500 bowls" couldn't take away the thrill of a Big 12 battle to go to the Orange Bowl, or a Big 10 battle for the Rose Bowl. This insane positioning for the BCS polls has been the only thing powerful enough to make a conference championship seem cheap, and that's sad.

Once the bowls were finished, you could answer the rest of the playoff question in 2 weeks. And as a football fan from north of the Mason-Dixon line, I'd like to see that next round of playoffs played outdoors and in the cold.

by Matt Snapple (not verified) :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 12:38pm

To me thats not enough. Though, its a lot more likely to be implemented.

That solution implies that all conferences are nearly equal, every time, every year. And then it continues that implication by (I'm assuming) scheduling non competitive and non-connected, nonconference games.

by Jetspete :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 6:24pm

I guess the question about a playoff would be, can you still have a play-off without ditching the bowls (or maybe incorporating them)? I think you can. When you regularly have multiple teams laying claim to a mythical national title, and over 50% of your fan base complaining about the way a champion is determined, yes the system is broke. Look at some of these gems of BCS title games:

98 FSU goes to BCS title game over several other 1-loss teams
00 FSU finishes number 2 and goes over the team that beat them! #3 miami
01 nebraska doesnt even win it's own division, yet goes to title game
03 OU loses finale, still goes to BCS title game over usc
04 the mess discussed above
07 LSU determined the best of several 2 loss teams
08 the Texas Fiasco

Do you ever hear these complaints about any other sport?? Ever??

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 7:15pm

Sure, but the difference is that when you hear a basketball or baseball or I-AA football team complaining, it's not an undefeated team (which itself should put to rest the idea that the BCS system is a "playoff" of any sort), it's a team who's won 80% or 70% or 60% of its games. At worst, it won 90% of its games in a weak conference with an average (or worse) non-conference schedule. The teams considered to be the best all have a chance to play for a title.

In the BCS system, only two teams play for it; the odds of a quality team being left out are great, in large part because that's not what the BCS was trying to address. It was only looking at obvious 1 vs. 2 matchups that didn't happen. In that regard, it succeeded admirably, but the problem is those are few and far between.

Think of it as if replay existed in college football, but could only be used for scoring/non-scoring plays. Some bad calls would be reversed, but a lot of other ones wouldn't be reviewed. Does it help at all to review just the scoring plays? A bit, yes, but you run the risk of creating a bigger problem than the one you're addressing. If the system is so good, why don't you review other crucial plays? If it's not that good anyway, why use it in the first place?

With only the bowls, there really wasn't a clear champion. Some people liked it and others didn't. (Kind of like the Heisman: sometimes people agreed with it and sometimes it was a joke.) With the bowls and the BCS, there isn't usually a clear champion. Sure, 1 plsys 2, but as Jetspete says, there have been a lot of questions about 2 (and sometimes 1).

To get a clear champion, you need to involve enough teams that any contender either a) won the title or b) lost its chance on the field. Only a playoff will provide that ... and as a bonus, it'll give us a number of upsets and yet still demonstrate that most of the time, the team playing best at the end of the season is one of the best in the country.

And honestly, I really don't think rivalry games would be affected by a playoff system any more than they're affected by one or more teams struggling. (See Exhibit A: basketball and Exhibit B: Michigan-OSU last season and this. Michigan being out of contention for a BCS spot has no bearing on ticket sales.) Will it affect other matchups? Maybe. PSU-Indiana may not draw as many fans if Penn State has a spot locked up, but Purdue-Michigan State becomes quite a bit more interesting if the Spartans are pushing for an at-large bid.

I am convinced a playoff system is coming (although it won't be the 16-team system that will eventually arrive; the first one is likely to be a 4-team set and will draw more fire than the current BCS, I think), and every year like '04 or this year helps it to arrive more quickly.

by dryheat :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 1:16pm

You know, in about 30 years of watching college football, I never once understood what was so tragic about two (or three) schools and their fans both thinking they were the best team.

My daughter thinks I'm the greatest man alive. Her friend thinks that her dad is the greatest man alive. I think it's fine that both girls can have opposite opinions and I don't have to face the other dad in a steel cage match, or any other competition to prove who is undoubtedly the greatest dad.

If it were up to me, I'd make college football the way it was before the BCS business. Bowl game after bowl game on January 1st. And if Washington and Miami, or BYU and Washington, or FSU and Auburn, or Colorado and Georgia Tech, or Miami and Syracuse, or Michigan and Nebraska, or Nebraska and Penn State both think they're the best team in the nation in any given year, fantastic. I don't think it matters much.

by witless chum :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 4:03pm

Me, too. Maybe that's because Michigan State hasn't challenged for a national championship since I was negative 12 years old, but I'd rather the old argue about it system than the fish nor fowl BCS as it is now.

I'd be fine with a playoff, but only if it was as arbitrary as possible. Take the conference champs from all the conferences, not just the BCS ones, and a couple at large. I don't care for crying from teams that could have gotten by winning their conference, but didn't. I care much about the 2008 Utah's of the world, who do literally everything they could to challenge for the championship (including scheduling, as they didn't know Michigan was going to drive off a cliff when they agreed to play in Ann Arbor) and get denied.

by Floyd (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 5:50pm

I agree completely. When I was a youngster growing up among the Buckeye pod people, the goals for every season were:
1)Win Big Ten and go to Rose Bowl
2)Beat Michigan (usually 1 & 2 were a package deal)
Distant 3) Win the National Championship

Let's go back to way it was when conference championships and trips to Pasadena/Miami/New Orleans/Dallas etc. were what mattered most.

What's wrong with having a 10-2 conference champion win its bowl game and feel good about itself all offseason? Why does that team have to be shoe-horned into a playoff where it loses in the semis and feels cruddy all offseason?

Bring back the old ways!

by Scott de B (not verified) :: Sun, 11/08/2009 - 2:02am

All of those were the correct decision.

by Brendan Scolari :: Thu, 11/12/2009 - 6:06pm

In my first week of predictions I was 5-5 (0-1). NOt sure why I didn't go with North Carolina for the EL, their top defense shoudl have made it obvious they wouldn't lose by more than 17 points. Oh well. My predictions:

East Carolina, Kansas State, Notre Dame, LSU, Ohio State, Oregon, Oregon State, Clemson, Cincy, Oklahoma and I'll make my Edelstein lock Oregon.

by Tom Gower :: Thu, 11/05/2009 - 8:25pm

Picks: VT, Kansas, Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Cal, Florida State, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma. Since last week the counter-consensus Edelstein worked again with the Snyders early knocking off Boomer Sooner, I'll run with it again, this time with Our Lady.

by Tom Gower :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 11:01am

For the record, I was 4-6 (0-1) last week and thus am now 41-47-2 (5-4) on the year.

by Mike Y :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 12:39am

Every year I try to bring up my version of a playoff system, which I'm sure other people have come up with also, which is a 16 team playoff. All 11 conference champions, along with 5 a-large selections, with an NCAA basketball-type of selection committee which takes strength of schedule into account, and seeds the teams 1-16 without regard of who is a conference champion or who is an at-large team. Playoffs could begin in December, with the national title game in the first or 2nd week in January. Higher seeded team hosts the first two rounds, with the "Final Four" taking place at a neutral site. Keep the rest of the bowls for teams that don't make the playoffs.

Now who wouldn't want this? Competition would be fierce for not only the conference championship spot, but for the 5 at-large spots also. Very few games would be meaningless. And who wouldn't want to see an LSU at Michigan quarterfinal game in December, for instance? This would improve the college game drastically, because basically, it's a farce right now, almost on par with the WWE or Figure Skating. I might actually be interested in more than just my school's games if we had a system like this.

by Mike Y :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 1:06am

In continuing with my post, here is what a possible playoff scenario could look like if the season ended today:


1 - Florida
2 - Texas
3 - Alabama
4 - Iowa
5 - Cincinnati
6 - TCU
7 - Boise St.
8 - Oregon
9 - LSU
10 - Georgia Tech
11 - USC
12 - Penn St.
13 - Houston
14 - Central Michigan
15 - Nevada
16 - Troy

Friday, December 18:

#16 Troy at #1 Florida
#14 Central Michigan at #3 Alabama
#12 Penn St. at #5 Cincinnati
#10 Georgia Tech at #7 Boise St.

Saturday, December 19:

#15 Nevada at #2 Texas
#13 Houston at #4 Iowa
#11 USC at #6 TCU
#9 LSU at #8 Oregon

Then the semifinals can be:

Saturday, December 26:

#8 Oregon at #1 Florida
#7 Boise St. at #2 Texas
#11 USC at #3 Alabama
#5 Cincinnati at #4 Iowa

Final Four, in Pasadena, CA, January 2 (other Bowl games can be played on Dec 31 and Jan 1st):

#1 Florida vs. #4 Iowa
#2 Texas vs. #11 USC

National Championship Game, Pasadena, CA, January 9:

#1 Florida vs. #2 Texas

Of course, it would not play out that way, there might be plenty of upsets, and possibly half of the teams listed at the seeds currently would lose before the season's end and be knocked out of a playoff spot. This is much more exciting than our current system, and it would make tons more money also.

by Brian Fremeau :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 12:27pm

Nevada is an at-large selection? (Probably not your intention, but that's part of the problem here). Even without Nevada, your scenario let's a lousy conference champ (Troy) in automatically and picks 5 at-large selections from among probably 10 legitimate top-20 teams?

I know the 64-team basketball tournament at-large arguments occur, but in those, the final spots are going to 10-12 seeds that have no legitimate shot of winning the tournament. If you're going to let in every conference champ (like basketball), there should be more at-larges to compensate. 64 (actually 65) team basketball tournament has 31 champs and 34 at-large. 24 teams in football would be an appropriate balance -- 11 champs and 13 at-large. Both represent about 20% of the total field.

by Mike Y :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 12:39pm

Oops, I meant to include the champion of the WAC, but I forgot that I already had Boise St. in there. The other at-large team might be Ohio State or Pittsburgh. However, I think less at-larges are better, the regular season would still mean just as much. In my scenario, no team above is guaranteed a spot. Iowa could lose once and be denied an at-large spot. And I think including all the conference champs is important, as every team would have at least a shot at the championship. Plus, it would add a "cinderella" aspect to college football.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 1:07pm

"as every team would have at least a shot at the championship."

No, it wouldn't. Multiple conferences have more than one independent schedule, and the final tiebreaker is always something random. You can therefore have two undefeated teams in a conference who haven't played each other, and in that case, unless one of them is guaranteed an at-large spot, it wouldn't have a shot. Fixing that would require either mandating changes to conferences or guaranteeing undefeateds a berth, which is dangerous and further encourages reduced strength interconference scheduling.

Actually, from a "structural" standpoint including all conference champs encourages "evening" the conferences out - you're putting them all on an equal footing (which won't happen, of course, but let's just presume it did magically) and so over time the larger teams would migrate there. This actually makes the important connectivity worse because right now the best teams are clustered in BCS conferences. If you spread them out, they play each other less.

by Kevin 11 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 12:14pm

So 5-3 Nevada gets in ahead of 6-2 Notre Dame, despite Notre Dame having a far tougher schedule and Notre Dame beating Nevada 35 - 0?

This is exactly why I HATE 16-team playoff scenarios allowing all nine conference champions in. Why do we have to pretend that winning the MAC means anything?

by Dean :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 11:33am

"Now who wouldn't want this?"

Me, for one.

by Kal :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 12:40pm

Mike, here's the problem with that - and it's a huge one.

There is no reasonable way that anyone in the world would give 5 playoff spots to the non-BCS schools guaranteed. None.

No one in their right mind wants to take Troy over Alabama/Oklahoma/LSU/Oregon/Ohio State/Miami/VT/GT. No one.

Do you honestly believe that in order for us to determine the national champion, we need to figure out how well Florida does against Troy on a neutral field? Is this at all useful?

I don't like the idea of a playoff. I think it massively hurts the regular season importance, and for the vast majority of teams that is all they have. March Madness works because so many teams have a chance to get in - but 16 teams out of 120 schools is a horrible playoff system chance. It's worse than baseball ever was.

But this idea for a playoff is even worse. Why should the non-BCS schools (who don't have the bowl history, don't have the monetary standing, don't have the negotiation rights) get the same rights as the BCS schools? It's absurd.

If you wanted to do a good playoff system, start with the BCS divisions. Have them do a 4-team playoff internally right at the end of the regular season. Then send the champs of those + 2 at larges to do an 8-team playoff at the end. The At Larges must have gone through some kind of internal playoff to be eligible at all, which means that there would need to be some kind of non-BCS miniplayoff system - but it would also mean that every team had to go through that system to get there, so the NDs and the mid-majors wouldn't have an advantage. If you like, make it a 6-team playoff system where you get the top 5 teams + an at large non-BCS and have the top team from that move on, + the next best BCS team.

It's arbitrary. But at least it doesn't randomly reward the non-BCS teams for just getting in without any issue.

by witless chum :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 4:08pm

I'm not in my right mind, then, because that's exactly the feature I most want in a playoff. Give those teams the chance to win. I'd rather see them than a BCS conference also-ran.

I guess I care more that the system is as across the board fair as possible. And as a Michigan State fan, my team is as likely to get bitten by this as anyone.

by Kal :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 6:38pm

Why should you reward Troy more than Oregon or Cal? Why should Tulane have an easier time of getting into the national championship race than Alabama or LSU or Georgia or Penn State?

It's ridiculous. Automatic bids work in NCAA basketball because there's over 30 non-automatic bids and you're going to get pretty much anyone who could possibly contend anyway. This way you are limiting yourself to 11 teams who would regularly contend + maybe one or two if you get lucky. And you're removing the chance for another 4 while putting in teams that have no reason to even schedule hard games in their normal season.

I like the BCS teams go to a playoff because it means they can schedule meaningless but hard non-conf games without penalty; as long as it only matters that you won your division, you can play almost anyone outside of it. But the non-BCS teams going to a division - they've got such an easy schedule that you'd think you were playing the mid-80s Nebraska team. Can you imagine if a BCS team had 8 games against MAC opponents? And not only did they do this, but they got rewarded for it

If you want to make the argument that the non-BCS teams should have a chance, fine. But they shouldn't have a greater chance to make it in than the BCS teams. That's downright idiotic as it stands. All that will do is encourage teams to switch to cupcake divisions so they can play in the playoffs, since presumably that's where all the money is. And all that does is make the regular season mean even less. Horrible, horrible idea.

by Mike Y :: Fri, 11/06/2009 - 11:09pm

Kal, you're basically saying that politics and fan base are more important than on-field results when determining a national champion. That is unacceptable to me. If Florida goes 9-3, then it shouldn't go to a playoff over an undefeated MAC team. In basketball, Syracuse recently has been left out of the tournament with records like 18-13, while a Butler gets in with a 27-3 record. Is that bad for college basketball? I don't think so. And Florida may not beat a Troy or a Boise St. every time. Certainly, in recent years elite mid-majors have proven that they can play with the teams chosen to play in the elite BCS bowls. Why not let those schools have a chance at a title? Not every "name" school has to be successful. College football goes on even when Notre Dame or Nebraska sucks.

And as far as teams "moving" conferences, I don't think that would happen. LSU may sell out all of its SEC opponents, but it may not sell out when it plays Central Florida. And if you switch to a "weak" conference, a single loss in conference would likely doom your chances for making a playoff. However, USC, who plays a tough schedule, may get chosen for a playoff with two losses over perhaps a Cincinnati team with one loss with a weak schedule. Tougher schedules would give you a better chance of getting selected for an at-large big if you fail to win your conference.

And these problems you bring up pale in comparison to the problems of the current system. We currently have a system where Boise St. can go undefeated, with a win over an 11-1 Oregon team, and still have no shot at a national title. We also have a system where Florida will never play USC, or Ohio St. will never play Oklahoma. The best teams simply never play each other. A playoff changes that.

by Brian Fremeau :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 9:33am

Should a 9-3 (or 7-6) MAC champion go to the playoff over 9-3 Florida? I think that's the argument, here.

Also, Syracuse at 18-13 gets left out of the 34th at-large spot in the NCAA basketball tournament for a 27-3 Butler team. That's a little different than a potential top-15 football team getting left out for a bottom-40 team, isn't it?

by bird jam :: Sat, 11/07/2009 - 1:17am

"But for the third straight season, the SEC is quite mediocre."

I used to read Weintraub's tripe and think he was crazy, but then I realized he was writing comedy. LoL, Rob. LoL.