Monday, September 8, 2008

Gators Lurking At No. 2

Who's No. 1? Who cares. All we need to know is who's No. 2.

In the world of BCS, it's all important being No. 2. At the end of the season, being No. 2 gets you a ticket to the big shindig. And five out of the last six years, the No. 2 team walked away with the BCS crystal ball trophy.

Two weeks into the season, that coveted No. 2 spot is now occupied by Florida, the BCS champion of 2006. USC, idle last weekend, continues to enjoy a comfortable lead at No. 1 in this week's unofficial BCS standings. Georgia, No. 2 in both AP and coaches polls, follows at No. 3 while Oklahoma moves up to No. 4.

The team that suffered almost irreparable harm despite winning last week was Ohio State. The Buckeyes dropped to No. 5 in the BCS standings after needing a muffed punt and a punt return for a touchdown late in the game to put away Ohio, 26-14. The non-loss became damaging because it's turned Ohio State's Saturday showdown at USC into a must-win game.

If the Buckeyes, No. 1 in the preseason, win that game, then all is well - they might move back up to No. 1, even. But if they lose the game, then they can forget about a third consecutive trip to the BCS title game. The pollsters are already extremely suspicious of the Buckeyes after back-to-back thrashing losses the last two years. A loss to USC, especially a lopsided one as the fifth-ranked team, makes it virtually impossible for Ohio State to climb its way back up the BCS ladder.

Two more SEC teams are in the top 10 of the standings, with defending BCS champion LSU coming in at No. 6 and Auburn at No. 9. Two other Big 12 teams - No. 7 Missouri and No. 8 Texas - join Oklahoma in the top 10, with Kansas just outside at No. 11. Wisconsin checks in at No. 10.

The story of the season so far is the performance of non-BCS teams. In this week's standings, four teams from three different non-BCS conferences made the top 25. Conference USA's East Carolina, the leading BCS Buster candidate at the moment, is the highest ranked at No. 16. The Pirates' ranking is in fact hurt by their ridiculously low placement in the coaches poll (No. 20) even after their thumping of then-No. 8 West Virginia.

The Mountain West's Brigham Young and Utah, each already with a victory over BCS conference teams, are at No. 17 and No. 20, respectively. Fresno State, seeking the WAC's third consecutive BCS invitation, is at No. 23, with a Saturday home date against Wisconsin coming up.

While all the non-BCS conference teams are vying for just a single BCS invitation, the ACC and Big East are sitting pretty with automatic bids, despite dreadful performances in the season's first two weeks. Wake Forest is the ACC's lone representative in the top 25, and the Demon Deacons needed a Sam Swank 41-yard field goal with three seconds left to thwart SEC also-ran Ole Miss.

The Big East has little to brag about, either. South Florida and Connecticut are the only conference teams without a loss right now and both needed overtime to stay unbeaten last week (over Central Florida and Temple, respectively). West Virginia, expected to be the standard-bearer of the conference, plummeted to No. 24 after taking a beating from East Carolina.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Suggestions for a Playoff System that Won't Ruin College Football

I'm not a proponent of playoffs in NCAA football. I think they'll be bad for the game. But I understand that it's all about money and playoffs will bring more TV revenue, ticket sales, marketing, and everything else. Playoffs are inevitable. So, if we have to have them, then we can at least devise the best possible format. Here's my suggestion.

First, some of the reasons to not have a playoff system.

1. Playoffs de-value the importance of regular season games.
Ever walked out of a stadium after your team loses an important game? Remember the complete sadness? How about after your team wins the big game near the end of the season? Remember the joy/relieve/happiness. Those emotions reach extremes because those games are important. A loss to a key opponent can mean the end of national championship hopes. (Lets forget about UF/FSU in '96, the series of events that led to that year's rematch kind of hurts my logical argument here).

How about FSU losing to the Gators in '97? How about Michigan losing to tOSU in '06? How about the importance of the USC win over ND a few years ago? These games prove that regular season games can be critical to a national championship.

If playoffs had existed, *ALL* of these teams would have made the tournament. With a normal playoff system winning or losing won't matter as much. This means that those emotional extremes won't matter either.

This is bad for football.

2. Playoffs encourage teams to have wimpy schedules.
If a team's goal is to win a national championship then they will only have to win the tournament (playoffs). Making the tournament is the first step to this goal. In fact, making the tournament is the ONLY absolute requirement. As long as you're in, then you have a shot at the title -- if you're not in, then you don't.

Seeding/placement in the playoffs will definitely have bearing on the eventual champ, but no coach or AD would be willing to take a risk at being a higher seed when the downside could mean exclusion from the post season. Coaches would rather have 12 wins over mediocre opponents than a 9- or 10-win season against a brutal schedule. Under other playoff proposals, 12 (or perhaps 11 or even 10) wins will get you in the playoffs despite who you beat. Given the opportunity, most schools will trade a challenging game for an increased chance to make the playoffs.

Regular season matchups will become boring. This is bad for football.

3. Playoffs can ruin traditional rivalries
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous argument. Why keep a tough rival on your schedule if that game hurts your chances of making the playoffs? Teams won't have much of a chance to revamp their conference games, but those great non-conference matchups will be at risk. Florida/Florida State, South Carolina/Clemson, Louisville/Kentucky, USC/Notre Dame, Colorado/Colorado State, and many other fan favorites will disappear.

The argument that the fans will hear is "if they're any good, we'll play them in the playoffs." This statement is true, but I think that any system that takes away my UF/FSU game sucks.

4. Playoffs will make the season too long.

So how do we overcome these problems (or at least minimize them) when the inevitable playoffs arise? Here's a way.

The system must ensure regular season games are important by making them all count. It must also reward teams for playing tough schedules -- especially the non-conference games that they control. And, if possible, use existing games (conference championships) as part of the "tournament" reduce the number of teams in the playoffs and therefore the adverse affects of long seasons.

I propose to have ONLY conference champs in the playoffs. No wildcards, no at-larges, only conference champs. This maximizes the importance of the regular season conference games and the conference championships (and negates the adverse effects of #1 above). This isn't too hard to achieve because the system is almost already in place. 10 conferences with 12 teams each is about the right number of Division I-A schools (120). Requiring each conference to follow the SEC, ACC, Big-12, C-USA format will give us all a valid way of selecting the two teams from each conference that play, and a legitimate conference champ. At the end of all the conference championship games there will be 10 teams in the playoffs.

A 10-team playoff?!? How can it work?
6 teams get byes, the other four play a first round. The two winners from this round join with the 6 bye teams and a standard 8-team tournament begins with #1 seeds playing #8, #2 playing #7, etc.

Isn't a bye week a big advantage?
Absolutely! Its a reward that should be earned during the regular season. Not just by beating a bunch of pansies, but by playing good games against quality teams. Strength of schedule is critical here.

How do you determine which teams get byes? How about the seeding?
Use a BCS-type system of scoring. I don't care if its based on a committee, by computer programs, or some other way, but I do have one requirement...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The evaluation is only done on the team's non-conference games.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This is a critical part of the plan. Clobbering Louisiana Lafeyette shouldn't help your score, but a close loss to Cal should help it. And, of course, beating Cal should help it even more. The strength of your non-conference schedule combined with your success against the non-conference teams determines your seeding.

This system ensures that conference games count -- winning the conference is the only way to make the playoffs. It also ensures that non-conference games count -- without it you'll get a poor seed, have a tougher road through the playoffs, and possibly even the dreaded extra game. It also minimizes the effects of the reasons to not have playoffs mentioned above.

Questions, Problems, Other Issues?

1) How does this tie into the existing bowl structure?
2) What about the other teams that deserve bowls but won't be in the top ten?
3) What about at-large teams (those that didn't win their conference)?
4) What about Independents that aren't in a conference?

1) Expand on the rotating championship concept that we currently have. The seven top games of the playoff could rotate between bowls that pony-up enough money. The first round of playoffs (2 games of non-bye receiving teams) could rotate between some of the smaller bowls. The traditional conference tie-ins would have to be dropped, but they're dropped already if a national championship is involved -- thus the end of the BCA a decade ago.

2) Other bowls can still exist and they can invite any team they want. There are many bowls now that have no affect on the national championship. That plan can still exist.

3) At-large teams should definitely NOT be in the playoffs. What if Nebraska had won the National Championship a few years ago after not even playing for their conference champ? How could any sensible person call them the best in the nation when they weren't even the best in the Northern Division of the Big 12! They finished second in a 6-team division, yet almost won the "National Championship" -- preposterous. A similar situation was possible in 2007
with UGA.

4) Screw Notre Dame. Let the football team join the rest of their sports and join a conference. This will be their last chance to join because the Big-10/11 will have to pick up a 12th team in order to have a true champ.

One Last Point.
I've explained this plan to several people and a few of them responded by saying "only conference champs in the playoff? this means that no cinderella teams will ever be champs." I respond with "Good! If George Mason had won two more games a couple of years ago in March Madness would you start considering the the *best* team in the country? Of course not, you'd say they won the title but you wouldn't think they were the most outstanding team of the year."

Isn't determining the most outstanding team the whole point?

PS: If you've forgotten my statement at the beginning -- I'm not a proponent of playoffs. Football's been doing just fine for the last 100 years. Why screw it up? Why take away the fun, excitement, and value of regular season games, and why ruin rivalries, to determine a national champ? But since playoffs are inevitable, lets at least save our favorite sport from corporate sponsors, ESPN employees, and the silly allure of once-a-year office pools.

Tony G