I think that Boise State is the best college football team in the country, but I don't know this for a fact.
They won't have a chance to play for a national championship, and I'm sure you're all aware why.
The BCS favors schools from traditional powerhouse conferences, as well as those with a rich history. Boise State has neither of those things going for them. It looks like they'll have to keep winning to eventually get a shot at the crystal football. Beyond going undefeated this year and only losing once last year, Boise will have to run the table next year, again, to qualify under the BCS's biased ranking formula. That would be a run of roughly 35-1 over their last 36 games. Unheard of in the modern era. But with the current system, that's what it would take.
The two undefeated teams, 'Bama and Texas, who will face off in tonight's BCS National Championship game are very deserving of that honor. Both play in better conferences than Boise, and neither has lost. It should be an excellent match-up. It's just that every year a team deserves to play in that game and doesn't get the chance. There simply has to be a way to incorporate a playoff system into the college football bowl structure. The potential revenue for a NCAAF Final Four would be too much for the money-hungry college football system to ignore, and it would be a destination game for fans, like March Madness or the Superbowl. Why not include college sports most exciting format in a college playoff system?
I've had some ideas kicking around for a while, but the best proposal I've seen comes from Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports. I'll do my best to add something to it, but it's pretty genius as is. Keeping the bowls in tact, the format introduces a true playoff system.
- The top sixteen teams will be ranked following the regular season and placed into a single playoff bracket. All conferences eligible will be required to play a conference title game. The Pac-10 and Big-10 will have to start a new tradition. One vs. two in each conference. Higher ranked team gets home field, except in the cases of neutral stadiums.
- I don't want to get into the voting process, but we'll keep a media, coaches, and computer element to the rankings. Strength of schedule should matter more than point differential or "style points."
- College Basketball's region-based tournament being the template, the bowls will fill in to act as playoff games for the second round, national semis and the championship game. First round games would be played at the higher-ranked team's home stadium.
- Teams will be ranked the same way they are for March Madness: 1/16, 2/15, 3/14, etc. Higher ranked teams get home games.
- In two weeks, the field will be down to a true final four, leaving us with three games left to play. And look at that, we've got the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl still kicking around as the predominant bowls in college football. Embrace that tradition and make these regional final games. Rotate the national title game between them and create an early-season bowl matchup early in the following season with the one venue that gets left out. This would be similar to the Chick-fil-A bowl that's becoming an early-season national title decider. Call it the BCS Kickoff Classic.
'Bama has played in Chick-fil-A's version twice, beating Clemson and Virginia Tech this year. Next year it's LSU and North Carolina. An even bigger game with a bigger name would be even more exciting. Imagine an early season Sugar Bowl between, say, Florida and Penn State.
- This year, the field would have looked something like this. Keep in mind that most minor conferences weren't factored into this approximation.
(16) Oregon State at (1) 'Bama
(15) BYU at (2) Texas
(14) Miami at (3) TCU
(13) LSU at (4) Cincinnati
(12) Virginia Tech at (5) Florida
(11) Penn State at (6) Boise State
(10) Oregon at (7) Iowa
(9) Georgia Tech at (8) Ohio State
Eight games in the first round. The best NCAAF Saturday of the year, potentially. Stagger the starts like the old New Year's Day bowls. Kick 'em off at (all EST) 12:30, 3:30, 6:30, and 9:30. Two per time slot. Or start 'em up every hour, so the first round feels like the NCAA Tournament's first round. One game would be ending while another starts, potentially offering up at least 12 hours of continuous football. Glorious.
You could even take eight conference champs (SEC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 10, Big East, ACC, WAC and Mountain West) and eight at-large teams, which would consist of the highest-ranked second-place finishers from those conferences and smaller conference champs (measured by conference strength of schedule, to offer incentive for smaller schools to schedule bigger games). Or declare that no second-place team could go to the playoffs. It would have to be an at-large (probably undefeated) team, or someone like this year's MAC champ, Central Michigan. I'd certainly be interested in a hypothetical playoff game at, say, 'Bama. I'd watch. So would you. So would millions. And imagine if what that first upset of a #1 would do for the sport. Hell, put the thing on pay-per-view and charge $29.95 for the playoffs. I'd still pay.
With eight teams left and four games to play, you'd have to pick four bowls to serve as the neutral site for these games. The Gator Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Outback Bowl and Cotton Bowl sound like good choices to me.
National Semis (Regional Finals)
Now just imagine the excitement surrounding a potential college football Final Four. Other collegiate sports have Final Fours besides basketball, and the Final Four brand is as strong as any in sports. Imagine two weeks off between the 2nd round and the National Semis, as excitement builds. Imagine that day, seeing an early game and a late game.
And every team that's any good would have a chance to play or the 'chip.
Potential Problems, and there's admittedly a few of them:
Teams would bitch and moan about the commitment of four games in a month, potentially. This can be cushioned by removing one or two of the meaningless games bigger schools schedule in August. There is no reason the Gators should be playing Charleston Southern at any point in their season, especially if traditionalists will argue that "every game matters" in the current regular season format. Even start the season a week earlier, or eliminate the month-long break between the regular season and the bowls. Or, at least trim it down by eliminating cupcake mismatches.
Many big-time programs let their top athletes skate by their academics, if they choose to, in order to play for their team. Many don't. There needs to be some time for finals in the month of December. I'm sure that a week can be added for tests and papers and things like that.
- Cheapening the Regular Season
A system could be worked out to reward the highest-ranking second-place conference finishers, or eliminate them from the process all together, relegating them to the other bowls. Let's say USC and Oregon to play for the Pac-10 title, with one at 9-1 and one 10-0. Let's say USC loses. Shouldn't they still get a shot to be in the playoffs? That would be left up to voters, computers, and coaches. Eight major conference winners leaves eight spots to be decided amongst smaller conferences and big-time 2nd place finishers.
This wouldn't cheapen the conference title game, in my opinion. It would raise, not lower, the stakes. Teams would be playing for a home playoff game, the revenue that would draw, and a legitimate shot to get into the the tournament, as well as an easier road to the national title, the ultimate prize.
I love the bowl season on average, but so many of the games end up terribly mismatched, pointless, or uninteresting. In this scenario, the bowls would seriously matter.
- Independent teams
Enough is enough. Independents would have to choose a conference. The military academies can be lumped together in Conference-USA. The name works. Notre Dame would stop getting the special treatment they no longer deserve.
- Leaving Someone Out
Someone's always going to be left out. It's a lot easier when that team 8-3 and not, you know, undefeated.
It's just a shame that Boise State built it's program from the ground up, continues to get ducked by powerhouse teams, and is faced with a choice: blow out lesser-quality opponents, or risk losing three years' worth of momentum with one loss to a middle-of-the pack team. It's not a fair choice for them to have to make. Life may not be fair, but against all odds, college football absolutely can be.
Follow me on Twitter: @BrandonGuarneri