MIGHT Not Obviously Would Have Made An NCAA Playoff
Those clamoring for a Division I playoff in college football (and I’m pro-playoff, let’s get this out of the way up top, but I’m not calling for Congressional intervention)
might not have seen one of their darlings in the field this year, depending on how the participants might have been determined would have been delighted to have Boise State take the WAC’s automatic bid on the basis of being the highest-ranked of the three teams that all finished 7-1 in conference play. Thanks to alert reader TA who pointed out that there was actually a three-way tie, not a two-way tie atop the WAC. But, I’ll say this: Nevada is 12-1, and some people make such a big deal about one win sometimes (like when Utah was 13-0 in 2008 and Florida was 13-1 but Utah tried to tell us their 13-0 was more impressive than Florida’s 13-1), you’d wonder why they wouldn’t do the same with Nevada.
Some playoff scenarios insist you have to give all 11 conference champions an automatic bid (and you might have to, just to get the votes to get a playoff implemented).
If that’s true, Boise State may be on the outside looking in, as they wouldn’t have been their conference’s automatic qualifier and may not have received one of the five available at-large bids.
Let’s look at the automatic bids under a system where the 11 conference champions (however each conference determines them) are in the field. And we’ll use the current tiebreaker of BCS ranking, which appears to be what determined the Big Ten and Big East entrants this year.
ACC Champion: Virginia Tech (11-2)
Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma (11-2)
Big East Champion: Connecticut (8-4)
Big Ten Champion: Wisconsin (11-1)
Conference USA Champion: Central Florida (10-3)
Mid-American Champion: Miami (OH) (9-4)
Mountain West Champion: TCU (12-0)
Pac-10 Champion: Oregon (12-0)
SEC Champion: Auburn (13-0)
Sun Belt Champion: Florida International (6-6)
Nevada (12-1) Boise State (11-1)
EDIT: Obviously, the rest of this is based on a faulty premise, so no need to read any farther. Suffice it to say, I suck and I am chastened. Feel free to send a strongly-worded email to your own address.
The first problem is obvious: A 6-6 FIU team will get in for winning the Sun Belt, while a much more deserving team will be shut out. Unfortunately, those are the breaks. My proposal would be that the two highest-ranked teams from the handful of lesser conferences would get automatic bids and the others would be eligible for at-large bids, but I don’t know if you’d ever get that passed.
So you’d have five at-large spots left, and more than five teams ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings. Stanford (11-1) is an obvious at-large pick, and you’d likely go with Ohio State (11-1 at BCS #6), Arkansas (10-2 at BCS #8) and Michigan State (11-1 at BCS #9) for three other slots.
Then – as it will always, sure as the sun comes up in the East – it’ll come down to that last at-large spot.
Do you take 10-2 LSU, ranked #10 in the BCS standings or Boise State at 11-1 and ranked #11? The AP poll has Boise State ahead of LSU by 69 points and the coaches have Boise State at #10, as does the Harris Poll.
It’s Those Damn ComputersTM of the BCS that push Boise State ever so slightly behind LSU, because the six mathematical rankings (which count for 1/3 of the final BCS number) take strength of schedule into account. And you can’t sit there with a straight face and tell me that LSU, playing in the SEC, doesn’t face tougher competition on a weekly basis (regardless of their non-conference schedule, which sucks, as does pretty much every bigtime school’s anymore) than Boise State does.
What Those Damn ComputersTM do is exactly what YOU do when you look at a handful of teams with identical or nearly-identical records. Tell me you don’t look at Auburn, Oregon and TCU (this year’s three undefeated teams) and make a value judgment in your head about who has played tougher schedules. Those computer rankings do that, too, only they do it with actual math. And for that, they get savaged from here to Oxnard because they’re somehow….I don’t know, not manly or something. It’s insane.
There are some proposed playoff formats that have the at-large bids determined by a committee (a la March Madness) and some that use BCS points or some other formula. Until someone decides on an actual format that could get passed, this is all speculation. But it’s possible that Boise State – the poster children for letting everything play out on the field – might not have had that chance this year due to a close conference loss.
Anyway, if LSU gets the last automatic bid, this might be your 16-team field (yes, not only are FIU and Miami not in the BCS rankings, but neither is Connecticut, despite being a team that will play in a BCS bowl):
6 Ohio State
9 Michigan State
11 Virginia Tech
13 Central Florida
15 Miami (Oh.)
16 Florida International
That would give us these matchups this weekend
#1 Auburn vs. #16 Florida International
#8 Arkansas vs. #9 Michigan State
#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Nevada
#4 Stanford vs. #13 Central Florida
#3 TCU vs. #14 Connecticut
#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Virginia Tech
#7 Oklahoma vs. #10 LSU
#2 Oregon vs. #15 Miami
The 8-9 matchup is intriguing (as most 8-9s are), Wisconsin-Nevada might be interesting. Oklahoma-LSU is probably your primetime game. But, overall, other than the novelty of the whole thing, this wouldn’t be a particularly compelling set of eight games (at least not to me).
If things went chalk, you’d end up with Auburn playing Stanford in one semifinal and TCU and Oregon in the other, and that would be must-see TV. But don’t count on this happening anytime soon. There are too many moving parts that would have to fall into place to give the vocal opponents of the BCS what they want.