College football was not stressed as much as basketball at my schools, but I loved watching SEC and Big Ten teams play my schools. We actually beat Florida in my freshman year -- our 3rd and final win of the year. I saw Penn State's great 1994 team play at Indiana (Ki-Jana Carter ran for 192 yards that day -- 80 on his last carry). In my last year at Indiana, I saw Ron Dayne run all over us (130 yards in beating us 24-20) the year before his Heisman Trophy season.
As much as I love college football, I'm bothered by the way the champion is determined -- and I'm not alone! There are cries for a playoff, or, at the very least, a "plus one" to determine the champion. What is the purpose of a playoff? Does it determine the year's best team, or the best team at the end of the year? Nobody will argue with the fact that LSU had the best season this year. No other team is in the discussion. Why not call LSU the champion this year?
We don't call LSU the champion because not every year sees just one team as the regular-season standout. Last year, Auburn and Oregon both had a claim for the top spot, and it's really unfair of me to leave TCU out of the discussion. Because we usually don't get a single team that's a clear regular-season winner, we need a bowl game or playoff to decide the champion on the field.
A "plus one" idea does not work for me. Four teams as national semifinalists are not enough. Each team picked is just one win from the title game. My question is this: who gets the #4 slot this year if we had a "plus one" system? There is debate this year over who plays LSU for the title, but that debate has been limited to two teams (Alabama and Oklahoma State).
Imagine if we had a "plus one" in which the four semifinalists were chosen before the bowls (some have the idea of choosing two teams after the bowls, but that seems strange to me -- more on that in a moment). LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma State get the top three spots. For the #4 spot, do we pick the BCS #4 Stanford? Oregon will have a good argument as Pac-12 champs (and 23-point victory over Stanford) for a spot ahead of Stanford. Arkansas (better two losses than Oregon's two losses), Boise State (one loss by one point to BCS #18 TCU), and Kansas State (two losses in this year's best conference) have cases, too. Even Big Ten champ Wisconsin and one-loss Houston might make noise, though their cases are not as good. One team (Oklahoma State) feels like it got left out of the title game. Imagine the complaining if we had a "plus one" system this year.
I mentioned picking two teams after the bowls as a strange way to do a "plus one" system. Why? What if Alabama beats LSU in a close game? Do voters pick those two teams to play a THIRD time? If LSU wins, and Oregon and Stanford win their bowl games, who plays LSU in the "plus one after the bowls" system?
For a playoff, four teams are not enough. Picking four means picking teams that are one win away from the title game. There are more than four teams that have cases this year for the four slots (and probably in most other years, too). With eight teams, there is no worry of leaving out the best team, even if there is an argument for the last slot. Sixteen is too many for 120 schools playing 12-13 games. With eight teams, a title-game school will have to play three playoff games, about the length of a quarter of the regular season. Use the BCS, or some other system, to seed eight teams in the four big bowls. Play the other bowls as usual. As a Vandy alum, I'm happy that my 6-6 team gets to play in the Liberty Bowl this year. Once the bowls are done, we have a Final Four in college football. Little schools and schools with no big football aspirations (like my school) are happy with their little bowls; football powers decide the champ on the field; and, money would flow with a Final Four and three more games.
I've had this idea since the BCS came into existence. This is the first time I've written it down publicly. There are 70 teams playing in the 35 bowl games this year. That means that 58.3% of all FBS schools are in bowl games, including a team with a losing record (6-7 UCLA). There are 13 schools (like Vandy) with 6-6 records. Clearly, the bowls are not for picking champions when 20% (14 of 70) of the teams don't even have winning records. But, imagine the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange Bowls used for the top eight schools. How great would a Final Four in college football be after bowl season is finished?
College football could have its cake and eat it, too. The pageantry of bowl season would be preserved, and the champion would be decided on the field. With eight teams, nobody would ever claim the champion was left out of the title shot.