I have favorite teams in nearly every sport. I pull for those teams above any other. However, for a long time I have had a soft spot for the underdog. I love watching the “little teams” in college sports break through.
Last year, I was one of the folks who thought that TCU deserved to play for the BCS national championship game. Win or lose the game, I felt like they deserved to be there. This year, I am fully on the Boise State bandwagon, and hope TCU has another year like last year. After the Boise State Broncos went to Washington, D.C., and defeated Virginia Tech (another team in the top 10), many questions started to be raised (again) about teams like Boise. They all deal with scheduling and the argument usually goes something like this: “Well, if they were in the SEC (or Big 12, or Big 10, or Pac-10, etc.), they would lose at least 3 or 4 games, so they get a pass because they only have to play one tough game.”
In this post, I want to briefly answer that charge, and then give a solution for college football.
First, the answer. Does Boise State play as tough a schedule as, say, Oklahoma or Alabama? No. I will grant that from the start. My question is simply this: how is that Boise’s fault? They are playing a top-10 team this year on a “neutral” field (less than 300 miles from Virginia Tech and more than 2000 from Boise), and they are also playing Oregon State, who is always near the top of the Pac-10. Eight of Boise’s games are “prearranged” because they are conference games. There is absolutely nothing they can do about that. Yes, they could change conferences, and they are doing that next year, but that does not give any meaning to this year.
So, let’s see: 2 good, solid non-conference games; 2 easier non-conference games; 8 games they cannot control. If you were to just look at that list, and we said, “That’s Texas’s schedule this year,” you would say, “If they win those, they’ll be playing for the national title.” However, when you realize it’s Boise State, people say, “Oh, but those conference games aren’t tough.” Again I say, there is nothing Boise can do about that. They have made a very good schedule for a national title contender, and they have made it through phase 1 in beating Virginia Tech.
Now to the argument people give about, “If they played in the (name your major conference here), they’d lose all the time.” I will admit that I don’t think a team like Boise State would have quite the record they have had the previous few years if they were in, say, the Pac-10. However, there is no way to prove that either way. Also, if winning in these conferences is so easy, why isn’t every team doing it? Why don’t we have a half-dozen non-BCS schools every year that are 11-1 or 12-0?
In major conferences they say, “Teams just beat up on each other.” That’s not true, either. If that were true, every team in major conferences would be 4-4 in conference play. No one would ever go undefeated or just lose one game. Instead, there is a constant stream of teams that make it through with zero or one loss, and we spend so much time arguing over them and decided who should play for the national title. Why not give other undefeated teams the same argument? They have run the table, too, and, in the case of Boise this year, would have beaten some good teams to get to that undefeated. Will they have played 9 or 10 “tough” games? No. But almost no BCS conference team can honestly say they had 10 truly tough games, either!
Here is the major problem I have with the current BCS system. If you want to win a national title, it helps if the following things are true:
- You play a good schedule (we’ve talked about that),
- You go undefeated (or just lose one game),
- If you lose, you lose early in the year (or at least before everyone else),
- And you start the season rated in the top 10.
Now, here’s the problem with that. How do you get a pre-season top 10 ranking? You have a good season last year and return several players. In other words, the 2010 season has major bias based upon your 2009 season. In what other sport does that have a major impact on who will play for the title? In fact, we have seen it happen. Teams that started the season ranked lower never had a chance because they could not “leapfrog” other teams in front of them who started ranked higher, and were left out of the title game.
I will admit that the college football season is fun. Every game does matter, but I hate it when people say, “Every week is like a playoff.” That’s not true at all. First, if that’s the case, 40 teams in FBS (formerly 1-A) would have been eliminated last weekend because they lost. Instead, they lost early, meaning they might get back into the race. That’s the other reason every week is not a playoff. In how many sports do we allow teams back into the playoff later in the tournament? In other words, if a team loses in the first round of the men’s basketball tournament, we don’t then say, “Oh, but they played a good schedule, so they can come back in when we get to the 4th round.”
So, how to solve it? I am not a fan of a large playoff. That would water down the season. However, there has to be a way to allow more teams a real chance of the title, instead of just saying, “Beat everyone and you have a chance”–which isn’t necessarily true.
Here is my idea.
1. Go back to an 11-game regular season. Most teams have made the 12th game a “money” game anyway. This buys one more week later in the season. More about that in a minute.
2. Do not allow polls until after 4 games. While there will still be some preconceived ideas, those who vote will have to see 3 or 4 games to build their first poll, which then impacts the other polls later in the season.
3. Continue the BCS rankings. They will be helpful in getting us to…
4. Institute the playoff. However, it does not need to be 16 teams as some have proposed. 8 teams is the right size. The 6 BCS conference champions get in, then the top two other teams in the BCS rankings get in. So, if Boise State ends up in the top 4, there is no way they could be left out. The season would end on the first Saturday of December, and the playoffs would start two weeks later, ending at the same time the national title game is played now.
5. Continue the bowl games for other teams. With only 8 teams in the playoff, bowl games would still have a great value to the other teams who qualify.
This proposal does two things, and I think it would make most people happy.
1. It allows for teams like Boise State, TCU, Utah (and others in other years, like Hawai’i) to have a legitimate chance. If this system had been in place at the end of the 2009 season, all five undefeated teams (Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, Boise State, and TCU) would have been in, as would the Pac-10 champ, the ACC champ, the Big 10 champ, and one more at-large team (probably Florida). Some will say, “But then #9 would argue, just like #3 does now.” Simply put, that’s not true. If you are Boise State (or another “non-AQ” team), you would have to schedule at least one or two tough games each year and run the table to get in. Since the computers are still involved, a team could not play a “nobody” schedule and get in. Also, a one-loss non-BCS team would not get in. Teams ranked at 9 or 10 will have at least one loss, and can simply say, “Win that one game and we would have made it.”
2. It keeps the bowls and keeps them important. Limiting the playoff to 8 teams means that some teams in bowl games have a clear shot at a top 10 finish, which is huge. It also means there are still a lot of bowl games, which most fans would like. Some think that a playoff would diminish bowl games. That simply is not true.
Let the venom spew in the comments!