|If the playoff system were in place for this season, we would anticipate a Florida State-Alabama title game.|
OK, so you've had two days to digest the bowl pairings and you've come to the conclusion that, for the most part, they're not good. Plus, with the way the BCS is set up, most of them are irrelevant anyway to all except the most fervent fan.
And as for the BCS, the final pairings don't have much controversy, if any. It's hard to argue against the Auburn-Florida State national championship game. Some of the other BCS matchups don't look all that appetizing, but don't forget that matching No. 1 and No. 2 is the only real concern for BCS folks. After that, it's TV ratings and selling tickets.
Next season, of course, the BCS goes away, and a four-team playoff begins. If the playoff were in place this season, most of the other bowls still would be irrelevant. But while there is no real controversy this season about the top two teams, there would be an inordinate amount about the other two teams involved in a four-team playoff. Four teams -- Alabama, Baylor, Michigan State and Stanford -- would be in the discussion for the final two spots.
Baylor (Big 12), Michigan State (Big Ten) and Stanford (Pac-12) were conference champs, while Alabama didn't even win its division in the SEC. Stanford, though, has two losses, while the other three have one each. While the Pac-12 was better -- miles better, in fact -- than the Big Ten and Big 12, the two losses would eliminate Stanford. That leaves three teams for two spots.
Conventional wisdom seems to be that Alabama is better than the other two, and the SEC certainly was better than the Big Ten and Big 12. Plus, Alabama's one loss (to Auburn) is "better" than those by the other teams (Michigan State's to Notre Dame and Baylor's to Oklahoma State). So, Alabama is team three. Team four? Michigan State's computer numbers certainly are better than Baylor's (the Spartans' average ranking in the BCS computers was fifth, while Baylor's was ninth). And the Spartans' best win (Ohio State) is better than Baylor's (Oklahoma). Michigan State is team four.
That would set up these seedings: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Michigan State and No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Alabama (perhaps not so coincidentally, the same top four as in the BCS standings).
The semifinals next season will be in the Rose and Sugar bowls. With top-ranked FSU closest to New Orleans, the Seminoles-Spartans matchup would be in the Sugar, while the Iron Bowl rematch would be in the Rose. (Weird, huh? Get used to it.) Now, let's talk about who would win the playoff.
Semifinal No. 1
No. 1 FSU vs. No. 4 Michigan State: Michigan State has a stout defense, but FSU's is better. FSU also has the better offense, and a ton more speed overall. Plus, Jameis Winston vs. Connor Cook? Please. FSU by 14 points.
Semifinal No. 2
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Alabama: Think how surreal it would be to see all those Alabamans in SoCal; heck, are there enough RV parks? And what about all those Alabamans yelling "Roll Tide!" and "War Damn Eagle!" at all hours of the night on Sunset Boulevard, in Santa Monica and near the Hollywood sign? But fear not, Lakers and Clippers fans: No self-respecting Alabaman wants anything to do with basketball. As for the game itself, the opinion here is if Alabama and Auburn played 10 times, the Tide would win six or seven -- and a rematch would be one of those wins. Give Nick Saban and Kirby Smart a month, and you can be sure the Tide defense would do a better job corralling Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall. Alabama wins the rematch by six.
No. 1 FSU vs. No. 3 Alabama: Saban would be coaching against his protégé, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher. And FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is in his first season with the 'Noles after serving as Alabama's secondary coach for three seasons. These coaches know each other, so which staff would be best at coming up with unforeseen variations? FSU quarterback Jameis Winston (an Alabama native, he grew up about 45 miles from Tuscaloosa) and his dangerous trio of wide receivers would do some heavy damage to the Tide secondary, even if star free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is back for the game. But FSU's running game would struggle a bit against Alabama's physical front seven. Alabama would run more successfully than FSU. But would Tide quarterback AJ McCarron have much success against the Seminoles' secondary? FSU leads the nation in pass defense (just 152.0 yards per game) and in interceptions (25). The game, basically, would be up to McCarron to win. He wouldn't get it done. FSU by three for its first national title since the 1999 season.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention that some folks -- even though a four-team playoff isn't even here yet --- already are clamoring for an eight-team playoff. It'll be here sooner than you think.
Yes, the four-team playoff has an 11-year "contract." But most of the bowls not involved in the playoff system have just six-year deals in place. Given the staggering amount of TV money that is going to be available, look for that 11-year playoff contract to end in year five or six, if not year four. Heck, breaking contracts is an every-year occurrence for college administrators. And who is going to complain?
So, what if there were an eight-team playoff in place this season? We add Baylor and Stanford to our aforementioned four, then hunt for two more. Arizona State, Missouri, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oregon would seem to have the best resumes among those left. We'll take Missouri and Ohio State to fill it out.
That likely would beg this question from the-more-the-merrier playoff proponents. Why not 12 teams and include first-round byes? Or why not 16, and let every conference champ in?
FBS is the only level of college football that doesn't have a playoff. The FCS playoff bracket has 24 teams (this is the first season with that many after three years with 20). Division II has 16 teams and Division III has 32.
In other words, don't fret too much about a four-team playoff. It will grow soon enough, to the point where the idea of big money vastly overshadows any concern about the playoff field being -- as it surely will be -- watered down.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.