Wednesday, December 16

The Old School Plus One tackles 2009.

Last spring I tossed out my own solution to the BCS/playoff dilemma with an idea I called the "old-school plus one," which dispensed with both the arbitrariness and obscurantism of the current BCS system and the cumbersome dead weight of an overly extensive playoff setup. Basically, it'd work like this: The elite-level bowls, after sending out their automatic invites to the various conference champions, get to invite whichever other teams they want. Rather than the ridiculously arcane selection process mandated by present BCS rules, the bowls could invite whichever teams they thought would sell the most tickets and/or create the most exciting matchup; it'd basically be the same free-for-all we had before the Bowl Coalition got started in the mid-'90s, with some teams potentially being sought after by multiple bowls and getting to pick the invite they preferred. After all the bowl games were played, the teams would be re-ranked -- simply going by the AP poll, no coaches trying to game the system or computer rankings needlessly complicating matters -- and the top two teams face off in a national-championship game.

For the most part, I think this system would've worked well in sorting out some of the thornier controversies of the BCS era, but I thought I'd try applying it to the 2009 season -- in which we still have five undefeated teams as of mid-December, but only two of them getting to play for BCS title honors -- to see if we could get better matchups and a more definitive path to the championship.

1. Alabama (13-0) -- SEC champion
2. Texas (13-0) -- Big XII champion
3. Texas Christian (12-0) -- Mountain West champion
4. Cincinnati (12-0) -- Big East champion
5. Florida (12-1)
6. Boise State (13-0) -- WAC champion
7. Oregon (10-2) -- Pac-10 champion
8. Ohio State (10-2) -- Big 10 champion
9. Georgia Tech (11-2) -- ACC champion
10. Iowa (10-2)

Rose: #7 Oregon (10-2) vs. #8 Ohio State (10-2)
The Rose Bowl goes with its traditional matchup of Big 10 and Pac-10 champions -- and completely removes itself from the national-title picture in the process. But that's never stopped them before.

Sugar: #1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #3 Texas Christian (12-0)
Alabama goes to New Orleans as the SEC champion, and the Sugar jumps on undefeated TCU rather than taking a more geographically distant Boise State team or setting up a Bama-Florida rematch.

Fiesta: #2 Texas (13-0) vs. #6 Boise State (13-0)
This one's tricky, because the Fiesta probably would be very interested in the prospect of a Lone Star State showdown between undefeated Texas and TCU teams. But Boise State's fan base has been very good to the Fiesta Bowl in the past (not to mention this year -- more than 80 percent of BSU's ticket allotment for the 2010 Fiesta had been snapped up within four days of Selection Sunday), and the bowl would still get an undefeated team even if the Sugar Bowl snapped up TCU first. Plus, given what happened the last time an undefeated Boise team met up with a Big XII champion in Glendale, this matchup would almost certainly generate a ton of media buzz.

Orange: #4 Cincinnati (12-0) vs. #5 Florida (12-1)
The Orange Bowl has the option of picking either the Big East champ or the ACC champ for its automatic tie-in, and I think they'd go with the higher-ranked, undefeated Bearcats over Georgia Tech, given how loath ACC fans have been to even travel as far as Jacksonville or Tampa for a conference-title game (and how Cincy fans snapped up a much greater percentage of their ticket allotment than Virginia Tech fans did for last year's bowl).

WHAT (I THINK) HAPPENS: Oregon dispenses with Ohio State in an ultimately irrelevant game. In the shocker of the postseason, an Alabama team whose defensive coordinator signed a contract to become Georgia's DC two weeks prior feels a strong sense of deja vu as they walk into the Superdome, take another undefeated Mountain West squad for granted, and get upset by TCU, 24-20. Texas also does one of their usual early-game sleepwalks but manages to survive their mid-major opponent in a shootout. And Florida's defense powers them to a win over Cincinnati. (Subplot: Would Brian Kelly stick around to coach the Bearcats through the postseason, regardless of his intentions to take the Notre Dame job, if he thought UC still had a glimmer of hope for a national title?)

After the bowl games shake up the rankings, Texas is #1, followed by TCU, Alabama, Florida, and Oregon. The two Texas teams thus get sent to Pasadena (hey, the in-state battle ended up happening after all), where the Horned Frogs score the potential tying touchdown in the final 90 seconds of the national-title game, then eschew the extra-point kick for a shot at a two-point conversion and the win -- and make it, winning 29-28 and bringing home the national-championship trophy.

Now, all this is conjecture, and do I really think TCU would upset Alabama or Texas? I don't know; depends on what day you ask me. And you'll also notice that only two of the matchups are actually different from what we've ended up with in 2009 -- Alabama and Texas each have to face a mid-major before getting a shot at the national title, rather than just shunting TCU and Boise State to face each other at the BCS's "kids' table." But I threw the TCU upsets into my hypothetical situation to shed light on a couple of larger points -- first, with four of the five undefeated teams paired up against each other in bowl games, you'd really have to work hard to come up with a way to explain why the "plus-one" winner shouldn't be crowned the national champion. Second, with the mid-major "BCS busters" having an actual shot at the national title, rather than just being set off to the side to play a glorified exhibition game, you'd silence the Orrin Hatches of the world who, accurately or inaccurately, think their states' teams are being unfairly excluded from the process.

The only real possibility for a monkeywrench to get thrown into the works here is if Cincinnati upsets Florida, meaning that there'd still be one 13-0 BCS-conference team (which, like Alabama, had knocked off the Gators) still "on the outside looking in" with respect to the national-championship game. But I think my larger purpose still has been served: If the top bowls were freed from the strictures of computer rankings, automatic qualifiers, and the BCS's ridiculously convoluted rules for which bowls get to pick teams in which order, we'd not only get better, more meaningful games, but we'd also get an even more definitive national champion.

Your comments and suggestions, as always, are welcome in the comments, and that goes for any differences of opinion you might have on the bowl matchups themselves.


Reed said...

Man, if you think people go crazy when the BCS gets it wrong, what do you think will happen if the Plus One has a bad year? Half the fans still think the coaches poll is better than the AP, even though that totally defies all logic. (Plus, since the AP already opted out of the BCS, there's no way they allow this system to utilize their poll.)

As much as I like the idea of the bowl free-for-all, it will be very exciting but also come laden with unfairness. What if Notre Dame goes 10-2?

My other worry is that with just one week between the bowls and the NC game, it would turn the NC game into a "Super Bowl Lite." We'd get a whole lot of Ashton Kutchers and very few actual fans of college football. I think it's better if we can decide who's going early - and if it's a playoff, that would best be served by having the semis in late Nov / early Dec. Just my two cents.

Kevin said...

I think you gloss over the most important aspect of this, Cinci winning. All a +1 does is delay the same inclusion argument. The same way that in a playoff structure, we would be fighting over who gets that #8 seed. With the BCS, they only really "screw over" one team (maybe 2) at years end. If you have any type of +1 or playoff, your final decisions are based on a MUCH LARGER pool of teams. Ex, most years with controversy are between 3 undefeated teams, and maybe an undefeated mid-major. Once you include all of them, and the one losses, you have to chose between a million 2 and 3 loss teams to fill those final spots. Think that would be any easier?

I agree that the bowl matchups are lacking, and the tie-in's are bothersome. I'd like to see the SEC in some different spots other than the forgone conclusions with minor blips.

Zen Bubba said...

The problem as I see it is the inclusion of the sports writers poll. It favors the schools with larger journalism departments and puts a bunch of folks, not all, but a lot, in charge of rankings that never actually played the game at any competitive level. I figure you poll all the coaches and coordinators with the restriction that they can't vote for their team at all and have them list the teams in order of which they would least likely want to play.

Kevin said...

Zen Bubba-
I'm not sure how 'not playing the game' disqualifies anyone from analyzing it. I've never farmed before but I can sure give you a accurate description of good fruit and bad fruit.

Coaches only see one game a week... their own. Unless they play at noon in which case they may be able to catch the 8 pm game. But really, they only have highlights and news articles to go on.

Sports Writers sit down on a Saturday and watch as much football as possible. They DVR the rest and watch it later, re-watch games to catch things they've missed. I'd say that over the course of a season, they are much more knowledgeable about the FBS than any one coach.

Zen Bubba said...

Kevin, you ever see a school rush out to hire any of those guys who are allegedly so knowledgeable to actually use that knowledge to help their team? Didn't think so.

It wouldn't be hard, coaching pays better than writing.

Using the AP writers poll gives uneven level of representation to schools with larger journalism departments. It just doesn't make sense.