Depth Perception

As we enter the final season of the BCS, I remain hopeful (but skeptical) that we will begin to move away from the constant comparison of conferences as whole entities and return to the focus on individual teams that was more the norm in the pre-BCS days. It seems that every new season opens with the same sentiments from the national sports media: The Big Ten is down this year. The SEC is so tough, they don’t need to play other top teams. The Big East is a joke.

I wanted to actually look at some numbers on this, but outside of a few “power rankings,” no one seems to be measuring conference depth in any meaningful way. So I came up with a quick little formula that I believe is as objective as anything else you’ll find out there, although it admittedly contains some arbitrary choices.

When people talk about conference depth, I figure they mean which conference has the most good teams, as opposed to which conference is the most competitive (which would be unconcerned with the overall quality of the teams). So I set out to quantify this concept as best I could.

I won’t bore with all the details, but basically I looked at all 15 years of the BCS era so far and focused on the 10+ win teams each conference produced each season. I chose 10 wins because it’s impossible (barring sanctions on other teams) to have a losing conference record and still win 10 games. It has also been a symbolic indicator of a successful season for a long time, and it happens to stand out when you’re examining 90 sets of conference standings.

Conference expansion posed a few problems, but I feel like I dealt with them in the fairest possible way. For example, conferences are only credited with 10-win seasons accomplished by teams for years they were in that conference and percentages were used to account for different conference sizes.

I calculated two sets of numbers, one for the past five years and one for the entire BCS era. It will not surprise you that the SEC claims the number 1 spot in both standings. But what may surprise you is that the number 2 conference over the past five years is our own Big Ten and that the difference is remarkably small (0.3% to be exact). In third place is the Big 12 (also no shocker) sitting 10% behind the Big Ten. The gap between these three and the other three is vast, with the fourth-place Big East (yes, really) coming in at 53% behind the Big 12.

For the entire era, the Big 12 sneaks ahead of the Big Ten by just 0.5%. The Pac-10/12 moves up to fourth, with the Big East and ACC settling at #5 and #6, respectively.

One of the reasons for the poor showing out of the Pac-12 in recent years is the fact that only three different teams (USC, Oregon and Stanford) have posted 10-win seasons since 2008. The ACC and Big East have each had four, and the Big East is helped by the fact that they only 8 teams in the conference. Compare those numbers to 8 different teams each for the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 and you can see why the separation is so noticeable.

The reason for the SEC’s lead is that they consistently have multiple 10-win teams in the conference at the same time, although that consistency is a more recent phenomenon than many might think. Breaking the numbers down into 3-year segments, the SEC only significantly surpasses the Big Ten in the most recent period from 2010-2012, when they produced fifteen 10-winners to the Big Ten’s nine.

With the proposed emphasis on schedule strength (easily the most useless “statistic” in college football) for the upcoming playoff, it’s unlikely that conference depth discussions are going away anytime soon, but I still hold on to hope that fans will at least start looking at the idea more objectively, instead of blindly buying into to ESPN’s questionably-motivated SEC lovefest.

( was used extensively in this research)

In Case You Missed It

College Football Playoff name revealed

The long awaited playoff in college football is becoming a reality as conference commissioners have decided on the name of the new playoff game. What name would they settle on? Something inspirational, something captivating, something… memorable? Nope. It will be called, “The College Football Playoff”. Voting has been opened up at the aptly named website where you can vote on the logo from four equally uninspired designs. Truly democracy at its most boring.

Steve Rohlik named new OSU hockey coach

Rohlik brings 16 years of experience as a DI coach including the last three as associate head coach in Columbus. Before becoming a Buckeye he was a part of the Minnesota Duluth team for ten years including 2 tournament appearances as well as a trip to the Frozen Four.

Jonathan Hankins looks forward to the draft

Hankins, who was once a top twenty draft prospect has seen his stock go down over the last week. Now, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has him as a top sixteen prospect… In the second round. Despite that, Hankins has kept his confidence up. Kiper pointed out that Hankins’ production was not as good this year as last. Says Hankins, “When they ask me about that (drop-off in production), I tell them we went undefeated as a team in 2012 and I was a big part of that,”

Reid Fragel confident in his NFL future

Coming off his private workout with the Bengals last week, Reid Fragel said it was ‘Awesome’ and that they said he improved his draft stock with the team. The former tight end has only been playing tackle for a year but despite that he is extremely confident in his skills. “This whole time, not to sound cocky, but I was confident in my ability to become an NFL tackle,” Fragel said. “That’s been a one-year project, and a credit to the coaches I’ve worked with.” Currently Fragel is ranked the 14th tackle and the 147th overall pick.

Jamarco Jones gets visit from OSU

In the never ending world of college football recruitment, the Buckeyes are making strides after one of their most important prospects. It looks like Meyer is bringing the house when it comes to Jones, going after the offensive tackle from Illinois hard. Jones just tweeted out 3 hours ago that he had spoken with Urban Meyer himself. Rivals gives Jones a 4 star rating and his position is one of the most important OSU needs to shore up going forward.

The Spread, Week Eighteen: B1G Finish(ed?)

Tomorrow night, Minnesota opens up the Big Ten bowl season against Texas Tech. No one has much faith in the Gophers, or the rest of the conference for that matter. All seven of the league’s bowl teams are underdogs and that just reflects the absence of top teams Ohio State and Penn State as well as the general (correct) perception that the conference just wasn’t that good this year.

But I thought it might be interesting to look at how this bowl season would have been different if there no were no sanctions in place for the Buckeyes or the Nittany Lions. I don’t mean to add fuel to your What-Might-Have-Been fire, but what else is there talk about? Cincinnati vs. Duke?


#1 Ohio State vs. #2 Notre Dame

Yes, this is exactly what would have happened. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Ohio State would have been on top due to being ranked higher in the pre-season. There is no reason for Notre Dame to have jumped the Buckeyes throughout the year as both teams had close calls and ugly wins. As for the Bama aPAWLogists, sorry, but there’s no way the last two remaining AQ unbeatens don’t play for the title. You’ll never convince me otherwise.


Nebraska vs. Stanford

I’m not sure that the Rose has to take the #2 Big Ten team in this situation (if anyone can verify, it would be appreciated), but I’m pretty sure they would. Penn State was an option here, but both their conference and overall records are worse than the Huskers, so I don’t think they’d be the pick here.


Penn State vs. Georgia

Michigan and Penn State are pretty much interchangeable for this spot. They both lost to the same teams in-conference and no common-opponent comparison favors either team significantly. You could argue that Michigan’s schedule earns them this bid, but Penn State was playing better at the end of the year. Also, Michigan sucks.


Michigan vs. South Carolina


Northwestern vs. Mississippi State



Wisconsin vs. TCU

Bret Bielema always looks like he just drank a tub of Blazin’ sauce anyway, so maybe if this had been the Badgers’ bowl, he would’ve hung around. Thankfully, we’ll never know. I’m sure the Frogs would have enjoyed beating Wisky in a bowl again though.


Michigan State vs. Texas Tech

This would have been a far better match up for the conference, as the Spartans are more equipped to defend Tech’s passing game and attack them on the ground than Minnesota is.


Purdue vs. Oklahoma State

Another that works out the same as in real life. So a loss.


Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

If you watched Western Kentucky play in (and almost win) their first bowl game ever last night, you probably need to look into getting some other hobbies. You probably also didn’t think about how they wouldn’t be there if not for the transgressions of Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel, et al. Unless ESPN brought that up. They probably did.

So there you have it. How do you think the B1G would have fared this bowl season if this was the slate? How do think we’re going to do for real? Approximately how much alcohol would an average human need to consume to watch all seven Big Ten bowl games in their entireties (assuming he had the technology to do so)?

The Spread, Week Seventeen: The Case Against Alabama

On January 7th, 2013, if we we’re still here, Alabama will take on Notre Dame for the national title in the only post-season game that matters. It may be the most David/Goliath title game the BCS has ever cranked out: last year’s champion towering over a scrappy independent that wasn’t even ranked in most reasonable pre-season polls. Notre Dame also happens to be the most popular team among casual college football fans, which is probably 90% of why the rest of us can’t stand them.

It’s been a long time since Notre Dame won a national championship in football. So long that there wasn’t even a BCS the last time they were on top. In fact, there was no such thing as Sun Belt football, Big East football, Conference USA or the Mountain West. So if you know a Notre Dame fan, they are going to be incredibly insufferable should the Irish pull off the upset.

And it will be an upset, because as soon as the matchup was announced, Bama was installed as a 9 point favorite, despite being the #2 ranked team and owners of the only loss on either team’s record. You know why.

The primary difference between the two teams is on the offensive side of the ball. The Crimson Tide have scored like crazy pretty much all season, finishing 15th in scoring offense. Notre Dame is 75th. But that’s not the whole story.

Alabama has played 13 games, six of them against teams with winning records. In those six games, the Tide average 31.8 ppg, nearly 12 points less than their average against losing teams (43.3). Seven of Notre Dame’s 12 games were against winning teams. Their scoring average is slightly higher (27.6) in those games than in games against losing teams (25.6).

Notre Dame played two teams who won 10 or more games this year and went 2-0 in those games with an average margin of victory of 12 points. Alabama played three such teams, going 2-1 with an average MOV of a single lousy point.

The two teams are virtually dead even in scoring defense, each giving up fewer than 11 points per game. But can you guess who looks significantly better when we dig deeper? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.

In games against winning teams, Notre Dame maintained their overall average of 10.3 ppg. They gave up 10.4 to losing teams. On the other hand, Alabama allowed more than twice as many points to winning teams (15.8) as they did to losing teams (7.3). Against 10-win teams, the Irish gave up 13 points in both games, while Bama surrendered 17, 28 and 29.

This trend holds up in most of the other statistical categories (although it’s worth noting that it flips in Bama’s favor in passing offense), suggesting that Alabama could find themselves feeling like that stunned Miami team in 2002 if they take the Irish lightly.

There are some other, intangible factors surrounding this game as well. Brian Kelly has the opportunity to cement his legacy as Notre Dame’s coach, while Nick Saban is staving off rumors of his inevitable second shot at the NFL. For some reason, there is a tendency for teams with “storyline” players to win. Clarett, Tebow, Young… Te’o? Six title games have featured one of the teams from the previous year’s game, but no team has ever won consecutive titles.

And, of course, there’s the whole thing with the world ending tomorrow. Sorry, Bama.

The Spread, Week Sixteen: Bowl Movement

It’s bowl season and maybe that excites you, but I find it pretty anti-climatic. Instead of watching good teams face off week after week with everything on the line in a battle to be the last one standing, we get a giant pile of one-off matchups, most of which we wouldn’t watch if they weren’t the only options.

Arizona vs. Nevada? Toledo vs. Utah State? Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky?


Sure, come January we get… um… a bunch of Big Ten losses and hopefully a Northern Illinois upset over Florida State (otherwise, that game will be terrible). Kansas State vs. Oregon and Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M should be good, but they don’t mean anything. Alabama vs. Notre Dame for the title is fine, but don’t we deserve better?

Yeah, I know, the playoff is coming and I hate to complain about that, because it’s a great first step. But as progress goes, it’s pretty conservative. If you consider the BCS a two-team playoff, then this new thing adds a single round to that. And it’s become clear that the playoff is not the priority for anyone involved. More attention and resources have been directed toward re-structuring the bowl system that surrounds it and inflating conferences until no one even knows who they’re supposed to hate anymore. And then there’s the fact that this first step was designed in a way that makes it impossible to take a second step until 2026.

All to ensure that we get more Air Force vs. Rice. And Iowa State vs. Tulsa. And East Carolina vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.

Why not scrap the bowls entirely and replace them with a 32-team extravaganza that would instantly become the sports event of the year? Don’t think there’s enough time for that? If it started this Saturday (just like the bowls do) and allowed 6 days between rounds, the title game would be on January 8, just one day later than currently scheduled.

As for intriguing games on opening weekend, do you think you might tune in to Nebraska @ Oklahoma? (Did I mention my playoff would have its games hosted by the higher-seeded team? Of course it would.) How about Texas @ Stanford or Northwestern @ Clemson? Could the Alvarez-helmed Badgers pull off a shocker at LSU? Can trendy Cinderella pick Northern Illinois off Michigan at home for a shot at Alabama? Or will Rutgers upend the Tide themselves?

Will there be mismatches and blowouts in this playoff? Of course, but they will be blowouts by teams we care about. And there will be some upsets too, because that’s what happens. Why is college football the only sport that has to worry about whether its champion was the “best” team? What does that even mean? Pick any national champion in the BCS era, and you can find someone who will argue convincingly that they weren’t the best team that season. This obsession with the national champ “deserving it” is costing us an entertaining post-season full of exciting games featuring teams that would never play each other otherwise. And every single game would matter.

We could have that every December.

Or do you prefer Minnesota vs. Texas Tech?

The Spread, Week Four: The Game of the Century Parts III & IV


As the would-be game-tying drive fizzled out for Matt Barkley and USC Saturday night, something insidious and horrible crept into to mind. This means Alabama and LSU will be ranked 1 & 2. Are we seriously going to do this again? It would serve college football right to have to endure a repeat of last year’s repeat for the national title. This past off-season, the powers-that-be finally agreed to a playoff format and the BCS was dead and gone forev–well, in two years anyway, because figuring out just exactly how to ensure that they don’t somehow end up the powers-that-were is going to take some time.

And now we’re all going to pay for it.

You already see how it’s going to unfold. As the remaining unbeatens in other conferences start playing each other, their numbers obviously begin to dwindle. Of course, this also happens in the SEC, but Bama and LSU roll on. By the time those two face off, we’re down to a handful of realistic contenders. Maybe Notre Dame is still alive. Maybe Texas. It doesn’t matter. The Tide and Tigers play another game of field goal derby and ESPN shifts into full This Is The Best Thing You Could Hope For mode. Maybe you even start to see their point. But there are still other undefeated options, so you stick to your anything-but-a-rematch guns and watch in horror as Florida State loses to Florida, Oklahoma knocks out West Virginia, USC gets the best of Notre Dame but falls to 2-loss Oregon in the P12CG. Ohio State thrashes the Big Ten but can’t play for a title. No one else in the conference has a resume worth reading. And there on top of it all sit Alabama and LSU, laughing quietly to themselves. We’ll look up and shout, “Save us!”

And ESPN will whisper, “no.”


Wisconsin: The Badgers take on UTEP, a team that has double-digit losses to Oklahoma and Mississippi and a double-digit win over New Mexico State. That’s great! you think. Wisconsin is more like the first two than the last one. Are they?

The Wisconsin offense is a sputtering mess and now they may be making a switch a QB. Unless freshman Joel Stave is secret offensive genius, don’t be surprised if this ends up being another nail biter.

Michigan: Last week, Notre Dame humiliated Michigan State right out of not just the top 10, but the top 20. We’ve already seen the Wolverines dismantled by a top team in the spotlight and after surviving a scare against Air Force and taking it out on UMass, they have to travel to South Bend to face the first 3-0 Irish team in a decade. While the Domers haven’t faced an athlete like Denard Robinson yet this year, they have held three different types of offenses in check. I see no reason to believe at this point that they can’t do the same this week.

Minnesota & Illinois: These two are actually having pretty decent seasons so far. Illinois did lose big to Arizona State, but that was on the road and those games are always tough. This week both face high-yardage offenses and either could easily lose. I’m mostly worried for Illinois, as LaTech has a pretty balanced attack and isn’t afraid to operate one-dimensionally if they have to. Minnesota is here because they’re undefeated and we all know that isn’t going to last.


Wednesday: Kent State @ Buffalo. While they’re not the most dynamic teams around, it’s still worth a check-in because MACtion.

Thursday: BYU @ Boise State. I guess some people around here would like it if I said something pro-Mormon for a change. Fine. I would like it if Boise State lost this game. Happy?

Friday: Baylor @ Louisiana-Monroe. ULM played two SEC teams on the road and came away with a 3-point win and a 3-point loss. Baylor is unbeaten but unchallenged in the post-RG3 era. You already know the answer.

Saturday: Clemson @ Florida State. The last two undefeated teams in the ACC meet and it’s only week FOUR! Haha, they’re as bad as we are!

Over/Under 7 or 70: UMass @ Miami (OH). Combined, these two teams have scored fewer points per game than 89 other FBS teams have alone. Individually, they have given up more points than the top 6 teams combined. If you’ve ever wanted to see what happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object, I promise you there will be seats available in Oxford. Get Bruno’s afterward so the whole day isn’t a waste.

The Future of College Football: Breaking Up For The Kids

Since the last installment, we’ve been (almost) given the gift of a four-team playoff postseason to begin in a couple of years.  Since that still-not-entirely-final announcement, the discussion has mostly shifted to how the four teams should be chosen, a question that–despite sanctimonious column after sanctimonious column to the contrary–has no right answer.  Everyone has a good point in this argument, and whatever is decided will still result in at least some amount of controversy.  But it will be a slightly better brand of controversy than what we have now, and that’s a good start.

But perhaps doing more to end that controversy would be the long-theorized and even longer-overdue secession of the top conferences from the NCAA.  This move–or at the very least, the creation of a new division within the current structure–would finally acknowledge the obvious: Utah State, Tulane and Buffalo are not on the same level as USC, LSU and Ohio State.

With the most recent realignment moves, the so-called “Big Six” conferences will house 78 programs by 2015 when Navy begins play in the Big East.  The remaining 42 (not counting a handful of announced FCS upgrades) belong to the mid-majors.  Of those 42, exactly zero are in the top 25 in winning percentage for the past ten years (  Every mid-major that would have been in that category has already been snatched up by a Big Sixer (Boise State, TCU, Utah) or opted for independence (BYU), which essentially gives them the same competitive benefits that Notre Dame enjoys.  Just one has appeared in a BCS bowl and that’s Hawai’i, the remaining mid-major with the highest winning percentage in the last decade.

To put it bluntly, they wouldn’t be missed.

Further, I would suggest tossing the Big East into that pool as well.  Of the bottom 15 teams from Big Six leagues on that 10-year list, four are Big East teams (all new additions even).  Each of the other conferences has two, and Army is the lone independent to rank that low.  If the separation were to finally occur, I have no doubt that Boise, Louisville, Cincy, Navy, USF, Houston, UConn and Rutgers could find homes in the Big Five or be successful as independents.  But ultimately, as long as Boise and Navy can, the rest are expendable.

From here we can finally get to a playoff that works, without getting too out of hand for you crybabies that don’t want a two-month 64-team extravaganza of football awesomeness.  With five conferences of sizes that will probably range from 12 to 16 teams and a few independents, a four-team playoff gets a little awkward.  You’re either leaving one conference champ out entirely or subjecting the whole thing to another goofy mishmash of polls and computer formulas.  Neither of those options will be acceptable at this point.  The only realistic answers are either an 8-team playoff (5 champs + 3 at-large) or a 5 team all-champs playoff where some seeding system (even if it’s just W/L record) is used so that #4 and #5 play a sort-of play-in game to the four team field.  (This second method is still a little clunky, as there would need to be some sort of accommodation for independents, perhaps an optional second “play-in” if an independent team meets inclusion criteria.)

And let’s not forget the advantages the separation would give to those mid-major conferences left behind.  I imagine there would be further expansion within that level by elevating even more successful FCS programs.  Undoubtedly there would be a new playoff created for whatever this level is eventually called (FCS-A?).  Finally these teams will be able to start working toward actually winning national championships instead of being satisfied with shameless early-season cash-in beatdown road trips and appearances in no-respect joke bowls with marginal-at-best benefits.

The Future of College Football: Expansion & Realignment

Before we get into the next phase of the college football’s new era, I wanted to add a quick update on the post-season proceedings.  Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and current Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas have publicly supported the Big Ten’s four-team non-bowl playoff system and also expressed interest in a conference-champions-only rule.  Opponents of that rule argue that it would keep the four “best” teams from playing in the playoff, but I happen to like it.  I have said a number of times that I don’t believe in the concept of “best” in college football, especially when the idea is to use that concept to place teams in the post-season.  Conferences and schedules are too widely varied to be able to accurately determine the strength of a team.  Champions-only guarantees that perceptions of conference quality won’t have undue influence on playoff participants the way they do now.  That said, I do think there should be at-large berths available, but that’s not really an option in a four-team system.

Okay, moving on…

Expansion and realignment is easily the most complex and volatile element of the New Era.  It’s impossible to guess what attributes make schools appealing to some conferences and not to others (the Big Ten seemed to have no real interest in Pitt, but the ACC couldn’t wait to snatch them up).  There have already been several major shifts and even more are in the works.  I believe that within five years, each of the current major conferences will either have at least 14 members or no longer exist.  What will be fascinating to see is how the pieces are moved around and specifically whether or not Notre Dame can reasonably maintain their beloved independence.

Here then is a look at each of the six major conferences, what they’ve done so far in expansion and what they may do in the near future.

SEC – 14 teams

Added: Texas A&M, Missouri     Lost: No one

Eventually I think the SEC will want to go to 16 teams, but they probably aren’t going to start that ball rolling unless they can entice Texas or Oklahoma to join.  Texas has rejected the idea once, and A&M probably wouldn’t be too keen on the Longhorns hanging around again.  Oklahoma is a possibility, but for now I think both of those schools want to focus on stabilizing the Big 12.

If someone else moves to 16, the SEC will almost certainly follow.  At that point, you can add pretty much anybody from the ACC that’s had some success in the past five years to the target list.  There is supposedly an agreement to not add anyone from a current SEC state, but I think the push to 16 (and beyond?) will be about consolidation, with a conference or two folding along the way.  Such agreements will need to go out the window when that happens.

ACC – 14 teams

Added: Pittsburgh, Syracuse    Lost: No one

The ACC is likely to be the first out of the gate in the race to 16, and I think that will come sooner than later.  It’s no secret that UConn would like to join Pitt and ‘Cuse and would be a comparable add to a conference that seems to be the only expanding with basketball in mind.  The ACC will take a shot at Notre Dame before settling on someone like Rutgers or even Cincinnati.

Should the SEC (or someone else) snatch an ACC team or two, expect the Big East to continue to absorb the shock.  Yeah, they’ve taken steps to ensure less ship-jumping, but if enough teams are targeted, there won’t be anyone left to answer to.  Things are probably going to get ugly for the Big East pretty soon.

Big Ten – 12 teams

Added: Nebraska     Lost: No one

Currently, the Big Ten is not looking to add more teams but like the SEC, they will make a move if others do or if the right program is in play.  That program in this case is–no surprise–Notre Dame, still desperately clinging to independence in a landscape that is actively trying to make that a relative impossibility.  What else does it mean when a four-team, conference-champions-only playoff is picking up steam?

Judging from their last two expansion adds (Nebraska and Penn State), I don’t think the Big Ten is going to be happy with Big East teams.  While it sounds crazy, I think they may take a shot at the SEC’s Tennessee.  The Volunteers would be a good cultural and geographical fit for the conference.  Expect Nebraska’s old rival Oklahoma to be on the short list if the Irish don’t budge or if the move is to 16.  That last spot could be filled by Kentucky, Maryland or Oklahoma State (if that turns out to be a condition for the Sooners).

All of that said, I’d be surprised if the Big Ten went to 16 unless the Big 12 collapses entirely.

Pac-12 – 12 teams

Added: Utah, Colorado     Lost: No one

As I’m sure you remember, the Pac tried to jump-start the whole 16-team thing a couple of years ago with the attempted annexation of the Big 12’s Oklahoma teams and most of the Texas teams along with Colorado.  Ultimately, politics and an Austin-sized ego kept that deal from going through, but don’t think the league isn’t open to further growth.

Logically, the Big 12 will continue to be a target for Pac-12 expansion, which could possibly lead to some battles with the Big Ten over target programs.  The Pac-12 would love to have Oklahoma, but probably only if they brought Texas with them.  Notre Dame is an attractive option as well with some built-in rivalries.  I was a little surprised that the conference didn’t make a play for Boise State and/or BYU, both natural geographical fits and more relevant football-wise than either Utah or Colorado.

Big 12 – 10 teams

Added: West Virginia, TCU     Lost: Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri, Colorado

The Big 12 definitely took a hit during the last two rounds of expansion, first losing Nebraska (the only thing the North division had going for them) and Colorado–and therefore the conference championship game; then watching Texas A&M and Missouri immediately start peddling themselves, both ultimately landing in the SEC.  Replacements West Virginia and TCU are decent, but the conference is quickly becoming the new Big East.

Although they deny it, there’s no way the Big 12 doesn’t want to get back to 12 teams (at least) and regain their conference championship game.  One could argue that their lack of such a high-profile contest cost Oklahoma State a shot at the national title last season.  Current rumored targets include the Big East’s Louisville and newly-independent BYU.  Notre Dame would be a welcome addition of course, but I don’t see that happening.  Cincinnati is a name that is tossed around as a candidate, but that move reeks of so much last-ditchness.

There’s a reason the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 were covered first here and that’s because if the shift is truly going to be toward four superconferences, those are the four.  Texas and Oklahoma will survive the Big 12’s collapse while Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will do their best to hang tight to their coattails.  The other six teams are in danger of being left out, with Iowa State and Baylor especially endangered.  Kansas can try to leverage their hoops dominance into an invite while West Virginia can probably get into the ACC if the timing is right.  TCU probably deserves a look, but it’s far from a done deal.

Big East – any number of teams at any given time

Added: Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, SMU, UCF, Memphis, Navy, Temple (?)     Lost: West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU before they even joined

If you believe you have a firm grasp on the state of the Big East, then you are probably a crazy person.  For example, all the talk recently has been about the probable return of Temple, who left the Big East in 2004.  Here’s what I do know: they’ve lost every member who was any good at football in the past decade and added Boise State.  Even if the Big East continues to exist, they will not be considered alongside the likes of the SEC and the Big Ten as a “top” conference.

The aforementioned Boise and maybe San Diego State could eventually be targets for the Pac-12.  The ACC will probably go after UConn and maybe Louisville (who could be in the Big 12 by then), Rutgers, Cincy or South Florida.  Everyone else is getting tossed aside unless the Big Four start cannibalizing each other and need to patch holes.

The role of the Big East in the future (if it has one) will likely be similar to that of the new Mountain West/Conference USA merged behemoth–a giant 24-team mid-major frat house whose champion will be looking for a spot in an expanded National Championship Tourney.  Either that or as a power conference in the FCS, where most of these teams belong.


The Future of College Football: The Post-Season

As you read this, a dozen men (the 11 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick) are meeting to determine the next way we will argue about who doesn’t deserve to be the national champion.  With the current BCS contract with ESPN expiring following the 2013 season and dissatisfaction with the post-season arrangement at an all-time high thanks to an abomination of a title game that found a way to create brand new controversies (is losing a conference championship game really worse than not even making it to one?) when we were so sure we had finally seen it all.

Early word out of this meeting (just the second of what will likely be four or five such gatherings before the July deadline) is that there is major support for a Plus-One format, which isn’t really all that informative except to shoot down the possibility of full-blown 8- or 16-team playoff models.  “Plus-One” means different things to different people, and it’s hard to say which version (if it is indeed just one) is gaining steam.  One thing that does seem clear, however, is that the 2014 season will end with more than two teams vying in some way for the ultimate prize, and that’s at least progress.  Here, then, are the most popular public proposals for a multi-team post-season format that are not large scale playoffs:

The Original Plus-One

This would be the version of “Plus-One” that is actually correctly named and also my least favorite of the three outlined here.  The idea is that the BCS selection process would be scrapped and the four top bowls would revert to original conference tie-ins.  The BCS system would be churned one more time following the bowls and the top two teams would play for the title.

The primary benefit of this system is that it opens the title chase to the most teams without being an actual playoff.  Technically, eight teams will be in the running and four of them will be eliminated on the field.  Two of them will then be eliminated in the same way we hate now, which is the primary drawback and a pretty big one in my opinion.  I don’t see how this will curb controversy in a real way.  It does guarantee a traditional Rose Bowl matchup every year, if you’re willing to accept that Nebraska vs. Utah is “traditional.”

I highly doubt that this is the Plus-One model that’s gaining traction, since most of the decision-makers involved are wary of the dreaded “bracket creep,” and this is basically a playoff that skips from quarter-finals to finals.  It would be too easy to add in that missing middle round in a couple of years and there’s no way the playoff opponents in the room don’t see that.  It also opens the door back up for accusations of hindering access, since it would reduce the number of “BCS” teams from 10 to 8 unless another bowl (Cotton?) is brought on board, a move that would itself then create three potential “screwed” teams rather than two.

The Four Team Bowl Playoff

The “Modern Plus-One” is really just a small playoff that’s afraid of itself.  If you don’t call it a playoff, then it isn’t, I guess.  Whatever.  This is the model that ESPN talks about the most, so immediately I am suspicious of it.  The idea here is that teams 1 and 4 and teams 2 and 3 would meet in two of the BCS bowls with the winners playing for the title a week later.

Proponents of this system love to congratulate themselves for creating a playoff and preserving the importance of the bowls, and I suppose it does that.  But I’m not really sure how many fans can travel to two bowl games in close succession or how many schools are going to want to foot the bill for two long trips.  Being that it is an actual playoff, it isn’t the worst idea, but the logistics seem to make it needlessly cumbersome.

This setup also reduces the number of BCS teams by two and doesn’t allow for an easy fix the way Original Plus-One does.  This is probably the format that is leading the pack right now, but I think that if it is implemented, its downsides will become quickly apparent and further modification will be in order.

The Four Team Non-Bowl Playoff

This is the system recently offered up by the Big Ten, and I think it is the best I’ve seen (again, since we’re ruling out the 16-teamer I actually want).  It would still employ the 1-4, 2-3 matchups, but these games would be held at the home stadiums of the top two teams.  The winners would then meet in a new national title game, the location of which would be up for bid each year, similar to the Super Bowl.

I’m honestly having a hard time finding something to dislike about this concept.  Home playoff games make achieving one of those top two spots worth fighting for, although it may also necessitate finding a new way to rank teams so as to avoid accusations of impropriety (at the very least, make the current system transparent).  No one is going to have trouble selling out a home game for a championship berth and contingency travel packages to the title game can be sold throughout December.  Also, moving the title game around the country would be beyond amazing.  I can honestly say I would consider going to any title game at Lucas Oil, whether the Buckeyes were in it or not.

This model benefits the bowl side of things as well.  With four teams out of the picture, top-tier bowl spots would be open for even more teams.  The Rose Bowl can have its Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup every year and get at least one of the champs most seasons.  In fact, there’s no reason the two semi-final losers can’t be eligible for bowls as well, making it even more likely to get a traditional Rose Bowl and offering more attractive options to help the bowls sell tickets.

But the most significant advantage to this format is that it comes prepared for eventual expansion.  There are no existing logistical barriers to keep it from, well, creeping to 8 or 16 teams.  I doubt that’s what the Big Ten has in mind right now, but I’d also be surprised if they hadn’t thought of it.

What are your thoughts?  Do you prefer one of the other two systems?  Is there a drawback to the Big Ten plan that I’m missing?

Poll Dancing: Week Fourteen, or This Time the Field Goals Are Personal

It’s the rare sequel that lives up to the original.  Those that surpass (The Godfather Part II, The Dark Knight) are rarer still.  Of course, with movies that’s generally because movies that inspire sequels are actually good.  At the very least, they’re popular.  In college football, apparently all it takes is that the sequel be in the best interest of ESPN.

On Saturday morning (by pure chance, as I usually don’t even watch) I had GameDay on and heard an exchange between someone and Kirk Herbstreit (that’s how much attention I was paying).  Herbstreit was asked who deserved the #2 spot besides Alabama and made a big show of not being able to produce an answer.  This was before Oklahoma State destroyed Oklahoma in what amounted to the Big 12 championship game.  The Cowboys finished the regular season with just a single loss–a double overtime stunner on the road at 6-6 Iowa State.

I thought for sure that the BCS computers would boost Oklahoma State into the national title game.  As you know, Big 12 teams have received tremendous (suspicious, even) benefit of the doubt from the machine portion of the ratings pretty much all year.  And they didn’t let me down.  Only two computers had the Cowboys at #3.  The other four had them at #2 as expected.  So what happened?

ESPN decided, in direct contrast to their no-rematch mantra in 2006 when voters fatefully picked Florida over Michigan to face Ohio State, that suddenly the only thing that mattered was “quality of loss.”  What they really decided, of course, was that their enormous TV deal with the SEC could benefit from (and perhaps even be justified by) having two SEC teams face off for the title, even though they had already played in what was at the time billed as the Game of the Century.  That the game will be on their channel is just a coincidence, I’m sure.  The “quality of loss” nonsense is just the easiest way to sell it to the voters and the public.

But is that really all that matters?  If so, then where is the argument for Boise State?  Their only loss was by one point to 10-2 TCU.  Shouldn’t they be ranked ahead of Oklahoma State too?  Stanford’s only loss is to 11-2 Oregon.  Virginia Tech has two losses, but they’re both to 10-3 Clemson.  No one is arguing for these teams, because elevating them does not achieve maximum benefit for ESPN.

How about quality wins?  Alabama beat 3 teams in the final BCS top 25 (#s 6, 22, and 25).  Oklahoma State beat 4 (#s 8, 12, 14, and 24).  If nothing else, that should even out the imbalance of their comparative losses.  Of course, then there’s that whole business of Oklahoma State actually winning their conference.  ESPN will tell you (over and over and over) that Alabama shouldn’t be punished because they play in the same division with the best team in the country.  But Michigan was punished for that in 2006, until we learned that maybe Ohio State wasn’t the best team in the country (at least not that night).  Georgia was punished similarly the following year, before ESPN was knee deep in SEC hoopla, for basically the same thing Alabama is now being rewarded for.

So what’s the answer?  Obviously, shady computers and easily-manipulated polls aren’t working.  A national title game featuring two teams from the same division is a joke, a mockery of the very idea of competition.  At this point, I’ll take ANY advancement of the postseason, even if it’s only a plus-one (which I still don’t think is enough, but at least it would solve this year’s main problem).

Next week, I’ll give you the preliminary concept for a national ranking system that does not have the trappings of the current system.  While there is no way to avoid all forms of bias, the most egregious tampering (coaches/fans having a direct impact on the standing of their team through voting) can be eliminated.  Hopefully, it will work well with all postseason concepts, although I doubt it would be that great for a two-team BCS-style format because that’s completely stupid.

Oh, and why next week?  Because there’s a game this Saturday, and in my system, EVERY game counts.