Senior Writer

College football tourney could work, but can you live with it?


HOUSTON -- Two cuddly nontraditional upstarts, out of nowhere. For their youthful coaches, the only wrinkles are those added to the game plan. Imagine the fourth-place school from the Colonial Athletic Association, the institution that produced Flounder from Animal House, being here. Imagine a program that lost at Youngstown State this season winning it all.

You already have. That half-court shot by Butler's Gordon Hayward last year just missed against Duke. Now the Bulldogs get a do-over against VCU in one national semifinal here Saturday night.

The Utes beating Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl is an example that the underdogs can play. (US Presswire)  
The Utes beating Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl is an example that the underdogs can play. (US Presswire)  
Isn't bracket life grand? The NCAA tournament might be the only true place in sports where Lilliputians don't need an ID to get in. In fact, they've become the bouncers. You listening, college football? You can already hear the comparisons ... "If this Final Four doesn't make the case for a college football playoff, well ..."

Well, hold on, hoss. Before a ball is tipped on Saturday, that argument has already skidded off the runway. We're talking two different species with different DNA. We're comparing squeaky clean Miranda against, uh, Courtney. Apple juice vs. orange peels. It's ... just ... not ... the ... same.

This is not a screed against a football playoff. It's going to happen, in some form, some day. The point is, there is no logical comparison to this Final Four. Start with the overarching fact that Cinderella may live here in Houston, but not in Tuscaloosa. We like our sport with meat, gravy and potatoes. No sushi, no sprouts. Just the basics.

I don't mean to speak for all of college football, but it's my column so deal with it.

Think about when Boise State was making its rise the past few years. There were as many discussions about why the Broncos didn't deserve to be in a BCS bowl as why they did. SEC fans alone would blow up Paul Finebaum's show if Boise State played for the national championship, never mind Cincinnati (a BCS school, mind you), which came within an eyelash of doing so in 2009.

That's the basic difference: In basketball, VCU's Rams are celebrated. In college football, Colorado State's Rams would be questioned. Maybe it's the tradition or history or too-many hundred-dollar handshakes of college football. The sport likes upsets but only to a certain point.

Case in point: Evidence of Utah's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in 2009 is plastered all over the program's football offices. It is the high point of the program, proof that the underdog can play. At Alabama -- and to those with SEC leanings -- it is considered a fluke, caused by injuries, suspensions and disinterest.

Before you institute a playoff, then, you have to be able to digest its consequences, College Football America. In a four-team playoff, all it would take would be a bad call or two, an injury and all of a sudden Cincinnati is the national champion. Could Knoxville stomach that? Columbus? Austin?

Starting to get my point? You don't even know what you don't want, CFA. You don't want -- for example -- Central Florida playing Fresno State in a national college football semifinal. That's the 2010 football equivalent of Butler-VCU -- the winner of a mid-major conference vs. a fourth-place team from another mid-major.

That's why the BCS commissioners are doggedly holding onto their system. Anyone who allows the have-nots to gain a financial, historic or traditional foothold is considered dangerous. Let's put this Final Four in a college football perspective. Start with a 16-team playoff. That's the only way to start to make a comparison. That way, all 11 conference champions are in. That leaves five at-large teams. Let's say they are decided by a human committee with some input from other statistical methods, same as the NCAA basketball committee.

Think about the uproar this year over Alabama-Birmingham being in and Colorado and Virginia Tech being out. That was with a sample size of 68 that includes 37 at-large picks. In football, we're talking 16 with five at-larges. No possibility for controversy there, huh?

Here are the 11 conference champs from 2010 -- Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Oregon, Auburn, Connecticut, Miami (Ohio), Nevada, TCU, Central Florida, Florida International. (The Sun Belt doesn't break ties within the conference. I picked FIU over Troy because it won the head-to-head battle.)

Here's a possible 16-team bracket, including five hand-chosen at-large picks:

 No. 1 seed Auburn vs. No. 16 Florida International
 No. 8 Nevada vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech
 No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State
 No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 13 UConn
 No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 LSU
 No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 14 Central Florida
 No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 10 Boise State
 No. 2 TCU vs. No. 15 Miami (Ohio)

Here's a possible football Final Four, without too much of stretched imagination:

 Nevada vs. Oklahoma State
 Oregon vs. Boise State

One more possibility: Either Nevada or Boise State is your national champion. Happy? Outside of Reno or Boise, didn't think so. Not with teams like Michigan State and Alabama not even in the bracket.

It's not whether such a bracket could work, it's whether you -- College Football America -- could live with the consequences.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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