Which proposed playoff format will work best in 2014? Time will test

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Critics didn't like 'Bama winning the BCS title in '11 despite not winning the SEC. (Getty Images)  
Critics didn't like 'Bama winning the BCS title in '11 despite not winning the SEC. (Getty Images)  

Since the Bowl Championship Series added a fifth BCS bowl game -- the BCS national title game -- after the 2006 regular season, attendance at the BCS bowl games has been on a steady decline.

Wait, you've already read that before.

That's one of a myriad of challenges the 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick are facing when determining what the new postseason format (plus-one or four-team playoff) will look like in 2014.

The commissioners have been divided into four groups of three to "drill down" into the details. They've met once a month for the last three months and will get together later this month in Hollywood, Fla., and again in June in Chicago. They still might need more time to settle on what the future of college football will look like.

But when trying to predict the future, sometimes it helps to look into the past.

So here's a look at how three of the proposed playoff formats -- top four ranked teams, conference champions only or a plus-one -- would have looked since 2006 when the BCS title game was added.

Which format is best? Well, that depends largely on what's your rooting interest. One thing is certain: whatever the commissioners come up with will be different than what we have now and there will be plenty of opinions whether it's an improvement or not.

How I determined the different formats:

Top four ranked teams: You guessed it -- the top four ranked teams from the final BCS rankings. No. 4 vs. No. 1 and No. 3 vs. No. 2 with the winners meeting for the title.

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Conference champions only: Actually it's not conference champions only because Notre Dame still must have access. Under this model, the three highest ranked champions of any conference qualified. The fourth spot went to the highest ranked team among remaining conference champions, non-conference champions or Notre Dame.

Plus-one: This gets somewhat complicated so bear with me. If the commissioners decide on the plus-one, they would have to add a fifth major bowl to replace the BCS title game to maintain 10 major bowl teams. For the past plus-one models, I assigned the conference champions as the automatic qualifier for each bowl as it exists today (Sugar/SEC; Orange/ACC; Fiesta/Big 12 and Rose/Big Ten and Pac 12) and added the Cotton Bowl as the fifth major bowl. Without a conference champion anchor, the Cotton Bowl would chose two at-large teams. Sources have told me that the major bowls, under a new plus-one or four-team playoff format, would want the flexibility or freedom to choose the at-large teams to face their anchor teams. I'll go along with that -- as long as they ranked among the top 14 in the BCS rankings (the current requirement for at-large teams). Also, there is no limit on the number of teams per conference for the five major bowls in my look back. Although I don't own a bright blazer, I tried to select which at-large team would be most attractive to each bowl. Under the plus-one format after the bowls are played the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked teams would meet for the national title.

2011 formats

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 Stanford (wild card) vs. No. 1 LSU (SEC); No. 3 Oklahoma State (Big 12) vs. No. 2 Alabama (at-large).

Conference champion format: No. 5 Oregon (Pac-12) vs. No. 1 LSU (SEC); No. 3 Oklahoma State (Big 12) vs. No. 2 Alabama (at-large).

Plus-one (at-large selection order: Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, Cotton) Fiesta: No. 3 Oklahoma State (Big 12) vs. No. 2 Alabama (at-large)
Sugar: No. 1 LSU (SEC) vs. 4. Stanford (at-large)
Orange: No. 15 Clemson (ACC) vs. No. 6 Arkansas (at-large)
Cotton: No. 7 Boise State (at-large) vs. No. 8 Kansas State (at-large)
Rose: No. 5 Oregon (Pac-12) vs. No. 10 Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 9 South Carolina, 11 Virginia Tech, No. 12 Baylor, No. 14 Oklahoma

Revisionist history: Last year any of the three formats would have been strong. However, with two teams that didn't win their conference championship (Alabama and Stanford) among the top four ranked teams, this is the prime example why critics don't necessarily want just the top four ranked teams in a playoff. The plus-one would have featured three SEC schools as LSU, Alabama and Arkansas all ranked in the top six.

  

2010 formats

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 Stanford (at-large) vs. No. 1 Auburn (SEC); No. 3 TCU (MWC) vs. No. 2 Oregon (Pac-10).

Conference champion format: No. 4 Stanford (at-large) at No. 1 Auburn (SEC); No. 3 TCU (MWC) at No. 2 Oregon (Pac-10).

Plus-one (at-large selection order: Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta)

Sugar: No. 1 Auburn (SEC) vs. No. 4 Stanford (at-large)
Orange: No. 13 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. No. 6 Ohio State (at-large)
Cotton: No. 3 TCU (at-large) vs. No. 11 LSU (at-large)
Fiesta: No. 7 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. No. 8 Arkansas (at-large)
Rose: No. 2 Oregon (Pac-10) vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 9 Michigan State, No. 10 Boise State, No. 12 Missouri, No. 14 Oklahoma State.

Revisionist history: The top four ranked teams also would qualify under the conference champion format since TCU, the Mountain West champions, is the third-highest ranked league champion. Like 2011, the plus-one model nearly pairs the top four teams against each other and the SEC -- featuring three teams among the top 11 -- gets three teams among the major bowls.

  

2009 formats:

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 TCU (MWC) vs. No. 1 Alabama (SEC); No. 3 Cincinnati (Big East) at No. 2 Texas (Big 12).

Conference champion format: No. 4 TCU (MWC) vs. No. 1 Alabama (SEC); No. 3 Cincinnati (Big East) vs. No. 2 Texas (Big 12).

Plus-one (at-large selection order: Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Sugar)

Orange: No. 9 Georgia Tech (ACC) vs. No. 5 Florida (at-large)
Cotton: No. 4 TCU (at-large) vs. No. 12 LSU (at-large)
Fiesta: No. 2 Texas (Big 12) vs. No. 6 Boise State (at-large)
Sugar: No. 1 Alabama (SEC) vs. No. 3 Cincinnati (at-large)
Rose: No. 7 Oregon (Pac-10) vs. No. 8 Ohio State (Big Ten)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 10 Iowa, No. 11 Virginia Tech, No. 13 Penn State, No. 14 BYU

Revisionist history: The top four ranked teams also would mirror the conference champion format. The SEC -- again -- gets three bids in the plus-one format. However, eight other conferences would have been represented in the plus-one bowls including the Big East (Cincinnati), Mountain West (TCU) and WAC (Boise State).

  

2008 formats:

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 Alabama (at-large) vs. No. 1 Oklahoma (Big 12); No. 3 Texas (at-large) vs. No. 2 Florida (SEC).

Conference champion format: No. 5 USC (Pac-10) vs. No. 1 Oklahoma (Big 12); No. 3 Texas (at-large) vs. No. 2 Florida (SEC).

Plus-one (at-large selection order: Cotton, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange)

Cotton: No. 3 Texas (at-large) vs. No. 6 Utah (at-large)
Fiesta: No. 1 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. No. 4 Alabama (at-large)
Sugar: No. 2 Florida (SEC) vs. No. 10 Ohio State (at-large)
Orange: No. 19 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. No. 7 Texas Tech (at-large)
Rose: No. 5 USC (Pac-10) vs. No. 8 Penn State (Big Ten)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 9 Boise State, No. 11 TCU, No. 12 Cincinnati, No. 13 Oklahoma State, No. 14 Georgia Tech

Revisionist history: Two of the top four ranked teams are not conference champions and once again a conference gets three teams in the five major bowls in the plus-one. This time, though, it's the Big 12 with three of the nation's top seven-ranked teams. The SEC and Big 10 also receive multiple bids, while the Mountain West is represented by Utah.

  

2007 formats:

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten), No. 3 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. No. 2 LSU (SEC).

Conference champion format: No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten), No. 3 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. No. 2 LSU (SEC).

Plus-one (at-large selection order: Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, Cotton)

Fiesta: No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. No. 5 Georgia (at-large)
Sugar: No. 2 LSU (SEC) vs. No. 6 Missouri (at-large)
Orange: No. 3 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. No. 12 Florida (at-large)
Cotton: No. 8 Kansas (at-large) vs. No. 9 West Virginia (at-large)
Rose: No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten) vs. No. 7 USC (Pac-10)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 10 Hawaii, No. 11 Arizona State, No. 13 Illinois, No. 14 Boston College

Revisionist history: Like 2009, the top four ranked teams are also all conference champions. This, amazingly, is the last year that none of the current non-AQ leagues are represented in the plus-one. Hawaii, at No. 10, was the highest ranked, but likely would have been bypassed for power conference schools that travel better and produce better TV numbers. The Big 12 and SEC would have had three teams each in the major bowls.

  

2006 formats

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 LSU (at-large) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten), No. 3 Michigan (at-large) vs. No. 2 Florida (SEC)

Conference champion format: No. 5 USC (Pac-10) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten), No. 3 Michigan (at-large) at No. 2 Florida (SEC)

Plus-one (at-large selection order: Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta)

Sugar: No. 2 Florida (SEC) vs. No. 11 Notre Dame (at-large)
Orange: No. 14 Wake Forest (ACC) vs. No. 7 Wisconsin (at-large)
Cotton: No. 3 Michigan (at-large) vs. No. 4 LSU (at-large)
Fiesta: No. 10 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. No. 6 Louisville (at-large)
Rose: No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten) vs. No. 5 USC (Pac-10)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 8 Boise State, No. 9 Auburn, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 13 West Virginia

Revisionist history: For the only time in the past eight years, the Big Ten has two teams among the top four ranked teams, meaning the Rose Bowl would have been down to its third Big Ten team if the top four ranked teams advanced to a playoff. In the plus-one format, the Big Ten gets three teams in the major bowls, while the SEC gets two and Notre Dame, ranked No. 11 in the BCS, gets selected.

  

2005 formats

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 Ohio State (at-large) vs. No. 1 USC (Pac-12), No. 3 Penn State (Big Ten) vs. No. 2 Texas (Big 12).

Conference champion format: No. 4 Ohio State (at-large) vs. No. 1 USC (Pac-10), No. 3 Penn State (Big Ten) vs. No. 2 Texas (Big 12).

Plus-one (at-large selection order: Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Sugar)

Orange: No. 22 Florida State (ACC) vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (at-large)
Cotton: No. 4 Ohio State (at-large) vs. No. 9 Auburn (at-large)
Fiesta: No. 2 Texas (Big 12) vs. No. 5 Oregon (at-large)
Sugar: No. 7 Georgia (SEC) vs. No. 8 Miami (at-large)
Rose: No. 1 USC (Pac-10) vs. No. 3 Penn State (Big Ten)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 11 West Virginia, No. 12 LSU, No. 13 Alabama, No. 14 TCU.

Revisionist history: Like 2006, the Big Ten again makes up half of the four-team playoff field. In the plus-one format, four conferences receive two bids each -- the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Pac-10. Notre Dame, ranked No. 6, is a slam dunk as the first at-large selection by the Orange Bowl.

  

2004 formats:

Top four ranked teams: No. 4 Texas (at-large) vs. No. 1 USC (Pac-10), No. 3 Auburn (SEC) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (Big 12).

Conference champion format: No. 4 Texas (at-large) vs. No. 1 USC (Pac-10), No. 3 Auburn (SEC) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (Big 12).

Plus-one (At-large selection order: Cotton, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange)

Cotton: No. 4 Texas (at-large) vs. No. 11 LSU (at-large)
Fiesta: No. 2 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. No. 5 Cal (at-large)
Sugar: No. 3 Auburn (SEC) vs. No. 6 Utah (at-large)
Orange: No. 8 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. No. 7 Georgia (at-large)
Rose: No. 1 USC (Pac-10) vs. No. 13 Michigan (Big Ten)
Top 14 teams left out: No. 9 Boise State, No. 10 Louisville, No. 12 Iowa, No. 14 Miami.

Revisionist history: For only the second time in the past eight years, the Big 12 would have two teams among a four-team playoff. Cal, which finished No. 5 in the final BCS rankings, would miss out on a four-team playoff, but earn a spot in a major bowl in the plus-one format. The SEC -- surprise -- would place three teams among the five major bowls.

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