Weekend Watch List: Huge BCS stakes for Florida State-Clemson

For the last time, the first BCS standings will be released on Sunday. Please re-cork the champagne.

There has to be a certain melancholy to the end of the Bowl Championship Series. At least in the BCS era, we knew what we disliked. The computers and polls may have been metric hobos, but at least they were our metric hobos.

"Ahhh, now I get it. Oklahoma totally deserves to play in the national championship game after losing by four touchdowns to Kansas State."

The playoff selection committee was trotted out this week and while the membership itself is unassailable, they've got some heavy lifting ahead. If I read the procedures right, subjectivity is going to be a big part of administrating a $7.2 billion enterprise over the next 12 years.

And subjectivity is a potentially dangerous concept, even if you consider just the ramifications of this week's games projected to 2014.

Florida State at Clemson: In the biggest ACC game in years, it's possible the loser of this game could ultimately be considered the best team in the league. In the divisional era, conference championship games are ultimately one-game propositions. Conference expansion and the BCS era conspired to devalue the worth of conference champions. Beginning in 2014, the Big 12 will be the only conference without a championship game playing a true round-robin schedule.

That means in any given year, it's possible in nine of the 10 BCS conferences that the so-called "best" team in a league may not even play in a conference title game. BCS examples: Nebraska in 2001, Alabama in 2011. Issue going forward: the committee will give weight to conference champions.

Florida State freshman phenom Jameis Winston faces his biggest game yet at Clemson. (USATSI)
Florida State freshman phenom Jameis Winston faces his biggest game yet at Clemson. (USATSI)

"Good question," said Wisconsin AD/committee member Barry Alvarez when the above scenario was presented.

"I know there may be situations with a one-loss team where they may not play in the conference championship game, and still have an opportunity to play in the national championship game … That's our responsibility to take in all considerations … Bringing the human element to help make the decision really clarifies this."

This is not exactly a front-burner issue for the Clemson Tigers or Florida State Seminoles on Saturday. But it is possible, especially in the power conferences. All it would take is for FSU-Clemson winner (preferably a close result) to endure some sort of horrible upset down the stretch. Jeremy Fowler calls it "Clemsoning," and is not out of the question given recent ACC history.

Saturday's loser, if it won out, would then vault ahead in the BCS standings. It would be possible -- and this is just an example -- for the loser of Saturday's showdown to play in a four-team playoff. Hey, such a thing has occurred in the BCS era with only two teams at the top. Next year the field doubles.

Auburn at Texas A&M: Like the BCS, margin of victory is supposed to be minimized for the committee. Really? Project this game to 2014 and the seventh-ranked Aggies are in the mix for that four-team playoff.

With the nation's 10th-worst defense but with Johnny Football, A&M would need to blow out the Auburn Tigers -- and everyone else -- down the stretch. Does the committee and its natural human subjectivity take that into account?

Washington State at Oregon, UCLA at Stanford: The Ducks and Cardinal presaged a complicated future scenario for the committee each of the last two seasons.

In both 2011 and 2012, the Pac-12 champion finished out of the top four (in the BCS) after dealing its Pac-12 North rival its only regular-season loss. In 2011, Oregon won the league but finished fifth in the BCS despite beating Stanford head-to-head 53-30. Each team finished 8-1 in the Pac-12 North. The Ducks, 11-2 in the regular season to Stanford's 11-1. The Cardinal finished fourth in the BCS.

Essentially, Oregon was penalized for playing -- and losing to -- LSU in the opener.

In 2012, the teams again tied at 8-1 atop the division. Stanford, 11-2 in the regular season won the Pac-12 while upsetting Oregon in Eugene. The Cardinal finished sixth in the BCS. Oregon, 11-1, was fourth. The Cardinal's losses were to Washington and Notre Dame.

In each case, the Pac-12 champion would have finished out of a playoff after beating the team head-to-head it tied with in the division.

The Cardinal, upset last week at Utah, can still finish atop the North this season by winning out. That would include a win over Oregon on Nov. 7. We would be down to a debate over quality of loss for a playoff spot -- Stanford to unranked Utah, Oregon to (currently) No. 13 Stanford.

The SEC's stake: This weekend is why SEC commissioner Mike Slive lobbied for the four best teams in the playoff, not conference champions only.

Slive knows that in any given year, his league could have multiple SEC teams in the playoff. Consider this week alone with a record eight ranked teams. Two in a playoff is possible in any given year as long as the Strength Everywhere Conference stays … strong. But in years like this would the committee consider three -- or four -- teams from the same conference?

In 2012 alone, it would have been hard to distinguish between Florida, Georgia, Stanford and Oregon for the final two spots. Alabama and Notre Dame were already in.

The 14: That's the number of undefeated teams heading into Week 8. The total will be whittled down. We know that.

What a playoff does in almost every year is get every deserving undefeated team into the mix. No more Auburn missing out in 2004. There were five undefeated teams in 2009 which would have required a brutal choice on who to cut out between Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State. But that was once-in-15 years occurrence in the BCS.

Strength of schedule: Again, subjective, but does the Big Ten even have a chance?

With a committee, the human polls are dead: Not exactly. The fact that the committee is going to issue a series of top 25 updates throughout the season actually enhances the AP and coach's polls.

Each time, the committee's top 25 will be compared to those traditional human polls. The hope is that in most years there is a consensus on the top four. Despite the controversy, a consensus top two emerged in the BCS era. But with the field doubled and the scrutiny heightened, here's just one nightmare scenario:

In mid-November, the committee issues a top 25 that matches the human polls. Those top four teams win out, but on Selection Sunday the committee inserts two new teams in the top four, while the human polls don't.

Revolt?

The subjectivity thing doesn't sit well in this corner of the college football world. Listening to the conference calls this week, I came away with a picture of the men's basketball committee. Inevitably each March, there is a minor controversy over the last few teams to get in. Inevitably, that explanation is subjective and the controversy dies quickly.

It was the "eye test," they'll say. It was the "broad body of work," they'll say. In basketball, we're arguing over an at-large team or two. Beginning next year, the playoff committee will be holding people's careers, raises, draft ratings, school budgets in their hands. That's how important it will be to get in that top four, or in the case of the six CFP bowls as a whole, the top 12.

"I'm not really sure what the eye test means," said Jeff Long, Arkansas AD and chairman of the committee. "That' subjective. We've got 13 members of this committee with an unlimited amount of data. It will mean something different to each one of these committee members."

Yeah, and that's one of the problems. "No one single metric will be identified as paramount over all other data," according to the press release.

Playoff worthiness, then, is in the eye of the beholder. A year out, those metric hobos are starting to look well-dressed.

Predicted order of first BCS:If the favorites win, it should come out like this on Sunday: 1, Alabama; 2, Oregon; 3, Florida State; 4, Ohio State; 5, LSU.

ACC showdown

Clemson has been the pick here since the summer before any of us knew how to spell Jameis. Little has changed. This is revenge, at home, with Clemson's relevancy at stake. Famous Jameis' time has come, but not this week. The Noles have won only one of their last nine against top three opponents. Tigers win a close one in a shootout.

Upset of the week

Just a feeling but after watching Tennessee take Georgia to overtime, the Vols have something for South Carolina this week. Tennessee is the anti-Alabama, having lost 19 straight against ranked teams. Last win: 2009, vs. South Carolina. Is karma approaching?

After nearly knocking off Georgia can Butch Jones' Vols upend the Gamecocks? (USATSI)
After nearly knocking off Georgia can Butch Jones' Vols upend the Gamecocks? (USATSI)

Speaking of karma

Arkansas (at Alabama) is 0-4 since Jen Bielema tweeted #karma following Wisconsin's controversial loss at ArizonaState.

Baylor rolls on

Iowa State is the best 1-4 team in the country, having lost those games by a total 22 points. But Baylor averages 3.8 less points in the first quarter (25) than the Cyclones average per game (28.8). Iowa State quarterback Sam B. Richardson is the only Big 12 quarterback to play every snap. The only way Baylor's Bryce Petty makes it to the fourth quarter is if it's close. It won't be.

Sark's complaint

Not saying Washington's coach has a beef against the Pac-12 schedule makers but, wow. The Huskies (at Arizona State) are coming off consecutive top-10 losses against Stanford and Oregon.

Non-BCS notes

Undefeated Fresno State and Northern Illinois (at Central Michigan) are the favorites for that reserved BCS bowl at the halfway point. Fresno figures to be the highest ranked non-BCS in the first BCS standings if it beats UNLV this week.

No unbeaten non-BCS team has finished lower than 12th (Marshall, 1999). That is significant with the current qualification standards. If a non-BCS team finishes in the top 12, it is automatically in. If that non-BCS team finishes in the top 16 and is ranked ahead of a BCS-conference champion, it also gets in.

Oregon pink helmets

For once, the Ducks' uniform combination makes total sense (breast cancer awareness). But I swear I actually assembled this uniform combination once playing NCAA Football.

Life could be worse

You could be playing at Grambling.

Quote to remember

"The BCS system has helped college football's regular-season remain the most meaningful in all of sport." -- Arkansas AD Jeff Long from 2011, as quoted in the 2012-13 BCS media guide.

Long this week was named the first College Football Playoff selection committee chairman.

 
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