New playoff system helps, but won't eliminate end-of-season bowl arguments

by | College Football Blogger
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CBSSports.com mock playoff committee also had BCS Nos. 1 and 2 Notre Dame and Alabama. (Getty Images)  
CBSSports.com mock playoff committee also had BCS Nos. 1 and 2 Notre Dame and Alabama. (Getty Images)  

College football's 2012 regular season and championship weekend is in the books. And if it proves any indication of how the sport's future might play out, the coming playoff won't do much to douse the seemingly annual end-of-season controversy -- and might just make it worse.

Though the CBSSports.com mock playoff selection committee was near-unanimous in slotting BCS Nos. 1 and 2 Notre Dame and Alabama into its simulated four-team playoff field, it differed widely on the two teams that would join them. Florida ultimately placed third in the poll and Oregon fourth -- setting up the Ducks against the Irish and the Gators against the Tide in an all-SEC semifinal. Kansas State and Georgia each received multiple votes for a place in the bracket. And even Stanford wasn't far off the pace as the sixth-placed Cardinal trailed the No. 3 Gators by only 21 points in the voting, a margin only 1 point larger than the gap between spots 2 and 3.

College Football Final Four
Semifinals Championship
1. Notre Dame Notre Dame OR Oregon
4. Oregon
2. Alabama vs. Alabama OR Florida
3. Florida
Bowl Games
GameMatchup
SugarNo. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Florida
FiestaNo. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Oregon
RoseNo. 7 Stanford vs. Wisconsin
OrangeNo. 10 S. Carolina vs. No. 11 Florida St.
CottonNo. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 9 LSU
Chick-fil-ANo. 6 Georgia vs. No. 14 N. Illinois

Had the 2014 playoff system been in place this season and the real committee reached the same conclusion as CBSSports.com's, the screams of protest from Athens and Manhattan would be heard from, well, wherever you happen to be. In the Bulldogs' case, they would point toward their head-to-head victory over the Gators, SEC East title in a division they shared with the Gators, and the unfairness (as the argument would go) of holding against them a Dawg loss in a 13th game they themselves prevented the Gators from playing. That second loss, which came by the thinnest of margins against a team most expected to lift the Coaches' Trophy (or, in this hypothetical case, whatever replaces that trophy), wouldn't hurt their case at all as evidenced by the pair of voters keeping the Dawgs in third even after the SEC title game defeat.

The Wildcats' argument might be just as compelling, though. Bill Snyder's team has the same 11-1 record as Florida and Oregon, but according to Jeff Sagarin's ratings did so against a schedule easily better than the Ducks' (19th-best to 33rd) and only a shade behind Florida's (16th). The Wildcats finished with seven victories over the Sagarin top 30 -- more than any other team in contention save Stanford's eight -- and won them by an impressive average of 18.3 points. And, oh yeah, there's this: the Wildcats won their conference, when neither the Ducks nor the Gators could even lay claim to having won their respective divisions.

Despite the actual selection committee's reported emphasis on conference champions, the CBSSports.com committee seemed more concerned with the Wildcats' blowout loss to 7-5 Baylor -- though only one of the 10 voters had the Wildcats outside his top six, only two included them in a top-four spot. Between those results, the current BCS standings (which also place Kansas State fifth) and poll voters rejecting league champion Oklahoma State last year in favor of SEC West runner-up Alabama in the wake of the Cowboys' loss to Iowa State, it seems clear that if Big 12 title contenders want the benefit of the doubt, they'll have to have their losses come against the leagues' top-tier teams rather than its middle class.

Of course, if this was an actual playoff year, just because there's something like a consensus that Kansas State is the first team out of the proverbial money doesn't mean the Wildcats' anger would be any less intense. The playoff will, without question, solve some problems. Others, it seems, won't have a solution any time soon -- if ever.

Other notes from the final mock selection committee vote of the season:

 Another thing the switch to the playoff from the BCS apparently wouldn't have changed: Northern Illinois landing in a big-money bowl. The Huskies controversially snagged an Orange Bowl bid opposite Florida State in this year's BCS pairings, but their status as the highest-ranking "Group of 5" team (i.e., the Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West, MAC or Sun Belt) in the committee's eyes means they would have drawn an automatic bid to one of the playoff's "access" bowls anyway. The issue is the same as it was in the BCS this season: a terrible season for the Big East opening the door for the MAC interloper. (Note that Oklahoma gets snubbed here as well.)

 But here's one thing the playoff system would definitely improve: a top-notch slate of games for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. How does a double-header of Georgia-NIU at the Chick-fil-A and Kansas State-LSU in the Cotton before the Alabama-Florida semifinal nightcap sound? What if it was followed up the next day by Texas A&M and Florida State in the Orange, the Stanford-Wisconsin Rose Bowl (they can't all be gems) and the Notre Dame-Oregon semifinal? Just a liiiiiiiitle bit better than this year's slate, isn't it?

 Another positive: less griping from Nick Saban (and Georgia fans) about the Dawgs' BCS fate and the fate of SEC Championship Game losers in general. The playoff finds room for not just the Tide, Gators, and Dawgs, but LSU and Texas A&M as well -- making South Carolina the only one of the SEC's six 2012 power teams left to play outside the playoff bowl rotation.

Selection Committee
Team Total Barnhart Dodd Feldman Fowler Fornelli Hinnen Hinton Patterson Huston Palm
Notre Dame1501111111111
Alabama1382322322222
Florida1184443243576
Oregon1175734464433
Kansas State1066856635654
Georgia10335857107345
Stanford978667556767
Texas A&M8192789899810
LSU7779910878898
S. Carolina51--10101111910101012
Florida State491112119101112121211
Oklahoma431011121213121111--9
Clemson2912131413121314--1113
N. Illinois16141415141414151315--
Oregon State1513--13--15--13--1314
Utah State2--15----------15----
Kent State2--------------14----
Boise State215----15------------
UCLA2----------15------15
Northwestern2----------------14--
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