Inside College Football: Conference title games beget the playoff, wackiness we love

Roy Kramer started all of it -- all the possibilities, all the arguments, all the programming clogging the airwaves this week associated with the College Football Playoff.

"I probably created more call-in show talk than anybody in the world," said Kramer, 86 and happily retired in East Tennessee.

That is an understatement. Kramer is the former SEC commissioner who started us down this road when a third-place team from the Big Ten East could win a national championship.

As commissioner, he took advantage of a little-known NCAA codicil to expand the SEC to 12 teams and split into two divisions in 1992. As the Godfather of college football, Kramer helped talk the Rose Bowl out of its Big Ten-Pac-10 exclusivity.

That led to the evolution of the BCS Championship Game 18 years ago.

What followed was unprecedented wealth and interest, not only for the SEC but the entire game. But the evolution that Kramer started a quarter century ago, well, it came with warts.

We're seeing a lot of them this week.

Kramer's vision laid the foundation for both expanded conferences and playoff brackets. It also allowed this week's oddities:

1. Not only could both Ohio State and Michigan possibly get into the third College Football Playoff without winning the Big Ten, they could both do it without playing the final Saturday of the season.

Never mind that Michigan sits third in the Big Ten East.

"That's right," Kramer said, "It should be the four best teams."

2. It's been well chronicled that No. 1 Alabama could afford to lose -- at least rest players -- this week and still make the CFP.

3. For Big Ten champion Penn State or Wisconsin, the Rose Bowl could be a "fall back." Since Kramer's BCS started, an entire generation has grown up knowing the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs won't necessarily play in Pasadena, California.

From 1920-2001 at least one school from those conferences played in the Rose Bowl. Since 1998, the Big Ten and Pac-10/12 have played each other only 13 times.

4. An SEC team will play in the Sugar Bowl only because the contract mandates it. If, as projected, that team is Auburn, it will mark the first time in 25 years a team with eight wins will play in the game.

That's a part of the CFP, too. The SEC is taken care of even in a year when -- for the first time -- every team but one (Alabama) is likely to have at least four losses (as long as Florida falls on Saturday).

"A lot of people will say we are done," said Kramer, SEC boss from 1990-2002. "but that's an indication of parity."

5. Conference championships just don't mean as much in the CFP era. Those titles could be further diluted by an expansion of the playoff bracket, Kramer contends.

"Do conference championships mean as much? I hope they do," Kramer said. "That's one of the things as you expand the playoff you certainly lessen the value. You hope you don't lose that because that's part of the backbone of what college football is all about."

But if the results this week turn a certain way, the Big Ten could have three teams in the Football Four. That would box out the winners of the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC.

6. Conference expansion potentially lessened the legitimacy of any conference champion. In the 14-team SEC, teams only play eight of 13 possible opponents. In any given year, that means missing 39 percent of the league. It takes years to cycle through the entire conference.

In the Big Ten West, Purdue and Minnesota didn't play Michigan or Ohio State from the East Division. Meanwhile, West Division rivals Wisconsin played the Wolverines and Buckeyes in back-to-back games.

The Big 12 is the only conference in the 128-team FBS that plays a round-robin schedule.

Kramer also continues to criticize the weekly CFP Rankings release: "It certainly has created a lot of interest nationally, which is one of the things we tried to do," he said. "If I had my preferences, I would prefer the committee not get into the ranking business. Simply say, 'Here are the best 10 or 12 best teams in the country,' then make the decision at the end of the year.'"

Amen, brother.

Things we did not expect

As the season is winding down, it's occurred to me that the following would have been thought outlandish (or close to it) on Labor Day ...

A 35-year old Kalamazoo resident would be one of two undefeated coaches standing on Dec. 1. Even weirder, that guy would be in the running to lead Nike's flagship university. (Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck a candidate at Oregon.)

Navy would be arguing conference schedule strength. (The Midshipmen are playing in a league for the first time in their 135-year history. A Cotton Bowl berth is at stake. Navy hasn't played in a major bowl in 52 years.)

Brian Kelly would need a vote of confidence, pretty much reject it, then post the second-worst Notre Dame record since 1963 (4-8) .

Colorado would win 10 games for the first time in 15 years.

On Nov. 12, No. 2 (Clemson), No. 3 (Michigan) and No. 4 (Washington) would all lose on the same day for the first time in 31 years.

For the first time ever, every SEC team but one would lose at least four games. (That becomes official if Alabama beats Florida on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game.)

Houston's Tom Herman would lose to SMU and Memphis, come close to taking the LSU job and two days later get hired at Texas the same morning his predecessor (Charlie Strong) was fired.

Alabama would allow only six field goals (no touchdowns) in six weeks (and counting) to end the season.

Missouri would gain 740 yards, get 41 first downs, score 37 points ... and lose by 26 on Nov. 19 at Tennessee.

The Big 12 would waste everyone's time. (Actually, that's not much of a surprise.)

Two months to the day after firing the winningest coach in LSU history (Les Miles), athletic director Joe Alleva would essentially walk down the hall and hand the job to his defensive line coach (Ed Orgeron).

BYU senior quarterback Taysom Hill would suffer his fourth season-ending injury. An elbow injury will keep the courageous Hill out of the Cougars' bowl game.

In its third year in FBS, Old Dominion would go 9-3 and tie for the Conference USA East title.

The game's oldest coach, 77-year-old Bill Snyder, would win his 200th career game at Kansas State.

The game's second-oldest coach, Ohio's 72-year-old Frank Solich, would be in line to win his second career conference title Saturday in the MAC title game. His last is also Nebraska's last in 1999. Solich coached the Huskers from 1998-2003.

Iowa's freshman walk-on kicker would be trusted enough to kick a walk-off field goal to beat Michigan before 70,000 fans but not be trusted enough to face 20 reporters.

The state of Texas' 12 FBS programs would be a combined 64-77 with no ranked teams going into the final weekend.

In the same year it suffered its worst loss in 50 years, USC would win eight in a row and finish the season ranked in the top 10.

Oregon would fire a coach (Mark Helfrich) for the first time in 40 years ... Miles would be out of work for the first time in 11 years ... Games would last longer than ever ... and we wouldn't really care.

Give us more.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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