It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We’ve got Husker baseball and NBA conspiracies, Nick Saban and James Franklin, RGIII and Matt McGloin. But first…
On Thursday, I wrote a column stating that a four-team playoff should reserve spots for conference champions. Definitely three spots (with a wild card), maybe even all four.
Several readers asked me to go back through the last decade and look at potential conference-champions brackets. Was Nick Saban right? Would we really see teams outside the top 10 make the playoff? I found the answer to that question — and some fascinating scenarios:
2011: No. 1 LSU v. No. 10 Wisconsin; No. 3 Oklahoma State v. No. 5 Oregon.
Using a top-four format, No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Stanford would’ve been in. Sure, the SEC would’ve cried foul in a conference-champions bracket, but how do you justify Stanford getting in over Oregon, which won the Pac-12.
2010: No. 1 Auburn v. No. 5 Wisconsin; No. 2 Oregon v. No. 3 TCU.
Fourth-ranked Stanford, which lost to Oregon, stays home, opening the door for the Badgers, also 11-1.
2009: No. 1 Alabama v. No. 4 TCU; No. 2 Texas v. No. 3 Cincinnati.
What a great year for any kind of playoff. The four top teams all finished undefeated. Unfortunately, so did No. 6 Boise State, which gets left out no matter what format you choose.
2008: No. 1 Oklahoma v. No. 6 Utah; No. 2 Florida v. No. 5 USC.
A season in which a conference-champions bracket clearly would’ve been an improvement. If you stick to the rankings, No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Alabama (both great teams with one loss) would’ve been in. But that would’ve rendered the SEC championship showdown between Florida and Alabama meaningless. And it would’ve kept out undefeated Utah, who blasted ‘Bama in the Sugar Bowl. Remember, part of my logic for rewarding conference champs is that perception — “Utah can’t play with SEC teams” — isn’t always reality.
2007: No. 1 Ohio State v. No. 4 Oklahoma; No. 2 LSU v. No. 3 Virginia Tech.
The end of 2007, if you remember, was a circus. LSU lost its last regular-season game, yet managed to get into the BCS title game when West Virginia and Missouri lost. A playoff race would’ve been even more entertaining. But the top four teams were conference champs, so that’s your bracket.
2006: No. 1 Ohio State v. No. 6 Louisville; No. 2 Florida v. No. 5 USC.
No. 3 Michigan, which lost a thriller to the Buckeyes in the regular-season finale, gets left out. So does No. 4 LSU. The Tigers demonstrate one reason why a top-four bracket raises problems. Arkansas won the SEC West; LSU didn’t. The Tigers were better off NOT playing in the SEC championship game because a loss to Florida surely would’ve knocked them out of the top four. Do we really want to reward teams for NOT playing?
2005: No. 1 USC v. No. 6 Notre Dame; No. 2 Texas v. No. 3 Penn State.
Here’s an interesting predicament. Ohio State and Oregon were Nos. 4 and 5, but didn’t win their leagues. Who’s No. 6? Notre Dame, which went 9-2. In a conference-champions format, some sort of clause would be necessary for Notre Dame. I suggest it’s this: If Notre Dame is ranked higher than the fourth-best conference champ, the Irish are in. Georgia, by the way, was the fourth-highest conference champ at No. 7, making 2005 the only year an SEC champ doesn’t qualify.
2004: No. 1 USC v. No. 6 Utah; No. 2 Oklahoma v. No. 3 Auburn.
Perhaps the best example of a year in which a four-team, conference-champions-only playoff would’ve saved college football. All four of these teams went undefeated. If it were top-four in the rankings, 10-1 Texas would’ve replaced Utah, even though the Longhorns had lost to OU.
2003: No. 2 LSU v. No. 7 Florida State; No. 3 USC v. No. 4 Michigan.
Top-ranked Oklahoma gets left out because it lost the Big 12 championship game to Kansas State. The Wildcats, for the record, were 10th in the rankings.
2002: No. 1 Miami v. No. 6 Washington State; No. 2 Ohio State v. No. 3 Georgia.
Fourth-ranked USC gets left out because it split the Pac-10 title with WSU, but lost head-to-head. (Tiebreakers wouldn’t be a problem now, because the Pac-12 has a championship game).
2001: No. 1 Miami v. No. 8 Illinois; No. 3 Colorado v. No. 4 Oregon.
I include 2001 because it would’ve been a mess — and because Nebraska was a key player. The Huskers would’ve been been left out, in favor of Big Ten champ Illinois, which finished 10-1. The Illini would’ve jumped Florida, Tennessee and Texas.
So there you have it. The highest-ranked teams to miss a conference-champions playoff would be No. 1 Oklahoma in 2003, No. 2 Nebraska in 2001 and No. 2 Alabama in 2011.
The lowest-ranked team to make the playoff would’ve been No. 10 Wisconsin in 2011. Eight of 11 seasons, at least three of the top four in the polls would’ve qualified for a conference champions playoff.
In 2007 and ’09, the field would be the same, no matter which format you pick.
Let me know what you think — and alert me if you spotted an error.
>> Conference commissioners are taking a hard line on the playoff format, but they’re going to have to compromise, says Brett McMurphy.
>> Lane Grindle of the Husker Sports Network offers his thoughts on Big Ten baseball. He says Big Ten schools should stop complaining about an uneven playing field and spend more effort and money improving their programs.
>> The Thunder aren’t finished yet. What a performance last night. If OKC can win Game 4, this could potentially be an epic series.
>> Pat Forde looks at the quirks and attractions of the 2012 college football schedule.
>> Penn State coach Bill O’Brien named Matt McGloin his starting quarterback for 2012. That move should not scare anyone in the Osborne complex.
>> The Michigan seniors train with Navy SEALs. This is very good.
>> Vanderbilt coach James Franklin says he doesn’t hire an assistant coach without first seeing the man’s wife. Seriously. If the coach isn’t comfortable walking up to a beautiful woman, he won’t be comfortable talking to high school prospects.
>> Check out this stat from Clay Travis: In 1980, the SEC distributed $4.1 million. This year figure was $241.5 million.
>> Rick Reilly writes about the redemption of Brian Banks, who was wrongfully imprisoned for rape and is now getting a second chance at the NFL. Great stuff.
>> USA Today examines Junior Seau’s final days. The problems start with insomnia.
>> If you’re a sports conspiracy theorist — and even if you’re not — this is an interesting read. It focuses on the 1985 NBA Draft lottery, but raises the possibility that Michael Phelps actually lost a race in the 2008 Olympics.
>> My new favorite NFL player — RGIII — is tearing it up during Redskins workouts.
A few more playoff notes I didn’t get to:
>> A “best four teams” model is the only one that opens the door to a dreadful possibility: Let’s say USC and Oregon are No. 1 and 2 in the country. They play in November during a conference game. Oregon wins. They play again in December in the Pac-12 championship game. USC wins. They both make the four-team playoff, where they meet again. That scenario sounds unlikely, but with non-divisional rivals like LSU/Florida and Michigan/Ohio State playing every year, I could see it.
>> You think the fourth conference champ isn’t worthy of making the playoff? I understand. But there is a benefit. The top-seeded team gets to face that team in the semifinal round, thus providing an incentive to finish the regular season No. 1.
>> Nick Saban’s blast at critics — he called them “self-absorbed” — really was the epitome of hypocrisy. In the same interview, a reporter asked about playing semifinal playoff games at campus sites. Saban’s response: “For some young kid from Mobile, Alabama, who has never seen snow, to have to go play a national championship game in Wisconsin—I don’t know if that’s the right thing.” Self-absorbed is one thing. Self-aware is even worse.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.