Published Friday, June 1, 2012 AT 11:29 AM / Updated at 2:06 PM
Mad Chatter, June 1
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

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.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at


  1. Chuck says:

    Just throwing it out there, but it’s June 1st, not May 31st.

    1. Dirk Chatelain Dirk Chatelain says:

      Fixed. Take no detail for granted!

  2. Gumpa says:

    Wow. To Saban: Get a clue. For the most part what I saw was that you only have to skip a couple teams sometimes to get a team from four different conferences into the 4 team playoff. That makes a lot more sense than letting the national championship playoff become an SEC showcase. I am a 16 team proponent, but if its gotta be only 4 teams, then I say take the top four conference champions.
    The SEC and Big XII dont have any decent aregument. I would admit that some years the best 5-6 teams in the country come from the SEC combined with the Big XII. Big deal. They already had their conference championship games, so they know that only one team from each conference has any say in playing for the noational championship. To say then that their runners-up have more right to the 4 team playoff than an undefeated B1G or PAC 12 champion – that is ridiculous.
    This argument is another reason why the playoff should be 16 teams. Take a bunch of conference champions, then let a committee choose a bunch of at-large births. Then we can all argue about how to seed the teams.

  3. Dave says:

    So RGIII is your new favorite player because he PRACTICES well. Are we talking about PRACTICE? Really, PRACTICE, I mean, we’re talking about PRACTICE!

    1. Chuck says:

      More importantly, he’s Dirk’s team’s new franchise quarterback. I bet Cam Newton became a lot of Panther fans’ favorite player as soon as they picked him.

  4. T. Gates says:

    Here’s the thing about Big 10 baseball … many schools have top notch wrestling and hockey programs. Outside of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Arizona State wrestling, that’s not the case at ANY OTHER major conference school with baseball.

    Sorry, Dirk & Lane, Minnesota and Iowa, for example, are going to care more about hockey and wrestling than they ever do about baseball.

  5. Scot says:

    Boise State did not win the Mountain West last year, TCU did. That mean it would have been #10 Wisconsin in the playoff for 2011 instead of the Broncos.

    1. Dirk Chatelain Dirk Chatelain says:

      Good catch, Scot. Thank you.

  6. roy says:

    Dirk, I think you made the case for the SEC 4 best team playoff. Most of the playoff scenarios you listed are ridiculous and would cause a huge uproar nationally. I’m a Husker fan through and through and support the B1G, but their plan is nonsense. If the B1G (or any other conference) cant supply a top 4 team, then they need to get better. Thats all there is to it.

  7. roy says:

    And I agree with Gumpy that 16 teams are the way to go. We’ll get there one way or another :)

  8. Kelly says:

    Let’s be real folks…Most of the bowls are a joke, way too many as it is. It’s time to blow the bowl system up into pieces, go to a 16 team format with higher seeds hosting the games in their own stadium (makes the season more valuable) until the National Title Game, which by the way can be rotated in venues like the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange. Only way to settle this joke of a “true champion” they call in College Football. And if ESPN doesn’t like it, well, there’s other networks I’m sure that would LOVE to televise these games. It’s time to stop being whiny babies and be men about it.

  9. Mike Caramba says:

    I’m in favor of some sort of hybrid model. I think 1 and 2 should get in automatically. After that, it’s the two best conference champions, as long as they’re ranked higher than 8th. The top-ranked school without conference affiliation gets in assuming they’re ranked higher than the 4-seed conf champ (and are in the top 8). Wouldn’t change your hypothetical playoffs too much:

    2011: Bama instead of Wisconsin
    2003: OU instead of FSU
    2001: Nebraska instead of Illinois

    All other years would be the same. Not that it would have mattered in the last decade, but there should also be a rule against three participants from the same conference — this is the only (extremely unlikely) scenario in which a 2 could be left out: 1 and 2 didn’t win conference championship, and the conference champ finished in the top 8 — in this case, #1 and the conf champ get in, while the 2 is left out.

    I think this system is best. It ensures that teams that would have title shots in the BCS system still get them, but it also gives some weight to conference championships. In all but three years of the last decade, the tournament would be comprised entirely conference champs; the other three years have one non-conf champ each.

  10. DesMoines Husker says:

    Disappointed that Dirk seems to think that apparently an assistant coach should be judged on the looks of his wife. It has nothing to do with confidence in talking with a pretty woman but instead, the Coach talked about the asst coach’s wife. I guess that sexism is alive and well where woman should be judged solely on their looks.

    1. Sinik says:


    2. VanCleef says:

      First impressions!!!

  11. dolo says:

    the problem with Dirk’s scenarios is that many of those conferences did not have title games during the timeframe listed. Conference title games gives that 7-4 team a shot at knocking off the 10-1 and top 6 team, and then getting into the playoff. That cannot happen, and would make another mockery of the system, and have people again clammering for a change.

    Example: No 4 Ohio State vs. No 17 Michigan State for Big 10 title. Michigan State wins and gains access to playoff. Why? Because of the 3 conference champion model? And potentially leave out a top 4 team? No way…

    1. Mike Caramba says:

      It’s unlikely that Michigan State finishes as a top-four conference champ in your scenario. Most likely, the Big Ten wouldn’t have a representative in the playoffs that year.

  12. Mr Football says:

    In 2005, you have a rematch of the Bush Push. USC v ND. What a joke….

    People are slowly realizing that college football had it right. 1 out of 3 seasons it had a perfect champion. That’s better than every other league. The NFL Giants had 7 losses last year. Of the 84 post season football teams last year college/pro, only 3 had 7 losses. Yet one was crowned king of the sport. What a joke the NFL is.

    1. Erik says:

      Am I strange if I love upsets? Tournaments that go chalk are boring. That’s probably why I like college sports so much: there are upsets galore.