Over the last week or so, I have been watching bowl game after bowl game as the college football season comes to a close. One thing I have noticed once again is the bowl games are impossible to predict because some teams are excited to be where they are at, while other teams think they deserve better than what they received and then don't play up to their potential and get beat. I can't help but think a playoff system could get rid of some of these issues. It is ridiculous to think a computer can determine who should play in the national championship game better than a playoff. I know in a few years we will be going to a 4 team playoff which will be better but not ideal. If you have been reading my articles, you know what my solution is. If not, here it is in a nutshell.
What I propose is something similar to every other level of college football (if it works for them, why not for the highest level?). I propose a 16 team playoff with all 11 conferences getting an automatic bid for their conference champion, with 5 at-large bids. Not only would this give a competitive playoff and give a shot to everyone who deserves it, but also reward those that win their conference. If you win your conference, you deserve a shot at a national title. The NCAA uses this philosophy for college basketball and creates the most exciting sports tournament of each year. Why not borrow from basketball? Instead of March Madness, we have Holiday Madness. Now in basketball, they say this makes the regular season mean less, which is true. However, with only 5 at-large bids in this tournament, every game would mean just as much as before. In fact, it would make more meaningful games because more teams would have a shot at the title. The other complaint about a playoff system is it would take away the bowls. With a playoff only involving 16 teams, and the bowl games involving over 70 teams, you can easily keep the bowl games. Use the bigger bowls as the semis and final, and the rest of the bowls stay the same. They wouldn't even mean any less since they don't mean anything to begin with. The first and second rounds of the playoff would take place at the home of the higher seed in the matchup. That would avoid too much travel for the fans. Take one week off to allow for the awards week and the Heisman ceremonies an such. Then you start the playoff the weekend that the bowl games start now. The teams that get knocked out in the first round or two could even get placed in a New Year's Day bowl. One thing that would have to happen for this to work is every conference would need to be required to have a conference championship game. A statistical tie-breaker to determine who gets in to this tournament just wouldn't suffice. The at-large bids could be determined by a system such as the current BCS standings.
Over the last few years, I have taken this setup and simulated what it would look like and how it would play out to have a Holiday Madness tournament. Every year what comes out sounds so much more intriguing than what actually happens in the bowl games. With some of the conference realignment I thought the tournament may have been watered down some with more weaker conferences, but what I discovered is each conference has one or two elite teams that deserve this shot. Without further ado, here is what we could have been watching this year instead of the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Just Missing Out
Texas A&M - The Aggies show just how competitive it could be to get a birth in the tournament. They have the Heisman Trophy winner, beat Alabama, and only lost to Florida and LSU who made the tournament. However, the #9 ranked team in the nation just misses out this year. They have an argument, but it is a lot better to have controversy in who is #8 than who is #2.
South Carolina - Once again for the second year in a row, the Gamecocks barely miss out on the tournament most likely because of the another horrific, unfortunate injury to their best offensive player Marcus Lattimore. They played well down the stretch, but you have to think their ranking was hurt by the fact that the dynamic running back was out of the lineup.
Nebraska - They were practically an automatic. All they had to do was beat the 5-loss Wisconsin team they had already beaten once this year. Instead, they give what has been called "the worst performance in program history." After that game, they don't deserve the spot, but they were so close!!!
Rutgers/Cincinnati/Syracuse - Oh, the mess that was the Big East this year. A lot of people would say that it had to do with a lot of mediocrity, however each of these three teams that just missed out in the tie-breaker are all good teams that were a couple plays here or there away from being the one representing the dying conference in the tournament. Again, this conference shows why a conference championship is needed. Then there would be no controversy.
San Diego St./Fresno St. - Example number two on why all conferences need a conference championship game. In what has become one of the most competitive conferences in the nation, these two Mountain West schools lose out on a tie-breaker and barely miss their shot.
Now for the teams that made it.
1. Notre Dame (12-0) (AT LARGE #1)
Someone get this team a conference!!! The number one team in the nation should not have to take one of the precious at large bids. With that said, the only eligible undefeated team left in the nation has definitely earned their spot as the number one team in the nation. I don't think there is much argument in that.
2. Alabama (12-1) (SEC Champ)
Thanks to Johnny Football Heisman Manziel, the Tide just missed an undefeated season and the number one seed, but they are considered by most the best of the one-loss teams with the experience of winning the championship last year.
3. Florida (11-1) (AT LARGE #2)
Every time I look at Florida, their rank, and their record, I wonder how they could be that good. They are not impressive, but they do what needs to be done to win. That can go a long way in a playoff.
4. Oregon (11-1) (AT LARGE #3)
They were so close to having the number one seed and, in reality, having a chance at the title. This system allows for some forgiveness since there are so many one-loss teams in the same boat as the Ducks. I think the Beavers would attest to the fact that you don't want to play an angry Oregon team coming off a loss.
5. Kansas St. (11-1) (Big 12 Champ)
Just like Oregon, Kansas St. was so close to having one of those two top spots. However, unlike Oregon it appears that the Wildcats have started to run out of steam at the end of the season. The bowl game with Oregon will be exciting, and I wouldn't want to face Optimus Klein in a playoff game.
6. Stanford (11-2) (Pac 12 Champ)
A win over Oregon gave them the conference title. Although they lost two games, they are one of the most dangerous teams in this playoff because of how well-rounded they are.
7. Georgia (11-2) (AT LARGE #4)
The Bulldogs were one play away from winning the SEC and having a spot in the national championship. This tournament would allow them they chance they obviously earned in that SEC Championship.
8. LSU (10-2) (AT LARGE #5)
The Tigers are a lot like the Gators. I don't understand how they do it, but they just win. They are so physical that they wear down the other teams on both sides of the ball. Another dangerous team to have in this bracket, as well as the last team to have a first round home game.
9. Florida St. (11-2) (ACC Champ)
The Seminoles fought their way to an ACC title, but how much of their success was due to a weak ACC conference. They are talented, and beat the only other elite team in the conference in Clemson, but they also lost in conference to NC State. They will be unpredictable to say the least. You could do a lot worse than EJ Manuel in the clutch.
10. Northern Illinois (12-1) (MAC Champ)
The latest (and most controversial) little guy that burst the BCS bubble. The performances of the Boise St.'s, TCU's, Utah's, and NIU's in BCS games prove why a system like this is needed. They show they belong. This tournament also makes their chance in the spotlight mean something which means they will get the best effort from their opponent unlike some of the bowls the BCS busters have played in the past. Jordan Lynch has been one of the most productive QB's this year working through the highly competitive MAC this year. This team that nobody knows about is also the team nobody would want to play.
11. Boise St. (10-2) (MWC Champ)
The first little guy to pop the BCS bubble now has enough respect that a two-loss Bronco team is still in the top 20 at the end of the season. If it wasn't for that respect, they wouldn't even be in this tournament because it was their BCS rank that earned them the tie-breaker over San Diego St. and Fresno St. With that said, this team has gotten much better as the season progressed. They deserve the shot.
12. Louisville (10-2) (Big East Champ)
The team that slid their way out of the mess that was the Big East this year also has one of the most talented QB's in the country in Teddy Bridgewater. If he plays his game, they can beat anybody.
13. Utah St. (10-2) (WAC Champ)
The disintegrating WAC conference actually was able to make their mark this year with two teams (Utah St. and San Jose St.) ending the year in the top 25 and another (Louisiana Tech) spending significant time in there earlier in the year. Their bowl game showed just how explosive Utah St. can be. How would they match up with one of the big names?
14. Wisconsin (8-5) (Big 10 Champ)
The Badgers have a lot of thank you cards to write for their appearance in this tournament. First, they need to thank Penn St. and Ohio St. for getting postseason bans for this year so a 5-loss team in third place in their division gets a shot in the conference championship. Next, they need to thank Nebraska for forgetting they had a game and not showing up for the Big 10 Championship game. With all that said, Wisconsin is a solid team that could pose some problems as a battle tested team up against the higher ranked schools (like they did with Stanford in the Rose Bowl).
15. Tulsa (10-3) (C-USA Champ)
You would think Tulsa would be a cake walk as a first round matchup in this bracket, however they played all their non-conference games very tough, losing to Iowa St. (who they beat in the bowl game rematch) and Arkansas (by 4). They beat Fresno St. who tied Boise for the MWC conference title. Their QB was a talented, highly-touted recruit to Nebraska who transferred when Taylor Martinez beat him out for the starting job. He has some skill leading this team. Even though you don't expect much out of them, there is no such thing as a cake walk in this bracket.
16. Arkansas St. (9-3) (Sun Belt Champ)
Again, don't overlook the lower seeds. The Sun Belt isn't usually a strong conference, but Arkansas St. had to go through Louisiana-Lafayette and Monroe to win this conference who earned respect earlier in the year in non-conference play. Arkansas St.'s only conference loss was to a very talented Western Kentucky team. They also aren't afraid to play anybody anywhere. They started the season with two losses at Oregon and at Nebraska. Win or lose, playing those two games will make them not very scared of anything.
Friday, December 14
#11 Boise St. at #6 Stanford
This would be a beautiful matchup. Boise has the type of team that could match Stanford's physicality. I would say the difference would be the home field in Stanford and the experience of Stanford. They just have too many upper-classmen, and although Boise has grown up this year I don't think they are at a place yet where they can beat Stanford.
Stanford def. Boise St. 24-16
#13 Utah St. at #4 Oregon
Utah St. has been another great story no one knows about, but Oregon is just too loaded for a team like the Aggies. Especially with this game being in Eugene, Utah St. has no chance.
Oregon def. Utah St. 54-27
Saturday, December 15
#12 Louisville at #5 Kansas St.
This is always the matchup in March Madness that produces the most upsets. This could definitely be a spot that produces one of those upsets. Kansas St. has slowed down from their crazy pace they set earlier in the year, but they are still very good. Louisville is out to prove the Big East isn't dead yet. I see Bridgewater having a big game and pulling off the upset.
Louisville def. Kansas St. 31-27
#10 Northern Illinois at #7 Georgia
The Huskies have been a great story bursting the BCS bubble this year, but Georgia is a step above Florida St., their Orange Bowl opponent. The crazy athletes on defense for the Bulldogs will contain Lynch, and if Aaron Murray can pick apart a Bama defense he will have no problem picking apart Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois might keep it close early, but Georgia will pull away late.
Georgia def. Northern Illinois 48-17
#16 Arkansas St. at #1 Notre Dame
Arkansas St. have played opponents this year that are on caliber with Notre Dame. They have played in stadiums as grand as South Bend this year. The problem is they haven't fared that well. It was the beginning of the year, but they didn't grow that much. They will make some plays, but nowhere near enough.
Notre Dame def. Arkansas St. 38-10
#14 Wisconsin at #3 Florida
What an intriguing matchup! Could the Gators move the ball on the Badgers defense? Could Montee Ball run effectively on the Gator defense? Wisconsin lost 5 games, but they were all close to good teams. They are also on a hot streak. This would be a very tight game. I think the team that has top players on both sides of the ball would win out in the end, so Wisconsin squeaks out a defensive game (can Florida play another kind?)
Wisconsin def. Florida 17-13
#15 Tulsa at #2 Alabama
Tulsa has a pretty good team, but Alabama has a great team. Tulsa will hang in there for a quarter or two, but the size and strength of Bama will wear them down like they do with everyone else.
Alabama def. Tulsa 45-10
#9 Florida St. at #8 LSU
This is an interesting matchup between two big-time programs. Florida St. would do a lot to show that they belong with a win against the Tigers. It would be a close game, but playing in Baton Rouge makes the difference.
LSU def. Florida St. 23-16
The eight teams that were just eliminated would then be placed into some of the New Year's Day games so they still get the pay day of a bowl experience.
Outback Bowl - Florida vs. Kansas St.
Gator Bowl - Florida St. vs. Northern Illinois
Heart of Texas Bowl - Boise St. vs. Utah St.
Capital One Bowl - Tulsa vs. Arkansas St.
Friday, December 21
#7 Georgia at #2 Alabama
With as many teams at the top this year that have played each other, you are bound to get some rematches. However, this quarterfinal matchup is just ridiculous. Georgia proved they could do it, however the SEC Championship was in Atlanta which made for a near home field for the Bulldogs. This one would be in Alabama, and if last year's National Championship taught us anything, we know Bama comes back adjusts well to a rematch. It's close again, but Bama should have this one.
Alabama def. Georgia 24-20
Saturday, December 22
#14 Wisconsin at #6 Stanford
Thanks to the Rose Bowl, I think we saw how this one plays out. The only difference is the game would be in Palo Alto and not Pasadena. It would be silly to think the result wouldn't be the same. I will say the home field is good for one more field goal.
Stanford def. Wisconsin 23-14
#8 LSU at #1 Notre Dame
Can you imagine LSU having to go to South Bend? Just the idea of it is fascinating. LSU wins by overpowering. However, so do the Irish. The difference between these two teams is Notre Dame found a way to win all the close games while LSU stumbled at the end of a couple. Neither of these teams will blow out an elite opponent so chances are the result will follow this trend. It will be a close game, and the Irish will find a way to win down the stretch.
Notre Dame def. LSU 21-20
#12 Louisville at #4 Oregon
Louisville may be able to sneak up on Kansas St., but not Oregon. Oregon is too sneaky to have someone sneak up on them. The Ducks struggle with big, athletic, powerful defenses. Louisville's defense is no Stanford or LSU, therefore Ducks win.
Oregon def. Louisville 45-27
The four teams eliminated in this round will be placed in the two BCS bowls not being used in the playoff. There would be a 5 bowl rotation for the playoff much like what is planned for the actual playoff that is coming up in a few years. Just for fun, we will say the 5th bowl in the rotation is the Cotton Bowl.
Cotton Bowl - Georgia vs. Wisconsin
Sugar Bowl - LSU vs. Louisville
Saturday, December 29
FIESTA BOWL - GLENDALE, AZ
#1 Notre Dame vs. #4 Oregon
Here is the matchup many people wanted to see this year in the championship. The neutral field will make it very interesting. The Oregon offense up against the Irish defense would be fascinating to watch. I think the Ducks will be held from their super high scoring ways, but the Irish have trouble scoring much at all against a solid defense. After a rough game, the Ducks pull through.
Oregon def. Notre Dame 31-23
ROSE BOWL - PASADENA, CA
#2 Alabama vs. #6 Stanford
The toughest team in the south verses the toughest team in the west. These teams are so similar. Stanford will get their chance against the big boys, but they are just not quite ready yet. Bama is used to playing teams like them where Stanford is not. That is the difference.
Alabama def. Stanford 27-17
For Notre Dame and Stanford, they have had their opportunity to play in a bowl game. I guess if you want you could put them in a third place game, but neither would want to play that much after the heartbreak of coming so close and losing.
ORANGE BOWL - MIAMI, FL
#2 Alabama vs #4 Oregon
All season, it was fairly clear that these two teams were the best out there. They play such different games though. How would they match up with each other. Oregon's one loss was to a big physical defense in Stanford which is a lot like Bama's. Alabama's one loss was to a fast-paced, athletic, spread offense in Texas A&M which is a lot like Oregon's. Bama's defense is better than Stanford's. Oregon's offense is better than A&M's (sorry Johnny Football Heisman). It would be a close game that goes back and forth. Simply because it is so hard to repeat, I say the Oregon offense wins out in the end.
Oregon def. Alabama 29-21
So the champion would be Oregon. Who knows how exactly it would play out, but it would be a lot of fun to watch. Who wouldn't love this tournament? I would much rather be talking about how this bracket would play out than think about how many fractional points the 3rd and 4th ranked teams were from getting a chance. Or which conference didn't get enough respect and never got a fair shot to play for the championship. Maybe that is why I write this fantasy article instead of breaking down the games that are actually being played.