Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 End of the Year Holiday Madness Playoff

It's that most wonderful time of the year.  Yes, Christmas is next week, but that's not what I'm talking about.  Bowl season starts today with the first of 35 bowl games to be played over the next 3+ weeks all culminating in the National Championship game between Florida St. and Auburn.  This will be the last National Championship game determined by the beloved BCS which tried to bring some objectivity into the system of determining a National Champion.  It will be replaced next year by the very cleverly named "College Football Playoff" (as if there aren't already 4 others in other divisions) and be determined exclusively through subjectivity with a selection committee in charge of finding the 4 best teams in the nation.  Two bowl games will be used as the semifinals with a National Championship game being played the week after in a neutral site determined much like the Super Bowl sites.  This is definitely a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn't solve the problem.  There are still some very gaping holes in the system that could be easily fixed by an exciting format that would rival March Madness.  For the past few years, I have been calling it Holiday Madness.
There are several problems with the future College Football Playoff.  First, it brings subjectivity back into the equation.  The beauty of the BCS was a computer formula using several groups of people's opinions to determine an overall rank.  Many people hated the BCS, but I thought it was a good attempt at what was really needed in college football: objectivity.  I know the selection committee is from all over the country and will do their best, but when one group of people  is in charge and makes all the decisions, biases and favorites are bound to play a factor.

The second problem with this system is one of the problems with bowl season.  Your top teams get a month off before having to compete in their playoff.  So many times in the past, you have a team riding a crazy run of momentum going into bowl season, and they come out flat and get slaughtered in their bowl game because they have too much time off.  If you want a true test of which team is the best, you can't take a month off after the season.

A third problem I see with the system, which might be the biggest problem, is a four team playoff isn't going to fix anything.  Yes, it is a step in the right direction, but how can you pick just four teams that are worthy.  Look at this year's top teams.  If this were next year, who would be in the playoff?  Obviously, Florida St. and Auburn would be the top two seeds.  Then who?  Alabama?  They didn't even make their conference championship game which Duck fans will never let this Husker fan forget hasn't had a history of working out too well.  What about Michigan St.?  They ended up in 4th in the BCS with one loss and a big win against Ohio St. to win the Big 10 Championship.  However, the Big 10 has been universally blasted this year as an inferior conference to the point that a majority of the country wanted to see a one-loss SEC team in the National Championship over an undefeated Ohio St. if the Buckeyes could have finished their 2-year run without a loss.  Who's next?  Stanford?  They came out on top of what might have been the best and deepest conference (don't tell anyone in the SEC I said that) this year, but they also had two head-scratching losses in conference.  How about Baylor?  They had one bad night against Oklahoma St. on the road with many key players out hurt.  Outside of that night, they were the most dominant offense in the country in a conference that didn't get near the respect it deserved this year.  And what about Ohio St.?  They ended the year with a loss, but had a magical run going before that.  Should they be rewarded for it?

With so much of every school's season being in conference, and teams being vastly different at the end of the year than they were at the beginning of the year when most non-conference play happens (I mean, Auburn almost lost to Washington St. ... at home), so much of the selection process is going to come down to ranking the strength of conferences which is completely subjective.  Some people look at all the SEC teams at the top of the rankings with outstanding records.  Others could see it as a sign that the bottom of that conference is very weak.  The SEC and Big 10 both ended the season with its top two teams in the top 10 of the BCS with one loss each.  Popular opinion says this shows the strength of the SEC that no one could go undefeated through that tough schedule while it shows the weakness of the Big 10 because no one could go undefeated through that weak conference.  It all comes down to opinion of conference strength.  Most likely, if the College Football Playoff were to take place this year, the four teams would be Florida St., Auburn, Alabama, and Stanford for these very reasons.  Only three conferences would be represented after a dozen years of the BCS that put six conferences on an equal playing field.  I say, if you can go through a conference schedule, ANY conference schedule, and come out on the top of the conference, you deserve a shot at competing for a title.  Many people say in time, the College Football Playoff will probably expand from 4 to 8 teams, but I don't think that enough.  Enter Holiday Madness.
Holiday Madness would involve 16 teams and would include the conference champions of every FBS conference.  Like I said, any team that is able to win their conference at their level of competition should get an opportunity to play for a title that's more than New Orleans Bowl champion.  Like I said, if we were to have the College Football Playoff this year the battle-tested one-loss conference champs of two top conferences (Big 10 & Big 12) would be left out of the party.  They deserve their shot.  They use this rationale with college basketball's March Madness.  Why couldn't they borrow from that and make a great playoff here that could be just as unpredictable?  Also, there would no longer need to be an argument over which conference was better.  They would play it out to find out.  It wouldn't mean bowls would have to go away.  Sixteen teams would be involved in the playoff.  This year, there are 70 teams in bowl games.  The bowl games will mean just as much as they do now (which is ... nothing).  Holiday Madness would run the duration of the current bowl season so it wouldn't make the season any longer.  This means we could be talking about the first round of the playoffs right now instead of Washington St. vs. Colorado St.  Also, it would mean teams would only have a one or two week break after the end of the season before the playoff would start.  This would still allow for awards ceremonies and finals week.  (They are still STUDENT-athletes after all.)  There are ten conferences that would have automatic bids which leaves room for six at-large teams to make the playoffs (determined here by the top 6 non-conference winners in the BCS).  This would also most likely slow or stop the crazy conference realignment that has been taking place over the last few years.  If every conference gets an opportunity to play for a national championship, there is no need to change to a more respected conference to have a better shot at playing meaningful games.  It makes perfect sense to me.  Here is how the bracket would look this year and how I think it would play out.

First Four Out

Clemson Tigers
Clemson - Some argue that having a bracket this big makes the regular season less important and watered down.  If I remember correct, they said the same thing when MLB added wild cards to their postseason.  However, what has proven true in MLB and would be proven true here as well is it simply makes it more meaningful because more teams have meaningful games down the stretch.  No teams this year outside of the top 4 or 5 teams played in meaningful games in the last few weeks this year.  However, with a 16 team playoff, all of a sudden Clemson's matchup in the last week against South Carolina becomes a battle for a playoff spot.  Clemson came out flat because win or lose, they ended up in the same place in the bowl season.  This game could have actually had something significant riding on it.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma St. - The Cowboys went from having an outside shot at a National Championship birth to even being out of the top 16 playoff with their last second loss to Oklahoma.  With as much that was already riding on this game, it could have been even more significant.

Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona St. - The surprise team to come out of the Pac-12 South this year could have greatly upset a bracket like this with a win over Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game.  They could have been the first bracket buster in college football.  Instead, they are left on the outside looking in.

Northern Illinois Huskies
Northern Illinois - Everyone in the media took a collective sigh of relief when the NIU Fighting Lynches took a dive in the MAC Championship Game to ruin their undefeated season and their shot at a BCS game.  I didn't.  I wanted to see the most dominant college football player of the last two years have a shot again at the top competition in the nation.  With a good performance in the bowl game, Jordan Lynch could end up with a 2000 passing / 2000 rushing season!  How insane is that?!?  Not only did that loss knock them out of the BCS, but they lost their shot at playing for a National Championship in the Holiday Madness too.

Now for the matchups!!!  The losers of the first round could even be assigned after to New Year's Day bowl games.


Louisiana Ragin' CajunsFlorida State Seminoles
#16 Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt Champ) at #1 Florida St. (ACC Champ)
Florida St.
They are obviously the number one team as the only undefeated team left in FBS.  In the first two rounds, the top ranked team hosts the playoff games which means this would take place in Tallahassee with newly-crowned Heisman Trophy freshman Jameis Winston.

The Sun Belt is pretty obviously the weakest conference in FBS, however we would get a chance to see that as the Ragin' Cajuns get rewarded for winning their conference.

In March Madness, no 16-seed has ever beaten a 1-seed.  They come close every now and then though.  Would that happen here?  Probably not.
Florida St. over LA-Lafayette, 58-10

South Carolina GamecocksMissouri Tigers
#9 South Carolina (AT LARGE) at #8 Missouri (AT LARGE)
If anything shows that the SEC isn't as strong as everyone makes it out to be, it is the success of Mizzou this year.  They went from being an average Big 12 team to playing for an SEC Championship in 2 years.  Combine that with what Texas A&M was able to do last year, and one has to question what all the media says about the SEC.  With that said, Missouri is about as battle tested of a team as you could find in the country.  They went through a month where they had to start their true Freshman backup QB and almost went undefeated.  Now Missouri shows how the SEC Championship Game wouldn't mean as much under this system as it did this year.  It was basically a play-in game for the National Championship.  However, I'm sure everyone would rather play the 15-seed instead of the 9-seed in this bracket.  Plus, so many other games become play-in games that it would be a worthy sacrifice.

South Carolina
If there is such a thing in college football as a quiet 2-loss season, it was the Gamecocks this season.  They lost to Georgia pre-injuries, but then lost to Tennessee who only won two conference games all year.  They barely beat UCF, Kentucky, and Florida, but beat Clemson and gave Missouri its one blemish before the SEC Championship game.

This was an epic matchup during the season that came down to Missouri clanking a 20-yard field goal off the upright in overtime to end the game.  Now this was during James Franklin's injury so that would be a factor in the rematch.  I think Missouri would come out mad with something to prove.  However, the Gamecocks seem to be in every game.
Missouri over South Carolina, 38-33

Fresno State BulldogsMichigan State Spartans
#13 Fresno St. (MWC Champ) at #4 Michigan St. (Big 10 Champ)
Michigan St.
Everyone all season doubted what Sparty was capable of this season.  Then they ended up with just one loss to Notre Dame and a huge win against the Buckeyes in the Big 10 Championship Game.  They are the epitome of smash-mouth football.  On a side note, one of the most interesting bowl matchups  this year is Stanford-Michigan St. in the Rose Bowl.  They both play old-school physical football.  It should be fun to watch which one wins out.

Fresno St.
If it wasn't for a late season loss in an insane shootout to San Jose St., we would be talking about the Bulldogs in a BCS game right now.  Instead, they have to settle for a conference title and a birth in the Holiday Madness bracket.  Derek Carr has been one of the best and most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season.

Could Derek Carr survive the crazy defense Sparty run out there?  Michigan St. was able to shut down Braxton Miller and Ohio St.  I think they would still have something to prove as they try and show the Big 10 is better than everyone thinks.  This is a great David vs. Goliath matchup.
Michigan St. over Fresno St., 45-17

UCF KnightsStanford Cardinal
#12 UCF (AAC Champ) at #5 Stanford (PAC-12 Champ)
When they play their game, no one can stop them.  The problem is they had two moments this year when they just came out flat.  Kevin Hogan has the potential of being another Andrew Luck in a couple years being one of those "can't miss" prospects.  This is one of the most complete teams out there.

It is remarkable how little people have been talking about the Scarlet Knights of Central Florida.  Their one loss this season was a late-game collapse against South Carolina, they ruined Teddy Bridgewater's run at an undefeated season, and they had some pretty miraculous comebacks and finishes of their own.  Many people are saying their QB, Blake Bortles, has a chance at being a top 10 pick in this year's draft.  This is not a team that can be overlooked.

The 5-12 matchup is always where there is some excitement in the March Madness bracket.  I think this game will be surprising in how close it is, but I don't think there will be an upset.  Stanford is just too good, especially at home.
Stanford over UCF, 24-20

Rice OwlsAuburn Tigers
#15 Rice (C-USA Champ) at #2 Auburn (SEC Champ)
The Tigers might be the luckiest team in the nation.  They can barely beat Wazzu and Mississippi St. at the beginning of the season, squeak by Texas A&M, have unbelievable miracles happen in the closing seconds to beat Georgia and Alabama, and now they are regarded as a team of destiny.  When things are going that well for you, it's either you are a team of destiny or your luck is about to run out.

You wouldn't think Rice would have much of a shot in a game like this, but the Owls are better than you may think.  They gave the Aggies fits at the start of the year in Johnny Manziel's suspension game, and they capped off the year beating Marshall, one of the hottest teams in the nation.  They have quietly had a solid program over the last couple years and can't be taken lightly.

Auburn's offense under Gus Malzahn has become unstoppable this last month.  Tre Mason ran for over 300 yards on a very good Missouri defense in the SEC Championship.  Rice might put up a fight at first, but this offense isn't rolling over against the Owls.
Auburn over Rice, 52-24

Oregon DucksOhio State Buckeyes
#10 Oregon (AT LARGE) at #7 Ohio St. (AT LARGE)
Ohio St.
Here is another example of a game not meaning as much.  If the Buckeyes win in the Big 10 Championship game, they are a top 2 team.  They lost so they are out of the Championship where here they still have a shot.  (Ohio St. wins that game and Michigan St. is eliminated though, so it could be a wash.)  However, I think they would rather be playing Rice in the first round than Oregon.

Here is another example of how more games have meaning with a 16 team bracket.  Oregon was one of the top teams in the nation all year until they couldn't get past Stanford again.  They then had a let-down game against Arizona (something that wouldn't have happened under Chip Kelly, by the way).  However, it all came down to the Civil War against Oregon St.  If Marcus Mariota doesn't drive down the field and get a last second TD to win that game, they don't make this playoff.  Under the current system, no one cared outside of Oregon.  On a side note, it is a joke that Oregon is out of the BCS in favor of Oklahoma.  Like I said before, the PAC-12 could be the best conference in the nation this year, and they only get one BCS bid for its conference champion.  Why?  Because the Sooners will draw more fans to New Orleans than the Ducks will.  This once again shows that no one running things actually cares about the product on the field, but only about how much money they can make.

What an intriguing matchup!  This could have easily been the National Championship game this year.  Oregon has struggled against physical teams, but Ohio St. also looks like a clone of the Ducks in many ways.  Urban Meyer is definitely the better coach.  Mariota is the better quarterback.  The game being in Columbus will be a factor too.  It will be one of those games where is comes down to who has the ball last.
Oregon over Ohio St., 47-41

Bowling Green FalconsAlabama Crimson Tide
#14 Bowling Green (MAC Champ) at #3 Alabama (AT LARGE)
I think the Iron Bowl was the only possible game the Crimson Tide could lose.  They are such a complete, well coached team that the only way they were going to go down was in an unpredictable rivalry game.  With that said, no one would want to play them in this bracket, especially in Tuscaloosa.

Bowling Green
You don't think much of Bowling Green just by hearing the name, but they are the only non-BCS school to take down Jordan Lynch's Northern Illinois team over the last two seasons (Iowa and Florida St. were their other losses).  They showed that when they are on top of their game, they can be dangerous.

Roll Tide.  The last time they were on a football field they were watching Auburn run away with their dreams.  A second chance would not be taken lightly, and they would use Bowling Green as an example.
Alabama over Bowling Green, 45-3

Oklahoma SoonersBaylor Bears
#11 Oklahoma (AT LARGE) at #6 Baylor (Big 12 Champ)
Outside of one bad night in Stillwater, this team has been as untouchable as any team in the nation.  Again, the "experts" will say it is because they haven't played anybody, but the Big 12 might be the one of the toughest conferences to run the table in.  They play everyone, and Baylor handled their business, including a beat down of the Sooners.

The Sooners sneak in with the last at large spot.  Although they sputtered some at the start of the season, they were playing their best ball at the end of the year when they took down Oklahoma St. in Bedlum.  However, again, why are they in the Sugar Bowl?  No one thinks they deserve this.  Plus, who would you rather see play Bama: Oklahoma or Oregon?  Everyone has wanted to see Bama and Oregon for the past 5 years.  This was their chance.  All right, I'm done...

Although the Sooners are playing well and will be out for revenge, Baylor is just too good.  They want to prove that they belong with the top programs.  It won't be the blowout it was the first time, but nothing tells me the final result will be different.
Baylor over Oklahoma, 45-31


Missouri TigersFlorida State Seminoles
#8 Missouri at #1 Florida St.
I think the pass rush of Mizzou would give Jameis Winston some issues, but eventually the Seminoles would show that they are the better team overall in what would almost look like an NFL game.
Florida St. over Missouri, 31-17

Stanford CardinalMichigan State Spartans
#5 Stanford at #4 Michigan St.
We get our dream matchup that is coming up in the Rose Bowl anyways.  Stanford would have to travel, but I think they are just a couple steps ahead of where Sparty is.  If Michigan St. continues doing what they are doing, they will be where Stanford is at in a couple years, but not yet.  This is a low scoring, defensive struggle.
Stanford over Michigan St., 17-13

Oregon DucksAuburn Tigers
#10 Oregon at #2 Auburn
Here we have a rematch of one of the best National Championship games in the BCS era (behind only the USC-Texas showdown).  Even though it is a 2-10 matchup, this really is a toss-up.  I say experience and leadership wins out in this matchup that gives the Ducks an opportunity at some long-awaited vengeance.
Oregon over Auburn, 45-41

Baylor BearsAlabama Crimson Tide
#6 Baylor at #3 Alabama
Like I said, I don't think Bama can be stopped at home.  Baylor will give them a look they don't like though (see Auburn).  The spread gives the Tide fits.  However, Baylor still needs a little more experience to go into Tuscaloosa and win.
Alabama over Baylor, 31-21

Played at BCS Bowl Sites (like the College Football Playoff is already planning)

Florida State SeminolesStanford Cardinal
#1 Florida St. vs. #5 Stanford
If I said the Florida St./Missouri game would look like an NFL game, then this would look like the Super Bowl.  These two teams are so good and efficient at what they do, I really don't want to choose a winner because it is a coin flip.  At some point, the youth and inexperience of Florida St. has to show its ugly head, and I could see it pop up here against a strong team like Stanford.  I wish we could see this matchup though.  I'm getting excited just thinking about this bracket even though I know it's never going to happen.  Man, wouldn't this be fun!
Stanford over Florida St., 27-23

Alabama Crimson TideOregon Ducks
#3 Alabama vs. #10 Oregon
All year, Duck fans said, "We want Bama!!!"  Now they actually get them.  The most dominant team in the west over the last 5 years versus the most dominant team of the east over the last 5 years.  Beating Auburn is one thing for the Ducks, but the size and physicality of the Tide is what always gives them trouble (see the last two Stanford matchups).  Alabama is on a mission too.  I think the dream comeback run for Oregon stops here.
Alabama over Oregon, 28-25

Location picked much like College Football Playoff location will be picked.

Alabama Crimson TideStanford Cardinal
#3 Alabama vs. #5 Stanford
Outside of Florida St., these are the two teams that have looked the most consistently dominant this season.  If I had to pick a winner, once again I go with experience.  Kevin Hogan will be a great quarterback and is very close to one now, but AJ McCarron has already won two National Championships.  He knows what it takes, and will lead his team down the stretch ... as long as it doesn't come down to a field goal.
Alabama over Stanford, 21-17
So what do you think?  Who do you think would emerge victorious from a bracket like this?  I wish we could have the opportunity to find out.  Instead we will just have to enjoy what we do have knowing that we are working in the right direction.

1 comment:

  1. I love these articles. You can't call Oregon the most dominant team in the west if Stanford is in the west. I agree that Stanford would do well in a tournament, but Stanford lost two games where the other team sort of uglied it up an controlled the clock. Michigan State does that better than anyone, so they would advance in that game. But man, I have been saying for three years that I want to see Stanford and Alabama play each other... would be the toughest game in the trenches maybe of all time. Anyway, here is how I would predict these games to go:

    Florida State

    Michigan State

    Ohio State

    -I have a couple rematches going the other direction in the first round. I would love to see Miller vs Mariota too.

    Florida State
    Michigan State

    Ohio State
    -Ohio State is maybe the most dynamic rushing offense in the nation outside of Auburn and Baylor. They could go score-for-score with Auburn and would probably make a couple stops here and there, which the Tigers clearly cannot do.

    Florida State
    Ohio State
    -The Buckeyes have too much firepower and running game for Alabama. The elite rushing quarterbacks have exposed the Tide's defense in the last two years, and Miller is as good as there is. Florida State is just way too much for Sparty. That game would be a whipping.

    Florida State
    -This is the best team in the nation, and their defense is one of the most productive I have ever seen. Their offense is balanced and high scoring. The only type of game that the Buckeyes could compete in against the Noles is a shootout, and no one has scored more than 17 points against FSU, other than a wild coming out party game for Andre Williams in Boston (34 points). Like the BCS Championship Game, the Seminoles will need to beat themselves for this to remain close.