Monday, December 04, 2006

Hail to the Baby Bears + BCS

Congrats to the LA satellite campus for pulling off one of the more satisfying upsets of the college football season, using an unpredictable blitzing scheme that knocked the $C quarterback on his booty time and time again. By outwitting a physically superior team, the Powdered Blues bought beleaguered coach Kevin Dorrell more time and put UCLA football back on the radar. Oh, and they knocked the Spoiled Children out of the national championship race. Ha ha.

SC will play in the BCS consolation game, aka The Granddaddy of Them All, against the Wolverines, who were sorta jobbed out of the championship game by the shameless lobbying of Florida head coach Urban "Mack" Meyer. Few believe that the SEC champ is a better team than Michigan -- rumors on message boards suggest that Vegas would make Big Blue six point favorites against the Gators on a neutral field. From parts of four Gator games I've seen, Florida is a fast, athletic team that relies too much on trickery and played to their opponent's level (South Carolina, Florida St.). I think the Buckeyes will destroy them. And the custom in determining who's the more deserving one-loss team, absent games vs. common opponents, is to see who had the better loss: Michigan fell to the #1 team in the country on the road in a competitive game; Florida fell to the #8 team on the road, in an equally competitive game. Advantage Michigan. But I can't deny that the Gators prevailed in the toughest conference, had a tougher schedule, and that, all things being equal, you'd knock out the team that "already had its shot".

In the end, it's probably better for the overall BCS championship game that Florida got in. If the Buckeyes were to prevail a second time over the Wolverines, and Florida routs its opponent (as would have been likely if its opponent were the Foldin' Irish) in the Sugar Bowl, we'd never hear the end of it. (Though imagine what would happen if Florida ekes out a sloppy win against an uninspired OSU, and Michigan destroys the Trojans?)

Is this controversy yet another reason to scrap the BCS system and go to a sixteen team playoff? Let me defend the BCS for a sec. The college football season is the most exciting in American sports because regular season games take on immense stakes. Each game becomes a kind of playoff, as one stumble may torpedo your chances for a national championship/conference championship. With a playoff system, would Texas-Ohio St. in September be so crucial? Or Louisville-Rutgers? The NBA doesn't really start until the playoffs. The NFL doesn't start until the 14th week. Whatever its flaws, the bowl system eliminates the "meaningless game" for contending teams. And it keeps people debating well into the night.

That said, my preferred approach is the oft-proposed BCS+ system. Either a 4-team or 8-team playoff, rotating existing bowls, makes a whole lot of sense. The 8-team playoff works like this: you play 4 bowl games in late December featuring 8 qualified BCS teams (6 major conferences and two at-large bids) using the present system. The four winners square off in the 2 bowl games in early January, leading to a championship game on January 9 or 10th. By adopting this approach, you'd be sacrificing some of the drama of the regular season. But the bowl games would be much more meaningful -- they won't be a bunch of exhibition games. And it'd cut down on the annual BCS controversy (nobody would really argue that Notre Dame or Arkansas "deserves" a shot to be the national champ).

The other way to do it is to keep the present system, but have a four-team playoff. If this format had been enacted for this year, you'd have Ohio St. v. LSU in the Rose Bowl and Michigan v. Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The winners of each game will play in the BCS championship game. The benefit would be to keep the intrigue of the BCS and the excitement of regular season games, but avoid the main problem we see every two years: screwing over an equally deserving third team or fourth team. I think this makes the most sense, being the least disruptive and radical way of addressing the #2 vs. #3 problem. Why not do this?