If you really want to know why all the arguing and points being made about why Auburn should be in the National Championship game instead of Ohio State, or any other argument you want to make is pointless, you need to look a bit deeper at the numbers that no one with a vested interest in seeing any one team or conference get in is going to talk about. (And yes, this is especially true in the case of ESPN, which has all kinds of money tied up in TV rights for some conferences and not others, which is partnered with the SEC on the SEC Network, but not partnered with the Big Ten Network or the PAC 12 but I digress.)
The popular argument seems to be that OSU should be out of contention because their strength of schedule is terrible, and they play in a terrible conference. I submit that if that is true, I’ll make the same argument against Florida State. As of today, Florida State has played the 61st best schedule, OSU the 66th. Assuming OSU beats an 11-1 Michigan State, and FSU does the same against Duke, the two schedules are going to come closer together, not further apart. On top of that the ACC is currently ranked the 5th strongest conference, the Big Ten is third. Given this, there is statistical analysis that makes FSU a clear choice over OSU except for one, point differential. Florida State has pretty much coasted over teams all year while Ohio State has played relatively close games against their schedule. But remember, we removed point differential from BCS consideration a few years ago, because we didn’t want this to be a beauty contest. Hmm, who’s running one now?
On top of this, the popular scenario has it that if Missouri somehow wins the SEC championship game, and OSU loses, that would put one-loss Alabama into the NC game. I see no logical reason for this. Missouri would have one more win, a conference championship AND a stronger strength of schedule than ‘Bama! (Computers seem to put Missouri’s schedule between 35-40. Bama’s between 45-50, Missouri’s will improve with a win over Auburn, Bama’s is finished) Currently, however, they are ranked lower. This seems to only be based on the fact that they didn’t start the season number 1 like Alabama did. But there’s really no question that they have the better resume this season, but not the pedigree. So no championship for you Tigers.
Again, the popular theory seems to be that a one-loss SEC team is somehow more qualified than schools from any other conference because well, the SEC. Again, the actual strength of schedule numbers don’t bear this out. If you start down that road, then why is a 2 loss Arizona State or Stanford not a possibility? They’ve both played top ten toughest schedules, more difficult than any of the one loss SEC teams. Arizona State, in fact is right about #8 on that chart and will improve with a win in the PAC 12 championship game. That’s a good 40 spots better than Alabama, which dwarfs the difference between Bama and OSU or FSU.
And let’s not pretend that a 4 team playoff will make these arguments go away. As I’ve said before, look back on the BCS standings and tell me why Alabama should be rewarded with a place in the top 4 by virtue of simply not winning their division and needing to play a conference championship game? Tell me how a Michigan State or Oklahoma wins their conference, with only one loss, and doesn’t even sniff the 4 team playoff? Sure, MSU and Oklahoma State’s strength of schedule aren’t great, but they aren’t that far behind Alabama, and they will have won their conference! For that matter, how can a two loss Auburn or Missouri lose out to Bama by having the dumb luck to win their division and have to play and extra game?
My point here is not to argue for one team or another this year. I honestly don’t know who should play in the National Championship game. However, for all of those folks who say it “should be decided on the field”, and I am absolutely one of them, I have a simple solution.
Win your conference, you qualify for the playoffs. There are currently 10 conferences in the FBS by my references. That’s ten teams. The four non automatic qualifiers are seeded 7-10 and play each other in round 1 of the playoffs. Winners move on and face the two conference champions seeded 1-2. The other 4 AQ conference champions are seeded 3-6 and there’s round two. Winners advance to round 3, which leaves us with 4 teams, and so on. Winning the National Championship will require winning 3 games against other conference champions. (4 if you are a member of the bottom 4 conferences)
The beauty of this, it’s inclusive. Every conference would have a shot at the National Championship. It also maintains the importance of every week of the regular season. Now, you spend all year playing for that conference championship in order to even make the playoff. Your non-conference games don’t count for much of anything, so you can be free to schedule tougher opponents, or if you don’t, nobody has to really care. (Though strength of schedule will be a determining factor for seeding.) This also removes all of the questions about style points and comparing different conferences against each other and so on. Just win your conference, then play it out on the field. It’s that simple.
As for conference also-rans, of course we keep the bowls around and reward winning seasons with bowl trips and the extra practice time, etc. just like we do now. We could even make 9 of the bowl games our playoff sites if you want, though I prefer giving the higher seed home field advantage myself. Let’s make some of these games be played in the late December weather, eh? 😉
The only hole in my plan is how to deal with Independents. Short of telling them to join a conference, I’m not entirely sure.
Of course, my plan takes away all of the advantages of being a power conference for the most part, and removes just about all of the glamor from a corrupt bowl system, so there’s no chance this ever happens.
What would your NCAA football play off look like?