Keep College Football’s Regular Season Meaningful
If you have read my National College Football Preview Magazine over the past ten years, you know that I have been advocating that the top four teams in the country should be matched up in bowl games with #1 vs #4 and #2 vs #3 in that order to ensure a true National Champion each season. I even list the last 12 years pointing out that no #5 team really deserves to play for the National Title and in many years just three teams were worthy of a spot in the Title game. Although many people are all for going to an extended playoff, much like the NCAA basketball tournament, I think this would water down what is the most meaningful regular season of any sport (college or pro) and that is college football’s regular season. Each week during the college football regular season, there are several National Title elimination games. The winner stays in the chase and the loser is basically eliminated. That ensures that the games played in September, October, November and December are all extremely MEANINGFUL.
Let’s compare college football to college basketball. In non-conference games for the college basketball regular season, a matchup of #1 vs #2 in November may bring some attention but really has no bearing as to who wins the National Title. A team can easily recover from an early season loss or losses. As long as they get into the 64 team tournament, they have a shot at winning the NCAA Title by winning their last 6 games of the season. That makes these bigger non-conference games nice, but in the grand scheme of things, really not that important. Look at 2005 in which the NCAA’s “Championship” game was between the #7 and #11 ranked teams in the NCAA. Can you imagine if this year’s FOOTBALL Title game came down to #7 vs #11??? Prior to 2006 it was rare for a team to recover from one loss to play for the National Title but that has been the rule rather than the exception for the last 3 BCS National Champions. In 2006 Florida had many narrow escapes during the season and recovered from their one loss to win the title. In 2007 LSU suffered two regular season losses (both in 3OT), but went on to win the SEC Title and became the first 2 loss team to play (and win) the BCS Championship game. Last season Florida again rallied from an early season upset to win the Title.
This year I have taken a look at the upcoming season and projected matchups showing that the regular season is indeed like a 64 team playoff. There are 63 games played in a 64 team tournament and I was able to match up 58 of those (92%) that play each other in the regular season this year or that I project to play in their conference title games. The only matchups in the brackets that I list on the upcoming pages that do not take place during the regular season (or in a projected 4 team playoff game) are Florida vs Rutgers, Ohio St vs Virginia Tech, Ohio St vs Clemson, Nebraska vs Wake Forest and USC vs Boise St. That means that this tournament bracket that I list has 92% that actually meet this year or I project to meet in the conference title games. So when you watch the regular season games, you are actually watching tournament elimination games on a weekly basis. I personally feel that it is unfair to include any team other than the top 4 in a playoff system but here is a look at this year’s 64 team playoff in which almost every game will take place on the field.
To make sure that the maximum number of matchups actually take place during the regular season, it is not in a seeded format. There are some killer first round games in the fictional bracket the biggest of which is USC at Notre Dame, 2 teams that I have in my Top 10. This will be a National Title elimination game. Other huge 1st round matchups are Tennessee at Florida (2nd straight year on these pages), USF at Pitt, Oklahoma at Miami Fla, and Illinois at Ohio State. The first round proved to be an elimination game for the non-BCS schools as BYU hosted TCU and Nevada traveled to Boise St.
In the 2nd round I only had to create two games that will not happen and that was Ohio State-Clemson (last met in Woody Hayes’ last game, the ‘78 Gator Bowl) and Nebraska-Wake Forest (NU won 20-17 in Winston-Salem in ‘07). In the 2nd round the non–BCS teams fall by the wayside (except for Boise St and Tulsa) with Oklahoma knocking off my favorite to win the MWC BYU (those two meet in this year’s opener). Florida and Georgia meet this year in Jacksonville with the winner likely taking home the SEC East, Pitt travels to Rutgers on October 16th in what could be the Big East Title game. LSU travels to Ole Miss in a battle of preseason Top 10 teams and Penn State hosts Iowa and will look for revenge for their only regular season loss of 2008.
That brings us to the Sweet 16 and once again some intriguing matchups with 6 taking place during the regular season. Alabama travels to Ole Miss in what could be a battle of unbeaten teams this year. Texas must travel to Oklahoma St after only winning by 4 at home last year. USC plays Cal in a battle of the Pac-10’s top two teams. In the non-BCS elimination game Boise St travels to Tulsa on October 14th. Nebraska hosts Oklahoma and those two old time rivals meet November 7th.
The Elite 8 does not have all of the Top 8 teams but it is pretty close! The Texas-Oklahoma showdown should determine who wins the Big 12 this year and perhaps plays in the title game. Ohio St-Penn St is a showdown for Big Ten supremacy and that one takes place in Happy Valley. Florida and Ole Miss could both be unbeaten when they meet for the SEC title game this year! USC ends the non-BCS teams’ title hopes by knocking off Boise in the only matchup that probably won’t occur this year.
The Final Four features the league champs from the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10. None of these meetings occur on the schedule but if I had my #1 vs #4, #2 vs #3 playoff system in place they would likely match up here as I give all 4 teams a great shot of going unbeaten. In this imaginary tournament I have Florida slotted against USC and Texas vs Penn St which would be great matchups.
I project the National Title game this year to be Florida vs Texas and in the tournament played on these pages those are the two that meet for the title. If you are a 64 team playoff advocate, there you have it as all but 5 of the matchups in the above tournament take place during the season, are one of my projected title games or are #1 vs #4, #2 vs #3 matchups. This proves that the regular season of college football is like a playoff game every week making it the most exciting regular season of any sport.