As the Football Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners wrapped up their meetings last week in New Orleans, several intriguing rumors regarding the fate of the BCS began to circulate.
One of the most common and sensible of which is the popular “plus one” model which has been reincarnated as a four-team playoff where the top four teams as rated by the BCS (or whatever other rating system survives the carnage) meet in a simple four-team tournament where the Nos. 1 and 4 seeds meet in one semifinal and the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds meet in the other, with the survivors meeting for the championship presumably one week later.
Given the simplicity of this type of system and the minimum amount of upheaval it would require, it seems reasonable to think that this proposal might emerge the winner. Given that, it’s never too early to speculate what effect this model might have on the Big Ten.
To begin, it is important to note that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney has remained through the years one of the staunchest opponents of a playoff. This raises the question of whether Delaney actually believes a playoff would not be good for the overall health and well-being of college football – or maybe more likely Delaney believes a playoff would not be beneficial for Big Ten members.
In determining the effect of a four-team playoff on the Big Ten it is important to ask two questions: How likely would it be one or more Big Ten schools would qualify? And how likely would it be for a Big Ten team to win the whole thing?
How likely would it be that one or more Big Ten schools actually qualify for the playoff?
Not as likely as we would like it to be, at least in the current college football universe. First and foremost, recent bowl failures make it less and less likely that a one-loss Big Ten team would be able to sneak into that position. While an undefeated Big Ten team certainly has an excellent chance of ending up in the top two, a one-loss Big Ten team doesn’t carry the same weight behind it as a one-loss SEC team and would be an unlikely second Big Ten school in the playoff.
In that instance, a four-team playoff would only make it more difficult for our undefeated representative to take home the title because of the extra game needed to do so, but more about that later. Additionally, the new Big Ten Championship game makes it all but impossible for two teams to emerge from the Big Ten grind undefeated, which obviously would enhance the Big Ten’s chances of getting two schools in the tournament.
Past BCS standings seem to support this theory. The last Big Ten team to finish 3 or 4 in the Final BCS standings was Michigan in 2006 at No. 3. What has happened since that date you might ask? Well, for one the SEC has flexed its muscle, and one loss SEC teams have become a lock for the top 4.
How likely would it be for a Big Ten team to win the whole thing?
Once again, the answer isn’t promising. The Big Ten is 12-13 in BCS Bowl games and has struggled mightily against SEC opponents in particular in recent years. While the Big Ten has certainly had favorable matchups in the BCS (Michigan vs.Virginia Tech this year for example), it seems less likely given recent successes and lack of successes that the Big Ten could take down two top SEC teams in back to back weeks, if that was the case, in a playoff.
Given all of that, the wonderful thing about college football is that anything can happen and usually does. The “plus one” model – while only one of many potential solutions to the BCS problem – does promise some of the excitement of a playoff while preserving the bowl system that many fans hold so dear.
Would it be great to see two Big Ten teams battling it out in the finals of such a playoff? Absolutely!
Will it happen? We’ll see!