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So You Want a Playoff?

Questions and answers-

What does a team need to do to win a college football national championship currently?

 It must win so many games during the regular season (no more than one loss, typically, from a strong conference, or undefeated from a weak conference with no strong conference qualifiers) that it is considered one of the two best teams in the nation, and then beat the other team.  In other words, it must generally win 4 out of 5 games against strong teams, not slip up against weak teams, and beat at least one great team.

 What does a team need to do to win a college football playoff?

 It needs to win 3 (8 team playoff) or 4 (16 team playoff) games in a row against good-to-great teams.  To make the playoff, it probably needs to be undefeated in a weak conference or have no more than 2 losses in a strong conference.  In other words, it must win 2 out of 3 games against strong teams, not slip up more than once against weak opponents (a team can afford a slipup against a weak team if it has clinched its conference), and beat 3 or 4 good-to-great teams in a row.

 Under which system is it easier for Cinderella to win the national championship?

 The current system.  Currently, if the strong conferences don’t yield undeniably great teams, a Boise State, or a TCU could make the national championship game and just need one upset win to take it all.  Under a playoff, they would need 3 or 4 upsets in a row.

 Kind of presumptuous of you to call them upsets, isn’t it?

 No.  Boise State, TCU, and Utah are less talented than top BCS conference teams.  I know that by talent metrics going in (Recruit ranks), and talent metrics going out (NFL draft).

 What about the other metric?  Actual wins against these so-called superior teams?

First, I said the BCS conference champs are more talented teams, which is different from saying they will always win every game against a BCS buster.  Second, there is a huge difference between needing to beat 2 good-to-great teams (with 80% of the other games against teams no stronger than Baylor) out of 13 games played, and needing to beat 5 good-to-great teams out of 14 games played (with 60% of the other games against teams as strong on average as Kansas).  You saw that in the TCU-Oregon State game.  Dalton took 15 – 20 hits because TCU needed to rely on him as a running threat to make their offense go.  He was beaten up by game’s end.  That’s fine, because TCU plays a D-1AA team this week, and won’t need him to carry the offense on his back again until they play Utah or BYU.  There are very few QBs big enough to take that kind of abuse game after game.  Remember, Texas spotted Vince’s high carry games for when we needed them.

 Then, there is the issue of scheme.  Non-BCS teams can save wrinkles for their bowl games.  BCS teams can’t.  Texas and OU, as we know, have no offensive wrinkles that stay hidden past the 2nd weekend in October.

 A playoff will favor talented, deep teams over weaker teams with unique schemes.  Yes, there will be upsets, much like when Boise State first beat OU in the Fiesta Bowl (know who else beat OU in 2006?  A 7 – 6 Oregon team did, so pick your jaw off the floor.  Upsets do happen, although they are rare by definition).  In a playoff, David will be killed in the 2nd round, when facing a larger Goliath who will put his shield up against the sling.

 So, we’re in agreement?  A playoff is the way to go?

 I don’t agree.  A playoff would change the game in two significant ways.  First, late season rivalries would be diminished.  If Texas or OU had clinched the Big 12 (-2) with one week to go, how into their rivalry games with TAMU and OSU would they be?  Wouldn’t they treat those games the way the Colts treat their season-enders?  In the 2009 TAMU game, fighting for its MNC berth, Texas ran 10 4th quarter plays.  4 were called McCoy runs, and 4 were passes.  If a playoff spot were already secured, would Texas have done the same, or would Mack have decided to finish out the game with handoffs and safe screens?

 Second, the best teams offenses would converge on one offensive style.  This would be because the most talented teams would want the offense that has the best chance to win 3 or 4 tough games in a row.  This would be an offense that protects the QB at all costs.  Goodbye Wishbone.  Goodbye Spread Option.  The game would get duller, and the championships would go to the team with the hot QB.  Every good team would run an offense based on handoffs and play action, and the game would be poorer for it, in my opinion.  Playoff proponents talk like a playoff would keep all the great things about college football, and give us more of them.  I think they're wrong.  I think it would change the game.

 TTR, what is your recommendation?

 I would consider a “plus one” game.  I realize, though, that once the playoff goes from the current one round to two, people will start promoting a third round.  Frankly, I’m OK with things staying as they are.