English: BCS source for ‘what-if’ debate

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2012

By Jim English

It’s always makes for a hearty discussion to play the “what if” game, and it seems the Bowl Championship Series has been a constant source of “what if” material since its inception. But no one wants to return to the old days of the polls deciding who wears the crown. Since more often than not, the top two teams in the nation didn’t have a chance to play each other, that made the “what if” game even worse.

Now it seems we’re closer than ever to finally having some sort of playoff system. Having two SEC teams in the BCS Championship game appears to have been the straw that may finally have broken the camel’s back.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Last week, commissioners of the 11 BCS conferences met to discuss possible changes to the current system, the most prominent of which was the four-team playoff known as the “plus-one” format. The concept was proposed in 2008 by the commissioners of the SEC and the ACC, but was emphatically dismissed by the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East, and Big 12. But the Big Ten boss, for one, has already acknowledged his willingness to reconsider, and last week NCAA president Mark Emmert offered his support for a four-team playoff, as well.

So since it looks as if we may finally be on the verge of the plus-one format, let’s take a look at how the BCS Championship would have been changed in previous years if the format had been in place.

To begin with, we would have had the dreaded season rematch between #2 Florida State and #3 Miami in 2000, and another in 2001 with Big 12 foes Nebraska and Colorado. The second rematch would have solved one of the major issues from the BCS era, in which Colorado shocked Nebraska, then unwittingly sent Nebraska to the BCS Championship ahead of them by upsetting Texas in the Big 12 championship.

2002 could have potentially started the SEC’s dominance of the BCS even earlier, with Georgia ending the season at #3. Given Ohio State’s track record against SEC teams, chances are good that the Bulldogs would have beaten the Buckeyes to meet Miami for the Championship. Considering that Miami lost to Ohio State in the title game, Georgia stood a better than average chance to knock off the Hurricanes for the championship.

What most consider the two biggest travesties of the BCS era could have been resolved in 2003 and 2004 with a plus-one format. In 2003, USC was somehow ranked #3 in the final BCS rankings, despite being #1 in the final AP and Coaches’ polls. A plus-one format would have set them up for an epic battle with Nick Saban’s LSU team, ironically the two teams that would become the only “split” champions in the BCS era.

The 2004 Auburn team was undefeated, but left out of the title game primarily because they started the season ranked lower than Oklahoma and USC, who were also unbeaten. The lack of a four-team playoff that season robbed us of quite possibly the greatest final four ever, which would have matched Auburn against Oklahoma and USC against Texas.

We could very well have seen all-SEC championships in 2006 and again in 2008. If #4 LSU had knocked off Ohio State in ‘06, they would likely have met eventual champion Florida. In 2008, Florida would have faced the winner of #4 Alabama vs. #1 Oklahoma.

The 2007 season ended with the #2 through #7 teams all having two losses and all having legitimate arguments to be included in the championship game. Two additional teams would have gotten their shot, but there still would have been 3 others protesting at being left out.

TCU would have had their chance to strike a blow for all the little guys in 2009 and again in 2010. TCU ended the ‘09 season ranked #4, but #1 Alabama would have had the chance to shut up the non-AQ conferences once and for all. But even if the Horned Frogs had come short in their first attempt, they would have a second chance the following year against #2 Oregon. The #1 vs. #4 matchup in 2010 would have also been an intriguing matchup of contrasting quarterbacks, with Cam Newton of Auburn facing Andrew Luck of Stanford.

And who wouldn’t have loved to see this year’s Alabama defense take on Oklahoma State’s offense? Likewise, how about Stanford QB Andrew Luck vs. LSU’s defense? Potentially, Luck could have ended up facing the #2 and #1 defenses in the country in consecutive weeks, either cementing his legacy as the greatest college QB of all time, or further solidifying the legend of the SEC defense.

2005 was likely the only season in which very little would have changed, with Texas and USC still probably meeting, and Longhorn QB Vince Young having arguably the greatest performance ever in a BCS Championship game.

Interestingly enough, Boise State, the team that has become the poster child for the left-out mid-major school, never once finished the season in the top 4. Therefore, even if the plus-one format had been in effect from the beginning, Boise State would still have been on the outside looking in.

Ironically, the SEC would have been given even more chances to win the BCS Championship. Be careful what you wish for.