Monday, October 28, 2013

The Unenviable Task

By Jean Neuberger

We're sitting here on Sunday with six teams undefeated and fighting for a spot in the title game, Fresno State and Northern Illinois ready to play BCS buster, and a whole lot of teams with one loss, watching and waiting for a chance at redemption.

Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State have the best routes to the final BCS title game. Baylor and Ohio State are beating on the door but with weaker resumes. The Tide have the benefit of being the most dominant team in the decade's most dominant conference, so they're the safest bet. Oregon and Florida State will present an all-out, dazzling display of show points in order to lure voters and computers to their side.

It's years like this one that made the BCS better than the old system, but not nearly good enough. But would the new system really work this year?

Picking two teams for the national title game is tough enough. Picking the top four teams is not clear-cut, either. And, while some years it may be the case, imagine what would happen if the committee had to decide this year, at this point.

If the four-team playoff started this year, it seems as if right now, Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State would be locks to be part of the playoff. All three failed to disappoint in blowout wins last week, and seem to be playing a notch ahead of the rest. That part seems pretty simple.

It's that fourth spot that gets awful tricky. Ohio State hasn't played an extremely tough schedule, though so far, they've played a tougher one than Baylor. They both played hapless Buffalo. The Buckeyes beat them, 40-20. The Bears walloped them, 70-13.

So, right now, Ohio State in the fourth slot and Baylor in the fifth is tolerable. However, should the Bears blitz through Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech in the next three weeks (Ohio State gets a triple-layer cake of Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana), then one would have to consider leaping Baylor over Ohio State. Could you imagine, though, the howling from Columbus? The retired E. Gordon Gee might step out again and speak in protest. And we've all heard enough from that guy.

Then, lest we forget, there's the Miami factor. The Hurricanes are undefeated and head into Tallahassee for a showdown with the Seminoles. Al Golden has done a remarkable job rebuilding the Miami program and, should they get past Florida State and win out, the Hurricanes will certainly try to claim their spot in the title game as well.

Should that happen, let the debate begin. While Ohio State and Baylor are ranked ahead of the Canes, Miami, if undefeated, would have some high quality wins, having knocked off Florida State twice, or Florida State once and Clemson in the title game. The Big 12 has only Baylor in the top 10, but three other teams in the top 20. However, this could change if Baylor routs all three, so style points might not work for the Bears. Ohio State is the highest of the three seeds, yet is the only Big Ten team in the Top 20 at this point. Does anyone want to be in a room making a decision between those three teams should they all go unbeaten?

There's more to this, though. Say the nightmare scenario happens: Alabama loses to LSU. Stanford beats Oregon. Ohio State trips up on a cake layer or Michigan. Baylor stumbles against Oklahoma. And Florida State falls to Miami, only to come back and beat the Canes in the ACC title game.

Lots of one-loss teams. No clear cut choices. Who would you pick? It's a situation in which there's not a right answer. Whatever is chosen would receive such heavy criticism that the only winners would be Paul Finebaum and other sports talk radio hosts.

Maybe eight teams really is the way to go. Personally, given the success of the FCS and Division II and III playoffs, I'd go 16. The reason? You just might get that December upset that no one guesses. If the breaks fell right, Jordan Lynch just might carry a Northern Illinois squad over Ohio State. Those games could happen. They make March a special month. They could do the same for December.

Regardless, we head into November with six teams fighting for two spots. Next year, the spots double, but the task could be just as unenviable. The carefully picked selection committee will have their hands full. How it plays out? Take a deep breath and wait.

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