Category Archives: Golden Bowl Simulated CFB Playoff

ESPN and the Rose Bowl stay in business

No sooner did college football approve a revolutionary playoff structure than ESPN made sure at least one aspect of the past remained in place: the Rose Bowl breaking off from the rest of the BCS and signing its own television contract.

ESPN has signed an agreement with the Rose Bowl over the entire 12-year course of the new format.

I don’t know what this would mean for the other bowls’ TV rights, especially as regards to the semifinal rounds of the new playoff structure, although the release seems to imply ESPN would carry the Rose Bowl in years it’s a semifinal. If that’s true, it would seem to dilute the proposed $5 billion agreement the BCS is looking for for its proposed playoff system, especially since the SEC and Big 12’s “Champions Bowl” would likely also have a separate agreement. A big part of that desired number is the addition of semifinals, but four out of twenty-four of those games might end up going to someone else.

On the other hand, the BCS may decide to sell the semifinals separate from the championship game… but from what I read, if that was the case both semifinals would likely be sold together (which doesn’t make much sense to me – maybe what was meant was one semifinal and the title game?). I don’t know how the whole thing will end up working, but I guess we’ll find out in the fall.

Sport-Specific Networks
7 10.5 4.5 3.5 0 1.5

College Football Promotion and Relegation Revisited

When a nationally recognized site, through no fewer than three writers, comes up with an idea previously thought up by some unknown faceless blogger somewhere, and one of their own writers had raised the same idea earlier apparently independently, that’s probably a good sign the idea is a good one.

Such is the case with a promotion/relegation system for college football. Can you blame SBNation for devoting an entire week to the concept, given the madness that has been the past few years of conference realignment? Or their DawgSports blog for raising the same idea last year? You can imagine how piqued my interest was given my own promotion/relegation system that came before any of them; it’s especially interesting that their “relegation week” came the same week as the SEC/Big 12 alliance, which led many people to wonder if this was the first step towards college football condensing into four major conferences with a pseudo-playoff structure between them. Naturally, my idea differs from both sites’ proposals in a few ways:

  • I proposed only two conferences on the top level. This puts a number of very high-profile programs at risk of relegation to a lower level, but I like the notion of two semi-national conferences featuring all (or most of, or at least nothing but) the teams that college football’s engine runs on playing against each other in a guaranteed high-caliber showdown each and every week. It would basically be a licence to print money for schools and networks (to the point every single team could sign a Notre Dame-esque national contract with a network or ESPN), a bonanza of great games and classic match-ups for fans, while still maintaining the sanctity of the regular season and everything traditionalists love about college football. Win-win-win.
  • That said, given the inherent inequity of a pro/rel system I can see the argument to bump up to, let’s say four conferences on the top level – which also increases the number of teams that can offer recruits the opportunity to play on the top flight, now or later, and allows us to also maintain the maze of nonsensical bowl tie-ins (including bowls with potential relegation implications). This oh-so-neatly matches the number of major conferences the SEC/Big 12 alignment potentially presages condensation to as well. We can institute a four-team all-champion playoff, or we can put in a 12-16 team “Champions League”.
  • These two conferences would each consist of 12 teams… without divisions. Each conference would play a complete round-robin, leaving them at most one non-conference game, which should be enough to maintain any rivalries outside the conference. Those games would be meaningless in the overall scheme of things, but isn’t that what a lot of people liked about pre-BCS college football rivalries anyway? If a team somehow didn’t have a single non-conference rivalry, they could schedule the typical guarantee game.
  • Once you get past the top five levels of English soccer (the Premier League, the Championship, League One, League Two, and the National Conference), each subsequent level contains multiple leagues. The way it works there, the number of teams in each league is constant, with the borders between the leagues determined by what maintains the balance, not by rigid geographical boundaries like in the SBNation plan. Conference realignment could play out naturally, as a result of the needs of numerical balance between conferences on the same level. (The sixth level of English soccer has two leagues, the Northern and Southern Conference. The seventh level has three, the Northern Premier League, the Southern League, and the Isthmian League, each of which splits into two sub-leagues on the eighth level. Beyond that, the distribution of leagues becomes decidedly more haphazard and ad hoc, not quite as nice and neat, though the FA has been trying to reduce the 14-league ninth level down to 12, matching the six-league eighth level.)

With that in mind, let’s consider a possible structure with four conferences at the top level, extending down to NAIA. Despite the future suggested by the SEC/Big 12 alliance, I killed the Big 12 and brought back the ACC because there aren’t a lot of West Coast leagues directly below the top level, while there’s a glut of eastern and southern leagues. I’m not going to mention any teams, only the conferences at each level; conference names should be assumed to broadly reflect geographic area, as many conferences are likely to change names. Also assume that conferences at the top level contain 12 teams each, as does each subsequent level with four conferences; conferences on lower levels may have fewer teams.

  • Tier 1 (BCS): Pac-12, Big 10, SEC, ACC
  • Tier 2 (FBS): Mountain West, MAC, Conference USA, Big East
  • Tier 3 (FCS Tier 1): WAC, Missouri Valley, Sun Belt, CAA
  • Tier 4 (FCS Tier 2/Division I): Big Sky, Southland, Pioneer, Ohio Valley, SWAC, Big South, Patriot, Ivy or NEC
  • Tier 5 (Division II): Great Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Lone Star, Great American, Mid-America, Northern Sun, Great Lakes, SIAC, Gulf South, CIAA, South Atlantic, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Northeast Ten
  • Tier 6 (Division III Tier 1): Northwest, American Southwest, IIAC, MIAC, WIAC, CCIW, OAC, SCAC, Centennial, Middle Atlantic, New Jersey, Empire 8
  • Tier 7 (Division III Tier 2): SCIAC, Heartland, Upper Midwest, Midwest, Northern Athletics, MIAA, Atlantic Central, Old Dominion, Presidents, NCAC, Liberty, NESCAC
  • Tier 8: All NAIA schools and conferences

The teams assigned to each conference are left as an exercise for the reader; you may refer to my older post for assistance. Feel free to fiddle around with the conferences and their placement as well, keeping in mind that since these conferences no longer have anything to do with conferences for other sports, the actual conferences involved may be very different. For example, what conferences exist on the Division II level may just have four levels all on their own.

Blargh.

Okay. This series has burned me out.

I’m not going to put up more posts about the new playoff system, which looks to be some form of bracketed plus-one, until later, though it’s probably still going to be before any sort of final decision is made. I leave you with what I originally wrote in 2009 about that system:

Plus-One top 4 bracketed: GPA: 2.18. Grade: C+. A top-4 plus-one, had it been adopted in 1998, would have had a longer honeymoon than the BCS, despite arguably ruining the 1999 title picture by introducing controversy where there was none in the BCS, by averting controversy in 2000 and 2001 and not ruining the 2002 title picture. Then in 2003 it might have worsened the BCS controversy of that year regarding Oklahoma still being vaulted to #1 despite losing the Big 12 title game, but tweaks in the system would fix that. But in 2004 it would have increased the importance of a controversy that didn’t need it, repeated the 1999 incident in 2005, and would have been insufficient three straight years from 2007 to 2009, creating an argument that with increased college football parity, we need an 8-team system. Too bad 8-team systems would have been even worse those years…

Of the major formats of 8 teams or less, this was the best one; I graded it a C+ in 2010 and a C- in 2011 (the latter for picking Stanford over Pac-12 champion Oregon). There are a few different formats out there regarding conference champions, and I need to assess them, and that would be part of the point of continuing the series.

Blargh. And before I found out about the BCS meetings, I had other plans for this week that were so much better…

The Last Word on a College Football Playoff System, Part I: Potential Systems Explained

Our long national nightmare is almost over. The annual BCS meetings are this week, and the assembled commissioners are almost certain to institute some sort of playoff system. By the end of this week, we may be saying goodbye to the debate over a college football playoff, or at least a particular stage of it.

Everybody knows one thing: they hate the BCS. What people can’t seem to agree on is how to fix it. One thing the BCS has brought us is a system that seemingly every year finds a new way to screw things up, and that means part of the problem with settling on a playoff format is that each year seems to support a different system, which often wouldn’t work so well in another year. Fortunately, that also means it’s also given us a lot of scenarios to examine and test the equally numerous playoff proposals. In honor of the end of this era, that’s what we’ll be doing this week, determining how they would have gotten rid of controversy (or not) and on the other hand, still maintained the sanctity of the regular season. Are BCS proponents correct that no system is perfect and so none can sufficiently improve on the BCS? (Note that I originally wrote much of this in 2009 as part of my “Evolving Take on the Debate on a College Football Playoff”, and as such most of the proposed systems are from before then with some having broken links, and you should probably read
that
series
yourself for many of my rulings to make sense.) Here are the various playoff systems supported in various places around the Internet and their backers:

The Big 5

  • Actual BCS system. The system we all know and loathe.
  • Plus-One with traditional bowls. What the BCS honchos are calling the “original ‘plus-one'”. Effectively, goes back to the old bowl system, but adds an additional postseason “week” after the bowls, selecting the two best teams in the country. Plus-ones are embraced primarily by people who don’t really support a playoff but aren’t satisfied with the result the BCS provides (or, reportedly, the BCS honchos when they’re not worrying about public opinion). This one is proposed by Brian Sakowski and… that’s it (although Frank the Tank flirted with it once). No one else needs to be told what a disaster this one would be, and not just because it would reduce the bowls to play-in games. It’s almost untestable because there are almost as many “traditional bowl lineups” as people proposing them (the Big 12 is almost as young as the BCS itself) and the ripple effects on the rest of the bowl system are almost unknowable. But plus-one after the current bowl system, as supported by no one and tested in place of this by Ed Gunther, is even worse, because it creates the most skewed bracket ever, pitting 1 vs. 2 in the first round, rendering anticlimactic at best and utterly ruining at worst classic BCS outcomes like Texas-USC in 2005. People who have proposed variants of this – including Jon Miller of HawkeyeNation.com – often have specific years in mind, like 2003, when they wanted LSU to take on USC for the national championship.
  • Plus-One top 4 bracketed. Also known as the “four-team event” considered by the BCS honchos. A simple four-team playoff. Basically further mangles the bowl lineup by plucking two more teams into semifinal bowls, and turns out to produce first-round rematches often if left unchecked – often enough Gunther considers it inferior to plus-one after the current bowl system, obvious nonsense. As tested below, if 1/4 and 2/3 matchups would produce rematches, they are switched to 1/3 and 2/4. This system and variants of it (often giving home-field advantage in the first round) are backed by Richard Cirminiello of CFN, Tim Layden in SI in 2001, Frank the Tank, and Ben Prather, proprietor of SBNation’s former “BCS Evolution” blog. Jerry Hinnen has the semifinals the week before students’ finals week instead of being part of the bowls, allowing semifinal losers to join a pool with the teams at 5-10 in the other BCS bowls, and seems to be confused because he wants to include “the teams that need to be in” and includes the mid-majors that won BCS bowls, but those teams placed 8th at best in the BCS before the bowls, so the only thing I can think of is he intended to give auto bids to teams that go undefeated, but that includes some teams that didn’t “need” to be in like 2007 Hawaii and 2008 Boise State… Mark Schlabach and (if they were to firmly support a playoff) EDSBS want a plus-one but don’t give details, so I classify them here.
  • 8-team playoff, BCS champion auto bids. The two eight-team systems are often backed by people who want to use the BCS bowls as quarterfinals, ignoring how that would reduce the bowls to play-in games, or people who aren’t satisfied with a plus-one but aren’t ready to embrace 11/5. This playoff allocates six spots to the champions of BCS conferences, leaving two at larges. I could call it a “6/2” system, mirroring my “11/5” terminology. Fundamentally the system proposed by the Mountain West in 2009, and originally backed by Matt Hinton (now Yahoo’s “Dr. Saturday”) to the extent he supports any specific proposal, Pat Forde, this AP simulated system, BCS Watch to the extent he supports any playoff, James Irvine, Vincent Ellerby, and Frank the Tank‘s earliest proposal (the last two attempting to maintain traditional bowl assignments in the quarterfinals). Many proposals of this system replace one of the at-larges with an auto bid for a single non-BCS team, as in the system used in College Football News’ simulated playoff and backed by their Pete Fiutak, and also proposed by bceaglesfootball.com (which also takes away the Big East’s BCS auto bid). (CFN teamed up with WhatIfSports for December Madness after the 2007 season.)
  • 8-team playoff, no auto bid. Just the best eight teams in the country. Supported by Gene Wojcechowski, Matt Starnes, and Stephen Carradini. President Obama famously proposed an 8-team playoff during the campaign but didn’t specify how teams would be selected (though his original comments to Chris Berman suggested the no-auto-bid approach), putting him in the company of CFN’s Matthew Zemek, Paola Boivin, and USA Today‘s editorial board.
  • 11/5 system. Also known as “16-team playoff, auto bids to all conference champions.” Supported by Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel, Sloppy Joe of College Football Cafeteria, CBS’ J. Darin Darst, Fox’s Peter Schrager, SupportAPlayoff.com, Eric B. Shaw, Mark Blankenbaker, TrueNationalChampion.com, and yours truly, as well as all right-thinking people who pondered the college football playoff debate, at least before realignment set in (Wetzel, the most prominent voice for this model, explains his newfound misgivings about it and conversion to a BCS-auto-bid 8-teamer towards the end of this article) – yet seemingly treated as a strawman and untested by Gunther (on the grounds that one of the above four will happen before we get this). For the past few seasons, WhatIfSports.com has held its “December Madness” tournament under 11/5 rules and simulating the results with its game simulation technology; I did the same with my own bracket for several years, using the same site.

Proposals That Don’t Fit In the Big 5

  • “Flex” playoff system, Zane version. Basically, a system that tries to always be the best system, sometimes being a single national championship game, sometimes being Plus-One top 4 bracketed. Here’s the simplest I can explain Billy Zane’s idea: If there are two undefeated teams ranked 1 and 2 and no one else above a certain threshold, or two or fewer teams with one or fewer losses in the top four, they play a single national championship game. (If an undefeated team plays a 2-loss team in this manner, the national championship game is not necessarily for the national championship.) If there is one undefeated team at #1 and two 1-loss teams (or a 1-loss team and an unbeaten that’s not #2) in the top four, the undefeated team gets a bye into the national championship game and the two one-loss teams play each other. Otherwise, it is Plus-One top 4 bracketed, except any unbeaten over said threshold automatically gets in (top 5 as proposed in the demonstration, but top 6 as I analyze it below, for reasons that will become clear), bumping out teams with losses if needed.
  • “Flex” playoff system, Prather version. Link is the same as Prather’s support for Plus-One top 4 bracketed, which seems to be more recently supported, an admission of the complexity of this plan. Similar to the Zane version, except the size of the gaps in the BCS standings (equivalent to a 1.5-spot average difference in the polls) is used to select the qualifying teams, and the result could be as large as an eight-team playoff, larger if there are more undefeated teams than that.
  • Plus-One top 4 bracketed, preserve Rose Bowl. This is a compromise between “Plus-One with traditional bowls” and “Plus-One top 4 bracketed” by preserving the only traditional bowl matchup worth preserving, similar to Frank the Tank‘s “semi-seeded plus-one”, and a reformation of the Big Ten’s “Four-Team Plus” model under consideration (essentially a bracketed plus-one that ignores the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions for the semifinals only, considered by Frank the Tank here). Under this model, even if the Pac-10 or Big 10 champion is in the top four, and even if the other one isn’t, they will play each other in the Rose Bowl no matter what. Curiously, this often duplicates the results of plus-one after the current bowl system. For example, in 2003, USC would have been force-seeded to the Rose Bowl, leaving LSU to play Oklahoma. Under this system, non-Rose bowls are listed as the higher-seed’s tie-in bowl, unless the higher seed is the Big East champion or (somehow) an at-large.
  • Plus-One top 4 bracketed, conference champions only. An attempt to avert situations where a normal bracketed plus-one renders conference championships meaningless. Apparently this one was considered by the suits in the room but ultimately rejected.
  • 6-team playoff.
    Brian of MGOBlog wants no autobid, home field, 3 seed picks whether they face 5 or 6, 1 seed picks which first-round winner they face. Ryan Murphy gives auto bids to the BCS conferences that aren’t the Big East; that version will only be assessed for years after the ACC raided the Big East.
  • 8-team playoff, conference champions qualify based on ranking.
    Frank Xei (at least I’m assuming that’s his name) proposes putting all conference champions in the top 12 of the BCS standings in the tournament, then the remaining spots go to the top non-conference champions. As you’ll see, this will sometimes exclude BCS conference champions, which is “some” times too many for the BCS gatekeepers. Ditto for Sloppy Joe‘s more mature playoff proposal, which takes all conference champions in the top 14 and Notre Dame if they crack the top 8. After originally proposing the original BCS conference champion auto bid system, Ty Duffy subsequently suggested a system with the top six highest-ranked conference champions, regardless of conference, selected.
  • 8-team playoff, conference champions qualify based on number of wins. As suggested here, conference champions would be required to have nine wins over FBS teams, but would go in automatically regardless of ranking if they had that many.
  • 8-team playoff, conference champions only. Proposed by Arizona State president Michael Crow. Chris Suellentrop‘s system would also include BCS auto bids, as would Jason Nafziger.
  • 10-team playoff. Used by ESPN c. 2009 (no auto bid) and by College Football Campus (BCS champion auto bids) for their simulated playoffs, and suggested by Playitoff.org (current BCS automatic qualification requirements for auto bids), Dr. Saturday (BCS champion auto bids, two-team-per-conference rule remains in effect), and Brandon E. Kennedy (BCS champion auto bids), mostly because it’s a nice round number we’re all familiar with, despite the fact it’s arbitrary (our counting system would make more sense if we had six fingers on each hand) and produces an ugly bracket. One advantage of the format is that it’s possible to give automatic byes to the BCS conference champions, no more, no less.
  • 12-team playoff.
    Ryan West backs giving the BCS conference champions auto bids. (West also proposes holding each round at a BCS bowl site, which’ll never happen.) CollegePlayoffs.com does not, and includes a 16-team NIT-like tournament, while thinking “Bowl Tournament” isn’t an oxymoron from the bowls’ perspective. Jonathan West (who I don’t believe is related to Ryan) also backs an auto-bid-free format. The Enhanced Bowl Season gives auto bids to the BCS conference champions and one non-BCS champion, plus any other non-BCS champion in the top 12 of the rankings.
  • 16-team playoff, only BCS conferences get auto bids. As proposed by ESPN blogger Ghostsof1948, Russ Thorson, and Jeb Puryear.
  • 16-team playoff, auto bids for champions of top 8 conferences and BCS conference runner ups. This is what Bill Hahn‘s bizarre proposal amounts to. Even more bizarre, seeding is random, with the conference champions randomly seeded 1-8 and the runner ups randomly seeded on the opposite side of the draw as their respective champions.
  • 16-team playoff, auto bids for qualifying conference champions. This is the Mountain West’s 2011 proposal, with the qualification being that the team must be in the top 30 teams in the country.
  • 16-team playoff, no auto bid. The basis for SI’s simulated playoff, and also proposed by Sam Matta, Chad Crabtree, and “Tommy” on The Right Sphere. John (?) Houlgate would pick the 16th team randomly from the teams ranked 16-25, obviously untestable.
  • 20-team playoff. Tyler West essentially adds four play-in games to the 11/5 system. He also suggests making every conference get a championship game, but the system is testable without it. He also has an odd rule that teams in position to get an at-large before playing the conference championship can’t be left out in favor of a team from the same conference, which seems to have the effect of reducing the incentive to win the conference championship.
  • 24-team playoff. Simple: there are over 100 teams in college football, and over 300 teams in college basketball. There are 11 conferences in college football, and 31 conferences in college basketball. There are 12 games in a college football season, and 30-some games in a college basketball season. Therefore a college football season should have roughly a third of the teams in March Madness, and that adds up to 22-23. 20-team proposals aside, 24 is the nearest number that produces the neatest-looking bracket. Whether it preserves the sanctity of the regular season is another matter… I want to keep my level of work sane, the BCS standings a useful baseline, and the regular season with a modicum of meaning, so this is the largest playoff I’m willing to consider.

Proposals Too Radically Different To Be Tested (Or Ever Pass)

  • 16-team playoff, only winners of conference championship games get auto bids. As proposed by Bruce Leban. Why is it untestable? Because conferences would race to adopt championship games somehow, someway, forcing realignment and turning this into a variant of one of the below.
  • 4-team playoff in place of conference championships. This is essentially what Mark Cuban has proposed, and it’s untestable for the opposite reason: it effectively forces conferences with championships to get rid of them.
  • Gunther Modified Season. Teams play only 8-9 regular season games, most of them conference games. Then a selection committee divides teams into two groups, with the top 32 teams in Group A and everyone else in Group B. Group B teams play each other the first week of November, ideally teams within 10 ranking spots of them with home field based on attendance rankings, Group A teams the second week with home field to higher seed. Then everyone is reseeded and Group A is condensed to the top 16 and everyone plays the third week, and then Group A is condensed to the top 8 and everyone plays the fourth week, and then Group A is condensed one more time to the top 4 and intra-conference matches are allowed there, though not rematches. Finally bowl bids are divvied out and #1 and #2 play in the championship game. The “playoff” in Group A is not a traditional single-elimination tournament, as teams can lose early on and remain in Group A, but conversely a team can win and still not stay alive; one commenter proposed fixing this by first having the field cut from 28 to 18, with 14 winners and 4 losers, then to 12 similarly, then 8, then cut in half each subsequent round; I would go 24 to 16 to 12 to 8. Gunther claims the basic framework is “workable and realistic” as opposed to some other plans both above and below, but no one will accept such a major change in a million years – it changes too much tradition, like November rivalry games, and it’s too complicated for Americans – even though it’s more conservative than its cousin…
  • Johnson Swiss System/32-cum-8-team playoff. The Swiss system is the system used in chess tournaments, and it basically boils down to always facing someone with the same record as you. If you win your first game, you face someone else who won their first game. If you lose that game, you face someone who’s also 1-1, and so on. Ben Johnson’s postseason (leaving his conspiratorial thinking aside) would work like that. It would realign all the BCS conferences, as well as a conference taking the best teams from the Mountain West and WAC, so that each conference had a uniform number of teams, and would have the first eight games all be conference games. The top four teams from each conference would play a mini-bracket leading to a conference championship, with the losers of the conference semifinals playing in a conference third-place game (if they haven’t played already in Johnson’s current proposal). The conference champions, as well as the winner of a game between the MAC and C-USA champions, would form an eight-team bracket, but as originally proposed, losers of each game would face losers of a comparable game, so quarterfinal losers would face other quarterfinal losers, semifinal losers would meet in a third-place bowl, and the winners of quarterfinal loser games would meet in a third bowl, the losers in a fourth. As originally proposed, a similar process would be followed for the losers of the conference championship game and conference third-place game participants. The conference 5-8 teams (3-4 for MAC and C-USA) would enter a similar “Holiday” bracket, the conference 9-12 teams (5-6 for MAC and C-USA) would enter another similar “NIT” bracket, and the remaining 24 teams (would these all be MAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt teams?) would enter some sort of “Sportsman’s” bracket. As presently proposed, at least last I checked, Johnson seems to have taken a cue from Gunther’s system, as teams that weren’t in the main championship bracket would play primarily regional games, an attempt to mollify people who would protest that people couldn’t possibly move from game to game, although the Swiss system seems to still be in effect. In any case no one will agree to the major restructuring of college football conferences required by the Johnson system, or the loss of control over non-conference schedules, or the destruction of interconference rivalries, or the movement of “rivalry week” to week 8 at the latest, or how, comments that this system gives every team a shot at the championship notwithstanding, Sun Belt teams are supposed to ever have a shot at the championship (or in the case of the original proposal, even the non-Sportsman brackets)…
  • Realignment. Hunter Ansley of DraftZoo.com proposes realigning FBS into eight 12-team conferences, divided into two leagues, which would play a 16-team playoff, with conference championship games, two league championship rounds, and a game between the champions of each league, with bowls serving as rounds of the tournament. Two words: Pipe dream. The proprietor of the Get the Picture blog seems to want a playoff comprised solely of all the conference champions but would rejigger the conferences to create a competitive balance, or the appearance of one. At the height of the first round of conference realignment in 2010, several people entertained dreams of the power teams forming four 16-team superconferences that could then set up a de facto four-team playoff. Yours truly proposed blowing up the current conference system in favor of instituting a system of promotion and relegation last year, and weaker forms of pro/rel have also been proposed. Most realignment plans just shuffle teams around into new alignments without regard for whether the conferences or teams would agree or even the impact on other sports. The way realignment has actually played out, especially the first round in 2010 when the Pac-10 very nearly became the Pac-16, underscores the inherent unpredictability of the enterprise.

Tune in next time, when we take a look at how each of these systems would have done each year of the BCS era.

A modest proposal for college football

So earlier today I posted that college football needed to reconcile its desire to keep making money with its desire to maintain the notion of amateurism. College football could go all-in and become an explicitly for-profit enterprise, or it could take some drastic steps to reclaim the notion of amateurism, but it couldn’t continue to have it both ways.

One of my ideas for what college football could do to keep making money was to completely divorce itself from the NCAA, preventing an all-sports split by the big-name schools, allowing the NCAA to focus on lesser sports, and most relevantly to this discussion, allowing conference realignment to proceed without affecting the lesser sports. With that in mind, I propose this fairly radical idea for conference realignment in a post-NCAA college football universe.

This idea can be summed up in three words: Promotion and relegation.

Fans of European club soccer, whether newcomers or old standbys, inevitably become fascinated by and enamored of the promotion and relegation system. Newcomers wonder what would happen if it were applied to American sports; old standbys insist that America’s own soccer league, MLS, adopt it. In both cases, they wildly underestimate the deep philosophical differences between American and European sports that explain the existence of the promotion and relegation system.

Europe places more emphasis on the individual teams as the bedrock of the league, as opposed to American sports where the teams’ power ultimately derives from the league. By the same token, Europe isn’t as obsessed with parity as the United States, and the assumption of the promotion and relegation system is that the teams at the bottom are substantially worse than the teams at the top. You couldn’t have a player draft in a promotion and relegation system, nor would team owners be likely to accept the possibility of being moved up and down every year, with the millions of dollars at stake. If baseball adopted pro/rel, the Yankees and Red Sox would become even more powerful than everyone else.

But guess what one American sport the above doesn’t apply to? College football’s power, as has been proved time and again, derives from its individual teams, not from any central source, and ultimately could care less about parity. A promotion and relegation system would give the lesser teams a bigger slice of the college football pie, create better matchups throughout the season, and ultimately solve college football’s championship problem, while surprisingly keeping much that makes the sport great.

Here’s how I could see it playing out. The big schools start making noise about separating from the NCAA, while their 16-team superconference dreams start coming to fruition and they start making noise about a de facto playoff. The schools left threaten to, or actually do, sue the big schools for monopolizing the college football pie. The big schools reach an agreement with the small schools and the NCAA that theoretically allows any school in the country, even NAIA Podunk U, to some day compete with the big boys at the top level of the sport, but effectively ensconces the power of the big schools at the top of the sport, while creating a better experience for the fans. Everyone wins.

What would this system look like? At the top level, I see two 12-team conferences composed of the biggest-name, best programs in the country – call them the SEC and Big 10. These add up to 24 teams, very close to the “Top 25” we’re so used to. Unlike current 12-team conferences, every team plays every other team one time, with no divisional arrangement. Under the current schedule, that leaves one game for a team to schedule a cupcake or a cross-conference or interlevel rival, preserving most rivalries between teams of comparable power while creating a far more exciting season full of big matchups. The champions of the two 12-team conferences then meet in a single game at the end of the season to determine college football’s national champion, solving the championship problem while preserving the sanctity of the bowls (for example, second place in each league could play each other as well).

The top four levels are important in this plan, as those levels are the ones that can tell recruits that, at least theoretically, they can someday play at that top level. Thus, the next few levels are arranged so that the top four levels total 120, same as Division I-A today. I see another two 12-team conferences at the second level (the ACC and Pac-12), then three conferences each at the third (Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA) and fourth (WAC, MAC, Sun Belt) levels. (These names are just for show, and to indicate the general geographic area each conference would cover.) The fifth level, where I-AA would essentially start, would then consist of four conferences, and so on down the line.

The bottom one or two teams in each top-level conference are relegated, with the champions and possibly runners-up in each second-level conference promoted. Perhaps the 11th-place teams in each conference could hold a play-off to determine who gets relegated, while the second-place teams at the second level hold their own, similar game to determine who gets promoted. Similarly, the last-place teams in each second-level conference are relegated, with a play-off between the 11th-place teams, while the champions of the three third-level conferences promoted.

What would these conferences look like at the top level? Here’s one way they might be arranged, with reference to Stewart Mandel’s 2007 column on college football’s “kings” and recent on-the-field success:

The Southeastern Conference

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. Florida
  4. Florida State
  5. Georgia
  6. LSU
  7. Oklahoma
  8. South Carolina
  9. Texas
  10. TCU
  11. Virginia Tech
  12. West Virginia

The Northern and Western Conference (aka the “Big 12”)

  1. Boise State
  2. BYU
  3. Michigan
  4. Nebraska
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Ohio State
  7. Oregon
  8. Penn State
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. USC
  11. Utah
  12. Wisconsin

Look at all the rivalries that are preserved. Michigan/Ohio State, Oklahoma/Texas, Auburn/Alabama, Florida/Florida State, USC/Notre Dame, and so on down the line. There are even some new rivalries like Penn State/Pittsburgh, on top of all the other great games created with these top-notch programs. The extra game for inter-conference rivalries also allows us to preserve such games as Florida State/Miami (FL), Michigan/Michigan State, USC/UCLA, Oregon/Oregon State, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, Texas/Texas A&M, South Carolina/Clemson, Georgia/Georgia Tech, and Virginia/Virginia Tech. The other thing to note is that, unlike in today’s conferences and even in European soccer, most if not all of these teams have large, devoted followings in their own right, large enough to merit their own per-school TV contracts with the networks and ESPN. There are no Longhorn Network controversies with this group. And some superb teams and programs will be relegated to the second tier at the end of the year.

What of the second tier? What do those conferences look like?

The Atlantic Conference

  1. Arizona State
  2. Arkansas
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Clemson
  5. Connecticut
  6. Georgia Tech
  7. Iowa
  8. Miami (FL)
  9. Michigan State
  10. Mississippi
  11. Texas A&M
  12. Texas Tech

The Pacific Conference

  1. Air Force
  2. Arizona
  3. Arizona State
  4. California
  5. Colorado
  6. Missouri
  7. Nevada
  8. Oklahoma State
  9. Oregon State
  10. Stanford
  11. UCLA
  12. Washington

Here are a bunch of lesser powers that could probably carry a pair of conference-wide contracts with ESPN2 and a considerable audience despite not being top-tier. That’s four conferences’ worth of great teams and great matchups on two tiers. For completeness’ sake, here’s what the third tier would look like:

Big East Conference

  1. Army
  2. Boston College
  3. Illinois
  4. Louisville
  5. Maryland
  6. Navy
  7. Northern Illinois
  8. Northwestern
  9. Ohio
  10. Purdue
  11. Rutgers
  12. Temple

Conference USA

  1. Central Florida
  2. East Carolina
  3. Kentucky
  4. Mississippi State
  5. North Carolina
  6. NC State
  7. South Florida
  8. Southern Miss
  9. Tennessee
  10. Troy
  11. Vanderbilt
  12. Virginia

Mountain West Conference

  1. Baylor
  2. Fresno State
  3. Hawaii
  4. Houston
  5. Idaho
  6. Kansas
  7. Kansas State
  8. Minnesota
  9. San Diego State
  10. SMU
  11. Tulsa
  12. UTEP

These conferences aren’t quite of the caliber of the previous tiers, with only a few teams able to carry their weight in TV contracts for the occasional ESPNU game, hence why there are three of them in more compact geographic areas. (Washington State, Iowa State, and Syracuse have some claim to being in this group. Most of the remaining I-A schools are on the fourth tier, with Appalachian State, Montana, and one or two more I-AA interlopers replacing some weak Sun Belt schools.)

A showcase for all the best teams in the country to play each other week after week, competing for national glory and to stay in that brutal competition. Opportunity for any team to rise to the top. No more cupcakes and a college football national championship everyone can agree on. Now, isn’t this a far better picture for college football than franken-conferences and the BCS?

First college football rankings should be coming later today.

Some housekeeping notes, and a Week 17 playoff watch

The lineal titles are, belatedly, updated, and I think I’m somewhat lucky that none of the college titles are being defended until after the new year.

The Golden Bowl tournament, however, is probably not going to happen this year, and maybe ever. Somehow it has always managed to monopolize a lot of my time during every winter break, and the process of selection chews up a lot of time and brainpower just as the fall quarter at school starts ramping up towards finals. Perhaps once I’m finally out of school I’ll start it up again – heaven knows we’ll probably be no closer to a playoff then. I do want to say a few things about how the bracket would have shaken out:

The top six teams in the RPI are all from the SEC or Big 12, with attendant effects on selection, including Oklahoma probably getting a top-three seed, a possible third SEC at-large in Alabama, and all other conferences getting squeezed out of at-larges, including Stanford and Ohio State. Had I decided to cap at-larges at 2 per conference, they and Michigan State would have been key contenders.

Thanks in part to my Rose Bowl Semifinal rule, Oregon is hard-pressed to even get a first-round home game; the Pac-10 was weak this year. Wisconsin barely stood out among a field of Oregon, TCU, Boise, and V-Tech.

Finally, Connecticut actually barely got edged by UCF for the 13 seed, so the 3 would be a lot less valuable than the 2 this year, and the 4 substantially more valuable than the 5.

For the Playoff Pictures, anything that’s not self-explanatory is in the notes. Thick borders cannot be crossed, and I didn’t bother to research common-games tiebreakers for playoff positioning.

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD NOTES
SOUTH
49-6
511-4 ONLY AFC SOUTH
CONTENDERS
HAVE NOT CLINCHED
PLAYOFF SPOT
8-7
WEST
310-5
610-5
CLINCHED
NORTH
211-4
STILL POSSIBLE:
11-4 511-5
EAST
113-2
611-5
CLINCHED
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD NOTES
WEST
47-8
511-4 PACKERS BEAT
GIANTS AND WIN
COMMON GAMES
OVER BUCS
6-9
EAST
310-5
69-6
9-6
NORTH
211-4
9-6
CLINCHED 9-6
SOUTH
112-3
11-4
OUT ON TIEBREAKERS CLINCHED PLAYOFF SPOT

More problems with expanding the NCAA Tournament

Did I hear Dan LeBatard correctly yesterday on PTI? Apparently most coaches don’t like creating a playoff for college football, but they do like expanding the NCAA Tournament to grotesque levels.

Why? In college football, you can go .500, go to a bowl game, and save your job. In college basketball, it’s NCAA Tournament or bust – you have to be in the top 18% of teams in the country to save your job.

Here’s the thing: you may be able to go .500 and save your job, but that doesn’t mean anyone gives a bleep about your team. Most people only care about the undefeated and one-loss teams in the thick of the national championship hunt, and if they’re really diehard, the races at the top of the BCS conferences. Any smart playoff proposal will keep the bowls in some way, and it’s not like people care that much about the teams that wouldn’t be in the playoff anyway, so how exactly would it change the status quo?

And why shouldn’t college basketball be any different from college football, the NBA, or the NHL? Why shouldn’t the NIT, CBI, or CIT be enough for a coach to keep their job, and why shouldn’t merely making the NCAA Tournament be good enough for a coach to get a hefty extension?

You know what I think the problem is? I think the problem is that, unlike in college football, the mid-majors really are the majority. The BCS conferences really do select a third to a half of their teams to the NCAA Tournament as is, so in that sense, it makes sense for them to say “NCAA Tournament or bust”. In that sense, it’s heartening to see the number of at-large spots given to mid-majors double this year, even if it was only because the Pac-10 sucked. Improving parity will make the NCAA Tournament feel more special and give more respect to the NIT. Expanding the tournament, on the other hand, will only worsen and entrench the “NCAA Tournament or bust” dictum given to BCS-conference coaches, while making the tournament feel less special.

(It’ll also render schedule irrelevant. Am I really supposed to believe that the 32 teams just outside the NCAAs are dominated by major conference teams, but magically, there’s only one major-conference team in the next 32 and it’s from the Pac-10? Do we really want every Tom, Dick, and Harry that goes .500 to almost automatically get to the Big Dance?

2010 Golden Bowl: TCU v. Alabama

Golden Bowl II: #6 TCU v. #1 Alabama
TCU can’t beat Alabama. The Rose Bowl was the real national championship game. Sure, TCU looked impressive beating the tournament’s #2 seed, and are playing closer to home, but TCU is TCU and Alabama is Alabama. Alabama has the Heisman trophy winner and NFL talent up and down the field. Most people can’t name a single player on the Horned Frogs. Under the old BCS, TCU would have lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl – Boise State! This game is just a coronation of something everyone already knows – Alabama, holders of three legs of Da Blog’s Grand Slam, will pick up the final leg and become Golden Bowl champion. Right?

TCU returns the opening kickoff to their own 40, and gain even more yardage when Alabama gets nailed for encroachment, the second straight year the Golden Bowl starts with the SEC team being nailed for encroachment before the first play from scrimmage. Last time Stafon Johnson got nailed behind the line; this year Joseph Turner gets out-of-bounds after getting just past midfield for the first. Turner picks up another two yards before Andy Dalton floats it out to Jeremy Kerley just past the marker. But the drive stalls: Tucker gets nailed behind the line, a toss to Bart Johnson just gets back to the line of scrimmage, and another pass attempt gets batted down at the line. With the ball at the 41, the Horned Frogs elect to punt, but the punt goes into the end zone.

Trent Richardson gains 16 yards on the pitch to put the Tide right into business. Mark Ingram is not as successful, only gaining one yard on his first carry, but six on his second, but gets overthrown on a third-down pass play, forcing the Tide to punt the ball back, a play that goes from the Tide 43 to the Frog 42. Matthew Tucker gets stopped at the line of scrimmage but Turner gains three, but Dalton scrambles back to the line of scrimmage to force another punt. Richardson gets runs of two and three yards before Greg McIlroy’s first completed pass of the day is to Colin Peek for a good ten yards. Ingram only gains one yard the next play, and when he’s given the ball again it’s nullified by a holding penalty. But that’s nothing compared to when McIlroy hands the ball off to Roy Upchurch only to see him lose the ball, giving TCU the ball on the Tide 43. But Turner gains two, Tucker only gets back to the line, Dalton throws an incompletion, and TCU punts the ball into the end zone again. The defenses are stout with a little over five minutes left in the first quarter.

Ingram gets a couple of two-yard gains, with Alabama saving a fumble on the second, but a screen pass to Marquis Maze doesn’t quite get back to the line, forcing another punt and another TCU short field. Tucker is given the ball on a draw and takes it up five yards, but that’s nothing compared to what happens when the ball is given to Edward Wesley: he immediately breaks past the defense and takes it 55 yards for the touchdown. TCU 7: Florida 0.

Alabama returns the ensuing kickoff to the 23, and Richardson goes nowhere on first down, Ingram only gains six, and Upchurch is stopped after one, forcing another punt. TCU, as on the last drive, gets the ball on their own 40, and gives the ball to Turner for five yards. Wesley gains only three yards this time but it sets up Turner to cross midfield and pick up the first down. Tucker gets stopped at the line to end the quarter.

Wesley gains two to start the quarter before Dalton connects with Kerley to the 27, the furthest downfield either team has run a play. Wesley gets stuffed at the line on first down and takes it for four on second, and Jercell Fort can only get three on third. But Ross Evans comes on and lets a 37-yard field goal attempt sail through the uprights, extending the lead. Alabama returns the ensuing kickoff to the 28, and Ingram immediately picks up 11 yards and the first down. Ingram picks up one the next play, Richardson picks up six on the draw, and Ingram just picks up the first down. Upchurch gets runs of threee and four yards, but on third and three Terry Grant can only gain one, and Alabama is forced to punt again. But they did manage to cross midfield, and their punter is able to pin the Frogs at the 8.

Fort gets a big 12-yard gain to give the Frogs some breathing room, but Turner only gets two, Tucker three, and Dalton overthrows his intended receiver on third down, and the ensuing punt is returned to the Alabama 47. Grant immediately breaks out a 20-yard run to put them at the 33. After Ingram, Richardson, and Grant each inch the ball a few yards closer, it’s 4th and 3 and Leigh Tiffin comes on for a 43-yard field goal attempt. The ball slips inside the upright and Alabama is back within a touchdown. The ensuing kickoff is caught at the 7 and returned to the 37, but Wesley, Fort and Dalton gain two, two, and three respectively, and Alabama gets the ball back at the same spot as before. Ingram gets nailed for a loss of five and a pass to Julio Jones just gets back to the line, but McIlroy throws it to Jones again and he breaks out a 30-yard run to the 28. Ingram takes it another six yards but McIlroy is forced to scramble for a yard on second and has his pass batted down on third, forcing a successful 38-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four.

TCU gets an even shorter kickoff, catching it at the 14, but only take it to the 35. Tucker and Dalton only gain a yard each and Dalton gets nailed for the only sack either side had all day, and once again Alabama gets the ball past their own 40. Ingram once again sees a short gain negated by holding, then sees McIlroy overthrow him on the play that counts. Ingram gets stuffed and McIlroy unsuccessfully lobs it up on third down. Dalton uses up the remaining time with one last hail-mary pass, but the Horned Frogs still head into the break up 10-6, although Alabama seems to have the momentum.

Alabama gets the ball on their own 29 to start the second half and immediately come running out the gate, with Ingram picking up six yards the first play from scrimmage. Two runs by Richardson pick up the first down, followed by a six-yard run of his own and another first down on an encroachment penalty. But while Ingram picks up a yard, Upchurch gets nailed behind midfield to make it 3rd and 12, and McIlroy throws an incompletion to force a punt. TCU is pinned on the 18, but Dalton calls his own number for five yards, followed by a 6-yard pickup by Tucker for the first. But Wesley gets nailed behind the line, Turner only gets back to the line, and Dalton is forced to scramble, forcing another punt. The punt is only returned to the 37 but Ingram immediately picks up 5 yards. Upchurch is stopped just short of the marker, setting up Ingram for another 5-yard run to just past midfield. Maze gets a screen pass that is stopped at the line, and Richardson picks up four before Ingram bursts through for 13 yards, putting the Tide at the 32. He gains another five yards to put them inside the 30, and Grant adds another two. But the toss to Colin Peek loses a yard, which may prove crucial when the Tide try a 43-yard field goal attempt that sails to the left, keeping the deficit at four instead of one.

But Turner and Tucker don’t do much and Dalton throws another incompletion, and the ensuing punt puts the Tide just barely behind midfield. But Grant only picks up two and Ingram one, and another toss to Peek doesn’t do anything, and the ensuing punt gets returned all the way to the 20 – another wasted opportunity. Turner pounds for 11 yards but Wesley, Fort, and Turner can’t combine for another first down before the quarter ends, giving TCU fourth and one. The punt, however, is only taken to the 35.

Ingram and Richardson don’t gain much but it’s enough to create third and two after an encroachment penalty, but Ingram only gets back to the line and Alabama punts again. This time TCU gets it on their own 32. Turner picks up a yard and Fort gets nailed for a loss of three, but Dalton connects with Johnson for 14 yards and the first. Turner and Tucker once again are stuffed and Dalton throws another incompletion, forcing yet another punt – this one only returned to the 26. Ingram gets 2, Upchurch gets 5, and Grant loses 2, and the ensuing punt is taken to the 44. TCU is suddenly winning the field position battle, which is not what Alabama wants exchanging three-and-outs and behind.

Turner picks up six yards to midfield, but Tucker only gains two and Turner goes nowhere, but the Tide get the ball back at the 21. Richardson gets nailed at the 16, but Ingram’s two-yarder sets up an encroachment penalty that nullifies the loss, setting up a pass to Maze for 14 yards and the first. But after Ingram gains four, Richardson and Upchurch are stalled, and with 4:52 left Alabama punts it back to TCU, who get it at the 33. Wesley gets the ball on two draw plays bracketing an incompletion, the second for 12 yards, but Turner, Fort, and Dalton get nowhere, and Alabama gets one last chance to come back from the 26 with two minutes left.

The drive starts well, as Ingram picks up 14 immediately on a draw play that gets out of bounds. But Richardson loses three yards, and McIlroy can’t find anyone downfield and scrambles out of bounds at the line of scrimmage, setting up third and 13 with 1:43 left on the 37. Incredibly, Nick Saban returns to the run, and even after Grant is stuffed behind the line to set up fourth and 14, calls a draw play to Grant. Alabama gives the ball back with 1:36 left and two timeouts, and they use them for a heroic stop. Dalton takes off himself to gain two – timeout, 1:32 left. Wesley picks up two – timeout, 1:28 left. Fort is stopped at the line, and TCU, caught in “no man’s land”, only runs the clock down to one minute before Dalton takes the ball and is stopped at the 35, not far from where Alabama left off.

This time Saban entrusts McIlroy with the game, and he doesn’t disappoint, hitting Peek at the marker, and spiking the ball to stop the clock with 37 seconds left. McIlroy steps back, quickly throws it to Richardson… out of his reach. 31 seconds. McIlroy is forced out of the pocket and sprints out of bounds for a meaningless yard. 25 seconds, fourth and nine, ball game comes down to this play. McIlroy steps back and stays in the pocket for several seconds. Finally he throws it up to Peek…

…and over his head.

Dalton takes victory formation to seal Alabama’s doom and a stunning victory for college football’s “little guys”. Unsurprisingly for such a run- and defense-heavy game, it’s a running back that takes MVP, and Wesley gets it almost by default for by far the longest play of the game, and only touchdown. He ran the ball 10 more times for 31 more yards, but the play everyone will remember was the one that was key to the game, the only time anyone seemed to figure out the other’s defense.
Final score: TCU 10, Florida 6

2009 Golden Bowl Tournament: Sugar Bowl Semifinal

Sugar Bowl: #6 TCU v. #2 Cincinnati
In real life, the impact of this game, as the “non-traditional” championship game compared to the “traditionalist” Rose Bowl, has been blunted by both teams losing their bowl games. And since TCU beat Florida (in the quarters), who beat Cincinnati (in real life), it would seem to suggest TCU will be the favorite. Which is exactly what happened – and they did it in such a way that, without the knowledge that the real life Horned Frogs lost to Boise State and combined with the convincing quarterfinal win over Florida, it may be hard to call the Rose Bowl winner a convincing favorite. TCU sure doesn’t look like a mid-major team.

Cincinnati had the ball to start the game, and Tony Pike had a 15-yard completion to Mardy Gilyard on second down, followed by an Isaiah Pead run to midfield for six yards, but he was stopped behind the line on second down and the Bearcats were forced to punt. TCU went three-and-out with a fumble and Cincinnati looked to have the early momentum. But they went three-and-out as well, and on the Frogs’ next play from scrimmage Joseph Turner pounded ahead for an 18-yard gain, putting TCU across midfield after a face mask penalty. TCU couldn’t do anything and was forced to punt, but Cincinnati didn’t get very far either despite an 11-yard Pead run and an 8-yard run by Jacob Ramsey that both went for first downs. TCU went three-and-out again, but Pike was picked on the very next play, and TCU had the momentum for good. Andy Dalton made a long completion to Jeremy Kerley, and Matt Tucker pounded ahead for a six-yard touchdown to take the early lead. The teams traded three-and-outs across the quarter break.

Cincinnati managed to pick up a first down but a big sack of Pike helped force a punt despite crossing midfield. A Dalton pass to Evan Frosch and 7-yard Tucker run crossed midfield, but the drive stalled and TCU punted the ball back. But after the defense forces yet another three-and-out, the ensuing punt is returned almost to midfield, and a completion to Bart Johnson for 23 yards pretty much puts the Horned Frogs in field goal range, allowing them to take a 10-point lead. The Bearcats then engage in their most productive drive of the half: after a second down sack pinned the Bearcats behind their own 20, Pike makes a 27-yard completion to Gilyard and follows that up with a 15-yard Pead run and a 17-yard completion to Ben Guidugli that puts them inside the 30. But a Ramsey 8-yard run is negated by an illegal motion penalty the following play, and Pike is sacked out of field goal range on third down, forcing a turnover on downs. Dalton makes a long completion to Logan Brock but can’t do anything with it, but while Guidugli makes a long completion there isn’t enough time to do anything with it. Cincinnati enters the break down 10-0 and unable to so much as attempt a field goal, and pundits note that TCU is winning the game because their defense is outplaying the Bearcat defense.

TCU gets the ball to start the second half and makes the most of it, the highlights being a long completion to Kerley and Dalton dancing inside the pylon for eight yards, ultimately setting up a field goal that gives TCU a 13-point lead that seems twice that size. Things seem to go well for Cincinnati at first as well, with a 25-yard completion to DJ Woods, but another pass to Armon Binns results in what replay confirms as a fumble, giving TCU the ball right back. TCU can’t do much more than a pass to Johnson across midfield, and punts the ball into the end zone, starting another productive Bearcat drive, starting with another long completion to Gilyard, 17 yards on third and 12. Jamar Howard gets involved for the next first down, and Gilyard makes a nine-yard completion for another first down, but once again the Horned Frogs lock down inside the 40 and force Cincinnati to go for it on fourth down, this time getting a sack that gives TCU great field position to start the final period. By the end of the day, Pike is sacked nine times by eight different players and, combined with four rushing attempts, loses a total of a whopping 62 yards on the ground by himself. Turner would be named the MVP for his 17 rushes for 81 yards and a touchdown, emblematic of TCU’s overall rushing success, but the defense is the real star of the day.

TCU misses the field goal created by the turnover, but Pike throws his second interception, Ross Evans quickly redeems himself, and TCU, as though they weren’t in command already, puts the game away for the remainder of the final period, scoring a touchdown after Cincinnati punts on their next drive only to see it returned inside the 30, and scoring another touchdown, Turner’s, later on. Cincinnati is unable to score all day, or even attempt a field goal, and notice is served to Alabama and Texas that they do not have the de facto national championship game.
Final score: TCU 30, Cincinnati 0

Preview of the Golden Bowl coming either if and when I simulate a bowl only affected by the Golden Bowl Tournament, or when posting my final rankings.

2009 Golden Bowl Tournament Quarterfinals

#8 Miami (FL) v. #1 Alabama
Mark Ingram showed everyone why he won the Heisman four minutes into the game when he broke out a 71-yard touchdown run. But that seemed to be the exception and not the rule. Jacory Harris was six-for-six on the ensuing drive and got the Hurricanes close enough for a 41-yard field goal, which was made. The Canes defense held Bama to a three-and-out, and on the ensuing drive, the Tide was called for unnecessary roughness, which helped set up a touchdown to take the lead entering the second quarter. It would be the last time Miami scored. The Tide defense buckled down and not only forced a three-and-out on Miami’s next drive, they returned the ensuing punt into Canes territory, setting up a Trent Richardson touchdown – although the extra point was shanked.

Miami picked up two first downs the rest of the half and another big punt return set up a Tide field goal to give Alabama a 16-10 halftime lead, still not insurmountable, and indeed Brad Smelley coughs up the football on Alabama’s first drive of the second half. But the defense forces yet another three-and-out, Bama gets another big punt return (though Leigh Tiffin can’t convert from 50 this time), and on Bama’s next drive a big completion to Darius Hanks and a 16-yard Richardson run helps set up a successful try from 28 yards. Then Bama forces another three-and-out and blocks the punt outright, setting up an Ingram touchdown and sending people filing for the exits, even with Miami only down two scores. Miami finally picks up a first down late in the quarter but can’t do anything with it, and their only serious comeback attempt starts with 4:22 left on the clock, after Bama has added another touchdown. Harris drives the Canes to the Tide 24, but gets picked off on fourth down. Ingram is the player of the game again with 205 yards on 27 carries, including two of over 20 yards, and two touchdowns.
Final score: Miami (FL) 10, Alabama 33

#7 Iowa v. #2 Cincinnati
So apparently if Cincinnati were playing for the national championship Brian Kelly would have continued coaching the Bearcats and made Notre Dame wait. One more example of how the Golden Bowl changes college football history, and Exhibit A for how the BCS keeps smaller schools down. And good thing, because like Cincinnati’s quarterfinal game last year, the Bearcats would need everything they could get.

Iowa returns the opening kickoff to the 37 and picks up a first down and moves into Bearcat territory. But the drive is stuffed, Iowa punts, and Tony Pike goes 4-for-5 on the ensuing 71-yard field goal drive. Iowa is pinned at the 19, called for holding, and forced to punt, which the Bearcats return to the 43, setting up a 41-yard field goal attempt. The kick is no good, but Ricky Stanzi gets picked off and the Bearcats end the quarter with first-and-ten on the Hawkeye 16 and about to win this one going away. But Pike can’t complete three straight passes and the Bearcats are forced to settle for a field goal. No problem: the defense has the Hawkeyes bottled up… except they don’t. Stanzi goes 4-for-4 with two passes of over 20 yards as he leads the Hawkeyes on a 79-yard touchdown drive. Iowa 7: Cincinnati 6.

Pike gets a big completion to Mardy Gilyard for the first down, but once again fails to complete three straight passes and is forced to punt. Iowa responds by driving all the way to the Bearcat 17, where Daniel Murray shanks a 34-yard field goal wide left. Suddenly the Hawkeyes seem to have all the momentum in the quarter. Pike leads the Bearcats on a long drive, going 6 for his first 7 passes en route to the Hawkeye 15, but gets picked off and, despite another missed Murray field goal to end the half (this one from 58 yards), Iowa leads Cincinnati heading into the break.

Another shock awaits to start the second half: Zach Collaros taking over at quarterback. All the stories of how Kelly’s tough love saved Pike’s career, and it’s looking to have a disappointing ending. After the kickoff is returned inside the Bearcat 40, Collaros goes 4 for 5 and completes the Bearcats’ first touchdown, retaking a 13-7 lead. Iowa responds on their next drive: pinned on their own 10 by a holding penalty on the kickoff, Adam Robinson immediately breaks off a 49-yard run, helping set up a 31-yard field goal that makes it through the uprights this time. After the ensuing kickoff is returned inside the 40 again, Kelly puts Pike back in, and he promptly completes long passes to Gilyard and Ben Guidugli to put the ball at the 27. The next three plays, though, are an incompletion, a scramble, and an incompletion, and to add insult to injury the 42-yard field goal attempt bounces off the upright.

Iowa strikes right back with long runs by Robinson and Brandon Wegher, but for the last four minutes of the quarter the quarterbacks catch interception fever. Stanzi gets picked when the Hawkeyes have made it to the Bearcat 11, and a long completion to Armon Binns and unnecessary roughness penalty against the Hawkeyes basically put the Bearcats inside Iowa territory again, but Pike throws a pick of his own… only for Stanzi to get picked again on the very next play. Pike starts the next quarter with a 14-yard completion to Gilyard to set up first and goal, but once again misses both of his pass attempts, forcing a field goal. Cincinnati still leads 16-10, but how tempted must Kelly be to put Collaros back in?

Stanzi completes three out of three passes on the ensuing drive and Paki O’Meara gets a huge 14 yard run to the 30, but after that the drive stalls and the 39-yard field goal attempt doesn’t make it. Pike’s job now is simply to run as much time off the clock as he can, which he and the running game do admirably. It’s a surprisingly pass-heavy drive, but Pike’s receivers are smart enough to stay inbounds, it’s hard to blame the stall of the drive on Pike, and once the 46-yard field goal splits the uprights to increase the lead to nine, there’s only 5:43 left to make up a two-score deficit. But Iowa’s ensuing drive starts beautifully: Stanzi to Marvin McNutt, 12 yards, first down. Wegher picks up 15 yards on a draw, first down. Iowa runs the same play and gets stopped for two yards, but the defense gets flagged for unnecessary roughness: 15 yards, automatic first down. Just like that, Iowa has the ball on the 20 with 4:38 left. Stanzi throws his first two passes not caught by a member of either team  since 8:11 remained in the third quarter, but completes it on third down to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who just stretches across the first-down marker. One Robinson run later, and Iowa is within two.

With four minutes left, Kirk Ferentz shows a tremendous amount of trust in his defense – despite the fact that they have typically only stopped Pike when they got close to the end zone – by kicking the ball away. This will be one of the most important drives of the game. Jacob Ramsey starts the clock-milking with a 7-yard draw, and Pike picks up the first down with an 11-yard completion to Robinson – already a minute has gone off the clock. Pike throws an incompletion, but then hits Marcus Barnett to midfield two yards short of the marker, and Isaiah Pead picks up another 13 yards for the first down. With less than two minutes left, Iowa calls one of its two remaining timeouts after Ramsey picks up another six yards, setting up 2nd and 4. Pike steps back to pass, hands the ball off to Pead…

…who promptly breaks through the defense for 13 yards.

There will be many stories told about the game: Gilyard’s 130 yards on just seven catches, the Hawkeye defense nearly justifying Big Ten love and big East hate, questions as to whether Collaros will get more playing time in the next round, Ferentz’s gamble that didn’t pay off. But the bottom line is, Cincinnati is in the next round, and Iowa is not… and like a lot of things about the Hawkeyes’ season, it doesn’t matter how they got there.
Final score: Iowa 17, Cincinnati 19

#6 TCU v. #3 Florida
The big breaking news story the day of the game is Urban Meyer’s decision to leave Florida once the Gators are done playing. Meyer would soften his position the next day to a “leave of absence”, but people don’t know that yet, and as far as anyone knows this isn’t just Tim Tebow’s last game in the Swamp, but Meyer’s as well, and the Gators owe it to everyone in attendance to give them a great game.

They don’t get it.

Oh, for most of the way it’s close. But the tone was really set on the opening drive when Andy Dalton hit Bart Johnson for 35 yards, followed by Matthew Tucker opening up a 37-yard touchdown run. After that it becomes a defensive battle, with neither team doing much of anything until three minutes into the second period, when Chris Rainey broke open a 42-yard touchdown run to tie the game. But TCU gets the ball near the 40 on the ensuing kickoff and Joseph Turner breaks open a 55-yard run to the 7, seemingly setting up an easy touchdown, but Matthew Tucker gets nailed behind the line on third and goal from the 4 to force a field goal to re-take the lead. Another 55-yard run, this time by Tucker, sets up another field goal to increase the lead to six, and the main reason TCU doesn’t get another on the next drive is because the punt that set it up pinned them at the two. TCU misses another field goal attempt before the half, but the momentum is clearly in the Horned Frogs’ favor.

On TCU’s first drive of the half, helped by big runs from Turner and Ed Wesley, the Frogs tack on another field goal. Tebow calls his own number on a draw play on the Gators’ first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, picking up 23 yards, but it starts nothing. The teams trade three-and-outs for most of the rest of the quarter, before a TCU drive picks up some first downs but stalls at midfield. But they return Florida’s punt back to midfield, and a 23-yard completion from Dalton to Wesley helps set up a touchdown that puts the Horned Frogs up 16 and effectively puts the game away. After the teams trade three-and-outs, Tebow attempts to run for the first down on 4th and 5, but gets nowhere, setting up a field goal. Turner tacks on a 27-yard touchdown run late to add more insult to injury – appropriate that the man who ran 18 times for 155 yards would add a touchdown as well. The Gators finally get a drive going, but it’s 33-7 with 2:31 left, and Tebow is shown crying on the sidelines as Dalton takes the final knees, justifying the presence of the little guys once and for all.
Final score: TCU 33, Florida 7

#13 Boise State v. #5 Texas
Three undefeateds had already moved on, and an undefeated team was going to be the national champion. But the loser of this game wasn’t going to lose their undefeated status easily.

On the second play from scrimmage, Tre Newton broke open a 56-yard run to the Bronco 14, but the Longhorns could do nothing with it and settled for a field goal. They were better the next drive after returning a punt to their own  44, resulting in Newton pounding the rock for a 14-yard touchdown run. Boise struck back when Kellen Moore connected with Kirby Moore for 32 yards, setting up a field goal of their own, but a long pass from Colt McCoy to Malcolm Williams that was only brought down on the 4 set up another touchdown, giving Texas a 17-3 lead. But anyone thinking the Broncos would take this lying down were in for a rude awakening when Doug Masrtin broke off a 64-yard touchdown run of his own. That was just the first quarter; anyone expecting an offensive shootout seemed vindicated when McCoy connected with Vondrell McGee for 34 yards early in the second, allowing McCoy to go the remaining 9 yards himself, only to see Boise start the next drive on the 39, and Kellen Moore connect with Kyle Efaw for another big gain, setting up another field goal. No worries: McCoy connects with Jordan Shipley for 35 yards en route to a field goal of their own. Texas leads 27-13 and there’s still five minutes left in the first half.

But neither team scores before halftime, and the game becomes downright defensive in the third quarter. Neither team collects a first down until McCoy connects with James Kirkendoll over four minutes in; a later 25-yard pass to Shipley helps set up a field goal, the only score of the quarter for either side. After another Boise three-and-out, McCoy leads Texas on another long drive that puts the Longhorns on the Bronco 9 to end the quarter, seemingly about to put an already 17-point game away for good. But something about the quarter break awakens the Broncos, and on the first play of the new quarter, McCoy gets picked off and Kyle Wilson makes it all the way to his own 22 before being tackled. Jeremy Avery proceeds to break off a 40-yard touchdown run. McCoy is intercepted again, and Avery breaks off another 40-yard touchdown run. Boise State 27: Texas 30.

Thus begins the most crucial drive of the game, with McCoy needing to bleed as much of the 11 minutes left on the clock as he can without losing the football. McGee gets stuffed on first down, so McCoy connects with Shipley for gains of ten and nine yards. Newton picks up the first down, then McCoy returns to the air, connecting with Cody Johnson for seven yards, then McCoy is forced out of the pocket and collects a yard himself. Johnson picks up the first down, then McGee collects another four yards and McCoy connects with Dan Buckner for ten and Shipley for twelve. Two plays later, McGee finishes off the remaining ten yards, putting the lead back at ten with 5:26 left. The Broncos can’t let Texas get the ball again.

The drive doesn’t start off well, but Titus Young has an 18-yard catch on fourth down that keeps it alive, followed by another 12-yard catch by Austin Pettis on second. But on the next second down, Kellen Moore is picked off. A few first downs later, and Texas escapes Austin with a game that, depending on your point of view, was closer than the final score indicated or not as close as the final score. Shipley had 147 yards on 10 catches, but Avery had two big touchdown runs – both were stars on this night, even as the quarterbacks shined brightly.
Final score: Boise State 27, Texas 37 (This is why I’m not quite agreeing with the simulation’s pick of Avery as the player of the game, because when it comes to mishandling knees, this one takes the cake. So McCoy takes a first-down snap with 2:01 left and gets four on a pass to Kirkendoll, no doubt taking several seconds off the clock. I can buy that. Then on second down, McCoy takes a knee… with 90, not 80, seconds left. Then, even though his idiocy means he can no longer run out the clock, he takes another knee on third down, leaving Texas to kick a field goal. Then Avery manages to break off a 50-yard run to set up a touchdown in the remaining time. Thankfully Texas recovers the ensuing onside kick to end this madness, but this is the closest WhatIfSports has gotten to giving me a Miracle in the Meadowlands situation, and one of these days it’s going to give me one for real. I mean, c’mon man! I don’t know how hard it is to program the simulator to handle knees right, but surely it can’t be that hard to make it figure out that under no circumstances should a knee be taken on second down with more than 80 seconds left on the clock!)

Semifinal matchups:

Rose Bowl: #5 Texas v. #1 Alabama
Procrastination saves the day! Off to the Capitol One and Holiday bowls with Ohio State and Oregon, because I still won’t be simulating this even though the real game is a week later. Two top defenses (even though Boise State cracked it) and two Heisman contenders.

Sugar Bowl: #6 TCU v. #2 Cincinnati
The game everyone would rather have happened for real rather than Florida-Cincinnati or TCU-Boise State. Two top-notch offenses square off, but TCU has the defense to back it up, a defense that held the mighty Tim Tebow to seven points. This could be an epic Golden Bowl from a posting perspective, because it’ll be the two biggest real-life claimants to a national title left (assuming Boise doesn’t score a real-life upset).

Non-semifinal BCS bowls:
Cotton Bowl: Iowa v. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Miami (FL) v. Florida