The most strident critics craved anarchy, a farewell overdose of controversy for the Bowl Championship Series. Come Sunday, however, after 15 weeks of unimaginable insanity, the most-deserving teams for the national title game were indisputable: Florida State and Auburn.
But for those who prefer a side of chaos with their college football, hope beckons: next season's advent of a four-team playoff.
After 16 years of the BCS, the new format will be more inclusive and a marked upgrade. But as this season portends, brace for considerable debate.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- Virginia Tech heads west to Sun Bowl vs. UCLA
- Teel Time: Florida State, Auburn clearly best, but remainder of top five cloudy
- Teel Time: Virginia Tech-UCLA Sun Bowl part of ACC's historically challenging postseason
- College Sports
- Stanford Cardinal
- Michigan State Spartans
See more topics »
Indeed, plugging 2013's results into the playoff, plus the ACC's new bowl lineup, is as complicated as it is fun.
The first step is selecting the playoff teams, a task assigned to a 13-member committee chaired by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and graced by luminaries such as Archie Manning and Condoleezza Rice.
Florida State, Auburn and Alabama would be clear choices. The fourth spot would prompt as much heated debate among the panel, media and fans as any diplomatic maze Rice encountered at Foggy Bottom.
For example, Michigan State defeated previously undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, and the Spartans' only loss was on the road, by four points, to 8-4 Notre Dame. But the Big Ten is widely regarded as the weakest of the five power conferences this year, and only two of Michigan State's conquests, Michigan and Ohio State, were ranked at kickoff — the Wolverines since have tumbled out of the top 25.
Baylor won the Big 12 outright but played a tame non-conference schedule — Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana Monroe — and lost at 10-2 Oklahoma State by 32. The Bears defeated two ranked teams, Oklahoma and Texas — the Sooners remain so.
Stanford is the most curious case, champion of a conference, the Pacific 12, that this season is superior to the Big 12 and Big Ten. The Cardinal flunked road tests at 5-7 Utah and 9-4 Southern California by a combined nine points, and that first setback could be a deal-breaker in many minds.
But Stanford defeated seven ranked teams: Arizona State twice, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, UCLA and Notre Dame. That's more than Michigan State, Baylor and Alabama (two apiece) combined — among those victims, Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA remain in the top 25.
So while a selection committee might differ, I'm picking Stanford as the fourth playoff team for our exercise, leaving the Cardinal to confront top-seeded Florida State in a national semifinal to be contested, by rotation next season, in the Rose Bowl.
That means Alabama and Auburn, in a rematch of their epic Iron Bowl of two Saturdays ago, would clash in a semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. Paul Finebaum's head might explode.
But the panel's work would not be done. The College Football Playoff is also charged with creating four other bowl matchups — next season's will be the Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach (now Chick-fil-A).
Having its champion in a playoff semifinal contested elsewhere, the ACC would be guaranteed a team in the Orange Bowl, and that would be 10-2 Clemson. The Tigers would face the highest-ranked opponent available from among the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Notre Dame, in this case 12-1 Ohio State, the same matchup as the BCS created.
The other pairings then might fall like this: Michigan State-Oregon in the Fiesta, Baylor-Missouri in the Cotton, and South Carolina-Central Florida in the Peach. The highest-rated champion from the non-power conferences is guaranteed a spot in these games, and the American Athletic's UCF would be that team.
Had the selection committee chosen Michigan State instead of Stanford for the playoff semifinals, then the Cardinal would have moved to the Fiesta to face Missouri, with Oregon shifting to the Cotton against Baylor.
Orlando's Russell Athletic Bowl has the top pick of ACC teams after the playoff, so with Florida State and Clemson unavailable, it would have chosen between 10-3 Duke and 9-3 Miami to face a Big 12 opponent. Based on their victory over the Hurricanes, let's pair the Blue Devils against Oklahoma.
Miami, Virginia Tech (8-4), Georgia Tech (7-5) and Boston College (7-5) then would be the probable teams to fill ACC slots in the Belk, Sun, Pinstripe and Gator or Music City. There's no pecking order here, just a pool that the conference and bowls sort out.
With an in-state team available, here's guessing the Gator would take Miami to play a SEC squad, perhaps Georgia. Boston College to Yankee Stadium's Pinstripe Bowl makes geographic sense, so pencil in the Eagles to face a Big Ten opponent such as Michigan.
That would leave Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech for the Belk in Charlotte versus the SEC and Sun in El Paso, Texas, against the Pac-12. Since the Yellow Jackets basked in the Sun in 2011 and '12, the Hokies would have headed west were the new format in place this season, as they are under the current regime.
So let's call it Virginia Tech-UCLA in the Sun, and Georgia Tech-Vanderbilt in the Belk, with North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, all 6-6, and 7-5 Maryland to haggle over the Military Bowl against the American Athletic, and a to-be-named Detroit bowl versus the Big Ten.
If the ACC had more eligible teams than bowls, like this season, it would look to fill spots vacated by conferences with fewer eligible teams than expected.
Confused? Not to worry. We've got a year to figure out a format that's far more nuanced and compelling than the BCS.