After a little bit of a hiatus, it is finally time for the final installment of this Cloud 9 Series, inspired by a social media conversation between myself, stat guru Sam Drew, and a few others. The concept was simple from the get-go, scrap the bowl system and theorize a 16 team-playoff.
To keep it interesting, Sam carefully calculated a system to rank the top teams and set a criteria to disallow teams with over the threshold of allowable losses, whereas I just winged it, like an executive that is habitually showing up 5 minutes late to important meetings with wet hair and mismatched socks. My non-scientific ways allowed me to see something wasn’t right, like an intraconference pairing or regular season rematch in the opening round. One of the things that kept looming was the potential for an opening round snoozer, a rematch of last year’s Orange Bowl between Northern Illinois and Florida State, but maneuvering would have been difficult, if we were talking about demoting a 1-seed or changing a low-seed into the role of sacrificial lamb for the sake of parity.
I don’t care to be an elitist, cartel-promoting jerk, but getting the mid-majors out of the way makes for a better tournament, even if the real purpose of going 16-deep is to keep an open mind to their potential. Obviously, undefeated hasn’t been good enough for the have-nots, so to speak, to participate in the 1-game playoff that we now know as the BCS National Championship, though we can wonder day and night what would have happened if Texas ran out of time or missed that kick against Nebraska in 2009. TCU and Cincinnati were both undefeated, and theoretically next in line, but Cincinnati was technically in a qualifying league at the time.
No need for me to dispute Sam’s 1-16 rankings this time around, however, we can just compare the final rankings to each team’s bowl pairing, and weigh whether these 16 teams are better or worse off with reality or our hypothetical playoff. Keep in mind, these are Round 1 matchups in a 4-week tournament.
(16) Wisconsin at (1) Florida State
Wisconsin is actually paired with South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. Wisconsin played an FCS school, a poor MAC school, and Arizona State in non-conference play, but technically lost their game in Tempe, even though you could apply mitigating circumstances of poor on-field officiating to erase that. It doesn’t help their case that they lost their biggest game of the year, at Ohio State, and you could dismiss them as a contender altogether for losing to Penn State. Their best win ends up being against at Minnesota or at home against BYU, but they are in it deep with South Carolina in Orlando, any way you look at it.
For Better or For Worse: Better with the Capital One Bowl; they have an outside chance of upsetting South Carolina, but no such chance would await them in Tallahasse on the road to a title.
Florida State will not have an easy time with Auburn, but I see Auburn having the same type of problems that Florida and Clemson had, not that Florida should be a bench-mark of any sort this season. I think it’s fair to say that they’d end up playing Auburn anyways, but best possible seed would put Missouri and Alabama in the way, after they took care of the Badgers.
For Better or For Worse: Better with a one-game playoff than a four-game playoff, which could include Alabama and Auburn in consecutive weeks. Jimbo Fisher says “no thank you”.
(9) Missouri at (8) South Carolina
Missouri wouldn’t be opening with South Carolina, if it were up to me, but I committed to using Sam’s copious research that netted these rankings, exclusively for the purpose of this fun, little series. I have my doubts about the perception of teams in the old Big XII North, but it isn’t like Missouri was a terrible team before emigrating out of the conference two years ago. All that aside, they were good this year, and their only regular season loss came with their very capable, yet distinct #2 on the depth chart at quarterback. They even scored a lot of points on Auburn in a loss. As it stands, they’ll tango with their old dance partner from Stillwater and the Big XII in the Cotton Bowl, which doesn’t quite have the curb appeal of a BCS game, but it’s as close you get to it, without actually being in it.
For Better or For Worse: They’re going to be worse off going to Dallas than they would be with a rematch with the team from the other Columbia. In Round 2, it’s likely that they would see Florida State, and they have as a good chance against them as any other team in the field. They, as a #9 seed, feed the argument of the pro-BCS crowd about dilluting the regular season, since they could win it all and render two losses to other tournament teams as obsolete.
South Carolina has losses to Georgia and Tennessee, which are somewhat inexcusable and they are the reason this team isn’t in the BCS conversation at all. Maybe wins, however close they were, over Missouri and Clemson should wipe the slate clean for Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks. They also have a win over BCS-bound Central Florida, but their SEC pedigree needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since you aren’t going to find an Auburn, Alabama, LSU, or Texas A & M on their 2013 schedule.
For Better or For Worse: This team is much better off with a one game showcase against Wisconsin than this playoff scenario. They scraped and clawed to beat Missouri at their own place; a sequel would not be in their best interest, but they’d love to be playing Wisconsin in a quarterfinal than a credit card inspired New Year’s Day game. They’d need a lot of upsets for the playoff system to be a good alternative in 2013, if you ask me.
(12) Oklahoma at (5) Michigan State
Oklahoma has become such an afterthought in my mind that they fly under the RADAR, and I’m left to question how they are in the field and the actual BCS, but they were sneaky good this year. Granted, it didn’t show against Texas and Baylor, and they’re in the Sugar Bowl because they’re a better draw than Oklahoma State; of course, it helps that everyone still had the aftertaste of their win at Bedlam on the top of their minds when determining who was in the money.
For Better or For Worse: It’s better this way, tis nobler in the mind to lose to Alabama than to Michigan State. This isn’t basketball, so don’t expect any 12 versus 5 miracles.
Michigan State has their toughest test in their next game against Stanford in the Granddaddy of Them All, but they convinced a lot people in their most recent outing with Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Losing to Notre Dame doesn’t help their cause, and you have to believe they are across the sideline from Florida State if they had their running game in tune, when they lost in South Bend back in September. They managed to avoid Wisconsin in the regular season, but a 29-6 rout of their in-state rival from Ann Arbor was a statement, especially when you compare it to the almighty Buckeyes escape in the Wolverines regular season finale.
For Better or For Worse: It’s probably a wash, considering the rich tradition of the Rose Bowl, and the fact that the Spartans have not been there since 1988, the Bowl game is a great thing for the school in East Lansing. However, the longer this current team gets to play, the better, so ultimately a 1-game exhibition is worse than the potential of being the Big Ten’s first national champ in over a decade.
(13) Oklahoma State at (4) Stanford
Oklahoma State dropped a thriller to the team from Norman the last time they took the field, and it’s a shame for them, because it cost them a Big XII title. Down the stretch, they knocked off Texas and destroyed Baylor, crushing their championship dreams. An early, unexplainable loss to West Virginia would haunt them, after the Sooners outlasted them at Bedlam. The Pokes are a team that could surprise in a tournament format, but may not even get Top 10 consideration with a Cotton Bowl win over Missouri.
For Better or For Worse: It’s difficult to imagine any scenario where the Cotton Bowl, in its present tense, is a better scenario than a series of games that might result in a national championship. So, reality is worse; it’s much, much worse.
Stanford has had its problems staying out of its own way this season, and they’re prone to falling back into that trap at any point in time. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that they’re really good when that doesn’t happen. They might be able to beat Florida State, and they should be a little bit better than Michigan State in reality, but the Rose Bowl is absolutely a consolation, not a reward for this Stanford team in their fourth straight BCS bowl.
For Better or For Worse:With no intended disrespect towards the Rose Bowl, a match they could encounter in the second round anyways, if chalk holds up, a 16-team tournament would be perfect for a team like Stanford to rebound. You should have a legitimate chance to show whether or not you’re the best team in the country.
(14) Clemson at (3) Alabama
Clemson isn’t a bad team because Florida State destroyed them at home. They aren’t a bad team for losing to South Carolina, and they aren’t a bad team because Georgia didn’t have a killer season after losing to the Tigers in the season opener. The truth is, while beating up on the rest of the ACC doesn’t seem special to anyone who follows this game closely, it’s much better to be Clemson than Miami, Virginia Tech, or even Boston College, who may have been the best team Dabo Swinney’s team defeated. Ohio State is the perfect opponent for Clemson, a winnable game that is far from a given.
For Better or For Worse: The Orange Bowl is better for this team; it’s a one game season and they have demons to exorcise, 70 point Orange Bowl demons. They bounced back with a win over LSU in last year’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but being back in the BCS is the key for Clemson. An opening round exit, after losing to Florida State and South Carolina for a second straight year would represent regression, and Alabama would be happy to contribute to their regression.
Alabama really has it good these days. They can do no wrong under Nick Saban in the bowls. They either win crystal footballs, make a statement in lower-tier bowl games, or justify any disappointment with the “they didn’t want to be there” defense. It’s still possible that they’re the best team in the country, considering I respect 6 point loss to Auburn more than a double-digit loss to LSU, but this season is what it is. My question is, does it cheapen the entertainment value of the Iron Bowl, if Alabama can still play their way back to the title in the same way a team like Auburn can overcome a mid-season loss? I say no, but proponents of the existing system would sing another tune.
For Better or For Worse: For Alabama, being stuck in an undercard match with Oklahoma, while the school in that farm town plays for a title in Pasadena is worse. For the teams in that game, and anyone that doesn’t have to face an angry Crimson Tide, it’s better.
(11) Arizona State at (6) Baylor
Arizona State, in their second year playing for Todd Graham, had one of their best seasons in school history. SurFe, they had some problems with Stanford (twice) and Notre Dame’s physical play in the trenches, but they really wiped the floor with everyone else on their conference slate, a slate that didn’t include Oregon. A loss in the Pac-12 Championship matches them up with a 7-5 Texas Tech in San Diego a few days before New Years, not exactly the post-season test that allows them to prove much.
For Better or For Worse: This particular bowl game is worse, but the Rose Bowl wouldn’t have been. The sentiment that these Sun Devils aren’t ready for prime time holds water. They create the type of match-up issues for Baylor that Oklahoma State did, so they can take down Baylor. A Round 2 meeting with Alabama would be nightmarish, but a great experience for ASU nonetheless.
Baylor is an exciting team, and just because I think the Sun Devils can take them down, it doesn’t mean I intend to slight them. Bryce Petty has done it with the walking wounded around him, but they have plenty of weapons to accompany Petty’s million dollar arm. After a dominant Thursday night performance against eventual Big XII runner-up Oklahoma, a trip to Stillwater was all that stood in their way. Unfortunately, it did stand in their way. A little help from the Sooners and a stadium-closing victory over Texas put them in the Fiesta Bowl, for what promises to be a fun shootout in the desert against Central Florida, even if the Knights have that stigma of being a “directional” team.
For Better or For Worse: The Fiesta Bowl is a better end-game for Baylor, but any big game for the school in Waco would be progress. For this team, a victory over UCF in Glendale would serve as an outstanding finish, even though I’d love to see Art Briles game-plan week after week for the high quality teams they’d see in this tournament, if they could survive and advance.
(10) Oregon at (7) Ohio State
Oregon didn’t want to be in the Rose Bowl, and lucky for them, the Rose Bowl didn’t burden them with an invite this year. To be fair, it was just a couple of quotes that may have been taken out of context, but might just represent the sizzle of the Ducks that may outweigh any real substance. They got beaten in Palo Alto, like they stole something, and when Stanford offered them a reprieve the Pac-12 North with a loss at USC, Arizona beat them 42-16 in Tucson. They’ll meet Texas in San Antonio, Mack Brown’s last as the head coach in Austin, but you have to wonder if Mark Helfrich will have them motivated to play in this non-Rose Bowl.
For Better or For Worse: No offense to San Antonio or the Alamo Bowl, but another shot at the Buckeyes in a win or go home game would be awesome, even if Chip Kelly and everyone on that 2009 Ducks squad is long gone. I’m not sure Oregon could win four, but they could make some noise. That’s a certainty.
Ohio State has a bad taste from the Big Ten Championship, a 10-point loss to Michigan State that ended a 24-game winning streak for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. They could go in one of two directions, as they prepare to take on Clemson in the Orange Bowl. We don’t know what Meyer’s tendencies are after a loss, because he’s never had to rebound from a loss as the head coach for Ohio State, so we’ll see if they’re fired up about the defeat or they stay flat after the devastation of missing out on a conference title and a crack at the crystal football.
For Better or For Worse: A date with Clemson in Miami for the Orange Bowl is nothing to shake your head at, but Urban Meyer isn’t on board to beat Michigan and simply win bowl games; he’s there to win titles. Best possible seeds between the Buckeyes and the promised land would be Auburn, Alabama, and Florida State; Meyer is familiar with all 3, but does he have the horses to take them all down? The Orange Bowl would be worse for them.
(15) Central Florida at (2) Auburn
Central Florida denied us the opportunity to see Teddy Bridgewater on the big stage, a stage bigger than an underwhelming bowl game with a disappointing Miami team, but they’re the American Athletic Conference champs, so let’s respect them for what they are. What they are is a team that’s a 3-point loss at South Carolina from being perfect; forget the fact they they’re only a few points from some disappointing losses to Temple and Houston. Blake Bortels is worth the price of admission, and they shouldn’t be as overlooked as they are for their Fiesta Bowl match up with Baylor.
For Better or For Worse: Until we see something that suggests UCF is ready for the spotlight, a one game showcase is the best case scenario for the Knights. They could very well win the Fiesta Bowl, but I’m not sure there are many outside of Orlando that think they could beat any of the 15 teams in this field, outside of a one shot deal.
Auburn played Washington State early in the year, and they looked like a team that didn’t win an SEC game last year, one that simply benefited from playing a horrible Cougars team, who actually ended up being bowl eligible. As the season progressed, you couldn’t help but notice the good things Gus Malzahn was doing in his first as the head coach. Hell, I’m a big De La Soul fan, I follow DJ Maseo on Twitter, yet I had no idea his son starred in the Auburn backfield. Tre Mason even ended up getting an invite to New York for the Heisman. Quarterback Nick Marshall is special. They lost to LSU, and it’s taken a little luck for them to be in the National Championship conversation at the end of the season. A ridiculous Hail Mary took down Georgia and your typical 109-yard missed field goal to win the Iron Bowl over rival Alabama. Their SEC Championship win over Missouri will go down as forgotten moment after the moment, a la USA Hockey’s win over Finland in the 1980 Gold Medal Game.
For Better or For Worse: One sixty-minute game for all the Roses, Tostitos, Sugar packets, and Discover cards; what could be better? Sure, fans would rather see 15 games than 1, but Auburn doesn’t want to drag this thing out. They’d rather win or lose, and this is an easy call for every #1 and #2 when this question comes up. The BCS works perfectly for them.