- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jim from Birmingham, Ala., writes: If (1) Alabama destroys Michigan in their game in Dallas; (2) Alabama loses to LSU, as it did last year; (3) LSU wins the SEC Western Division and Conference; (4) Alabama finishes the season with only one loss (to LSU), but finishes 4th in the polls; and (5) Michigan loses to another B1G team, but wins the B1G Conference and finishes 5th place in the polls; should Michigan, by virtue of its "conference championship," be selected over Alabama for a four team playoff BCS spot? If your answer is "yes," please explain your logic. My solution is simple for determining a playoff system. Settle it on the field by having each conference and the independents select a team, and then having the selected teams compete in a playoff. The winner would get to determine whether to (a) select the top four teams, (b) restrict the playoffs to conference champs or (3) a combination system similar to the one suggested by J. Delany. What do you think about settling it on the field and why?
Adam Rittenberg: My answer is no, but I'd be highly surprised if a two-loss Michigan team that got "destroyed" in the opener would finish fifth in the final rankings, whatever they may be. Again, you avoid a lot of this by having a selection committee with certain guidelines, as the Big Ten has proposed. Even if Michigan somehow finished No. 5 and Alabama finished No. 4, the committee could look at the two teams and determine Alabama is more worthy of a spot in the playoff because of its dominant head-to-head victory. I don't think the committee needs strict requirements on selecting conference champions over non-champions, but it can enter the room valuing league titles won on the field and making the right decisions, like Oregon over Stanford last year.
I don't really understand your solution. Are you talking about a 16-team playoff that would eventually become a four-team playoff? That's not happening, my friend. These leagues can reach an amicable solution, in my view. And it should be built around having a selection committee that values the qualities that are absent or obscured in the BCS rankings formula (schedule strength, margin of victory, etc.).
Drew from Milwaukee writes: I just read your boy Ted Miller's playoff article over on the Pac 12 blog - really good stuff. He brought up some good points about the need for standardization across conferences in scheduling and championship formats. Given how unlikely any of that is to ever happen, I think it reveals a fatal flaw of this whole move towards crowning a national champion that began in 1997 - college football is not a national sport. This next statement won't win me many friends, but in a system with 120 teams governed by dozens of regional fiefdoms, devising a system to declare one team ruler of them all is a fool's errand. The further we go down this rabbit hole the less I care about a bogus system for choosing a #1 and the more I care about Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl victories. Am I missing something here or should I just accept my fate and bust out the tin foil hat?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted brought up some great points, and you hit on a key one: the fact that leagues have different models toward scheduling and championships. The Pac-12 has the roughest road with nine league games plus a league championship game. The Big 12 also has nine league games but no championship game. The Big Ten was going to nine league games but opted to remain at eight after the Pac-12 partnership. So you're right. Different leagues function in different ways. As Ted touched on as well as Blair Kerkhoff in this excellent story, the next step could be standardizing the regular season. But that creates some potential obstacles for certain leagues.
Also, more than half the FBS teams are essentially eliminated from national championship contention before they play a game each fall. Given all these issues, there's no perfect solution to determine a national champion. So should we still have one? It's fair to wonder whether college football was better off before the BCS. That said, there's a strong demand among most college football fans for a national champion. We tend to want definitive results in our sports, and while college football struggles to produce this because of what we're discussing, the desire remains strong. Also, the Rose Bowl championship isn't what it used to be for a lot of Big Ten fans, especially those who have grown up with the sport in the BCS era. We've seen atypical Rose Bowl matchups and the Big Ten's best teams not heading to Pasadena each year.
Bottom line: I think we're too far down this road to turn back. I like the playoff, but I also respect what you're saying.
Eric from Denver writes: Hey Adam, would you rather face Iowa at the beginning of the season - when their offense is still a work in progress - or at the end of the season - when you've had the benefit of seeing some videotape on Greg Davis' new scheme?
Adam Rittenberg: I'd rather face Iowa at the beginning of the season, Eric. While senior quarterback James Vandenberg seems to be picking up the scheme well and clicking with Davis, Iowa has significant question marks at both wide receiver and running back. There will be some mistakes early on, and it likely will take a few games for Iowa to identify its playmakers both in the pass game and the run game. Iowa's track record shows that despite its misfortune at running back, it will find a capable ball-carrier or two. I think the Hawkeyes will have a better rush game in Week 8 than Week 2. I also think Vandenberg will have more reliable targets in Week 8 than Week 2, whether it's Keenan Davis, C.J. Fiedorowicz or someone else. While it's always helpful for opposing coaches to watch tape from the current season, it's not as if Davis is a rookie coordinator with a unique scheme. Opposing coaches will have a fairly good idea of what to expect from him in September.
Max from Omaha writes: Quick question: with all the talk about the greatest individual seasons ever, and the list of 2,000 yard rushing seasons getting posted, why doesn't Mike Rozier get more attention for his 1983 campaign? 7.81 yards per carry is still an NCAA record (and is absolutely ridiculous), and is 2 ypc more than Marcus Allen's mark of 5.81 in 1981, which was just named the 2nd greatest individual season effort of all time. Is the fact that he had talent around him hurting the legacy of the season? I believe Marcus had 3 future NFL lineman paving the way for him in '81. Mike also had 7 more TD's (with 29). I'm obviously biased as a Husker fan, but with his YPC avg, I think you could pretty easily argue that he had the second or third greatest rushing season in college football history...Let me know!Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Max, and to help with the answer, I consulted my esteemed colleague Ivan Maisel, who has covered college football a lot longer than yours truly. Ivan included Rozier's 1983 season at No. 10 on his list of best seasons from the past 50 years. He didn't rank Rozier higher because Nebraska had so many weapons on offense that year, and Rozier's individual greatness was a bit overshadowed because the unit performed so well. Nebraska had a standout quarterback in Turner Gill and a star pass-catcher in Irving Fryar. Mark Schellen and Jeff Smith were nice complementary weapons. It certainly doesn't take away from the ridiculous numbers Rozier put up, but most of the players who made the final list were one-man shows in that particular season. While USC had some great linemen in 1981, it lacked standout offensive weapons aside from Allen. Aside from Barry Sanders in 1988, there's not a whole lot separating the truly elite seasons by running backs in the past 50 years. Rozier's 1983 campaign and Allen's 1981 season are both right up there.
Aris from Seattle writes: In your opinion, Adam, will anything come in terms of NCAA sanctions against Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky situation, since it went all the way up to the president and AD? Is there any way PSU avoids sanctions, due to what seems to be a cover-up?
Adam Rittenberg: It's definitely possible, Aris, especially as we learn more about what Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and others might have known about the allegations against Jerry Sandusky. While this situation is new territory for the NCAA and the Big Ten, which has launched its own investigation, a major cover-up by prominent university officials could merit severe penalties. I see this as an all-or-nothing situation for the NCAA. Either it hits Penn State with the most serious charge of lack of institutional control, or it doesn't impose any penalties. There's no gray area. And if some of the recent reports are true, it wouldn't be a stretch for the NCAA to conclude that the institution lost control.
Max from Grosse Point Farms, Mich., writes: Good synopsis on the Big Tens position as it relates to the selection process for a football playoff. A selection committee seems like a "no brainer." You mention the Oregon/Stanford BCS situation. How about the MSU/UM debacle from last year? MSU handily beats UM during the season, but is them penalized for a close loss in the championship game. Do you think a selection committee would have done the same based upon both teams bodies of work for the entire season?
Adam Rittenberg: Max, I think a committee would have picked Michigan State over Michigan for a four-team playoff if both teams had been in contention with just one loss apiece. But this would have required a "good loss" by Michigan State, like maybe a 3-point loss to Wisconsin. The fact is neither Michigan nor Michigan State would have been in contention for a four-team playoff last year. Both teams lost to average teams: Notre Dame (Michigan State) and Iowa (Michigan). If a committee is selecting teams for all the big bowls and not just the four-team playoff, it likely would pick MSU ahead of Michigan. But if that decision is made by the bowl committees, they can pick whatever team they want as long as it's eligible.
Jason from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Adam,In response to your response of my e-mail. Let's make a deal. I'll stop speaking for the entire Nebraska fan base as long as you do the same. Sound good?
Adam Rittenberg: Deal.
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