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Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Breaking down possible football playoffs

By Jon Stewart, ESPN Stats & Info

Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireIf the possible playoff system for FBS Football only includes conference champions, Alabama wouldn't have had a chance to lift the trophy last season.
At the Big Ten meetings, commissioner Jim Delany voiced his preference that only the four highest-ranked conference champions be included in a possible four-team playoff, which could begin in 2014.

He also expressed his preference that the games be played using the current bowl structure instead of the home stadiums of the top two seeds, mostly because of the conference’s desire to preserve the Rose Bowl.

Since the inception of the BCS in 1998, the Big Ten has failed to place a team in the top four of the final BCS standings in eight of 14 seasons. In other words, if there had been a four-team playoff using the BCS standings to select the top teams, the Big Ten would have been left out 57 percent of the time. In the last four seasons, the highest-ranked Big Ten team was Wisconsin in 2010 at No. 5.

The Big Ten is afraid of a possible SEC monopoly on the four-team playoff. However, history suggests Delany’s proposal could work against his conference.

In half of the 14 seasons under the BCS, at least one conference placed two teams in the top four of the BCS Standings – including each of the last two years and three of the last four. In two of those instances, the Big Ten was the conference with two top-four teams.

In 2006 and 2008, two conferences produced the BCS’ final top four teams. In 2006, the top four were No. 1 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan of the Big Ten, and No. 2 Florida and No. 4 LSU of the SEC. In 2008, it was No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 3 Texas of the Big 12, and No. 2 Florida and No. 4 Alabama of the SEC.

The two plans are vastly different. How so? Take a look at the table to the right, which shows the different matchups using the 2011 season as an example.

Under Delany’s plan, the 10th- and fifth-ranked teams would have reached the national semifinals and the second- and fourth-ranked teams would have been left out.

Even after Alabama won the BCS Championship Game, the question of whether a team that failed to win its conference championship is worthy to play for the national title still divides fans. In the next few weeks, we’ll have an answer which could change college football.