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2010 NCAA Football Playoff Proposal

It's time again for my NCAA Football Playoff Proposal. When I put together my first NCAA playoff proposal in 1999, I really believed that college football was on the path to adopting a playoff system. I could not have been more wrong. The NCAA, the men in the funny-colored sportcoats adorned with their bowl's logo and the university presidents of the top dozen or so power football schools will never allow such a sensible thing as a Division 1-A college football playoff to take place. The groups who control college football are like activist judges. They make decisions that suit their own needs even though those decisions run contrary to the desires of 90% of the people involved and the spirit of college athletics. If college football was in fact like every other sports league on the planet (including all other NCAA football levels, beer league softball, The World Series of Poker and even the WNBA) the playoffs might look a little something like this:

  • 8-team tournament
  • The quarterfinal games will be comprised of the four current BCS Bowls - Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta.
  • The champions from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac Ten will be given automatic bids to the tournament. For the ACC, SEC and Big 12, this will be the winner of their conference's championship game.
  • The highest ranked champion (based on the BCS) among the Big East, MAC, WAC, Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference will be guaranteed a spot in the tournament. This would once again be TCU.
  • The two remaining spots in the tournament will be filled on an at-large basis by an impartial selection committee. In order to qualify for an at-large spot, a team must be in the top 12 in the BCS. All Division 1-A (aka. FBS) teams will be eligible for the at-large spots.
  • No conference can have more than two teams in the tournament. Put another way, the conferences that received automatic bids cannot take both at-large spots.
  • The committee will then seed the teams from 1 to 8. Seeds will then be swapped, if necessary, to avoid first round matchups between teams from the same conference. For example, if the committee originally seeded Auburn 1st and Arkansas 8th (1 plays 8 in the first round), then Arkansas would be moved to the 7th seed. The committee will also make an effort to avoid potential second round matchups between conference foes.
  • In order to preserve some of the bowl tradition, the committee will guarantee that the highest ranked team among the Pac Ten and Big Ten champions will go to the Rose Bowl. The committee will also make an effort to send the SEC Champion to the Sugar Bowl and to make the Rose Bowl a Pac Ten vs Big Ten matchup. This will not always be possible.
  • In the second round, the winner of the 1 vs 8 game will play the winner of the 4 vs 5 game and the winner of 2 vs 7 will play the winner of 3 vs 6.
  • Like the Superbowl, the sites of the semifinal and championship games will rotate. The two semifinal games will not be played in the same city.
  • All other bowls will be played as usual.

Here's how the 2010-11 playoffs would shake out if I were the committee:

Automatic Qualifiers

Auburn (SEC), Oregon (Pac 10), Virginia Tech (ACC), Wisconsin (Big 10), Oklahoma (Big 12) and TCU (best BCS ranking among other conferences).

At Large Teams

That leaves two spots for at-large teams. My short list is Ohio State, Michigan State, Nevada, Boise State, Arkansas, LSU and Stanford. Those are the one-loss teams and the two-loss teams from the strongest conference (SEC). Because a single conference cannot have both at-large teams, it makes sense to pare the list down to one team per conference. In head to head matchups, Nevada beat Boise State and Arkansas beat LSU so I'm going to eliminate the Broncos and the Tigers. Michigan State and Ohio State did not play this season but I'm going to eliminate Ohio State because the Spartans beat league champion Wisconsin and the Buckeyes did not.

That leaves four teams: Michigan State, Nevada, Stanford and Arkansas. Although Arkansas lost twice, they are clearly my first at-large selection because of the strength of the SEC. Six SEC teams were 8-4 or better this season. By contrast, only three Big 10 and two Pac 10 teams lost fewer than five games. Obviously, Nevada did not play a difficult schedule. Nevada is an excellent team with a phenomenal quarterback but they don't belong in an eight team playoff. That leaves Michigan State and Stanford. Both teams were 11-1. The Spartans beat current #5 Wisconsin. Their non-conference slate was Notre Dame, Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and Northern Colorado. Stanford's best conference win was USC (8-5). Their non-conference foes were Notre Dame, Sacramento State and Wake Forest. Clearly, the advantage goes to MSU.


Clearly, the top two seeds will be Oregon and Auburn. Because the SEC is much stronger than the Pac 10, Auburn will be the top seed. Undefeated TCU is the clear #3. The next three spots should go to Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Arkansas. You can make a strong argument for any of these teams at #4. Wisconsin has the best record, Virginia Tech is on a long winning streak and Arkansas played the toughest schedule. I'm going with Wisconsin at #4, VA Tech at #5 and Arkansas at #6. Michigan State is #7 and Oklahoma is #8. This requires no re-seeding because the conference foes are on the opposite half of the bracket. So here we go:

Jan 1st Rose Bowl - #2 Oregon (Pac 10) vs #7 Michigan State (at-large)
Jan 1st Fiesta Bowl - #3 TCU (Mtn West) vs #6 Arkansas (at-large)
Jan 3rd Orange Bowl - #4 Wisconsin (Big 10) vs #5 Virginia Tech (ACC)
Jan 4th Sugar Bowl - #1 Auburn (SEC) vs #8 Oklahoma (Big 12)

SEMI-FINALS - Saturday, January 22nd (day prior to AFC and NFC Championships)
Game One - 3:30 pm
Game Two - 8:00 pm

(Note: the semi-finals might also be played on Thursday, January 13th and Monday, January 17th. This would avoid the competition with the NFL and reduce the time off between the first and second rounds.)

CHAMPIONSHIP - Saturday Jan 29th (Superbowl off week)
Championship Game - 8:00 pm

2009 Playoff Proposal
2008 Playoff Proposal
2007 Playoff Proposal
2006 Playoff Proposal
2005 Playoff Proposal
2004 Playoff Proposal
2003 Playoff Proposal
2002 Playoff Proposal
2001 Playoff Proposal
2000 Playoff Proposal