It started with righteous ambitions. For the many college football fans who viewed the BCS as a deeply flawed method of choosing a national champion, the natural inclination was to root for the system’s many failures to be exposed. And what better way for that to happen than for it to be forced to make nearly impossible decisions in which controversy was bound to ensue, no matter the choice.
The strategy actually worked (it helped that there were also vast amounts of money to be made by switching to a playoff). The three undefeated power conference teams of 2004 and the subsequent exclusion of Auburn from the BCS championship game sparked former SEC commissioner Mike Slive to push for a playoff. After Slive’s SEC claimed both spots in the ’12 title game, the other conference commissioners warmed to the idea, as well.
So with the BCS dead, the original instigation to root for impossibly messy postseason scenarios is gone. But we learned something in the process: Chaos is fun!
I hold nothing against Jeff Long, the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, but I want to see him and the rest of committee sweat as they try to choose the best four teams from a muddled field and explain their choices to infuriated fan bases. It’ll be so entertaining—unless of course your team is one of the squads that get left out. Plus, if you want the playoff to expand to eight teams, take a lesson from the BCS and see that controversy is the catalyst of change.
So how do we get maximally entertaining playoff controversy? As the season gets closer to its end, some more specific scenarios could emerge. But for now, here are some situations:
• A Group of Five team ends up with a serious case for a top four ranking. It’s difficult, but no one said chaos was easy. A mixture of an undefeated Group of Five conference champion with a lot of losses among the Power Five league champs is the best bet.
• Notre Dame earns consideration for a top four rankings. This isn’t based on any particular enthusiasm for the Fighting Irish, but because of their status as an independent, their inclusion would mean at least two Power Five conference champions must be excluded.
• The SEC gets shut out of the playoff. Similar to Notre Dame, this isn’t based on any animosity towards the SEC. But its collection of some of the most fervent fan bases in the country and the most fervent detractors in the country means its exile from the playoff would produce a wonderful mix of rage and schadenfreude. Just imagine the callers on The Paul Finebaum Show the next day.
• All of the playoff contenders just lose a lot. You try to pick from a group of two-loss teams, each with some baffling defeats in the season’s final weeks.
So with that in mind, if you want the playoff committee members to wish they had never signed up for the job, here’s what to root for in Week 10:
Alabama beats LSU, Ole Miss beats Arkansas, Memphis beats Navy
The results of the season thus far have linked the pursuit of a Group of Five team in the playoff with the elimination of the SEC. A Crimson Tide victory over the Tigers serves both causes. First, it leaves the SEC with no unbeaten teams. It also puts Ole Miss in prime position to win the SEC West—if the Rebels beat the Razorbacks—due to Ole Miss’s triumph over Alabama. If the Rebels win out, including their Nov. 21 date with LSU, they will earn the West Division’s berth in the conference title game. Should Ole Miss win that, it’d be the clear top choice from the SEC to make the playoff. However, it’d still have two losses, including one to a potentially undefeated AAC champion Memphis squad. The playoff committee would seemingly have to put the Tigers in the playoff before it could choose the Rebels.
Notre Dame beats Pittsburgh, Stanford beats Colorado
Ranked No. 5 in the committee’s initial top 25, the Irish are already on the cusp of a top four spot. With No. 2 LSU taking on No. 4 Alabama, Notre Dame will likely move up as long as it can get past a challenge at Pittsburgh. The Irish’s schedule eases up after this week with matchups against Wake Forest and Boston College before one final test at Stanford on Nov. 28. Notre Dame’s playoff résumé will be strongest if the Cardinal are 10–1 at that point.
Oklahoma State beats TCU
The Big 12 backloaded its playoff contenders’ conference schedules with the apparent hope that they would all reach November with undefeated records, one would emerge from the late-season slugfest still unbeaten and that team’s sweep of the other contenders in the season’s final weeks would propel it into the playoff. Step one of the plan was a success (except for Oklahoma’s bizarre loss to Texas). But what happens if instead of one team beating all the others to finish undefeated, the teams all beat up on each other and everyone ends up with one loss? As both the Cowboys and Horned Frogs are undefeated, either team winning could set this in motion. But for now, we’ll take the playoff committee’s rankings (Oklahoma State is No. 14, TCU is No. 8) to indicate it believes the Horned Frogs are better, which would therefore make them more likely to win out. That make the Cowboys the choice to root for this week.
Vanderbilt beats Florida, Florida State beats Clemson, Indiana beats Iowa, Nebraska beats Michigan State, Washington beats Utah, Minnesota beats Ohio State
The logic for all of these is the same. The more upsets that happen involving playoff contenders between now and the final rankings, the more chaotic those rankings could get. Remember 2007, when an LSU team that lost to Kentucky and fell to Arkansas nine days before the final BCS rankings were released still made the title game? Let’s create disorder like that. This week’s upsets range from plausible (Washington over Utah) to possible (Florida State over Clemson) to bat guano insane (Vanderbilt over Florida). But wouldn’t it be amazing if the Commodores pulled it off?