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Why we need the Mandel Plan now more than ever; more Mailbag

Following this week's TCU-Utah game, there will likely be four undefeated teams in college football. Only two can go to Glendale, yet all of them -- Oregon, Auburn, Boise State and TCU/Utah -- deserve that opportunity. If only there were a way for all four to play each other.

Oh, right. There is.

A year ago this week I unveiled the Mandel Plan, the only college football postseason model that achieves more clarity without overhauling the bowl system, devaluing the regular season, intruding on December finals or otherwise jeopardizing the status quo that BCS honchos work so hard to defend. College football doesn't need an eight- or 16-team playoff, because there aren't eight or 16 deserving teams in a season. But there are usually four.

A refresher: Under the Mandel Plan, the No. 1 and 2 teams would host semifinal games in their regular bowl destinations. Just like today, two bowls could lose their host champions, only they'd be the No. 3 and 4 teams instead. Since Nos. 3 and 4 are currently non-AQ teams, however, the Big Ten champ would be the only team displaced this year. A new bowl would be added to the lineup (I'm using the Cotton) to maintain 10 BCS bids. And the championship game would take place a week after the last scheduled bowl. (This year's Cotton Bowl is Jan. 7; using the same calendar, this year's title game would be pushed four days later.)

Mind you, we're a long way from knowing who this year's conference champions will be, so for the purposes of this illustration, I'm using either the current first-place team or the highest-ranked BCS team where there are ties. With no anchor conference, the Cotton gets first at-large choice, followed by the Orange, Cotton (again) and Fiesta (which has last pick this year). The two semifinal games appear in bold.

Jan. 1 Rose: No. 1 Oregon (Pac-10 champ) vs. No. 4 Boise State (non-AQ)

• Jan. 1 Fiesta: No. 7 Nebraska (Big 12 champ) vs. Pittsburgh (Big East champ/fourth at-large)

• Jan. 3 Orange: No. 8 Oklahoma (second at-large) vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech (ACC champ)

Jan. 4 Sugar: No. 2 Auburn (SEC champ) vs. No. 3 TCU (non-AQ)

• Jan. 7 Cotton: No. 6 Alabama (first at-large) vs. No. 9 Wisconsin (Big Ten champ/third at-large)

• Jan. 14 championship game: Rose Bowl winner vs. Sugar Bowl winner

The Mandel Plan was mostly well-received last year. The biggest complaint was the fact that one team (in this case Oregon) would have three more days of rest than the other (Auburn). I'm not sure that's avoidable, unless ESPN would be willing to air four of the five games on New Year's Day (not likely) or the dates weren't determined until the matchups were known (not practical). Since both would have more than a week to prepare, I don't think it'd be that big of a deal.

A plus-one would be incredibly helpful this year given the fundamental dilemma involving this year's pool of contenders. Any objective person would agree that, based on their schedules, undefeated Oregon and Auburn would be more deserving of being ranked No. 1 and 2 in the final standings than Boise State, TCU or Utah. Yet plenty of objective people (like me) also believe that the best team in the country this year may be Boise, TCU or Utah. At the very least, those three may present a tougher matchup for Oregon and Auburn than those two would each other due to their superior defenses.

Under the current system, there's no right answer for picking two of the four; under my system, the teams could solve the quandary themselves.

Stewart, regarding Oregon and the other world-beating offenses: Have we not seen this before? Ohio State in 2006 and Oklahoma in 2008 were unstoppable and had changed the face of college football. Each scored 14 points once defended by significant speed and talent (in both cases Florida). Should we not expect something similar either when Auburn plays Alabama or once/if Oregon must play an SEC team in the BCS Championship?-- John Baskam, Atlanta

Any offense, no matter how lethal it looks, can be stopped by a dominant defense. That '08 Oklahoma team, as you may recall, posted five straight 60-plus scoring games and averaged a staggering 54.1 points during the regular season (Oregon is currently averaging 54.9). Like Oregon, it championed the hurry-up, no-huddle offense. But in the title game, Florida kept pace play-for-play, and OU's tempo diminished a bit. (Florida's defensive backs also blanketed Sam Bradford's receivers.) And let's not forget that Texas had already rendered the Sooners mortal that year, beating them 45-35.

Oregon hasn't come close to slipping up to this point, but we don't have to look back that far to find the blueprint for stopping its offense. What did Boise State and Ohio State -- the two teams that successfully bottled up Oregon's offense last season -- have in common? They both possessed dominant and deep defensive lines. The best way to disrupt any offense is with an overpowering front four (see Florida against that '06 Ohio State team). And the only practical way to keep from wearing out against the Ducks is to be able to rest guys throughout the game. The Buckeyes, who went nine deep on their D-line last year, did just that.

Obviously, this Oregon team is executing at a higher level than last year's, but the principles for stopping it remain the same. The good news for the Ducks is that there really aren't a lot of dominant defenses either in the Pac-10 or around the country this season. Arizona comes closest on Oregon's remaining schedule, while Alabama may be the SEC's lone candidate (and even that's debatable). I maintain that the two defenses with the best blueprint for stopping Oregon are Boise State and TCU. Both are fast and both are dominant up front. Virginia Tech is averaging 5.3 yards per rushing attempt; Boise held it to 2.9. Baylor is averaging 34 points and 490 yards per game; TCU held it to 10 points and 263 yards. And let's not forget that Boise is plenty familiar with Chip Kelly's offense, having faced it the past two years.

As for Auburn, I'm not sure anyone is "suited" to stopping Cam Newton. Maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers? If or when the Tigers go down, it won't be because of their offense.

In regards to the Big East's decision to expand to 10 teams, I have two questions: 1) What do you think of TCU and Houston making the jump? (if invited); 2) Which conference would have a better shot at AQ BCS status in 2012? The new Mountain West (adding Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada but losing Utah and BYU), or the Big East plus TCU and Houston.--Harris, Houston

First of all, I don't think any current non-AQ school would turn down the Big East if offered. The importance of that automatic berth and the revenue that comes with it is impossible to resist, and the Big East has one through at least 2013; TCU, Houston, et. al, have no assurance the Mountain West will ever get one. And to answer your question, I believe an expanded Big East has a better chance of retaining its status going forward than the reconfigured MWC has of earning a bid. Even with two marquee programs in Boise and TCU, it will still be a very thin league with several bottom-barrel programs. As bad as the Big East has been this year, it's still ahead of the Mountain West in Sagrain's ratings, and that's before the MWC loses a top 10 team next year.

We know the Big East and TCU have talked. Though it makes no sense geographically, it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement in terms of boosting each other's BCS stock. But I get the sense the Big East is doing this more to fortify itself against future moves by another conference than it is to appease the BCS. Its first choice appears to be Villanova, which is already in the family and is one of the top FCS programs in the country. The school still has to decide whether it wants to make the move up, which would require a significant investment. After that, the league will look to add at least one strong FBS program. I can see TCU, but I can't see Houston. A better bet is UCF, which already has a competitive program (the Knights currently have the best record in Conference USA), a beautiful new stadium and a natural rival in USF (even if USF doesn't see it that way).

One other possibility is Temple re-joining the conference, but I can't imagine that's high on the wish list.

Stewart, I know Texas has five more games left (assuming it still goes to a bowl), but a simple question with, I'm sure, a complex answer: If you were Mack Brown, what would you do in the offseason?-- Jeff, Dallas

Step one: Don't panic. Brown has engineered one of the nation's most consistent programs for more than a decade. The staff (namely offensive coordinator/everybody's favorite scapegoat Greg Davis) did not get dumb overnight. The cupboard didn't go bare overnight. Note that after Oklahoma lost five games last year for the first time since Bob Stoops' first season, he did not impulsively send Kevin Wilson packing.

The Sooners' struggles were considered more excusable due to their significant injury woes, most notably losing Bradford early on. But Garrett Gilbert, like Landry Jones last year, is a first-year starter. Let's see if he turns a corner sometime over these last five games. If not, open up a competition next spring between Gilbert and current freshmen Connor Wood and Case McCoy. Re-evaluate personnel across the board, see if perhaps some guys should switch positions. Teach your receivers how to catch passes. And recruit like mad (which they've already done; their 2011 class is currently ranked No. 1 nationally by Rivals.com).

I know it feels like a crisis when you're in the middle of it, but it's not like you're Michigan, where the defense has gotten worse each year under Rich Rodriguez, or Colorado, where the talent level hasn't improved in five years. You're Texas. You just went to the national championship game last year, and you lost two of the most productive players in school history (Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley). It's a rebuilding year. It will get better next year.

Unless it doesn't. Then it's time to panic.

This is not so much a question, but a comment regarding your article on October 30. You asked, "How the heck did the Huskers lose so badly to Texas?" I think it is simple -- that is the only game Texas practiced for all year.-- Jim Wallace, Dallas

Ouch. But yeah, work on that, too.

As an impartial viewer, I can't help but wonder what happened to the Stanford hype machine? This team was a media darling heading into the Oregon game, lost its halftime lead, and along with it all of the fanfare. Now, the Cardinal sit at 7-1, their only loss being on the road to the No. 1 team in the country, yet even you don't have them in a BCS bowl. Is it because Andrew Luck doesn't run for 100 yards a game, a la Cam Newton? Will a win over Arizona help, or will anyone notice?-- Shane, Richmond, Va.

First of all, Stanford is really good. Jim Harbaugh's team beat the living daylight out of Washington last weekend -- and Harbaugh made sure to let the Cardinal know. The hype machine has died down, but that might change if Stanford beats Arizona this weekend in the primetime ABC game. Realistically, far more people are going to end up watching that than TCU-Utah.

Unfortunately, even if it runs the table, Stanford might get locked out of a BCS game. Barring two Oregon losses, Stanford's not going to win the Pac-10, and if the Ducks go to the national title game, the Rose Bowl is obligated to take the highest-ranked non-AQ team. I could be wrong, but I don't see the Orange or Sugar bowls taking a West Coast team over a Big Ten or Big 12 team due to their proximity and bigger fan bases, and the Fiesta Bowl, which would normally be a natural landing spot for the Cardinal, has last pick this year and will almost certainly be stuck with the Big East champ.

Also, let's not overlook Arizona in all this. How ticked will both Arizona and the Rose Bowl be if the Wildcats -- who have never been to the Granddaddy -- qualify for the game but can't go because of that non-AQ rule (which is only in place this year)? It'd be a very real possibility if Arizona wins this weekend.

After watching the Florida-Georgia game on Saturday, I think that collegefootball needs an amendment to its overtime rules. Specifically, that if the defense returns the ball inside the opponent's 25, the ball should be placed at the resulting spot for the subsequent possession. What are your thoughts?-- Charlie, Gainesville, Fla.

The play Charlie is referencing is Will Hill's interception for Florida on the first possession of overtime. Hill very nearly ran it back for a touchdown, which would have won the game, but when Tavarres King pushed him out of bounds inside the five, the Gators by rule started their possession at the 25-yard line, like usual. I'm embarrassed to say this, but I didn't even know that rule existed until Saturday. Despite watching countless overtime games since 1996, I can't ever remember seeing a play like that take place.

I think it should be changed. Why is it an all-or-nothing reward for the defense? Why does the offense earn a get-out-of-jail-free card for its miscue? I'm sure there's a perfectly good justification for this rule; I just can't come up with it.

It has been seven years since Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech changed college football (and basketball) by bolting for the ACC. Can we evaluate the results for these schools? It seems to me that this was a win for Virginia Tech, but wouldn't Miami be better off scheduling a few tough nonconference opponents, then running roughshod over the conference to guarantee a BCS bowl at least? And what has this move done for BC?-- Coy Ross, Pittsburgh

Obviously, it's been a huge win for Virginia Tech -- three conference titles in six years and currently in line to play for a fourth. And while Boston College has had success (playing in two league title games) and certainly made more money than it would have had it stayed behind, I don't believe it's been a beneficial move. It's a Northeast school playing in a semi-Southern conference. It has no natural rivals. ACC bowls constantly pass over the Eagles for teams with lesser records. BC already has enough of a challenge trying to capture attention in a pro-obsessed city, much less getting Bostonians to care about a game against NC State.

As for Miami, it's hard to make a call one way or the other because the program's decline began at almost the exact time it joined the conference. To suggest it would be "running roughshod" had it stayed in the Big East might be true this year (it did clobber first-place Pittsburgh), but I'm not sure it would have been true even two or three years ago if we're assuming the same rosters. Nor do I think ACC competition would be standing in its way of a BCS bowl if these were the Ken Dorsey/Willis McGahee/Kellen Winslow-era 'Canes. The league certainly didn't slow down Florida State in its heyday, and Miami already dealt with Virginia Tech and Boston College in its old conference. The difference between the two leagues is not that great, and in fact there have been post-expansion seasons when the Big East was tougher.

No question for you, Stewart. Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know you're the best in the biz. Really enjoy your work and your tweets. You're the man. I imagine you get a lot of negative s--- sent to you since CFB fans are certifiable for the most part, but you should know you're the best. I've had a bit to drink. Go Jayhawks.-- Jason Goodvin, Wichita, Kan.

Thanks, Jason. I'd probably start drinking too if I had to watch the Jayhawks this season. I just hope this wasn't a case of sportswriter beer goggles and that you still enjoyed the columns the next morning.

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