Posted: 8:58 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013
By Brandon Larrabee
Where does everyone end up in the race for the crystal football? Who would play in the four BCS bowls? And what would happen if we already had the playoffs in place?
Last week, I took the BCS standings and turned them into a mock College Football Playoff to help everyone get ready for that system's arrival next year. I used the setup of when the Rose and Sugar Bowls are hosting the semifinals because that is what we're going to get in 2014.
I am not going to outline that again this week. There were a few changes towards the top of the BCS standings, but they did not make much of a difference for a Rose-Sugar semifinal year. Based on this week's standings, the playoff works out exactly as it did a week ago, except you can drop in Oklahoma for Texas Tech. Otherwise, it's the same.
This week, I'm fast forwarding a year to 2015 when we'll have the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl hosting semifinals. As with last week, the BCS standings substitute for the selection committee's rankings, and the highest-ranked team from each conference will be the presumed champion for the mock.
This configuration is one in which I believe Bama to be relatively indifferent as to which semifinal it plays in. As the crow flies, Tuscaloosa is 677 miles from Miami and 536 miles from Dallas. That discrepancy doesn't make for a big deal. Plus, Bama recruits in both Florida and Texas. For right now, the Crimson Tide projects for the Orange Bowl, but it could be happy either way.
Due to the teams involved, the No. 2 team would probably be the deciding factor as to the semifinal sites as opposed to the No. 1 team (which is who decides things on a normal basis). Bama is fine either way, so who gets No. 2 makes all the difference. If Oregon is No. 2, then this pair will play in the Cotton Bowl so that No. 2 isn't playing in No. 3's home state. If Florida State ends up No. 2, then the Ducks and Seminoles go to Miami for obvious geographical reasons.
There would be a ton of attention paid to who is No. 2 versus No. 3 given the enormous advantage FSU would stand to get playing its semifinal in the state of Florida instead of in Texas. This mock right here busts a pervasive myth about the playoff, that somehow only making the top four is important and that the order in which teams shake out inside of it doesn't matter. Clearly, that is not always going to be the case, if ever.
The Rose Bowl by contract gets to have its Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup when it is not a semifinal. Therefore, it will take the top available teams from each league regardless of their rankings because projected champs Oregon and Ohio State are unavailable. Stanford is an uncontroversial choice here, but the selection committee would have a harder time parsing through Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. Of course, that might be an easier decision once the season is over.
Big 12 Champ
As another contract bowl, the Sugar also will ignore the rankings when it picks its teams in years in which it's not a semifinal. Projected Big 12 champion Baylor slides right in, but projected SEC champ Alabama is unavailable. The next-highest ranked SEC team is Mizzou, so the Tigers will square off against their former conference mates. This matchup between top ten teams is more what the CFP architects had in mind when setting the thing up rather than the Rose Bowl's pairing of a top-five squad and a marginal top-25 outfit, but that's what they get for allowing contracts to factor in.
With the final two bowls, things get a little tricky.
Host Bowl West
Group of Five
Fresno State remains the highest-ranked projected champion of the so-called "Group of Five" mid-major conferences (AAC, MWC, CUSA, MAC, and Sun Belt). It has a guaranteed spot somewhere, and the Fiesta is the most logical place for it to go. Oklahoma is the next closest team to Arizona, and its Big 12 conference had a long relationship with the bowl. It makes the most sense for these two to end up here.
Host Bowl East
The catch with putting those two there is that we end up with an all-ACC Peach Bowl. Yes, under these circumstances, the ACC has the most teams in with three. No other conference gets more than two. With last week's possible Baylor-Texas Tech matchup in the Cotton Bowl, I nixed it because I figured the committee wouldn't want to set up a regular season rematch. Clemson and Miami (FL) don't play each other in the regular season, so while they are from the same league, putting them both here would not be a rematch.
Of course, it's possible that the committee will not want to put two teams from the same conference in a single bowl even if they didn't play each other in that year. In that case, Miami (FL) probably would get priority for this bowl as the higher ranked team of the two. In that case, Clemson would get bumped out to the Fiesta Bowl to face Fresno State while Oklahoma would go to Atlanta to face the Hurricanes.
You will note that Auburn would get to play in a non-semifinal CFP bowl in the Rose-Sugar scenario while it would not here. The contractual requirement for a Big Ten representative to appear in the Rose Bowl gives a spot to Michigan that otherwise would have gone to the at-large Plainsmen.
In the third scenario, when the Fiesta and Peach Bowls are semifinals, Auburn would get a spot while Oklahoma would be the one left out. SEC champ Alabama would be in the semis with Mizzou taking the conference's spot in the Sugar. The Orange takes an ACC team along with the highest-ranked team among the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame*. Auburn is the next SEC team in line and is higher than both the Irish any Big Ten team other than Ohio State, so it would face the Hurricanes in Miami. That contractual obligation knocks out the at-large Sooners even though they're a spot ahead of AU in the rankings. That scenario is why the Pac-12 and Big 12 tried to get a seventh CFP bowl approved where they would have a spot similar to the Orange's SEC/B1G/ND reservation, though it didn't work.
The big lesson this week is that it matters a lot which bowls are semifinals in which year. It's not possible to take any given ranking and produce a generic, "this is what the playoff would look like" projection. Thanks to the Contract Bowls basically being the BCS's zombie corpse shambling on into the future, every new poll will produce three playoff possibilities.
*Note: Over the course of the 12-year CFP contract, the SEC/B1G/ND spot in the Orange Bowl will be open nine times. In that span, an SEC team must appear a minimum of three times, a Big Ten team must appear a minimum of three times, and Notre Dame will appear no more than twice. Early on, the Orange can simply take the highest ranked team among the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame.
As we get into the back half of the 12-year span, those contractual constraints will loom large. A lower ranked Big Ten team would knock out a higher ranked SEC or Notre Dame team if we're in Year 10 and a Big Ten team has only appeared in that Orange spot once before. Why Year 10? Because the Orange will be a semifinal in Year 11 and therefore this SEC/B1G/ND spot won't exist in that season.