Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

Earlier this week, sufficiently overcome by the annual bout of Madness sweeping the country in anticipation of the NCAA basketball tournament, I finally, formally introduced my long-simmering playoff plan for college football: Ten teams, nine games, four rounds, three basic goals:

Creating an opportunity for every team with a plausible claim on a shot at the championship.
Valuing the regular season with automatic bids for major conference champions and incentives (first-round byes, home games) based on the final BCS standings.
Setting a high bar to filter fringe riffraff that threaten to water down the field and/or give ammunition to critics who like to argue (ridiculously, I think) that a playoff jeopardizes the importance of the regular season.

And one undisputed champion. (President Obama, if you're still interested in throwing your weight around on this issue, I'm still waiting for your call.)

The hypothetical 2010 bracket I used as an example speaks for itself, with the possible exception of the presence of 8-4 UConn, an automatic entry as Big East champion, despite finishing unranked in the final BCS standings. That's an almost impossible feat — prior to the Huskies last year, only one other team ranked outside of the top 20 (No. 21 Pittsburgh in 2004) had ever snuck into a BCS game, or would have qualified for my proposed bracket. In part to prove just how rare such an interloper is — and in part just to further demonstrate how awesome this plan is at generating quality match-ups en route to an undisputed title game — I've filled in hypothetical brackets for each of the last five years, all of them blockbuster affairs:

2009 Season
2009 screamed for a playoff at the top, where three undefeated outfits — Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State — were all snubbed in favor of traditional heavyweights Alabama and Texas. As far as the Doc Saturday plan goes, it's the only season in the last five in which the ten teams in the playoff are actually the top 10 in the final BCS standings.

Automatic Bids:
1. Alabama (SEC Champion)
2. Texas (Big 12 Champion)
3. Cincinnati (Big East Champion)
4. TCU (At-Large; Top 4)
7. Oregon (Pac-10 Champion)
8. Ohio State (Big Ten Champion)
9. Georgia Tech (ACC Champion)

At-Large Bids: Florida (12-1), Boise State (13-0), Iowa (10-2).

First-Round Byes:
1. Alabama (No. 1)
2. Texas (No. 2)
3. Cincinnati (Auto-Bid Champion)
4. TCU (Top 4)
8. Ohio State (Auto-Bid Champion)
9. Georgia Tech (Auto-Bid Champion)

Home Games:
First Round:
12. Cincinnati (Auto-Bid Champion)
19. Virginia Tech (Auto-Bid Champion)
Second Round:
1. Oklahoma (No. 1)
2. Florida (No. 2)
5. USC (Auto-Bid Champion)
8. Penn State (Auto-Bid Champion)

Hypothetical Bracket (assuming higher-seeded team wins):

2008 Season
2008 was a genuine nightmare for the BCS: Four major conference champions (Oklahoma, Florida, USC and Penn State) finished the regular season with a single loss, upstarts Utah and Boise State finished undefeated, and one-loss Texas may have been better than all of them.

Automatic Bids:
1. Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion)
2. Florida (SEC Champion)
3. Texas (At-Large; Top 4)
4. Alabama (At-Large; Top 4)
5. USC (Pac-10 Champion)
8. Penn State (Big Ten Champion)
12. Cincinnati (Big East Champion)
19. Virginia Tech (ACC Champion)

At-Large Bids: Utah (12-0), Boise State (12-0). (No. 7 Texas Tech ineligible because at-large berth from Big 12 earned by No. 2 Texas)

First-Round Byes:
1. Oklahoma (No. 1)
2. Florida (No. 2)
3. Texas (Top 4)
4. Alabama (Top 4)
5. USC (Auto-Bid Champion)
8. Penn State (Auto-Bid Champion)

Home Games:
First Round:
12. Cincinnati (Auto-Bid Champion)
19. Virginia Tech (Auto-Bid Champion)
Second Round:
1. Oklahoma (No. 1)
2. Florida (No. 2)
5. USC (Auto-Bid Champion)
8. Penn State (Auto-Bid Champion)

Hypothetical Bracket (assuming higher-seeded team wins):

2007 Season
2007 was the wildest regular season in the BCS era, by far, and another colossal failure for the concept of plucking just two teams from the pack. The season began with Appalachian State upsetting Michigan in Ann Arbor, included the greatest upset in the history of point spreads when Stanford knocked off USC in the L.A. Coliseum, saw the No. 1 or No. 2 team in a given week go down on a dozen different occasions and ended with both No. 1 (Missouri) and No. 2 (West Virginia) blowing their shot at the title game on the final Saturday of the season. Behind No. 1 Ohio State (11-1), the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC champions all finished with two losses and no way to distinguish between them.

Automatic Bids:
1. Ohio State (Big Ten Champion)
2. LSU (SEC Champion)
3. Virginia Tech (ACC Champion)
4. Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion)
7. USC (Pac-10 Champion)
9. West Virginia (Big East Champion)

At-Large Bids: Georgia (10-2), Missouri (11-2), Hawaii (12-0), Arizona State (10-2). (No. 7 Kansas ineligible because at-large berth from Big 12 earned by No. 6 Missouri)

First-Round Byes:
1. Ohio State (No. 1)
2. LSU (No. 2)
3. Virginia Tech (Auto-Bid Champion)
4. Oklahoma (Auto-Bid Champion)
7. USC (Auto-Bid Champion)
9. West Virginia (Auto-Bid Champion)

Home Games:
First Round:
5. Georgia (Highest remaining at-large seed)
6. Missouri (Highest remaining at-large seed)
Second Round:
1. Ohio State (No. 1)
2. LSU (No. 2)
3. Virginia Tech (Auto-Bid Champion)
4. Oklahoma (Auto-Bid Champion)

Hypothetical Bracket (assuming higher-seeded team wins):

2006 Season
2006 is a favorite example of playoff opponents because of that year's apocalyptic showdown between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan to close the regular season, with the winner bound for the BCS Championship Game. Wouldn't a playoff diminish the traditional, be-all/end-all atmosphere in Columbus by giving the loser new life? Answer: a) No more than the new Big Ten Championship setup does now, and b) Not if it means the loser is virtually guaranteed to go on the road in the second round of the playoffs — if the loser gets a bye into the second round of the playoffs at all, which would not have been assured for Michigan by any means in '06 until USC's stunning loss at UCLA on championship weekend.

Also note that, indeed, Wake Forest won an ACC championship. But the Deacons would have still been forced to go on the road in the first round due to the playoff's inherent political bias for Notre Dame.

Automatic Bids:
1. Ohio State (Big Ten Champion)
2. Florida (SEC Champion)
3. Michigan (At-Large; Ranked in Top 4)
4. LSU (At-Large; Ranked in Top 4)
5. USC (Pac-10 Champion)
6. Louisville (Big East Champion)
10. Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion)
11. Notre Dame (10 Wins; Ranked in Top 12)
14. Wake Forest (ACC Champion)

At-Large Bid: Boise State (12-0). (No. 7 Wisconsin ineligible because at-large berth from Big Ten earned by No. 3 Michigan.)

First-Round Byes:
1. Ohio State (No. 1)
2. Florida (No. 2)
3. Michigan (Top 4)
4. LSU (Top 4)
5. USC (Auto-Bid Champion)
6. Louisville (Auto-Bid Champion)

Home Games:
First Round:
10. Oklahoma (Auto-Bid Champion
11. Notre Dame (De Facto Auto-Bid Champion)
Second Round:
1. Ohio State (No. 1)
2. Florida (No. 2)
5. USC (Auto-Bid Champion)
6. Louisville (Auto-Bid Champion)

Hypothetical Bracket (assuming higher-seeded team wins):

A few notes on the five year review as a whole:

No clearly deserving team is left out. Three one-loss teams from major conferences (Wisconsin in 2006, Kansas in '07, Texas Tech in '08) would have been left in the cold by the restriction of one at-large bid per conference. But all of those teams were soundly beaten by one of the conference rivals that made the cut instead, and in Wisconsin and Kansas' case didn't even play the other one. Meanwhile, every single undefeated outfit from one of the mid-major conferences — Boise State in '06, '08 and '09, Hawaii in '07, Utah in '08, TCU in '09 and '10 — would have made the cut as an at-large team. The top four teams in the final standings get in automatically, but the fifth and sixth-ranked teams have made the cut all five years, as well.

Exceedingly few undeserving teams get in. As I pointed out on Monday, out of 50 teams here, only three finished the regular season with more than two losses: Wake Forest in 2006 (10-3), Virginia Tech in 2008 (10-3) and UConn last year (8-4), all major conference champions. All three would have also been forced to win a first-round game to get into the round of eight. There, of the 30 teams slated for first-round byes, only eight came out of the regular season with more than one loss — and five of those were in 2007 alone, when basically everybody had two losses.

Outside of '07, only two teams, USC in 2006 and Oregon in 2009, would have hosted a second-round game with more than one regular season loss. In other words, you are significantly punished for losing.

The bar is extremely high for at-large teams. Including Florida in 2009, fully half of the teams slated for non-automatic bids — six of twelve — finished the regular season undefeated. Of the remaining six, only one (Arizona State in 2007) finished outside of the top ten in the final BCS standings.

The games are awesome. If you claim to be a football fan and yet wouldn't have flipped out over an Oregon-TCU semifinal last year, or undefeated Boise State traveling to undefeated Texas in 2009, or one-loss Alabama visiting one-loss USC as a quarterfinal game in 2008, then I don't know how to reach you. Again, Mr. President, I know you are not one of these people: Give me a ring.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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