To quote the ever-wise Ron Burgundy, "Boy, that escalated quickly."
A little less than three years after calls for a college football playoff became so desperate that Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah was urging the Justice Department to investigate the matter, we now, fairly suddenly, have a playoff in the sport. While this is certainly a welcome development, the reasoning behind why the powers at be held off for so long is confusing at best. It certainly wasn't in the interest of the public -- a 2007 Gallup poll indicated that 85 percent of college football fans favored the implementation playoff system. The reasons for why a playoff system wouldn't be feasible ranged from a fear that it would render the regular season less meaningful (even though it's probable that it will only add more excitement, as more teams will be in the running for a shot at the national championship late in the season), it would ruin the traditional bowl system (and what a tragedy it would be to sully the great tradition of the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl), to the argument that it would cause student-athletes to miss too much school (a fear that apparently wasn't acknowledged for those competing in the NCAA basketball/baseball/volleyball/etc. tournament).
While these excuses may all have been a "poker face" of sorts to keep the peace until the current BCS deal, which expires in 2014, was up for re-negotiation, it's frustrating to see all these officials so quickly back off of their talking points that robbed us of more than a decade of great games.
In an effort to torture myself, I decided to take a look back at a few of the potential playoff matchups that never happened since the inception of the BCS due to the lack of action on the part of the committee. I set up these theoretical games based on the final standings of the BCS each year since 1998. While I understand that a committee, rather than the final BCS standings, will likely determine future playoff matchups, I feel that using the objective data available to me was the most fair way to go about this particular exercise. It's not perfect (in fact, as Bill Connelly of SB Nation expertly analyzed, developing a consensus among the top four teams most deserving to participate in a playoff in past years would likely have been a headache most seasons) but who are we kidding? Nothing in college football is.
10. 1999: No. 2 Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Nebraska
As would eventually be established in the national championship game, Florida State was far and away the best team in college football during 1998-99 season, but how fun would it have been to watch Hokie freshman sensation Michael Vick battle it out against Nebraska legend Eric Crouch in a semifinal game? Neither team would have had a shot at defeating the Seminoles, but it would have been quite a spectacle to see two of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks in college football history on one field.
9. 2004: No. 1 USC vs. No. 4 Texas
This game would have served as a preview for the 2005-2006 national championship game. On paper, it would seem USC would win this contest handily, as they would put up 55 points on a Oklahoma squad that shut out Texas earlier in the season. But I'm sure college football fans could have tolerated watching a high stakes game between Texas and USC featuring Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, even if it did occur a season early... and eventually be erased from the history books.
8. 2010: No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Stanford
Granted, in the 2010 national championship game Auburn shutdown an Oregon offense that had scored at will against the Stanford Cardinal during their regular season contest, but still, imagine getting to watch quarterback prodigies Cam Newton and Andrew Luck duke it out on the same field in a national semifinal game. Half the stadium would likely have been filled with NFL scouts.
7. 2011: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State
The 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide may have boasted one of the best defenses college football has ever seen, but they never had to prove their mettle against a spread offense as explosive as Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had the fourth ranked offense in the entire NCAA, while the Tide's toughest test on the season came against an Arkansas attack that didn't even crack the top 25 in the nation. Alabama likely would have won this game by overpowering the Oklahoma State defense, but it's a real shame that the Tide's great defense was never tested by the best spread offense in college football.
6. 1998: No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Outside of a single loss to Michigan State, in which the team relinquished a 15-point lead late in the contest, the 1998 Ohio State Buckeyes were positively dominant (not to mention overflowing with NFL talent). Eventual champion Tennessee had to fend off some tough competition -- the Volunteers would defeat five ranked teams during the regular season -- but it's difficult to imagine Ohio State's future pro-bowl cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements not causing Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin and company headaches.
5. 2005: No. 1 USC vs. No. 4 Ohio State
Because they made the national championship game in subsequent seasons, people often forget exactly how deep and talented the 2005-2006 renditions of the Buckeyes truly were. This team had five players selected in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft and had their entire starting linebacker corps selected in the first three rounds. Their only defeats on the season were extremely narrow and came at the hands of eventual national champion Texas and a Penn State team that would finish No. 3 in the final AP poll. The 2005 USC Trojans had possibly the greatest offense in college football history at their disposal, but they still would have had their hands full with the Buckeyes stellar defense. That's not to even mention the Trojans weak secondary, which would have had to deal with three future Ohio State first round draft picks at wide receiver (Anthony Gonzalez, Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn), and an eventual Heisman-winning quarterback in Troy Smith.
As amazing as the Rose Bowl between Texas and USC was, this match-up may very well have been just as close.
4. 2010: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 TCU
There's no two ways about it: the 2010 TCU Horned Frogs deserved a chance to prove they were the best team in college football. After going undefeated on the season, TCU managed to contain an explosive Wisconsin offense to win the school its first BCS bowl. As explosive as Oregon's scheme was on offense, it's arguable that TCU might have been able to match them punch for punch on defense. The Ducks were ultimately only a-field-goal-as-time-expired worse than Auburn, but I'm not so sure that means they were a better overall team than the Horned Frogs.
3. 2004: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Auburn
In 2004, Auburn did something that seems unthinkable today: They went undefeated in the SEC and were still not selected to play for the national championship. As history would later dictate, this was a mistake, as the Oklahoma Sooners -- who were selected to participate in the national championship over Auburn -- would ultimately be demolished by USC. There's no telling whether Auburn would have suffered the same fate against the Trojans, but it would have been really fun to watch a semifinal matchup between an undefeated Big 12 and SEC champion -- a scenario usually reserved for championship games.
2. 2008: No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 Texas
Ask most folks in the know around Austin, and they'll tell you that it was in fact the 2008 Longhorns -- not the 2009 squad who made the national championship game -- who were in fact the best Texas football team of the late 2000s. This was a year where a playoff would have gone a long way in clarifying a log jam at the top of the BCS standings between the Longhorns, the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators and the Oklahoma Sooners, who were positively dominant outside of a single defeat to Texas. This was a truly great year for college football not only because of the parity, but because it was a season in which we saw the spread offense performed at a level previously unseen. There's no telling whether Texas' offense would have more luck against Florida's stout defense than OU did, but it's hard to imagine a head-to-head match up between Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow not being a game for the ages. Texas, Florida and Oklahoma all averaged more than 42 points per game, with the Sooners setting an NCAA record averaging an astounding 51.1. Oklahoma rightly got their shot at Florida, but UF vs. Texas is another game that college football world deserved to see.
And it's also worth mentioning that an undefeated Utah team, which demolished Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, also probably would have had a say in who the eventual national champion was -- as much as it probably pains Orrin Hatch to think about.
1. 2003: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 USC
It's arguable that this was the BCS-era game that never happened that really sparked the outrage that eventually led us to Tuesday night's announcement of a playoff.
In 2003, LSU defeated Oklahoma in the national championship game and thus were declared BCS champions. But in many people's minds, including the Associated Press, USC was the better team. The Tigers naturally didn't take too kindly to Southern Cal declaring ownership over their national championship, and because they couldn't settle their differences on the field, the battle between the two schools became a war of words for several years. One LSU fan went so far as to purchase a billboard in Los Angeles in 2006 poking fun at the school for only winning one BCS championship. This semifinal wouldn't only have served as a true national championship, but it would have eliminated a lot of bad blood between the fan bases.
I'm as happy as every other fan that college football is finally getting a playoff, but after evaluating what we've missed out on as a result of a lack of it, the question remains: What took you guys so long?