Sunday, December 17, 2017

New way of determining a college football champion needed

Two legendary programs are undefeated and on a collision course for the national title.

We just saw one of the greatest finishes ever with Auburn upsetting Alabama.

This has become one of the better college football seasons in recent memory.

Yet the whole thing is fouled up.

The BCS is a mess. The new four-team playoff isn't even in place, yet you can already see the potential cracks in that system. It's time to flush it all down the tubes and start over with a new way of determining a national champion.

Let's start with this year's problems.

Now if you're a Florida State fan, you might want to stop reading at this point. Ohio State fans, too. You probably won't like hearing how your schools come from lousy conferences and you played a schedule full of weaklings.

FSU? Its best win was against Clemson. The Tigers just lost to South Carolina, which is, like, the fourth-best team in the SEC. Clemson, at No. 13, is the only currently ranked team FSU has beaten.

Ohio State? The Buckeyes have played one team — No. 23 Wisconsin — currently ranked.

Yet if FSU beats Duke in the ACC championship and Ohio State knocks off Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, we'll likely see FSU play Ohio State for the BCS title.

What a joke.

Two teams load up on cream puff schedules, beat a decent team or two and they get to play for all the marbles? Teams worthy of a crack at a national championship should have to run a bumpier path than that. They should have to run a gantlet of ranked teams and other national contenders.

You might say FSU and Ohio State can't help that their conferences are weak, but I say they shouldn't be rewarded for that either. FSU has played the 42nd-toughest schedule in Division I-A, according to (a website dedicated to statistical analysis). Ohio State's schedule is 52nd.

Meantime, a one-loss Auburn team has played the fourth-toughest schedule. If it beats No. 5 Missouri on Saturday in the SEC championship, it will have beaten four teams currently ranked, including two that will still be in the top 10 next week. Auburn's lone loss was on the road to another ranked team, then-No. 6 LSU (now No. 14).

Yet No. 3 Auburn could be shut out of the title hunt. If Missouri wins the SEC, it could be shut out despite its lone loss being in double overtime with its backup quarterback against a ranked team — then-No. 20 South Carolina (now No. 8).

A bunch of one-loss teams from good conferences — Oklahoma State, Baylor and, yes, Alabama — could make an argument to play in the BCS title game.

So if next year's four-team playoff was in place now, would the problem be solved? Nope. It would be even cloudier. Instead of arguing which team deserves to be in the title game, we're going to argue which teams should be in a four-team playoff.

Put it this way, I wouldn't want to be Condoleezza Rice or any of the members of the selection committee.

Let's use this season as the example. Say FSU and Ohio State both win Saturday. That would put them in a four-team playoff. You would assume the winner of the SEC title game between Auburn and Missouri would get a spot. That would leave one opening.

Who would get it?

The guess is Alabama, whose only loss was to Auburn on that miracle, last-second, field goal return. But that doesn't seem fair either. The loser of the SEC championship would be penalized for getting to that game while Alabama would benefit from not having to play in that game at all.

Oklahoma State and Baylor would have strong arguments. Northern Illinois — which, by the way, beat two Big Ten teams — is undefeated. And just imagine if FSU and/or Ohio State lost Saturday. Then it would be total chaos.

So how could we fix all this?

I've always favored the BCS system because it places a high priority on the regular season and, this year not withstanding, we almost always get the two best teams playing for the national title. But I've lost the BCS fight.

So if we're going to have a playoff system, then let's do it right. Let's expand it to eight teams, thus diminishing the chance a legitimate national title contender is getting robbed out of a spot. An eight-team playoff also would help combat college football's biggest flaw: penalizing teams for losing late in the season. When you lose shouldn't matter as much as whom you lose to.

Next, conferences need to eliminate championship games. That will never happen because they make too much money, but these games only serve as booby traps for teams with national championship hopes. Victories in conference championship games aren't nearly as beneficial as losses are damaging.

Finally, don't start ranking teams until midway through the season. That way, a team isn't penalized or rewarded based on preseason predictions.

Do all of this and, most likely, you're going to have eight legitimate contenders. The first team left out of an eight-team playoff doesn't have near the beef as the first team left out of a four-team playoff.

Best of all, the eventual champ would have to prove itself by winning three playoff games against quality opponents.

Ultimately, what we want is a team worthy of a national championship and a national championship worthy of this great sport.

Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8544 and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.

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