College football is great because it offers its fans the most exciting week-to-week regular season of any sport. I spend nearly every Saturday during the fall either tailgating outside Carter-Finley or watching far too much SEC – and, this season, Big XII South – football on TV. But unlike college basketball, which builds over the course of four months towards conference tournaments and March Madness, where true champions are decided on the court, college football’s regular season far surpasses its anti-climactic, awkward quagmire of a postseason.
College football is a world of Haves and Haves Not, and at the beginning of each season there are only a privileged few – perhaps a dozen, total – with any real shot at a national title. Cinderella doesn’t exist in college football. But the main problem with college football: Beyond the obvious, annual controversy surrounding the BCS (thanks Big XII South) is the awkward quagmire the bowl system has evolved into. Conference bowl tie-ins have not only created far too many bad match ups for the fans, but have also created an unfair system that extends invitations based not on merit but how well a team’s fans travel, while rewarding undeserving teams just to fulfill contractual obligations between each conference and its bowls.
Just making a bowl means very little anymore, considering nearly every 6-6 team in one of the BCS conferences is essentially guaranteed an invitation somewhere. It’s a system that has cheapened the meaning of the college football postseason while marginalizing the benchmark by which we the fans measure our program’s success, and in turn, that of our coach’s. Consider that in the past two seasons, with 12-game schedules the norm, that eight teams have finished with a losing record after bowl losses: in 2006, New Mexico (New Mexico Bowl), Alabama (Independence), Minnesota (Insight), and Iowa (Alamo); and in 2007, Nevada (New Mexico), UCLA (Las Vegas), Maryland (Emerald), and Colorado (Indepence). Quite simply, no 6-6 team deserves to be “rewarded” with a bowl invitation.
But I’m not promoting a playoff, because I don’t suffer naïveté. Any playoff that will create a fair system of determining a true national champion while simultaneously filling the Haves’ coffers is simply implausible. It’s not about academics or preserving the importance of the regular season, but rather the multi-millions in TV revenues and the logistics of travel over multiple weekends. The argument that it works in I-AA lacks merit, chiefly because most I-AA stadiums have capacity less than 20,000 and attendance relies almost entirely on the home crowd, while the lower seeds that are forced to travel often lose money in the playoffs. The I-AA national championship game has been played at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga since 1997, with an average attendance of only 17,422 during that span. Meanwhile, this season the BCS will pay out a total of $87.5 million and its stadiums have an average capacity of 77,058. While I do believe that a four-team playoff could work, it likely wouldn’t eliminate controversy – there will always be a fifth team that has an argument for being included.
For the foreseeable future, at least, the current bowl system will remain intact. With that established, I’m ecstatic that State is now bowl-eligible, even if we are “on the bubble.” And if the current system isn’t going to change, then the least we can do is exploit it for our own advantage.
So what if, instead of the current system by which the bowls select its teams, there was a bowl selection committee for conference tie-ins similar to that for the selection committee for the NCAA Tournament, where a team’s record over its past 10 games is taken into heavy consideration? There are nine bowl slots to fill, and of the ten bowl-eligible teams in the ACC, one will be left at home. Who gets in, and why?
Obviously in are division champions Boston College (9-3) and Virginia Tech (8-4), as well as Georgia Tech (9-3), Florida State (8-4), and Carolina (8-4). Clemson, Maryland, Miami, and Wake Forest are each 7-5, while State is 6-6. Over its final five games, State and Clemson were 4-1, Wake and Miami were 3-2 and Maryland was only 2-3. Wake, Miami, and Maryland each deserve bowl bids based on their winning records. So basically, the argument is reduced to which team deserves the final slot, State or Clemson.
Considering that both fan bases can be counted on to travel in large numbers to either Charlotte, D.C., or Nashville, the decision can be reduced to merit. Clemson handily defeated rival South Carolina 31-14 to end the season, but two of its wins over its final five games were over Duke and Virginia, the only two ACC teams with losing records. The Tigers also took advantage of two early-season victories over I-AA opponents The Citadel and South Carolina State, versus State’s lone victory over I-AA William & Mary.
Meanwhile, State was a better team than Clemson down the stretch, and was arguably better than anyone else in the conference during November, finishing with four consecutive conference wins, with three consecutive wins over bowl-eligible teams Wake Forest, Carolina, and Miami. Moreover, the Wolfpack had a turnover margin of 11-2 and outscored its four opponents 127-72. State can also showcase the conference’s most prolific quarterback in Russell Wilson, who led the ACC with a passer rating of 134.3 and in four November wins threw eight touchdowns with no interceptions and also rushed for two touchdowns.
However, Clemson did defeat an injury-riddled State 27-9 in September, and head-to-head victories should mean something.
In other words, I think it’s too close to call, so let’s hope something works out in our favor and we play in Nashville, Charlotte, or D.C. What do y’all think?