After doing the first four years of this I took a break, but I've finally returned to it.
To start this one off I want to discuss my purpose and process for a moment. This is not a pure numbers survey, that's the bailiwick of The Mathlete. My goal is to approach the championship saying "What are the fewest teams that have a resume that entitles them to have a shot at the national championship?". So my human bias as an author does creep in.
One thing I want to stress, if I'm trying to do this from a need based approached. What is the minimum number of teams we need. Where can we draw a line and say: Everyone on one side of this line has a resume weaker than the people on the other side. Not what we as fans want to see. Basically if at the end of the season we do resume voting for just that season, how many teams took care of business in the regular season and should have a shot at holding the crystal ball.
To recap the results from last time, I found the people on the stronger side of the line was:
1998: 4 teams
1999: 2 teams
2000: 4 teams
2001: 4 teams
From that review I suggested that a four team playoff looks like the minimum you need. I did not find a season where you had a 5th team with a resume that made them worthy (although we come close in 1998 with A&M). I also did not find a season where you'd have trouble finding 4 teams to round the playoff out (although 1999 comes close when you have to settle for two loss Wisconsin or Alabama as the 4th, both teams choked on a cupcake and the #3 team only has one loss).
From the above as I go I'm using the hypothesis that: "In any given season you can eliminate two of the six auto qualifying conference champs and have a nice four team field." As I go forward I'll see if this gets supported or rejected and what the rising strength of the MWC does to this (because then I'm looking at rejecting 3 from 7 instead of 2 from 6). At least Notre Dame always sucks, so I don't have to worry about them.
Championship Game: #2 Ohio State defeats #1 Miami
Who Else Had A Claim:
Miami: Finishes the season 12-0. So they are undefeated and get the immunity idol. Miami beats two ranked teams in conference play and two ranked teams in OOC play (FSU and Florida). That's a nice schedule and they come out undefeated.
Ohio State: Undefeated as well. They defeat one ranked team in OOC play (Washington State) and three ranked Big Ten teams.
ACC: Maryland finishes ranked #13 and 11-3. The lose to ranked FSU teams and lose to an unranked Notre Dame squad in their season opener. That Notre Dame squad though finishes 10-3/#17 though. Florida State actually wins the division despite being 9-4. FSU goes 7-1 in division play (losing to NC State). Three of FSU's four losses are to good teams (Miami, ND, and NC State). NC State also finishes the season 11-3 and ranked, with losses too Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Virginia.
I can't really see arguing how anything out of this mess of teams has a resume to compete with a pair of undefeated conference champs. So I'm discarding the ACC
Big 12: Oklahoma finishes off the season 11-2 and wins the B12. They get five ranked wins over four teams (had to play Colorado twice) and losses to A&M and OSU. Some years this would be enough, but not in a year with two undefeated teams that each have four ranked wins.
PAC10: A 10-2 WSU and a 10-2 USC end up at the top of the conference. USC loses to WSU and a ranked KSU early in the year. WSU loses to Ohio State, Washington and then gets defeated by OU in the Rose Bowl. The PAC10 is like the ACC, where multiple teams had a chance to seize the day, win out, and finish the season with a good resume. They did't though.
SEC: Georgia wins the SEC, but a lose in Nov to #22 Florida robs them of an undefeated season. They end the season with four wins over ranked teams and defeat FSU in the Sugar Bowl for a fifth ranked win.
Independents/MWC: TCU and ND have decent years. The Domers beat four ranked teams but do trip against Boston College and lose to USC. TCU destroys almost everything in its path, but chokes on San Jose State (and loses its bowl game to Southern Mississippi). TCU's weak MWC schedule definitely haunts them here, along with the fact that two other teams go undefeated.
The Verdict on 2002:
This could have been an ugly year for selection. Maryland, FSU, NC State, OU, USC, Georgia, Washington State, Notre Dame, and maybe even TCU all end the season a couple of scores away from having the resume needed to play in the BCS Title Game.
The BCS is saved from too much controversy thanks to Miami and tOSU finishing out with four ranked wins each and no losses. Had either of those teams lost, then Georgia has a claim. In a four team system that would leave OU and Washington State with about equal claim to the fourth game. Notre Dame is right behind them (although through the transitive property WSU > ND). I'd also imagine some people making a case for the one loss TCU, but they do lack ranked wins.
This is a results based system though, so I'd say the final ruling is two teams.
Nice ink Maurice.
Championship Game: #2 LSU defeats #1 Oklahoma
Note: This was the year the AP gave the title to USC and the 21-14 snoozefest of LSU vs OU.
Who Else Had A Claim:
Oklahoma: Didn't actually have a claim. They didn't win their conference. They defeat three ranked teams in conference play, but lose to #12 KSU in the title game (KSU 35, OU 7). If you don't win your conference, you don't play for the national title. So OU is gone.
LSU: Defeats 4 ranked teams, but losses by 12 points to an unranked Florida team. Florida ends 8-5 and ranked at the end of the season, so that doesn't look too bad. Winning the SEC and only have one loss is fairly good, but lets see if anyone has anything better:
ACC: Florida State loses to a ranked Miami team (twice, they had to play them in their OOC schedule and in the Orange Bowl, urgh). FSU also loses to Clemson by 16 points (Clemson ends the year ranked). The following week they need 2 OTs to beat NC State (who finishes 8-5 and unranked). FSU's only ranked win is over Florida. FSU also beats Maryland early in the season before Maryland is ranked (Maryland finishes 10-3). So FSU finishes with two losses, but they do beat the team that beats LSU. Lets see what other conferences have to offer in their champion.
B12: A three loss KSU (complete with a loss to Marshall) beats OU down in the championship and wins the conference. But two of KSU's three losses are to unranked teams. Their third is to a ranked Texas outfit. They also beat ranked Nebraska and OU. What else do we have.
Big East: Miami finishes the season with losses to Tennessee (10-3, #15) and and Virginia Tech (8-5). They do beat Florida who in turn had beaten LSU.
Big Ten: Michigan finishes off the year with two loses. A four point loss to Oregon and a three point loss to Iowa. We defeat five ranked teams and then lose by two scores to USC. A 10-2 Ohio State finishes off the season ranked ahead of us, but we beat them so we have the tie breaker. As a side note I still remember chanting: "Capitol One Bowl!" at the tOSU fans as they left. Anyway Michigan finishes with two losses to ranked teams (although Oregon does not finish the reason ranked) and wins over five ranked teams (although by the end of the year MSU was not ranked).
PAC10: USC is a soulless killing machine, aside from Cal. They lose to Cal early in the season (in triple OT). Their biggest problem is a weak schedule. Their ranked games are Auburn and Washington State. Plus of course a two touchdown victory over a Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Independents/MWC: A two loss Utah. They lost to Texas A&M and New Mexico State. They defeat a ranked Oregon (Oregon does not finished ranked). Considering the resumes of the other conference champions, I'm not really high on Utah.
The Verdict on 2003:
This whole season is a mess. LSU has the strongest resume, but it really doesn't separate them from the pack. After them you have a mess of teams like USC with only one loss, but only two ranked victories. Then there is Michigan at two losses but more ranked victories. Miami, KSU, and FSU all have slightly weaker resumes in terms of ranked teams defeated, but they aren't terrible.
This is definitely a season where people with different criteria will select different teams. Personally I'd say three teams have legit claims: LSU, Michigan, and USC.
This is why MSU didn't finish the season ranked.
Championship Game: #1 USC defeats #2 Oklahoma (vacated)
Who Else Had A Claim:
USC: Undefeated, soulless killing machine yet again. Solid resume. No issues with their selection.
OU: Undefeated manages to win their division this year. Solid resume. They're in.
Note: The Big East gets much less impressive starting this year, due to the good teams bailing to the ACC.
ACC: Virginia Tech finishes off the season 10-2. They open the season against USC and only loss by a single touchdown. They also lose by one point to an unranked NC State team (who finishes 5-6). They defeat ranked WVU, Virginia, and Maryland teams. They lose to Auburn by 3 in their bowl game. A solid showing all around, although two loses are not so good when you have multiple undefeated teams in play.
Big East: Four conference co-champions. Including a 6-6 Syracuse (4-2 in conference play) team. I'm sorry but when a 6-6 is conference co-champ, no. Just no. (9-3 Boston College is the best of the lot).
Big Ten: Michigan finishes off 10-2. Losses to Notre Dame (who goes 6-6) and to Ohio State (who finishes up ranked but 8-4 overall). When we play them Purdue and Minnesota are ranked, but they do not finish the season ranked. We defeat an unranked Iowa who does finish the season ranked. Michigan losses to Texas by one point. We're in the same boat as Virginia Tech.
SEC: Auburn is undefeated. They beat four ranked teams in the regular season and a fifth in their bowl. All ranked teams are in the Top 15.
Independent/MWC: Utah is undefeated. They do not play a ranked team.
The Verdict on 2004:
If you had just two undefeated teams, this would be easy and a year you only need two to settle it all up. As it stands you have a clear Top 3 of USC, OU, and Auburn. following them up you have Utah (Point: They are undefeated. Counterpoint: They played a shit schedule) and the two loss ACC and B10 teams (Point: Stronger schedule than Utah. Counterpoint: Two losses a piece).
So I'm calling three as the final verdict here in terms of where I can draw the line of "everyone after this line has a weaker resume".
Any excuse to link to Marlin Jackson
Championship Game: Texas defeats USC
Note: USC's official record for this is now 0-1. Alabama also gets itself in trouble and now as a record of 0-2. Ah vacated wins…
Who Else Had A Claim:
USC: Soulless killing machine. Defeats 5 ranked teams. Undefeated. Legit claim.
Texas: Undefeated. Defeats 3 ranked teams. Legit claim.
ACC: A four loss FSU team wins the ACC championship game. Had VT taken care of business a 10-1 VT team would have emerged from the ACC as the victor. Instead a four loss team does. No sale on FSU.
Big East: WVU is in fine form with a special someone at the helm. They lose to Virginia Tech early in the season (who finishes out 11-2 for the year). WVU suffers from three issues. First they start the season unranked. Secondly they lose a game early on, which means they are not ranked until the first weak of November. Finally the only ranked team they play is Louisville. They defeat Georgia in their bowl by three points.
Big Ten: Penn State finishes off 11-1. So close, yet so far. They defeat three ranked teams but loss to an unranked Michigan team (who finishes up 7-5). Thank you Super Mario.
SEC: Georgia wins the SEC with two losses. Both were to ranked teams. Georgia defeats four ranked teams. As a side note, had LSU won the SEC Title game, LSU would have come out of the SEC with only one loss and wins over four ranked teams.
Independent/MWC: TCU opens the season strong with a win over ranked Oklahoma. They then lose to SMU the following week. They play no one else who is ranked and finish off the season with a three point win over Iowa State in their bowl.
The Verdict on 2005:
Once again the BCS benefits from the fact only two teams went undefeated. You have someone drop a game here or there and suddenly selection gets really ugly really fast.
Final verdict is two.
The Summary So Far:
1998: 4 teams
1999: 2 teams
2000: 4 teams
2001: 4 teams
2002: 2 teams
2003: 3 teams
2004: 3 teams
2005: 2 teams
It appears every year you never have more four conference champions who cannot be separated from the others by the virtue of their resume. It so far you can throw out at least 3 of the 7 (counting the MWC).
What is different in this set of years though is when we have three teams there is now a problem selecting a fourth. In 2003 there is three times basically tied for fourth. The same in 2004. In 2002 and 2005, had one of the undefeated teams lost, a can of worms also would have been opened.
If we have a 4 team playoff:
In 2002 and 2005 there are multiple teams who can point to the teams that got the #3 and #4 seeds and complain they are equal to thos eteams. In 2003 and 2004 there are multiple teams who can point to the team that got the #4 seed and complain.
If you want complete fairness you go with a 6 team playoff to avoid this. The other possible response is to say to WVU: "Why yes you are comparable to PSU/Georgia However your resume is not comparable to that of USC or Texas. If you wanted to avoid getting screwed by the polls, go undefeated like Texas/USC did." It all depends on what you like.
If you go with a 6 team playoff:
This era (2002 through 2005) goes a lot smoother. However…
In 1999/2000 you're letting in two loss teams from the Big Ten and SEC as your 4 and 5 seeds. Your sixth seed is likely #10 Marshall, the undefeated MAC champion (Stanford wins the PAC with 4 losses). In 2000/2001 you're letting less three loss teams from the Big Ten and SEC in to your playoff. Ugh. (Or you're recycling teams who game in second in their conference.)
If you go above 6:
You're likely letting all those teams who choked in their conference championship back in. There aren't enough quality opponents coming out of the smaller conferences to really flush out a bracket, so some teams are getting a second shot. At that point we're not allowed to be outraged about Alabama getting a do over, but we can be outraged about not getting a do over against tOSU. Pick your poison on that one.
Also the 1999/20001 bracket and 2000/2001 brackets would look terrible.
I still have 2006 to the present to go, but so far is is what I'm seeing from the review:
A 4 team system works better for the first four years. It keeps you from having to seeding pretty bad teams into the playoff or seeding in people who did not win their conference.
In the next four years, a 4 year system does not leave a conference champ with a really strong resume out in the cold. It seems you can draw a cut off point at the #2 or #3 seed and say "Everyone who comes after this team has an inferior resume." You then end up with multiple teams squabbling for that last spots. A six birth playoff solves this.
Up Next: 2006 and beyond….