I don't see the playoff expanding too much, and yes, it is for the #1 item on Brian's list, that is, academics. Expanding a playoff would be difficult for two (academic) reasons:
- Fall semester/quarter final exams
- Spring semester/winter quarter classes begin
Because the season (conference championship) isn't over until the first weekend in December you can't fit too many games in before classes start again in January. Here is a list of all of the Saturdays in December 2011-January 2012 until classes start.
- December 3 - Conference championship game
- December 10 - (Potential) CFB national quarters *
- December 17 - End of finals week
- December 24 - Student - Athletes go home for Christmas holiday **
- December 31 - CFB national semis
- January 7 - CFB national championship on following Monday (the 9th) ***
- January 14 - Classes have started (Probably by the 9th) or are about to start (16th)
December 10th and the 17th could probably be flip-flopped depending on how you wanted to handle it. For this reason, I see the ceiling at 8 teams. I also think that there is a diminishing return on a title game the later that you schedule it. For example, I didn't watch any more football after the Sugar Bowl this season. It just didn't make it across my radar. That, and I didn't really care about the Bama - LSU rematch.
* I never understood the whole "the best teams can't go to bowl games if the playoff is too big" argument. The "other 4" bowls can pick from the quarterfinal losers for their games. This idea also rebuts the argument against home sites (at least for the quarters) because they can still go to a bowl game somewhere that there is warm weather.
** I guess that there is an implicit "think of the children" argument here by letting them go home for Christmas. Bowl games played on/around Christmas at least let the student - athletes go home for New Years. Either way, letting 18-22 year olds go home to Mama doesn't seem like a big thing to consider.
*** I so hope that they play one of these at Lambeau. Or Soldier Field would be ok too. Or even Yankee Stadium (I guess...but then I'll have to call certain people "cold-weather pansies")
Ok, so this has been bouncing around my head while I was cleaning up the fallen branches from the recent snowfall. I'm not going to say anything too wild and crazy here (down with the BCS), but maybe I'll say it in a different way.
Conference championship games: EPIC FAIL
First of all, conference championship games are highly overrated, especially when they are rematches. Ideally, the conf champ game should decide who the champ is for the conference (regardless of which team wins). However, this is rarely the case, and when there is a rematch, this game will often muddy the waters even more. As an example, let's take a look at the championship games this season to see if this ever happens:
MAC: NIU vs. the Bobcats. Both teams were 9-3, but NIU was 7-1 in the league, while the Bobcats were 6-2. Toledo muddies the situation because they were also 7-1 in the league (but 8-4 overall). It seems like Toledo could have an argument for being the "best" in the conference if the Bobcats had won. Championship game FAIL.
Pac 10: Oregon vs. UCLA. What a joke! Obviously this FAILs. But let's pretend that USC was bowl elgible, an Oregon vs. USC game still doesn't work because of Stanford. Championship game FAIL.
Conference USA: Houston (12-0, 8-0) vs. Southern Miss (10-2, 6-2). Here, they had a clear cut champion, who ended up losing. And let's also note that Tulsa was 8-4 (7-1)...so in effect they played a game between the #1 and #3 teams for this one...and the #3 team won. Championship game FAIL.
SEC: The well known case of LSU (12-0, 8-0) vs Georgia (10-2, 7-1). Raise your hand if you think that Georgia winning that game meant that they were the best team in the SEC...anyone...Bueller? Right, me neither. So why did they play this sham of a game? Because they couldn't play...
SEC championship (part 2): This will be LSU vs Alabama in a game that should be televised on Jefferson Pilot. Alabama LOST. At HOME. They couldn't even win their DIVISION, much less their CONFERENCE. The result should be different in the superdome? Even if Alabama wins, who should the champ be? 13-1 LSU or 12-1 Alabama? The word of the day is specious (link provided for any SEC fans who got lost here). SEC championship DOUBLE FAIL.
ACC championship: Virginia Tech (11-1, 7-1) vs. Clemson (9-3, 6-2). At least they got the best two teams in the league for this one. But, in my opinion, this league again had a clear cut champion. For this one, it could be argued both ways: VT still has a better overall record, but Clemson beat VT twice, and these two teams were the class of the league. I'll give this one a PUSH
BIG championship: Sparty (10-2, 7-1) vs. Bucky (10-2, 6-2). Here we had a clear cut champ. And if Sparty had pulled it off, I wouldn't have any qualms about calling little bro the conference champ. But they didn't. And now, who should be the champ? Should Sparty? I mean they split the season series, and both games were competitive. And let's not ignore Michigan and Penn State--both 6-2 in the league and having an equal number of losses as MSU and UW. Championship game FAIL.
So by my estimation, championship games are 0-6-1 this season. (The SEC gets the -2 because of the double fail...no relevant championship game, and forcing a MNC game that means nothing!) Conference championships: Defend your existance
Fixing the BCS:
Moreover, we have another problem. Oftentimes, the conference championship game loser gets punished because they played an extra game against a high quality opponent. In all of the AQ conferences the championship game loser could have easily been bumped from a BCS game. Join me in "maximum chaos world."
Oregon loses to UCLA. UCLA goes to the Rose Bowl and Stanford still gets a BCS bid. Oregon plays in the nobodycares.com bowl.
Georgia beats LSU. Georgia and Alabama get BCS games. LSU gets the Capital One Bowl.
UW beats MSU...MSU gets Outback Bowl (not even the Citrus...)
MSU beats UW...we can probably assume the same. (or maybe UW gets the citrus over Nebraska, who they pummeled).
VT beats Clemson...Clemson joins Oregon in the nobodycares.com bowl.
Clemson beats VT...If Boise State and/or Houston had stayed undefeated VT probably doesn't make it because of the autobids.
We replay the 2006 season in 2011. UM and OSU both get to the game undefeated. This also sets the schedule for the championship. OSU wins game 1 at home, Michigan wins game 2 in Indy. IIRC, Wisconsin was ~#5 in the polls that year. OSU falls below UW and UM and UW go to a BCS game.
Flip that scenario (UM wins game 1, OSU wins game 2, UW/PSU/Neb/MSU/Iowa is sitting at 4 or 5 right behind #1/2 UM/OSU). Now Michigan gets the Capital One Bowl.
To make the BCS have some semblance of logic, and to be consistent with their own mantra (each game matters), they need three rules.
- The national championship must be between two teams who won their conference. [Otherwise LSU v. Alabama part 1 didn't matter]
- In order to qualify for the BCS from a conference with a championship game, you must play in the championship game (i.e. you must win your division). In order to make it from an AQ conference with no championship game, you must be #1 or #2 in your league. (Less important because of ties and other clusterf-y things at the top of some conferences.) [Otherwise winning your division/finishing ahead of someone in your conference standings doesn't matter]
- Any championship game loser must not be punished in the BCS standings by playing a CG. If they qualified before the CG (from an AQ conference), they should stay qualified. [Otherwise you get punished for playing a game rather than a tomato can.]
I realize that these rules put a torch to the BCS games that they've got, and it would leave out a number of heavy hitters from this season's BCS (Michigan, Alabama, Stanford)--but then Boise State likes this just fine thanks. I know it's not perfect, but the BCS is inherently flawed. That is why we need:
A playoff system
First off, I don't care about the bowl system, as it is so lovingly called right now. We have way too many bowl games, and too many of them already are untenable, especially for teams that don't travel well. Colleges need to learn to say "no" to ticket guarantees and force these games to justify their own existence. If the whodafcares.com bowl was no longer in existence it would be just one less game that I don't watch.
Secondly, as Brian said:
Let's go back to first principles. What is the point of a playoff? Most soccer leagues across the globe play a balanced schedule and eschew the playoffs entirely. The season determines the champion. To them, the American way of doing things is stupid. And when you've set up your league such that everyone plays everyone else home and away, it is. Around here, however, there are very big leagues where balanced schedules are impossible and at the end of the regular season you're not quite sure who the best team is. So it makes sense to have the teams that you think might be the best team play each other.
All I've really done so far is extend this same argument:
Playoffs are assets when both of the following criteria are met:
- The regular season is insufficient to determine a best team.
- The winner of the playoff can reasonably claim to be the best team.
to conference championship games. I'm not going to make another bracket here, but I think if we eliminate conference championship games, we could add one more round to Brian's playoff proposal since we have one more week to play with. At this point, any idea is better than the BCS, right?
This is just going to be fairly brief, but I really feel optimistic about the outlook for this season. First, a few brief thoughts about last season. Michigan was about 6 inches away from 6-6 (Illinois), and a few "bad bounces" away from 8-4 (MSU and Iowa). With this view, we should all be thinking that 8-4 is certainly reachable.
Let's start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start!) Back at Center, we will see David Molk, who should be fully healed from his injury. Molk is potentially an all-conference center who can anchor the line. As far as the rest of the O-line goes, I'll let people smarter than me about these things tell you more, but from what I understand, it seems like signs are good that the team will be as good or better than last season on the offensive line.
I'm not going to weigh in on Denard vs. Tate at this time. (So what if that makes me chicken!) But at the very least, we should have a QB that is better than last season's QB. Tate is healthy, and with one more year of experience and work should be better than he was last year. Denard is beginning to look like a real QB, and not just a TB who occasionally throws the ball. By all accounts the sophomore version of Shoelace should be better than the freshman version of Forcier. So barring the double gut-punch injury to BOTH QBs, we should have a better QB than last year. Also, the competition this season between the two seems more active, which should make the current starter (whomever that may be) have to work harder to stay in that role. This means that the starting QB should be improving even more than last season. In the doomsday scenario, both of the best options get injured and we have (OMG) yet another true freshman playing QB in Devin Gardner, which--let's face it--is still better than a walk-on. In all liklihood, the starting QB at Michigan should be better than last season (and doesn't that make you feel better too?)\
Ok, so Minor and Brown (and Grady) graduated...and this is maybe a little sad. But Minor or Brown was hurt almost every week and Grady rarely saw the field. It seems like the important thing to have here is depth. And this Michigan has, perhaps even in abundance. There is some experience in this system for guys like Shaw and Smith (who should be healthy again). And this gives me hope that the status quo will be maintained and this group is at least as good as last season.
This year, Michigan has lost Matthews and Savoy (who I fondly remember for those catches against Notre Dame...happy thoughts!) But Hemmingway and Stonum are back on the outside. And Odoms and Roundtree will be awesome in the slot. Maybe Koger gives us a decent middle of the field threat, you know, the one we hoped he would be last season. There is plenty of reason to be optimistic with this skill group as well.
So to summarize, the offense should be better, in just about every phase of play this season. This might even make up for not having a space emperor (of space) winning the field position battle so often. We can always hope, right?
There can be hope with this group too. Briefly, can it really be worse than last season?
You don't lose Brandon Graham and get better. But Martin, VanBergen, Roh, Campbell, and Segasse make a good nucleus for DL depth. Who will step up? It is possible that the DL is still the strength of the defense this season.
Ok seriously. It can't get worse. Right? Please? If I close my eyes and wish really hard, does that make it so? Maybe this change in scheme we heard about is really about simplifying life for the LBs...and this can be a group that doesn't kill us on Defense. It's still the off-season, so I can be optimistic. Just ask any Lions fan you know (for whom the off-season, and sometimes, the preseason, are the best times to be a Lions fan).
Again, it can't get worse, can it? The big questions to answer. Will we have a reliable deep safety that doesn't get burned at least once per game? Will we have the athletes at corner to play adequate coverage? I think that there are enough hands on deck in that position group to be effective.
So in summary, the defense might even be adequate this season. Nobody will mistake them for one of the stellar defenses of the past (see 1997) but they should make do.
I think we can all crawl back from the ledge. I can't wait for September 4th to come!...And not just because it will be my 6th anniversary! ;)
Zoltan Mesko--Sadly, the Space Emperor will rule another galaxy.
Next year's defense will certainly miss Brandon Graham. He's the only legitimate All-American (and all-Big Ten player--with the possible exception of Donovan Warren--for that matter) on the defense. No single player will be able to fill his shoes, but we hope that multiple players will step up to replace his production. Mike Martin will hopefully continue to develop into the First-Round draft pick/All-American that we all hope he can become. He really seemed to break through at the end of the season to my view. Ryan Van Bergen should continue to get bigger, faster and stronger. He may be asked to move over to Graham's position. This could be made possible by the continued development of Will Campbell. I think that he began making strides at the end of the season, even if they were only in flashes. Segasse should also still be around. Maybe he will make an impact in his senior season. With hard work, this can continue to be the strength of the defense.
Warren was quoted by (name redacted due to general evil) saying:
Just coming back in the off-season and just working hard. Trying to get this nasty feeling out of our mouths. Don't want to have this feeling next year.
If we assume Warren stays on next season (the only player that could leave), the secondary can only get better (young safeties and corners can gain experience). Woolfolk should be able to hold down a corner opposite Warren or one of the younger guys (Turner, Witty, Floyd?) should be able to step in. Perhaps one of these guys will move to Safety. Hopefully, with some coaching stability, the young guys will learn the defensive scheme and be able to execute it. Maybe some blue chip recruits will step up and contribute right away. Next season, this unit will mature and be better than this season.
Stevie Brown is the only linebacker who is graduating. While he was the best linebacker on the field, I think that it goes without saying that the linebackers left much to be desired. At worst, Brown should be replaced by Jordan Kovacs, who seems like he could also be well suited to a role where he plays the run, especially if he bulked up a bit (without getting any slower). Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton will be back, and these two players were often replaced by Kevin Leach and (especially at the end of the season) JB Fitzgerald. Hopefully the proverb, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another," will prove to work in this linebacking corps. In order for this defense to make a marked improvement, this must be the most improved defensive unit.
With strong defensive development, solid and consistent coaching, and mental discipline, the "Tackling" metric should always find a strong positive number, and the RPS metric should die a swift death (because the defense doesn't need to attempt to "guess right" in order to stop plays). This defense will find that it can stop other teams and make it's way into the top quarter of the Big Ten statistical categories.
There is lots of good news at the QB spot. Tate won't be a freshman anymore. He will learn from many of his freshman mistakes, and improve. Oh, and he can get healthy over the off season! Hopefully tybert is right when he says, "I'm hoping to here RichRod say sometime next year: 'last year, Tate would have thrown it here (sic) and not waited for a another second or two, and that's why we got the winning TD today.'" Denard is going to get more comfortable throwing the ball in the pocket. Also, as he gets more comfortable in the offense, Coach Rod may find that he can use him in some "gadget" ways. I'd love to see him next to Tate in a "single wing" sort of setup in the backfield. Perhaps, he will even be back there with another potential QB -- Devin Gardner. I hear he's good...
The offensive line should be strong. Molk will be back and healthy. Schilling should be back. Omameh began to contribute at the end of the season. There will be seniors who can contribute. Also, there will be lots of competition from some redshirt freshmen and sophomores. I'm no expert, but I think that this will be a good situation, and the line should be able to crease defenses and protect the QB.
The running backs are, perhaps, the youngest and weakest group. But Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith found plenty of playing time due to the injuries to Brown and Minor. Also, there are plenty of athletes backing up these tailbacks in Cox and some incoming freshmen (White, Hopkins, Drake). With some consistency and some good health, this could still be a very strong unit.
The receivers will lose Greg Matthews. And he will be missed. However, Hemmingway and Stonum should be able to make their mark from the outside next season. Roundtree really impressed me late in the season. I believe that he turned into Michigan's most reliable receiver. Odoms should be healthy and use his speed to make plays in the middle. Koger can hopefully become more consistent and attack the middle of the field. Also, there are plenty of exciting players that look to find the field from this season's and last season's recruiting class.
This offense showed flashes of brilliance between fits of exasperation due to poor execution and freshman mistakes. With some improved execution and maturation, next season, this offense could return to the "point-a-minute" squads of yesteryear.
What made this season so difficult was the exciting start, especially beating Notre Dame. It turns out, Notre Dame is a 6-6 team searching for a legitimate bowl game to get drubbed in. (I'm assuming that Stanford destroys Notre Dame on Saturday. I don't think that this is a stretch.) We became irrationally exuberant and had Rose Bowl aspirations. Our young players need to spend this season growing both physically and mentally. The coaches need to take some hard looks at themselves and come up with some answers for what happenned against Illinois and Purdue. (I don't think that the coaches had the team mentally ready to play those games.) Everyone has work to do for the next nine months, and if they get it done, this team can be exciting next season.