Sunday, October 08, 2006

Call for a National Title 4 Team Playoff

There are (Rankings are from 10/1/2006, and will change later today, due to the Auburn loss)

#1. Ohio State (6-0) Big Ten
#3. USC (5-0) Pac 10
#4. West Virginia
#5. Florida (6-0) SEC
#6. Michigan (6-0) Big Ten
#8. Louisville (5-0) Big East
#20. Boise State (6-0) WAC
#23. Missouri (6-0) Big Twelve
#24. Rutgers (5-0) Big East

From this list, we have 7 legitimate national title contenders, and a few that could crack the top ten with an undefeated season. My question is this: "How do you decide who gets to play in the national title game if there are several undefeated teams remaining at the end of the season?"

Theoretically, we could see the following teams remain undefeated:

#1. The winner of Michigan vs. Ohio State
#2. Florida
#3. USC
#4. The winner of Louisville vs. West Virginia

Theoretically, we could end up with 4 undefeated teams in contention for the national title, with only two invites. To me, this makes the calls for a four team national title playoff a great idea.

Realistically, I don't think it will play out like this. #1 Ohio State has a cakewalk schedule from now until the November 18th matchup versus the Wolverines. Michigan has two moderately tough challenges remaining, with a night road game against Penn State, and a home matchup versus #19 Iowa. Michigan has not been seriously challenged yet this season, and they should make it through these games without a serious threat. If things play out as they should, Michigan and Ohio State will square off as undefeated opponents for only the third time in history. The winner of this matchup should automatically qualify for the National Title.

Florida easily survived a tough matchup against #9 LSU, solidifying their top five ranking this week. It doesn't get any easier for the Gators, as they play on the road vs. (previously) #2 Auburn next weekend, followed by #10 Georgia. Florida closes out the season against in-state rival #17 Florida State. The Gators have an incredibly tough schedule ahead of them, but if they manage to win out, they will seriously need to be considered for the national title.

USC has struggled in consecutive weeks against unranked opponents Washington and Washington State, with both games going down to the wire. USC appears to be over-rated. If it were up to me, USC would fall to #5 in this week's polls, behind West Virginia, Florida and Michigan. With the way the Trojans have played the past two weeks, I have serious doubts about their ability to get through this three week stretch in November: #11 Oregon, #16 California, #12 Notre Dame. All three games are at home, but USC appears to be very ordinary, and should fall out of contention during this stretch.

Of the serious national title contenders, West Virginia and Louisville have the weakest schedules. One of these teams will fall in the head-to-head matchup in Louisville on 11/02/2006. I suppose Rutgers could do everyone a favor and play spoiler against one of these two teams, but every indication is that one of West Virginia and Louisville will remain undefeated.

It appears to me that there will be 3 undefeated teams at the end of the season

#1. Winner of Michigan/Ohio State
#2. Florida
#3. Winner of West Virginia/Louisville

How do you decide which team gets left out of the National Championship game? Based on strength of schedule alone, I feel that it is unfair to exclude either Michigan/Ohio State or Florida, so West Virginia/Louisville would be the odd man out. It bothers me that West Virginia is ahead of both Michigan and Florida in the polls right now though. Wins over Iowa and then #1 Ohio State should be enough to bump Michigan ahead of West Virginia in the final week of the polls, and if Florida can knock off LSU, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida State, it should be enough to move into the #2 spot. It all comes down to a subjective judgment call though.

If one of West Virginia, Florida or Michigan put together undefeated seasons, but do not get invited to the National Title game, it would be a shame. A four team playoff would ensure that any team that played well enough for national title consideration would get their shot. Sure, you would be forced to make a decision between who gets chosen for the #4 seed, and who gets left out at #5, but at least you wouldn't end up leaving an undefeated #3 team out of national title contention.