LSU vs. Alabama, Round 2 didn't kill the BCS, no matter how few touchdowns it produced.
While the fans' patience with the bowl system ran dry the night we learned Oklahoma State didn't make the title game, multiple conferences had months earlier started revisiting the four-year-old SEC/ACC plan to institute some form of a non-bowl postseason. Two years ago, NCAA president Mark Emmert was predicting a playoff, not that his organization will have much to do with it.
(And the BCS isn't dead, anyway. It's now finally morphing into a literal bowl championship series. Wait, not literal bowls. They're not playing football championships in literal bowls. Sorry.)
But the SEC's dominance over the sport, culminating in a team that didn't even win the league getting a title shot over a conference champ with the same record, was enough to send playoff fervor higher than it had ever been before. So it felt like cause and effect when, suddenly, conference commissioners started talking about which playoff plan to choose instead of the sanctities of the regular season and finals week. Because what good is the regular season when the secondish-place SEC team gets a second shot, and what good is finals week when those Southern schools just let out classes every time Nick Saban gets a recruiting commitment? They do that, right?
We know we're getting a four-team playoff, and we know when it's starting. We don't yet know where games will be played (my recommendation), when they'll be played (the best guess), how teams will be chosen (the latest candidate), and how the bowls will factor in (the "six-bowl event" is interesting).
But so far, the hottest issue has been whether to admit only conference champions or not. Whether to fix 2011 or not, in other words. How can Alabama be the best team in the country when it wasn't even the best team in its region?
It might be wise to clear one's mind of 2011 and of SEC chants when debating playoff plans. Trying to come up with the system best-suited to containing a particular conference is misguided and might just backfire. I say this without any regional pride, but know that it's true: no matter what setup is chosen, the SEC will treat it just as it would any other. As in, probably own it. For the time being, at least.
We can hypothesize that playing games on campuses would hurt Southern teams, since it would sometimes mean SEC teams playing at Big Ten stadiums in December. It would've only happened once in the entire BCS era, though, so chances are the satisfaction we'd get from seeing a SEC team playing in a blizzard would be really rare. So the conference champions issue remains the big one here.
Just going with a straight top four could mean years with no SEC reps at all, while requiring conference champions would pretty much guarantee SEC representation every year.
A top-four playoff would usually include a SEC team, and, as we've seen, sometimes two. Three times in the BCS' 14 years, the SEC hasn't finished the regular season with a representative ranked that high, and we'd have to go back to 1994 to find a fourth. No other conference can say that.
But still, wouldn't a SEC-free year every five years or so be welcome? A playoff year without a SEC team would be highly unlikely if a conference champs-only stipulation were added.
What about the top-six plan, which might stem the SEC's power somewhat without also letting in clearly undeserving teams? From Land-Grant Holy Land's charting of the BCS era, the teams that would've missed out if the top-six plan had been in place:
- 2011: No. 4 Stanford (Pac-12)
- 2010: No. 4 Stanford (Pac-10)
- 2009: None
- 2008: No. 3 Texas (Big 12), No. 4 Alabama (SEC)
- 2007: None
- 2006: No. 3 Michigan (Big Ten), No. 4 LSU (SEC)
- 2005: No. 4 Ohio State (Big Ten), No. 5 Oregon (Pac-10)
- 2004: No. 4 Texas (Big 12), No. 5 Cal (Pac-10)
- 2003: None
- 2002: No. 4 USC (Pac-10), No. 5 Iowa (Big Ten)
- 2001: None
- 2000: None
- 1999: None
- 1998: No. 3 Kansas State (Big 12), No. 4 Ohio State (Big Ten)
The Pac-12 would've missed out on five entrants, the Big Ten four, the Big 12 three and the SEC only two. This is going in the wrong direction for almost everybody.
Focusing on conference champions could actually help the SEC more than anybody else, since its winner has locked down a top-two spot six years in a row. In 2011, LSU would've gotten to play No. 10 Wisconsin instead of No. 4 Stanford or No. 5 Oregon if the system used a conference champs-only model -- the Badgers would be a major challenge, but remember Oregon beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
The SEC can be taken down for a time. It can be surpassed as the nation's premier football conference. The SEC has had a down decade or two in the past. The '80s were bleak. The Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten can all now compete on the financial front, which means their top schools can approach or match the SEC's coaching and facilities.
But no conference will ever reside on more fertile recruiting grounds, and the SEC's recruiting advantage might even be extending itself thanks to realignment. SEC addition Texas A&M can now more effectively recruit both Texas and the Southeast, but so can Alabama and LSU. Schools like Ohio State, USC and Michigan can compile as much star power as any team in any conference, but top-to-bottom the SEC will remain the most talented.
Smart scheduling, relentless recruiting and legendary coaching can combine to produce a non-SEC dynasty. But trying to engineer a playoff plan to aid the process would only produce an inferior playoff plan.
Last season's championship was terrible for everybody but Alabama. Instead of letting it shape the future of college football's postseason, let's leave it in 2011, where it's still trying to cross the 50-yard line somewhere.
While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together: