Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, gave a presentation at Big 12 Media Days earlier this week and went through a very instructive exercise.
Hancock took three fantasy end-of-season rankings and showed how each would fill out the post-season assignments of the major bowls. You think you know all the details of the new format, but until you have to actually fill out the bracket and fill out the bowls, you don’t realize all the situations that can arise.
A reminder of the major points of the format:
* The national semifinals rotate among the six major bowls, two per year. The Sugar and Rose in the 2014 season, the Cotton and Orange in the 2015 season, the Fiesta and Peach in the 2016 season.
* The No. 1-ranked team will be protected in that it won’t have to play at a semifinal site that would put it at a geographic disadvantage.
* In the years when they don’t host semifinals, the Rose hosts Pac-12 and Big Ten teams, the Sugar hosts Big 12 and SEC teams, the Orange hosts an ACC team and either a Big Ten team, an SEC team or Notre Dame. The ACC’s opponent will be the highest-ranked opponent available from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame, with a minimum of three appearances for both the SEC and the Big Ten over the 12-year contract, and a maximum of two appearances for Notre Dame.
* The highest-ranked team from outside the five major conferences, regardless of what that ranking is, will play in either the Fiesta, Cotton or Peach bowls.
* The rankings will be determined by the new football committee.
* The committee avoids rematches, except in the semifinals.
* The committee tries to avoid sending teams to the same bowls in consecutive years.
I know, it sounds complicated. So let’s do the exercise and you’ll learn what we’re talking about. For fun, we’ll pick seasons in which OU or OSU were national contenders.
We’ll use the 2004 BCS rankings. Going into the bowl games, the rankings looked like this:
1. Southern Cal (Pac-12 champ)
2. Oklahoma (Big 12 champ)
3. Auburn (SEC champ)
6. Utah (Mountain West champ)
8. Virginia Tech (ACC champ)
9. Boise State
13. Michigan (Big Ten champ)
16. Florida State
19. Arizona State
20. Texas A&M
OK, so let’s do the bracket. USC-Texas and OU-Auburn. USC, as the No. 1 seed, can be sent to Pasadena or New Orleans, and the committee clearly would choose the Rose, because otherwise Texas would have an edge in New Orleans. So that means…
Sugar: OU-Auburn; the No. 2-ranked Sooners would be at a geographic disadvantage playing Auburn in New Orleans, but the No. 2 seed is not given geographic consideration.
Now let’s fill out the rest of the bowls.
Orange: Virginia Tech is the ACC champ; the highest-ranked team from the Orange’s pool is Georgia. So VPI-Georgia.
There are no more automatic berths, so the committee will select the teams based on rankings.
If this system had been used in 2004, Utah would have been the mid-major selection. Since the Utes now are in the Pac-12, Boise State is the highest mid-major. So Boise State is in. And since the Rose is a semifinal and the Big Ten champion is not in the semifinals, Michigan joins the group. Then it reverts to rankings. California, Utah, Louisville and LSU join Boise State and Michigan. So let’s sort it out.
Fiesta: The committee is geographic-minded, so it’s got three western teams to consider. It won’t match conference foes, so Boise State is automatic. Let’s put Cal against the Broncos, so California-Boise State.
Cotton: Utah is the remaining western team, so that’s an easy choice. LSU is a solid pick for Arlington or Atlanta; let’s go with the former and make it LSU-Utah.
Peach: That leaves Michigan-Louisville.
In that scenario, 11 of the top 12 teams make the six major bowls; the only team left out is No. 12 Iowa, which was ranked ahead of No. 13 Michigan despite losing to the Wolverines and tying Michigan for the Big Ten title.
For this year, let’s use the 2008 BCS rankings:
1. Oklahoma (Big 12 champ)
2. Florida (SEC champ)
5. Southern Cal (Pac-12 champ)
7. Texas Tech
8. Penn State (Big Ten champ)
9. Boise State
10. Ohio State
13. Oklahoma State
14. Georgia Tech
16. Brigham Young
18. Michigan State
19. Virginia Tech (ACC champ)
Bracket time. The matchups are OU-Alabama and Texas-Florida. In 2015, the Cotton and Orange host the semifinals.
Cotton: As the No. 1 team, OU naturally would go to Arlington. So OU-Alabama.
Orange: That leaves Florida-Texas for Miami.
Now let’s fill out the bowls.
Rose: Pac-12 champ vs. Big Ten champ. So Southern Cal-Penn State.
Sugar: SEC vs. Big 12. Even though both semifinals are SEC/Big 12 showdowns, another one is assured here. That makes it Texas Tech-Georgia.
That leaves the Peach and Fiesta. The pool of teams consists of the highest mid-major, Boise State, and a major conference champion, Virginia Tech, that would have been in the Orange had that bowl not been a semifinal. So only two teams are left. It comes down to the rankings — Utah and Ohio State. So Utah, Boise State, Ohio State and Virginia Tech.
That leaves the committee with a dilemma. By geography, it’s clearly Utah-Boise State in the Fiesta and Ohio State-Virginia Tech in the Peach. But in Hancock’s exercise, the committee faced the same dilemma, and he guessed that the committee would not send Boise State to the Fiesta two straight years. So…
Fiesta: Utah vs. Ohio State. The Buckeyes travel well anywhere.
Peach: Boise State vs. Virginia Tech. That’s a long way for Boise State to go. The Broncos likely would prefer a return trip to Glendale. But the bowl’s wishes are considered, too, and the Fiesta no doubt would prefer Ohio State.
Wow. A strange year. Because of no highly-ranked ACC champ and because the SEC got a third team into the pool, No. 11 TCU and No. 12 Cincinnati were left out.
For this year, let’s use the 2011 rankings:
1. LSU (SEC champ)
3. Oklahoma State (Big 12 champ)
5. Oregon (Pac-12 champ)
7. Boise State
8. Kansas State
9. South Carolina
10. Wisconsin (Big Ten champ)
11. Virginia Tech
15. Clemson (ACC champ)
17. Michigan State
Finally, the Fiesta and the Peach get their turn. The semifinal matchups are LSU-Stanford and OSU-Alabama.
Peach: As the No. 1 team, LSU gets the geography nod, which means Atlanta. LSU-Stanford.
Fiesta: That leaves OSU-Alabama for Glendale.
So let’s fil out the bowls.
Rose: Pac-12 champ vs. Big Ten champ. Oregon-Wisconsin. The same Rose matchup we actually got in 2011.
Sugar: Another Big 12/SEC matchup needed. The highest-ranked available are No. 6 Arkansas and No. 8 Kansas State. Interestingly, that was indeed the matchup in 2011, only in the Cotton Bowl.
Orange: Clemson was the ACC champ. So the Orange’s next team is the highest-ranked from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. That’s South Carolina. So Clemson-South Carolina in a rematch. The committee doesn’t set up rematches, but this is a contractual rematch. Except…
Cotton: The mid-major hasn’t been assigned, so Boise State is automatic here. The highest-ranked remaining team is Virginia Tech. So Virginia Tech-Boise State. But that’s a rematch from the previous year.
I think it’s possible the committee would swap out. Send Clemson to Arlington for a Clemson-Boise State game, setting up Virginia Tech-South Carolina in the Orange.
So there’s the exercise. You can do this yourself with other years, just for fun and to learn quite a bit about the process.