by Chris Carlson: The Bowl Championship Series exits stage left ushering in a new era of College Football that will finally include a Playoff system. The plus one or Final Four idea has been debated and discussed for some time now amongst experts, fans, coaches, and administrators. And with interest in N.C.A.A. Football at an all time high it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Every year when researching teams, players, and schedules, prior to the season many hardcore fans pick up a copy of Phil Steele’s preview magazine. Steele is always on top of his game and for years now he has made the argument for adding a plus one game. He always has a section that looked back at the potential top 4 teams each year since the beginning of the BCS.
The match ups were mouthwatering and for the most part cleared up some of the issues that plaque that system. For example, in 2000 when Washington and Miami sat on the side lines after both feeling they had earned a shot at Oklahoma over Florida State. Or in 2003 when USC, LSU, and Oklahoma all had done enough to earn a title shot. The following year Auburn was left out of the fray with an unbeaten record.
Don’t get me wrong the computers and bias polls deserved plenty of criticism during the reign of the BCS. But let us not forget the old Associate Press Poll system that focused solely on the bottom line. College ball fans were forced to stomach matchups no matter the ranking with the same conferences against each other on New Year’s Day for the sake of tradition.
Al least with the BCS 1 vs. 2 would face off something we rarely ever got a true champion decide on the field in the AP system. Instead we would get the #1 team vs. #7 or #2 versus the #5 team and as long as the number one team won their game they would be crowned champion. If the 1st ranked team lost, we would all have to wait for a poll to tell us who was the best team in the nation. As the years go by the BCS will be remembered historical because it shaped how we rank and judge teams today.
The BCS created a standard that did not previously exist. It’s responsible for strength of schedule and a busy September filled with meaningful non-conference games or an early rivalry game. The blueprint of criteria for head to head, conference champion games, injuries, and late October rankings instead of a team benefiting from an early ranking set the tone for the new semi-final system.
I’ll get off my soapbox and breakdown the Power 5 conferences.
What league or leagues will be on the outside looking in at the end of the year for Final Four semi-finalists? With the Big East out of the picture, the new whipping boy will be the Big Ten based off its strength of schedule and the lost of Braxton Miller. The ACC’s performance in BCS bowl games was poor but they got bailed out by Florida State winning the national championship last year and with the return of Heisman winner Jameis Winston, stand a good chance to repeat or at least be a top 4 team. Lacking a conference championship game could be a deciding factor for the Big 12. Short term memory at the end of the season while the other 4 leagues are playing a solid opponent in their title games could result in a leap frog effect that was very common for the BCS rankings in late November and early December.
Big Ten favored Ohio State takes a backseat with the unfortunate injury to the one man offensive-machine Braxton Miller. Michigan State, who after a close loss to Notre Dame slowly improve than closed strong enough to been included in the Final 4. The running games and recruiting gems give Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska a chance to compete. Look for an improved Penn State something that would have helped the Big Ten strength wise if they were eligible.
Florida State and the always wild ACC Coastal will once again get a chance to help or hurt their overall strength in schedule with more than respectable non-conference match ups. Duke, UNC, Miami, and Virginia Tech all have about the same odds of winning the coastal outright and will no doubt be decided in the last week or two of the regular season.
The year of the quarterback in the Pac-12 makes it tough to select who will come out on top. The stalwarts of late have been Stanford and Oregon with the Ducks losing back to back years to Cardinals. USC is as talented of a team as any and UCLA is on the cusp of something special. The Bruins may have received most of the hype, it remains too been seen if they can live up to such high expectations.
Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech are all a step behind the favorites in the Big 12 Oklahoma and Baylor. The Golden Bears will need to keep improving on defense and the Sooner’s depth at wide receiver will be tested. Can Oklahoma and more importantly Trevor Knight ride the wave of momentum that he created from their impressive victory over Alabama?
Speaking of Bama, the SEC West is deep again and the usual suspects are back with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Ole Miss lingering just behind the pack. The SEC East is wide open with South Carolina favored but Georgia, Mizzou, and Florida will give chase. Both sides of the strongest conference in the nation will more than likely come down to the last game of the regular season.
Marshall because of the light schedule has a chance to run the table applying pressure to the committee. Boise State and Cincinnati, because of solid non-conference foes have the best chance of making some noise outside of the Power 5.
Now let’s get to my preview and picks for Week 1:
South Carolina and Texas A&M waste no time with a gimme instead start 2014 with a key SEC game.
Both teams need to replace stars and quarterbacks so the offensive flow could stutter out of gates possible resembling a NFL preseason game. The Gamecocks defense and previous starting experience by Dylan Thompson will be the difference in a competitive game.
The Pick: South Carolina 34 Texas A&M 20
LSU squares off against a mirror image themselves on offensive, the Wisconsin Badgers. With both programs breaking in new signal callers look for an old school smash-mouth football game. The depth of running back stables in this game will get all the press clippings but defense and overall team speed will be in favor of LSU.
The Pick: LSU 20 Wisconsin 16
Clemson takes on Georgia with yet another match up of new quarterbacks after losing Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd. Defense is now a strong point at Clemson and Vic Beasley is leading the way. Georgia improved late last year and should be better on both sides of the ball. Todd Gurley returns along with a plethora of talented players on offensive that were injured last year.
The Pick: Georgia 23 Clemson 13
Other games to keep an eye on:
Baylor vs. SMU will be fireworks
Ole Miss gets an early test against Boise State
Returning Champs Florida State face Oklahoma State
Alabama gets things started versus West Virginia
Written by Chris Carlson
Owner and Host of The College Ball Show