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What The Conference-Champions-In-The-Top-6 Four-Team Playoff Model Would've Looked Like

Bush Push Redux? Could've been. (Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images)
Bush Push Redux? Could've been. (Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images)

A lot has been made of the playoff proposal Big Ten conference commissioner Jim Delany mentioned yesterday as gaining a lot of steam in which conference champions only (so long as they're ranked in the top 6 of a BCS like formula) would make up the forthcoming four-team college football playoff. Of course in the event that no four such teams existed, the highest ranked at-large team would fill that void.

So how would past BCS rankings translate into those particular criteria? I went ahead and looked back at all of the BCS standings going back to the current system's inception to determine just that. Remember, only conference champions ranked in the top 6 are eligible and if four such teams cannot be found, the next highest at-large is slotted in where there's a vacancy. In order to keep things as consistent as possible, the one seed always played the lowest seeded team with the next highest ranked conference champion appointed the "two seed" and host of the fourth qualifying team. Also, because the possibility of BCS tie-in destinations being used to determine where the games are played (though home fields are supposedly barely staying in the mix with a 40-60 split of support) has been tossed around, I went ahead and listed where those hypothetical semifinals may have been played. For the sake of argument, I also took the liberty of assuming that if a Notre Dame/Navy/Army finished in the top 6, they counted as a de facto "conference champion". The results are as follows:

Year Semifinal One Site Semifinal Two Site
1998 Tennessee (#1) Texas A&M (#6) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans Florida State (#2) UCLA (#5) Orange Bowl, Miami
1999 Florida State (#1) Alabama (#4) Orange Bowl, Miami Virginia Tech (#2) Nebraska (#3) Orange Bowl, Miami
2000 Oklahoma (#1) Washington (#4) Fiesta Bowl, Tempe Florida State (#2) Miami (FL) (#3) Orange Bowl, Miami
2001 Miami (FL) #1 Oregon (#4) Orange Bowl, Miami Colorado (#3) Nebraska (#2) Fiesta Bowl, Tempe
2002 Miami (FL) (#1) Washington State (#6) Orange Bowl, Miami Ohio State (#2) Georgia (#3) Rose Bowl, Pasadena
2003 Oklahoma (#1) Michigan (#4) Fiesta Bowl, Tempe LSU (#2) USC (#3) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
2004 USC (#1) Utah (#6) Rose Bowl, Pasadena Oklahoma (#2) Auburn (#3) Fiesta Bowl, Tempe
2005 USC (#1) Notre Dame (#6) Rose Bowl, Pasadena Texas (#2) Penn State (#3) Fiesta Bowl, Tempe
2006 Ohio State (#1) Louisville (#6) Rose Bowl, Pasadena Florida (#2) USC (#5) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
2007 Ohio State (#1) Oklahoma (#4) Rose Bowl, Pasadena LSU (#2) Virginia Tech (#3) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
2008 Oklahoma (#1) Utah (#6) Fiesta Bowl, Glendale Florida (#2) USC (#5) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans
2009 Alabama (#1) TCU (#4) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans Texas (#2) Cincinnati (#3) Fiesta Bowl, Glendale
2010 Auburn (#1) Wisconsin (#5) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans Oregon (#2) TCU (#3) Rose Bowl, Pasadena
2011 LSU (#1) Oregon (#5) Sugar Bowl, New Orleans Oklahoma State (#3) Alabama (#2) Fiesta Bowl, Glendale

Bold = At-Large team qualified due to lack of four high enough ranked conference champions.

Italics = Both semifinals were to be held at the same site (which is improbable as it would create a logistical nightmare).

Analysis after the jump:

Ohio State would've qualified for the four-team playoff in 2002, 2006, and 20071. As the Buckeyes made the "championship game" in all three years, no Ohio State team being left out of the title picture would've been included nor would any Ohio State team that did qualify be left on the outside looking in. Would those Ohio State teams in 2006 and 2007 that failed to deliver have fared any better had they played a different opponent say in mid-December or one week earlier in January knowing they'd have to win two to be crowned champions? Or would that 2002 team that needed double overtime to get past the Hurricanes have been able to wheel off a win over a Georgia team that had blown out Arkansas for the SEC title and then beaten either Miami (FL) or a Washington State side that had beaten a tough USC team? It's difficult to speculate.

Perhaps more interestingly, how many amongst us would've traveled to Pasadena either before Christmas or on New Year's to watch the unbeaten 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes take on Bobby Petrino's Louisville Cardinals? Would you more likely have rolled the dice and assumed they'd get past the Big East champs and wait for a prospective national title game berth? 2007 would've been a bit more of a no-brainer with the Buckeyes theoretically hosting the far more storied Big XII champion Sooners (whom as you may recall went on to lay an egg against Bill Stewart's Mountaineers in the Fiesta Bowl) in scenic Pasadena.

From a strictly non-partisan vantage, 1998 feels like a year that may not have necessarily generated much buzz from a match-ups perspective. 2009 also appears rather anticlimactic with Alabama and Texas at face value so seemingly superior to their opposition. Some of the more intriguing match-ups include 2002's Miami (FL) against USC, 2003's battle of split champions in LSU versus USC, 2005's rematch of the Bush Push game between SC and ND, 2006 Florida against Rose Bowl Champion USC, 2008 Alabama giant killers Utah against ultimate national runner-up Oklahoma as well as national champion Florida against an impressive looking Trojans team, 2010's Oregon/TCU clash of contrasting styles, and last season's Oklahoma State v. Alabama, the two teams whose BCS Championship Game inclusion worthiness was quite the hot button issue.

2001 ultimately stands out as a rather significant outlier for a couple of reasons. Most notably, the rematch of Nebraska-Colorado, a game Colorado had won decisively 62-36 in what would've been just weeks prior to this prospective game. Nebraska had been long considered one of the elite teams that season before that game, and Colorado the very next week upset a heavily favored Texas team at old Cowboys stadium (in a game I happened to be at). In addition to '01 and the previously mentioned could be Bush Push Part 2, 2000 would've pitted Florida State against Miami a second time around in a game the Canes had won early in the year at the very same site, 27-24, and as pointed out by the venerable RossWB, a 2007 rematch of LSU's early season 48-7 shellacking of Virginia Tech. Given all the rematch (mock?) outrage in the current postseason architecture, it'd be fascinating to see how the (admittedly scarce) rematch possibilities would be received in a semifinal match-up capacity. Obviously championship games could also present potential rematch possibilities, though from these groupings, only an improbable #4 v. #3 Washington/Miami(FL) rematch of a game Washington won 34-29 at home, a 25-7 Ohio State victory over Washington State in 2002, and an LSU-Alabama final in 2011 (which as you know we actually got) would've prompted such scenarios. I think by and large folks would be more willing to accept title game rematches given that both teams would've had to have won their previous games to get there. You seldom hear many gripes when teams like the 2011 Patriots run into the 2011 Giants a second time around (at least not for reasons not having to do with them being teams from Boston and New York).

Is this system feasible? Very. Does it create much controversy? In a number of instances, less than what actually transpired in those respective years. While there are abject messes like the 2008 Big XII South championship tie-breaking controversy, with league rules in place to determine those tie breakers then letting the rest be settled on the field, outside of snubbed teams at a more micro level, it wouldn't seem as though there'd be anywhere near the national grumbling we've grown accustomed to over the better part of the last decade.

1. Because the Big Ten used to do that absurd "everyone gets a participation ribbon" thing with their championships, in lieu of modern co-championship tie-breaking scenarios, I honored the league's Rose Bowl participation criterion at the time. While it's possible that BCS standings would've determined who represented the league in a playoff circumstance thus giving the '98 Bucks (arguably the JHC's best) the nod, as they didn't earn the right to appear in the Rose Bowl, for our example's sake, they were also excluded.