College football fans, rejoice! A playoff system is on the horizon, and while it may not be the eight-team or 16-team playoff that some of you hoped for, a four-team tournament is a great start.
Actually, the four-team structure isn't even set in stone yet; nothing is set in stone yet. According to ESPN columnist Adam Rittenberg, the deadline for a proposal will be this fall—the same deadline for the BCS television negotiations.
Until then, BCS commissioners and team presidents have their work cut out for them. There are a plethora of options that can be utilized for a playoff system, but if the four-team structure sticks, there are two options that seem the most likely.
The first option, which is currently being endorsed by Pac-12 conference leaders, involves conference championships as a major factor in deciding which four teams get into the playoff. While this seems like a reasonable proposition for determining a champion, college football is not currently aligned to support this request.
If that request were implemented, the winners of the four major conferences (Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) would automatically receive a bid to the playoffs—at least, that seems the most rational. However, this would eliminate the Big East, ACC and all the other conferences that already have to work hard to get noticed.
Without a complete realignment into "super conferences," an unfair advantage would be given to too many teams, while small schools and independents such as Notre Dame and BYU would be left out in the cold.
The second option, which is currently being endorsed by the Big 12 and the SEC leaders, is simple and to the point: the four best teams will earn a bid into the four-team playoff. In other words, the teams that finish No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 in the final AP Poll will earn their entrance into the postseason.
As we all witnessed last season, two teams from the same conference (in this case the SEC) earned the right to play for the 2011 National Championship. If option one had been implemented, Alabama wouldn't have even had the chance to enter the playoff—which seems quite ludicrous after the Tide rolled on to win the game.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was quick to endorse option two, which makes sense after his Sooners and the Texas Longhorns finished within the top four in 2008. Ultimately, this structure would help alleviate most "what ifs" that surround the end of college football.
Let's just take a quick look back at a few previous seasons.
As has already been addressed, two teams from the same conference played for the National Championship last season. However, it's safe to say that there was more than a little controversy about that decision.
Had a four-team playoff been implemented, then we would have seen the high-powered offenses of Oklahoma State and Stanford take on the highly touted defenses of LSU and Alabama. Everybody would have been satisfied.
Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers were a force to be reckoned with in 2010, and the undefeated Oregon Ducks definitely earned their spot in the National Championship. However, TCU, the No. 3 team in the AP Poll, also finished undefeated.
The Horned Frogs, who went on to beat the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl, would have had their chance to knock off another undefeated team from a major conference.
These are just a few examples that already make the four-team playoff structure more interesting than what is currently instated, but if option two (the most rational option) were to be passed, how would this affect AP voters' decisions?
Would this four-team system benefit national powerhouses like Oklahoma, or would they favor "the little guy?" The computers would still help determine which team most deserves to be slotted in as one of the four best teams in the nation, but, when all is said and done, there will still be controversy.
There will always be controversy.
While the four-team playoff is a step in the right direction and is seemingly beneficial to every team in college football, one thing remains true: teams will still have to get the job done in conference play.
For the Sooners, a rigorous conference schedule still stands between them and any hope they might have for a national championship. Their last three games of the season, which may be the equivalent of college football hell, are likely going to make or break their season.
The Sooners have to travel to West Virginia in Week 11, host Oklahoma State in Week 12 for Bedlam and travel to TCU in Week 13 to end the season.
While winning all three games would be a huge statement to both the voters and the computer, the likelihood of losing at least one game is very possible. Losing a game that late in the season could be a huge deterrent to the Sooners' national championship hopes.
However, with a four-team playoff installed, losing one of those games (as long as it's their only loss) may not hold as much importance. The Sooners, and the rest of college football, might not be held under as tight a microscope as seasons past.
Then again, maybe the microscope will be tighter. Until anything is decided upon, we can only project, discuss and remain hopeful.
A playoff is on the horizon, and things are starting to look up for college football.
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