A Proper Postseason: Comparing the BCS to a Plus-One (Part II: 2003-2007)

James Doker@plus2planCorrespondent IJune 21, 2008

Part I of this article explained the background of a Plus-One idea and how it would be implemented, then analyzed the first five years of the BCS.

The following finishes up the BCS era and gives an overall verdict of the BCS and a Plus-One option.

Read the first article here before proceeding.

The History (2003-2007)


BCS top 5 (losses in parentheses):

  1. Oklahoma (1)
  2. LSU (1)
  3. USC (1)
  4. Michigan (2)
  5. Ohio State (2)

Other undefeateds: None

Controversy: This was arguably the most controversial year of the BCS. Three major-conference teams ended the season with one loss. USC, though ranked at the top of the AP poll, was left out of the championship game in favor of LSU and Oklahoma. The Sooners were coming off a bad loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game, but failed to drop from first in the BCS. Despite the goal of the BCS, the bowl pairings were reminiscent of the old Bowl Alliance, and resulted in a split national championship.

Plus-One: A plus-one would have eliminated the debate over who the top two teams were—all three worthy candidates would have been given a shot. It would have opened the door to arguments over the fourth seed between a large pack of two-loss teams with similar pedigrees.

(1) Oklahoma vs. (4) Michigan

(2) LSU vs. (3) USC

Analysis: It’s likely that if the BCS formula used relied on the polls as much as the present one does, this situation wouldn’t have occurred. Still, most of the controversy would have remained, and any pairing for the national championship would have been tainted. In a nightmare scenario for the BCS, a plus-one would have fixed the biggest problems.

Conclusion: The BCS failed miserably, while a plus-one would have only the relatively minor issue of deciding on a fourth-place team.

Grades: BCS: D-; Plus-One: B


BCS top 5 (losses in parentheses):

  1. USC (0)
  2. Oklahoma (0)
  3. Auburn (0)
  4. Texas (1)
  5. California (1)

Other undefeateds: #6 Utah, #9 Boise State

Controversy: Again, the top three teams in the final rankings had the same record. This time all three were undefeated, with two more undefeated teams outside the top four. The BCS was forced to exclude undefeated, SEC Champion Auburn from the title game. While Utah did earn a bid to the BCS, they were not paired with Auburn, leaving three undefeated teams left at season’s end. Texas jumped Cal in the final poll after very public lobbying from Mack Brown, and the Bears were left out of a BCS game.

Plus-One: Again, the controversy over the top three teams would have been completely dispelled under a Plus-One. Arguably, though, the controversy over the fourth seed would have been just as bad. Texas and California already had a bitter enough dispute over the automatic bid from being ranked fourth. Add in the possibility of Utah and Boise State, and there are four teams with very legitimate arguments for inclusion in the playoff. Neither Utah nor Boise State played a very difficult schedule, but depending on the schedule strength ranking used, they could potentially have earned an automatic inclusion based on the stipulations outline above. For the sake of argument, assume Utah’s schedule met the criteria.

(1) USC vs. (4) Utah

(2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Auburn

Analysis: The 2004 season was far too wild for any postseason format to handle. The BCS assured that at least one worthy team would be excluded. A plus-one would assure that the consensus top three could play out the championship on the field. Any one of four choices for the fourth seed would have been reasonable, but left critics with plenty to talk about. The possibility that a plus-one would result in a four-team playoff between undefeated conference champions is, however, mouth-watering.

Conclusion: The BCS decidedly failed at determining a national champion. A plus-one would have at least ended the season with a clearer picture (and far fewer undefeated teams).

Grades: BCS: D-; Plus-One: B+


BCS top 5 (losses in parentheses):

  1. USC (0)
  2. Texas (0)
  3. Penn State (1)
  4. Ohio State (2)
  5. Oregon (1)

Other undefeateds: None

Controversy: Almost none. USC and Texas spent the whole season at the top of the polls and ended as the only teams without losses. The national championship was an easy choice. The lone BCS controversy was 9-2 Notre Dame earning a bid over 10-1 Oregon, who was snubbed from the BCS.

Plus-One: A plus-one would only have invited controversy over the fourth seed. If Ohio State had indeed taken the number four spot as a conference non-champion, Oregon, Georgia, Notre Dame, and even West Virginia would have had arguments putting them into the equation. Several other teams finished with two losses, though none of them were conference champions.

(1) USC vs. (4) Ohio State

(2) Texas vs. (3) Penn State

Analysis: While the simple BCS guaranteed the undefeated one-two match-up as 1999 and 2002, a plus-one would make the situation much more difficult to sort through. Again, expanding the size of the pool to four teams would create undue controversy over the final seed. The BCS Championship game wouldn’t have been possible under the old Bowl Alliance system, and the USC-Texas game was one of the most anticipated national championships ever.

Conclusion: The BCS was more than adequate to handle the 2005 post-season, and a plus-one would only cause unnecessary problems.

Grades: BCS: A+; Plus-One: B-


BCS top 5 (losses in parentheses):

  1. Ohio State (0)
  2. Florida (1)
  3. Michigan (1)
  4. LSU (2)
  5. USC (2)

Other undefeateds: #8 Boise State

Controversy: The choice of who was number two polarized much of the country. Michigan and Ohio State duked it out in a thrilling regular season finale. Both were unbeaten going in, and Ohio State won by only 3 points. Many people wanted to see a rematch for the national title. Meanwhile, Florida finished with just one loss, winning the SEC championship convincingly. Boise State finished undefeated but didn’t get a shot against the top dogs, playing their BCS bowl game against Oklahoma.

Plus-One: Assuming that Boise State’s strength of schedule would earn it an automatic bid, the plus one would work itself out quite well. The two teams with claims to the number two spot would be included, and Boise State would have a chance to play their way to a championship.

(1) Ohio State vs. (4) Boise State

(2) Florida vs. (3) Michigan

Analysis: Like 2004, this was one of the years in which a plus-one would be perfect. Including Boise State would cause some uproar from LSU and USC, but would leave very few objective observers unsatisfied. The BCS system left two seemingly deserving teams out to dry.

Conclusion: A plus-one would have neatly resolved the controversies of the BCS format without creating many of its own.

Grades: BCS: C; Plus-One: A+


BCS top 5 (losses in parentheses):

  1. Ohio State (1)
  2. LSU (2)
  3. Virginia Tech (2)
  4. Oklahoma (2)
  5. Georgia (2)

Other undefeateds: #10 Hawaii

Controversy: In a season when nearly every potential title game participant had a blemish, the final polls saw six consecutive two-loss teams ranked numbers 2 through seven. Even eighth-ranked, one-loss Kansas and ninth-ranked, two-loss Big East Champ West Virginia could make arguments for being in the title match (albeit weak ones). Adding to the confusion was the discussion of whether a team’s status as conference champion should impact their ranking. Most of the top ten was left sitting on the outside looking in, wondering what might have been.

Plus-One: Ohio State and LSU would almost certainly have stayed 1-2 in the rankings. It’s debatable whether voters would have placed Georgia and USC, two teams many claimed to be playing the best of anyone by season’s end, in the last two slots of a plus-one. Oklahoma had as good an argument as either of those teams, maybe even better, coming off of its Big 12 Championship win over previously number 1 Missouri. Virginia Tech, having been blasted by LSU earlier in the season, might have been dropped from a plus-one foursome based on their relatively weak schedule. Lastly, undefeated Hawaii’s schedule was so remarkably weak that they couldn’t have earned a bid to the plus-one.

(1) Ohio State vs. (4) Oklahoma

(2) LSU vs. (3) Virginia Tech

Analysis: Nothing could have handled this scenario. Even an eight-team playoff would have had a hard time deciding who to include. A four-team playoff would make more parties happy, but probably also make the excluded teams all that much angrier. Guessing the top two was about as useless as guessing the top four.

Conclusion: The BCS and a plus-one were completely inept at sorting out the 2007 postseason.

Grades: BCS: C; Plus-One: C.

The Verdict

It's clear that neither the simple BCS format nor a Plus-One would be sure to give a perfect postseason every year.

Three times since the inception of the BCS have there been a clear-cut top two teams to play in the title: 1999, 2002, and 2005. In those situations, a Plus-One brings in needless controversy and devalues the accomplishment of finishing the season undefeated.

However, there were three years where a plus-one would have neatly solved the most pressing problems of the BCS. Allowing two more teams a chance at the national title was all that was necessary in 2000, 2004, and 2006.

In 2003, a plus-one wouldn't have solved all the problems of the BCS, but would have at least been a marked improvement.

The remaining three seasons (1998, 2001, and 2007) would have seen roughly the same amount of problems under a plus-one as under the BCS.

A plus-one model would, at the worst, have the same number of problems as the present BCS system. Some teams would be left complaining about being excluded, and the subjective nature of the poll would necessarily bring about controversy.

At the best, a plus-one would include all of the teams deemed most worthy, at the expense of including, on occasion, a team or two with lesser credentials. When the top two teams aren't clear-cut, the plus-one truly shines.

Every year the plus-one would annually provide an opportunity for the national champion team to definitively prove its worth on the field. That's something the BCS can't offer every year.

So, if crowning a clear national champion were the utmost goal of college football and the BCS, a plus-one would be a step in the right direction. However, given the complicated politics involved in the process, it's unlikely a change will happen any time soon.


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