The Inevitable Bowl Crisis: Four Undefeated No-Names and The Bowl System

Mordecai BrownerAnalyst ISeptember 24, 2008

Currently, some board room hotshots are sweating bullets over bad contracts, and I'm not talking about Wall Street.

Boise State is 3-0 and ranked 19th in the AP Poll.  They won their toughest game of the year by pulling off a road upset against Oregon last weekend.  On the remainder of their schedule, every team has at least two losses already except for the mighty Aggies of New Mexico State and Fresno State.  They get the latter at home.

The Mountain West Conference has three teams that are currently undefeated.  While BYU, Utah, and TCU all play each other, and TCU has to go through Norman, Oklahoma, a reasonable chance exists that one of them will emerge undefeated.  They're currently ranked 11th, 17th, and 24th, respectively.

Ball State is coming off a dominant win over a Big Ten team on the road.  They're 4-0, have hung at least 35 on every opponent, and play nothing but MAC teams the rest of the way.  While they're currently garnering few votes in either poll, they have a bigger representation in the media than most non-BCS schools (read: David Letterman and Jason Whitlock).

Tulsa, the best college football team no one talks about, has scored 157 points in three games.  While I don't think their defense is strong enough to hold off even a woeful Arkansas squad on the road, there's a respectable chance they'll run the table.

What if four of these teams go undefeated?

Should a Mountain West team or Boise State go undefeated, they're practically guaranteed a BCS appearance this year.  Where it gets interesting is in the selection of the other bowl participants.

With this season being "lopsided" in terms of conference dominance, it appears at this point that two teams from the SEC and Big XII will deserve BCS berths with one each coming from the Big Ten, ACC, Big East, and Pac-10.  Even assuming BYU or Utah runs the table and makes the BCS, that's only nine slots accounted for.

What this scenario means is that the Orange Bowl might have a very interesting choice to make.  Do they take an undefeated Boise State or, if they sneak high enough, a Ball State or Tulsa?  Or do they select a "less deserving" big-name team from the Big Ten, Big East, or Pac-10?

Either scenario proves debilitating to the BCS, especially with legitimate top ten teams from the Big XII and SEC sitting on the sidelines.

The only way to save the Orange Bowl committee from a lose-lose dilemma is if Notre Dame runs the table here on out or a second Big Ten, ACC, or Pac-10 team proves themselves worthy of BCS contention.  But given what has happened thus far in the football season, it looks like the BCS contract is going to bite the Orange Bowl in the butt to the Cotton Bowl's benefit.

But where the Mountain West teams and the non-BCS undefeated teams are really causing committee regret are in the non-BCS bowls.  Contractual tie-ins, usually seen as a sign of a stability in a bowl, are going to cause major headaches.

At this point, Tulsa looks to be a sure bet to wind up in the Liberty Bowl, which is an extremely good fit for them.

But if one of the top Mountain West teams make the BCS, what happens to the other two?  The Las Vegas Bowl, the Armed Forces Bowl, and the New Mexico Bowl are possibilities.  I'm sorry, 11-1 teams deserve better.

Which bowls find themselves regretting their tie-ins?  The Sun Bowl, and it's middle-of-the-Pac-10 tie-in, would probably love to bring BYU instead of the mediocre Arizona State or Oregon squad they'll wind up with.  The Humanitarian Bowl in Idaho will likely land Fresno State or Boise State - but they have to pair them against a lower-half ACC team.  The Emerald Bowl, played in San Francisco?  A middle-of-the-pack ACC team against a middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 team.  Borrrrring.

If Utah's prospects are looking slim, don't even bother checking out where Ball State might be headed.  GMAC and Motor City Bowls, start rooting for the Cardinals.  Alamo Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl?  Too bad you made those commitments to ho-hum Big Ten schools.  Ball State has a fairly large alumni base, and given the choice between a Purdue fan-base entirely uncaring to a mid-level bowl or a Ball State fan-base hungry for the spotlight, I'd take the latter every time.

Above all else, BCS supporters and the various bowl committees should learn three crucial lessons from the '08-'09 season, which are already apparent:

1) The BCS maximum of two teams per conference needs to be raised to three.  It's flat-out stupid to leave the wealth of good SEC and Big XII teams out.

2) In an age of college football parity, bowl administrators would be well-advised to leave more at-large positions open, as having a high-quality team can be guaranteed without pandering to a conference for their 6th-best member.  Back when Penn State was an independent school, they still played in a variety of top-notch bowl games.  It's ridiculous to force the 2nd-best MWC school to a crappy bowl game merely because they aren't in the Pac-10 or Big XII.

3) A system needs to be set up whereby conferences can take over the place of other conferences.  If USC loses one conference game, the Mountain West becomes an objectively better conference than the Pac-10.  The MWC certainly has played comparable or better than the Big East.  Yet, their three ranked teams still face a bias that the Pac-10's nine unranked teams do not.  The BCS, if it is to survive, needs to build-in a function whereby conferences can rise and fall.

While fixing these problems will not assure aversion of a bowl crises in the future, they would have gone a long way towards alleviating what I imagine is a troubling time for many bowl administrators right now.

Like it or not, non-BCS football keeps improving and not all conferences are created equal.  For the BCS to function well, it must allow integration into the system by the "outsiders" like Boise State as well as a means to account for conference imbalance and years when multiple non-BCS schools are undefeated.

In previously choosing to give the BCS "rigid" rules to protect everyone's interests while locking every bowl with a very specific tie-in, college football's elite businessmen might have protected their interests, but they sure as heck didn't help the game or its potentially-great match-ups.

With parity and a diverse number of teams shooting for banner years (unlike, say, having only one Hawaii), one might expect this bowl season to be incredibly interesting.  Unfortunately, the men who suits who planned it all out five years have seemingly prevented that from happening.

For shame.  Happy New Year, everyone, and enjoy that GMAC Bowl, Ball State fans.  Mobile, Alabama.  What a great town for an 12-0 team, right?