It's Crystal Clear: College Football and the BCS Need a Plus-One Format

Nathan DealCorrespondent IJune 7, 2011

USC lines up against Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.... that technically never happened.
USC lines up against Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl.... that technically never happened.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

On June 6, 2011, following USC losing an appeal of NCAA rulings, the Bowl Championship Series (more widely known as the BCS) vacated the Trojans' 2004 BCS national championship. That 55-19 Orange Bowl rout of Oklahoma? It's gone. Not in the record books. In the NCAA and BCS' eyes, it didn't happen.

Following the BCS' decision, the buzz around Auburn, Norman and Salt Lake City was rampant. "Will Auburn get the 2004 title? How about Oklahoma? How about Utah?" However, the BCS announced that the title will remain vacant. There is no head-to-head proof that would allow them to award it to Oklahoma over Auburn or vice versa.

Not only did the USC case point out the flaws in college football, it also pointed out obvious flaws in the structure of the BCS and major college football's postseason format in general. Auburn, Oklahoma and Utah all have good reasons as to why they should get USC's vacated title. However, because of the flawed format, the BCS can't even decide who would be deserving of the title because we never got to see these teams play each other.

Because of this (and a Los Angeles agent), 2004 will go down as the only season in college football history with no champion.

All of the hard work put in by the Sooners, Tigers and Utes went by the wayside and is going by the wayside because of the flaws of the BCS. Do you realize how uncomfortable it is to read a list of BCS champions and have it look like this: "2003: LSU, 2004: Nobody, 2005: Texas?" It doesn't make you feel good. Nobody wins in this whole ordeal (unless you're a UCLA fan).

The BCS has had many controversial seasons beyond the 2004 disaster. In 1998, Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats finished third in the BCS standings. They were one measly spot from playing in the national championship game. However, BCS bowls passed them up for teams like fourth-ranked Ohio State and eighth-ranked Florida. Kansas State had to play in the Alamo Bowl against Purdue. Should one poll spot be the difference between the national title game and the Alamo Bowl?

In 2001, the Miami Hurricanes dominated college football, going 11-0 in the regular season with a roster loaded with NFL talent. Their spot in the champion-deciding Rose Bowl was in no way argued. Who they faced, however, was controversial. No. 2 Nebraska, in the last game of the regular season, lost 62-36 in Boulder to hated rival Colorado. In the SEC championship, No. 2 Tennessee was upset by the Tigers of LSU, leaving the BCS in a strange position, especially since the Oregon Ducks had one loss and were ranked second in both human polls.

Despite the fact that Oregon won the Pac-10 and had that poll position and the fact that Colorado won the Big 12, Nebraska was selected to face the Hurricanes in Pasadena. People in Boulder and Eugene were angry, with good reason.

In 2003, no FBS team finished undefeated, but three one-loss teams were in position to play in the Sugar Bowl (the national championship game in this season). The three teams were historic powers LSU, USC and Oklahoma.

USC ranked first in the human polls, but a weak schedule hurt it in the computer rankings. LSU took care of business in the SEC title game, but the real controversy began when the Sooners were thrashed by Kansas State in the Big 12 title game, 35-7. But for some really dumb reason, the Sooners still beat out Pete Carroll's Trojans for the second spot in New Orleans. LSU beat Oklahoma for the BCS crown, but USC, who went on to win the Rose Bowl, was voted AP champions.

In 2006, the Ohio State Buckeyes went 12-0 in the regular season and earned a deserved spot in the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale. Their final victory of that season was against Michigan, which came into the game with an 11-0 record of its own. Ohio State won by three, leaving four one-loss teams (Michigan, Florida, Louisville, Wisconsin) and unbeaten Boise State wanting a title game berth.

Despite the fact Michigan was still ranked higher in the human polls. Florida was chosen to play Ohio State for the crystal ball. However, this became less controversial when the Gators proved they should be there by beating the Buckeyes 41-14.

The 2007 season was the wildest college football has ever seen. In the final week of the regular season, No. 3 Missouri, which had one loss, beat No. 2 Kansas, which had an 11-0 record coming in. No. 1 LSU, meanwhile, had one loss and was toppled by unranked Arkansas in triple OT. That gave LSU two losses.

Entering championship weekend, one-loss teams Missouri and West Virginia were the top two teams in the BCS standings. Ohio State, which had lost to Illinois early in November, was third in the standings. Chaos ensued, as Missouri was toppled by Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and West Virginia was shocked by Pitt in Morgantown in the most painful game in Mountaineer history. LSU beat Tennessee for the SEC crown and, along with Ohio State, crept into the top two spots.

To make things even more confusing, the only unbeaten team, the Hawaii Warriors, was excluded from the national title game. LSU beat Ohio State, becoming the first FBS team to lose two games and win the national title.

In 2008, controversy surrounded the Red River Rivalry. In October, the No. 5 Texas Longhorns defeated the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, 45-35. A few weeks later, the Longhorns lost to undefeated Texas Tech in Lubbock. Texas Tech then turned around and lost to Oklahoma in Norman, 65-21. Oklahoma was on a tear and didn't lose a regular season game after its loss to Texas. Texas, after its loss to the Red Raiders, didn't lose again. Texas Tech didn't lose again. This gave the Big 12 South a three-way tie.

The representative of the Big 12 South in the Big 12 title game would come down to the BCS standings, and despite the fact that Texas beat Oklahoma, the Sooners were selected to play for the conference crown. They won the game in blowout fashion over Missouri and went to the BCS title game against Florida, which had just defeated previously top-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game.

The Longhorns beat the Sooners head-to-head, but they were left to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, Utah, the nation's only unbeaten team, finished just sixth in the BCS standings. The uproar from this only grew after the Utes crushed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 31-17.

In 2009 and 2010, powerful BCS conference teams were selected to play each other for the Coaches' Trophy while several teams were left out. In 2009, Alabama and Texas both went unbeaten and were chosen to play in the title game over unbeaten Mountain West champion TCU, Big East champion Cincinnati and WAC champion Boise State.

In 2010, Auburn and Oregon went perfect in the regular season and were chosen to play in the BCS title game. Auburn won the title, but when unbeaten TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Horned Frog fans wondered why they weren't worthy of playing for "all the Tostitos."

FBS college football is the only sport that isn't determined by a playoff. Fans have been calling for playoffs for many, many years, going back to before the dark days of the BCS. But if college football were to get a full-scale playoff, one of the things that make college football the best sport on the planet, the regular season, would lose its importance. College football is the only sport where one loss just about ends any hope that your team will win the national title.

So, the current BCS format stinks. A playoff, while more fair, would hurt college football more than help it. There has to be a middle! There has to be a way we can keep the bowl system, keep the regular season special and make the sport fairer.

Well, believe it or not, such a system exists. Some are aware of it, others are not. It's called a plus-one system.

Let me break it down: A plus-one is a four-team playoff. The winners play for the title. It sounds simple, and it's effective. It would prevent cases like 1998, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 from happening.

Bowls are a special part of college football, but a playoff is requested. A plus-one is the best way to have both occur. Here is my plus-one solution:

  • Keep the BCS. Use the same formulas. The first 14 weeks of college football will go on as usual.
  • After the conference titles have been won, release the final BCS standings.
  • The top four teams will play in a playoff before the bowl results are announced. After a week of preparation, the No. 1 team will play the No. 4 team and the No. 2 team will play the No. 3 team.
  • The next day, bowl games will be announced. The two winners will play in the BCS title game; the two losers will play in a BCS bowl (for BCS conference teams, it will be one associated with their conference. i.e. SEC team to Sugar Bowl, Pac-12 team to Rose Bowl).

It isn't perfect, but this is as good as it gets. There may be years where there are five unbeaten teams, and it's unfortunate. However, this is the best system for keeping bowl games and having a fair system that gives several teams outside of the top two a chance to prove they should play for the title.

What would a plus-one have looked like if it were introduced with the BCS back in 1998?

1998: No. 1 Tennessee vs. No. 4 Ohio State; No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Kansas State

1999: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Alabama; No. 2 Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Nebraska

2000: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Washington; No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Miami (FL)

2001: No. 1 Miami (FL) vs. No. 4 Oregon; No. 2 Nebraska vs. No. 3 Colorado

2002: No. 1 Miami (FL) vs. No. 4 USC; No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Georgia

2003: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Michigan; No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 USC

2004: No. 1 USC vs. No. 4 Utah; No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Auburn

2005: No. 1 USC vs. No. 4 Ohio State; No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Penn State

2006: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 LSU; No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 Michigan

2007: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma; No. 2 LSU vs. No. 3 Virginia Tech

2008: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 4 Alabama; No. 2 Florida vs. No. 3 Texas

2009: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 TCU; No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Cincinnati

2010: No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 4 Stanford; No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 TCU

There would still have been some controversy, such as Louisville being excluded in 2006. However, you can't look at this schedule and say that there would be the same number of controversies as there are now with this BCS system.

Would there still be some controversies? Surely. Is this system perfect? Not by any means. But would it be the fairest system college football has ever had? I have no doubt...that's a "yes."