Why Oregon, Underdogs, and the Pac12 Need a Four-Round National Playoff

Vernon Adams is a ringer. NFL scouts are stalking DeForest Buckner. His defense is creating turn-overs now and gets the ball back to Adams. Does anyone really think that the 2015 Ducks aren’t a top 5 team if Adams had stayed healthy? A five-fingered Adams completes the 4th-quarter pass to Byron Marshall against Michigan State. That’s a rematch Adams deserves. But he won’t get it.

College football playoff

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College Football Playoff: not as bad as the BCS.

Oregon could be the best team in college football. Or maybe not. Three losses are tough to overlook, but they are showing us what’s still wrong with the FBS: come-back stories don’t count. Coronating four teams is only slightly less offensive than the BCS, but that’s not much of a defense.

Consider that undefeated Clemson has played only two ranked teams. USC will be Oregon’s 4th. Of the current top four, only Bama has more at six (yes, Notre Dame has four, too). Yet, even the Tide ebbed for the Mississisppi Rebels, who later succumbed to Memphis, who fell to undefeated Houston.

Does anyone really think the Committee would ever leave two Power 5 conferences on the side-line? Sorry, Houston. Better luck never! Playoffs make champions prove it by playing the best there is. Last man standing. Playoffs are the American way. Division I-A college football has been hi-jacked by a cabal of intellectuals who want to debate football. No thank you.

Oscar winning comeback: Rocky.

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Oscar winning underdog: Rocky.

Talking heads now call upsets “chaos.” When did that happen? Americans love underdogs. It’s in our DNA. Comebacks are the American way. Comebacks win Superbowls. They win heavyweight belts. They win revolutions. They even win Oscars. But in 2015, they can’t win an FBS trophy.

Comeback teams should not be forced to watch from the sidelines, which the Pac-12 may be doing this year. Last year it was the Big 12. (Oh, how they howl when it is the SEC’s turn.) But real playoffs fix that.

The last Pac-12 National Champion was in 2004 largely because undefeated teams are rare on the West Coast. (Yes, Oregon had two shots, and people forget the Ducks lost by a field goal in 2010.) Some now want to water the Pac-12 down — make the schedules easier to increase playoff hopes.

How about we just fix the real problem? Tough intra-conference play should be encouraged, not avoided. Win your conference and you get your shot. Any other way is un-American and it ain’t football. Aside from being fun to watch, football is one of our few permissible masculine institutions that teach boys the value of failure: of getting knocked down and getting back up. They can watch Thomas Wayne tell it to Bruce, but it’s not the same.

Ever wonder why the FCS gets a four-round national playoff? Divisions II and III also conclude the season with playoffs and a champion. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. This is not theory. It’s football.

Why do we allow this junta to deprive the players the opportunity to get back up? There is no good answer. There is not even a case to be made for not having real playoffs. Can you imagine college basketball without a real champion? No. And no one has ever argued that there shouldn’t be one.

A consolation prize for the Committee: someone has to seed the brackets. The conferences should all produce real champs; only three do not (Big 12, AAC, and Sun Belt). But of those three laggards, only the Big12 and Sun Belt need to create internal divisions necessary for championship play.

The Committee would rank each champ. Those in the power and non-power set-up bar one-half of the division from meaningful post-season competition. Let them compete to attract better talent. Either all of the 128 FBS teams are part of Division I-A or they are not. There are 10 conferences. There should be 10 champs. Each one gets a seat at the table.

Famous comebacks

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Historic comebacks are in our DNA.

You can’t bracket 10 teams, but six wild-card teams would fill out four rounds. The Committee picks from a pool of ranked independents, underdogs, and, yes, teams like the Comeback Ducks, who may get frozen out of the conference title but deserve a shot to make history.

Nor is time an issue. There are three weeks in December after championship weekend. Semi-finals can still be played on New Year’s Day. But with increased post-season exposure, conferences would be free to trim pre-season non-conference play.

The Committee’s mission statement should be four-fold:

  1. Avoid intra-conference national finals through bracketing.
  2. Reward undefeated teams and strong underdogs.
  3. Encourage more conference play, not less, through conference championships.
  4. Create a true national champion.

A real FBS playoff  would be the biggest sporting event in history, but I’m biased. I really just want to watch the Ducks play a little more every year. Give them a shot and they will make us proud.

Top photo by Tom Corno

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