Let’s get this out of the way: We’re going to see a playoff in college football.
Not this year or even next year, granted.
But at some point in the future — and it’s not all that far off — we’re going to see it.
Since January, Bowl Championship Series leaders have been discussing the potential of adopting a four-team playoff, similar to the plus-one model that has floated around for years.
And last week, following an all-day meeting Monday at a hotel near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the BCS released a statement declaring that their “talks have entered the ‘brass tacks’ level.”
“For every concept that enjoys broad support, there are a host of intricate details that we’re talking through,” it read.
The statement also posed a series of logistical questions. Hey, it’s the BCS after all.
“For example, if we change the current format, would we play some games on campus or all games on neutral sites? If some games are on campus, is that too much of a competitive advantage? If all games are at neutral sites, would fans be able to travel to two games in a row? How would teams be selected? By a committee, by the current ranking formula, or by a different formula? When exactly would games be scheduled, considering finals, holidays and our desire to avoid mid-January games?”
Either way, the concept of the current BCS structure is under review, and quite possibly, within the next five years or so, it’ll look slightly different.
We’re likely not going to see a full-fledged eight- or- 16-team style playoff — similar to the Football Championship Subdivision level. The odds of that are about as good as the Big East keeping its automatic bid. But a four-team seeded playoff system is gaining traction — a lot of traction.
For USC, and other college football titans, this is only a good thing.
In part, the shift toward a playoff carries populist sentiments. A structured four-team playoff would, in theory, allow for smaller schools such as Boise State, which come from a non-BCS conference, to play for a national title, by playing its way into the top four — a far more likely occurrence than landing as the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the final standings. Remember, no team from a non-BCS conference has ever played for a BCS national title.
So, yes, a playoff would in fact help the Broncos out, along with a litany of other schools from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference and the Mountain West Conference, among others.
Perhaps, however, USC stands to gain more than anyone.
Generally, playoff systems reward teams that finish toward the upper echelon of the standings on a consistent, annual basis. In short, teams don’t have to finish undefeated with a No. 1 ranking. More than anything, they simply need to land in the top five, or the top 10. And statistically, no other program does that more frequently than USC.
Over the last 10 years, the Trojans have finished the season ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press top-25 poll eight times — tied with Ohio State for the most among any program. The next closest are LSU, Oklahoma and Texas, which each have six finishes since 2002.
But not only is USC accustomed to finishing near the top of the rankings, it also plays some of its best football during the latter half of the year, suggesting that it might thrive in a four-team playoff, as well.
Since 2007, USC has gone 15-3 during the month of November, and last year, it went 4-0, including a three-point upset victory against Oregon in Autzen Stadium.
In 2008, it lost in late September at Oregon State, then reeled off 10 straight wins, including a two-touchdown win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-1. The year before, it stumbled twice in October before reeling off five consecutive victories to finish off the year with a Rose Bowl victory.
And in 2002, it finished with eight straight wins and a No. 4 ranking in the final AP poll. Think those teams might have liked the idea of a playoff?
We’re still a few years away from any significant changes to the college football postseason, granted. But nonetheless, as talks about a four-team playoff heat up, any changes toward a playoff unmistakably benefit ’SC.
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