Blair Kerkhoff

BCS gets its final championship game right

Today, and on this day for the previous 15 years, we debate whether the BCS got it right. This year, like most, it did with a championship game that matches Florida State and Auburn.

The nation’s lone undefeated team against the champion of the reigning conference kingpin, it makes sense. There’s a circle back sense about this one. The Seminoles met an SEC team, Tennessee, in the first BCS title game.

The rest of the BCS bowls fell into place as expected after Saturday’s results. Every year, a team gets that left-out feeling, and this year it’s Oregon. At No. 7, the Ducks are the highest-rated team in the final BCS standings to get omitted, and that happened because the Sugar Bowl selected Oklahoma as an at-large team to face Alabama.

A bit of politics may have been at play here. The Sugar begins a relationship with the Big 12 starting next year.

Ah, next year, when monumental change is a comin’.

Think about it. In December, 2014 we will not have been through a season of the BCS, the weekly standings, the Harris poll or computer rankings.

A committee will have identified four teams, seeded and slotted them in bowl games — first up are the Rose and Sugar to be played on New Year’s Day, 2015 —and the winners will meet on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.

That’s not all. The committee also will fill four other bowl slots: Orange, Cotton, Chick-fil-A and Fiesta, with conference champions and most qualified at-large teams. Those games will be played on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, creating a mega bowl cluster.

So, as we consider this year’s pairings — and there are some attractive ones — let’s plug in this season’s results into next year’s format and pretend the College Football Playoff is already upon us.

Florida State is the top seed, Auburn the No. 2 and Alabama third. That’s easy. And one semifinal is set: Auburn-Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

How would you feel about that? The Iron Bowl was a game for the ages, and now a do-over on a neutral field. Rematches are rare in college football, but that won’t be a consideration for the committee.

So, who is No. 4? The teams on my final ballot would be Michigan State, Baylor, Stanford, Oregon and Ohio State.

The Buckeyes would probably be my first team eliminated, coming off a loss. But the same is true of Alabama. The committee would have to explain something the BCS never could: how the Tide would have an advantage by not playing in its conference championship game. It also happened with Nebraska in 2001 and Alabama in 2011.

We’re down to three. The Spartans and Bears have better records, one loss each to Stanford’s two. But the Cardinal won its league title game on an opponent’s home field, Arizona State. Would that matter? Schedule strength figures to play a role.

Will the Big 12 eventually be hurt by not playing a championship game? The conference has been fortunate to have its champion crowned in a high-profile game while the other league title games were playing. The Big 12 got a dramatic two-fer on Saturday, when Oklahoma State’s upset loss opened the door for Baylor’s victory over Texas to clinch the title.

But if the Big 12 champion is determined a week earlier and unable to make an impression on the final weekend, the committee’s thinking could be influenced.

Let’s make Stanford the No. 4 team. So, would the Cardinal get to play the semifinal in California against Florida State? Or would the committee ship Iron Bowl II to Pasadena and gift a closer site to the top seed?

There are no easy answers, and there never will be as long as college football remains settled by judgment calls.

But something else will be different a year from now.

Instead of wondering how computers spit out numbers, if voters were clouded by regional bias or if politics shaped a bowl pairing, a committee will answer questions defending their decisions.