By Ralph Routon
Did you enjoy watching Wisconsin's 70-31 rout of Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game? Did you get a kick out of Florida State keeping a 6-6 Georgia Tech team out of the Orange Bowl?
Did you fall asleep before the end of Kansas State steamrolling Texas to grab a share of the Big 12 title? Did you chew off your fingernails wondering whether Louisville would hold off Rutgers for the Big East's Bowl Championship Series berth?
Let's face it. On the weekend of Nov. 29-Dec. 1, with interest at its peak, the nation saw one outstanding, meaningful, college football game. That was Alabama vs. Georgia, arguably the best two Southeastern Conference teams but — from the looks of their defenses — not at the same level as the SEC powerhouses that have won the past six national titles.
It could have been so much better. We could have been enjoying the first round of a real major-college football tournament. Or perhaps a handful of play-in games involving second-tier conference champions to determine the final field of playoff qualifiers.
This second-guessing has happened every year, but it's even more painful after the recent news of a four-team college playoff commencing in 2014.
Instead of soothing those of us who want playoffs, it's driving us even more crazy.
What if we had a four-team playoff this year? It would be Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon and ... Kansas State? Florida? Why not Georgia? And who's better than Stanford right now? For that matter, Oklahoma? You could easily have a situation where any of the Nos. 5 through 8 teams could, and perhaps would, knock off anyone from the top four.
Problem solved? Hell, no. Problem intensified.
At least we can take solace in the first step having been made. From the four-team format, it should be easier expanding further, to eight, 12 or even 16 teams.
But let's start by doing away with conference championship fiascos, starting with the Big Ten. Granted, Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible, but still, we're left with a five-loss Wisconsin team in the Rose Bowl. That's ridiculous.
Meanwhile, in the Pac-12, Stanford gets the reward of facing Wisconsin after beating Oregon and then UCLA twice in six days. But the Cardinal would have no shot at making a four-team playoff, despite being probably the best or second-best team in America since Halloween.
Alabama lost at home to Texas A&M. Georgia got throttled at South Carolina. Florida fell to Georgia. Stanford stumbled early at Washington, and barely lost to Notre Dame later. Kansas State keeled over at Baylor. Only Notre Dame fully deserves a clear shot. But why not have a way to crown the real champion, the one team that proved itself in the regular season and at the end, with missteps tolerated. After all, the Irish are underdogs by more than a touchdown to Alabama.
If the regular season ended a week earlier, that would open up many more possibilities. All the games after Thanksgiving weekend would mean something, instead of conference games intended only to make money and milk the fans.
Let's ask Nebraska fans how they feel now about going to a bowl after thousands made it to Indianapolis for that colossal embarrassment. Ask Georgia Tech's followers how many will following their 6-7 team to the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
My vote would be for 12 or 16 teams in a tournament. With 12, the top four seeds would get a first-round bye. Either way, worthy champions from second-level leagues like the Mountain West would have a shot of being included (but only by reaching specific standards) along with at-larges from top conferences.
My top eight seeds this year, forgetting conference title games: Notre Dame, Alabama, Stanford, Kansas State, Oregon, Georgia, Florida and ... actually, I can't decide between Texas A&M, LSU, Oklahoma and Florida State. So eight isn't enough. Probably the Aggies.
So that could mean quarterfinals of Notre Dame vs. Texas A&M, Alabama vs. Florida, Stanford vs. Georgia and Kansas State vs. Oregon.
Real games, not the farcical stuff. With 12 or 16 teams, the first round would've been this weekend, followed by quarterfinals on Dec. 8. Then an off week before semifinals on Dec. 22, and the championship on or shortly after New Year's Day.
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