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Playoff would increase drama BCS curtails

By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer / November 20, 2011

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Those who try to pass off the BCS as the best thing for college football will use the latest wild and riveting weekend of upsets and dramatic finishes as an example of why a playoff is a bad thing.

"Every game counts," is the slogan BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock likes to work into the Bowl Championship Series press releases.

If there was a playoff, he and his followers argue, the tension-filled games that resulted in Oklahoma State, Oregon and Oklahoma getting kicked to the back of the queue in the national championship race wouldn't be nearly as exciting.

Don't believe them.

More than anything, this season is proving that the regular season is by no means a playoff -- Alabama wasn't eliminated by losing to LSU, and Oklahoma State wasn't eliminated by falling at Iowa State -- and having a real one would only increase the fun.

There are arguments to be made against the BCS beyond the fact that it's an unsatisfying way to crown a champion.

But we'll leave the not-at-all-small matter of whether the Bowl Championship Series is a legal and ethical way for major college football to conduct its multibillion dollar business for another time. There are intriguing arguments on both sides and at some point antitrust attorneys might have to make those in a courtroom.

We'll concentrate on the competition.

Heading into the final two weeks of the season there are eight teams with either zero or one loss in major college football. Of those teams, it's safe to say that six -- LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Stanford, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech -- have a shot to reach the BCS national championship game Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

Sorry, Boise State and Houston, have no real shot, and that alone should be enough to make you want a playoff.

During the final two weeks of the season, the only games with national championship implications involve those six teams -- sort of. In reality, as long as LSU and Alabama take care of business, the rest are moot, too.

The Big Ten might as well not even exist (SEC fans' dream). Same goes for the Big East (yes, the Big East still exists). How much more interesting would the scramble for the Big East crown be if there was a long-shot chance to make a national championship run -- or at least to pull a playoff upset -- waiting for the winner?

The argument against a playoff is that it would lessen the importance of games such as Iowa State's 37-31 double OT upset over Oklahoma State, which was two victories away from playing for the BCS title before stumbling in Ames.

Maybe it would, but wouldn't that be more than made up by the fact that additional teams would be alive in the national championship chase as the season winds down?

Iowa State-Oklahoma State loses some drama, but Penn State-Ohio State, Wisconsin-Illinois and, now, Penn State-Wisconsin gain a lot.

And wouldn't it be worth giving up the enormity of the moment in Ames to stop the guessing game that is the BCS? Everybody who is so convinced that Alabama and LSU are the two best teams -- and they sure do look the part -- probably thought Boise State had no shot to beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

College football fans spend the weekend watching these brilliant dramas played out on the field, like three months of March Madness, and then have to wait until Sunday for the judges to render the final decision about what it means.

There are always going to be polls and computer ratings. Even with a playoff they could come in handy. But a playoff would de-emphasize them and put the onus on the field.

How should a playoff work? Put it this way: four is better than two and eight is better than four. Anything more than 16 is probably too much. It's good to have some debate about who is in and who is out.

However, when the debate is more important than the games, well, then you have the BCS.

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HEISMAN WATCH

A non-voter's hypothetical Heisman ballot:

--Baylor quarterback QB Robert Griffin IIII. RGIII wasn't even born that last time the Bears were relevant. Look up Baylor in the college football dictionary and it says, see Vanderbilt. His latest masterful performance against Oklahoma, 551 total yards and a TD pass with 8 seconds left, gave the Bears their first win -- ever -- against the Sooners in 21 tries.

--Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. He has played well in every one of Wisconsin's game -- even losses to Ohio State and Michigan State -- and as good as quarterback Russell Wilson has played, Ball's numbers are awesome. His 1,466 yards rushing is second in the nation and 30 touchdowns are first.

--Houston quarterback Case Keenum. No quarterback has better numbers (4,269 yards and 38 TD passes) and even though the competition in Conference USA might be lacking, notice that the Cougars went 5-7 last year when Keenum was injured in the third game and missed the rest of the season.

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QUICK HITS

--According to tracking done by NBC Sports.com, there are 66 bowl-eligible teams through Saturday. With 35 bowl games, that leaves four spots left to be filled. On Sunday, Miami self-imposed a bowl ban for this season while it investigates possible NCAA violations, but there are still 15 teams a victory away from bowl eligibility.

--Arizona State's loss 31-27 loss to Arizona put the Sun Devils' Pac-12 South title hopes on the ropes and made coach Dennis Erickson's future with the program equally murky. The Sun Devils looked like the clear front-runner in the division, especially with USC ineligible. Now they are 6-5 heading into finale against Cal and will need a win and a UCLA loss to USC to play in first Pac-12 title game.

--If there was a transfer of the year award, Georgia defensive end Jarvis Jones could challenge Wisconsin's Wilson. The Georgia native left USC after the 2009 season, sat out last year, and is tied for second in the nation in sacks with 12 1-2.

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LOOKING AHEAD

Several conference and division races are up in the air, but the biggest game will be played the day after Thanksgiving in Baton Rouge, La.

If No. 1 LSU beats No. 3 Arkansas, the Razorbacks are done and the Tigers might be a lock to play in the BCS championship game no matter what happens in the SEC title game against Georgia.

If the Razorbacks pull the upset, now you really have BCS chaos.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP