Call it a hunch, but the 2006-07 college football season cannot possibly end well for those who advocate maintaining the current Bowl Championship Series system. Between the results already on the board and the schedule in the weeks ahead, this season looks doomed to be chalked up as yet another reason to move to a playoff system. What follows is a list of five simple reasons why, come early January, the anti-BCS crowd (yours truly included) will have plenty to talk about. I make no claim that all of these things will come true - but it only takes one, and the chances of each are looking pretty good.
1. West Virginia. The most obvious thorn in the BCS' side will come from the Mountaineers. With a weak schedule playing in the 6th best conference in the country, West Virginia stands a good chance to go undefeated. They're a good enough team to where I believe the voters could push them to number 1 or 2, but their strength of schedule will not sit with the computer rankings, and as a result they might slip to a lower position in the BCS standings, with at least a one-loss power conference team ahead of them. And don't say such things can't happen; remember in 2003 when the computers bypassed consensus number one USC in favor of Oklahoma and LSU? They can tweak the formula night and day, but it still might happen again - especially with a team in that gray area between powerhouse and mid-major champion, a la West Virginia.
2. Notre Dame. While it might be a good thing for ratings if the Fighting Irish are a contender for the National Title, it's an awful thing for the power conferences. Every time a mid-major or an independent makes the BCS, it guarantees that less money will flow back into the top 5 conferences. All Notre Dame has to do is get out of the regular season with two or fewer losses and they're BCS-bound, which will likely leave a big conference one-loss team out. If University Presidents lose a chance to bank over a million dollars because of a ridiculous system that isn't interested in truly fielding the best eight teams, they might speak up.
3. Boise State. Everything I wrote about West Virginia can be applied to Boise State, except the part about the polls. The talented Broncos play a pathetic schedule and will walk to an undefeated record unless they trip themselves. They walloped on Oregon State last Saturday, who look to be the toughest name on their docket. Boise State doesn't stand a chance of being in the top 5 of the polls, but if they go undefeated, they should at least qualify for the BCS. If that happens, someone will be upset regardless of the outcome. And if they win their bowl game, why can they not claim to be national champions? What's the point of being in Division I if no one beats you and you aren't number one? Should it really be dependent on whom you play? Are they going to have to wait for an invite to the Pac 10?
4. The SEC. It pains me to say this as a diehard Big Ten fan, but the SEC once again has the best aggregate football in the country. Auburn, LSU, Florida, and Georgia are presently in the top 10 of the AP poll, and all four have shown that they belong. Tennessee also has a very good squad. The problem is scheduling. Florida plays each of the other top teams, and the others play three apiece. Throw in the SEC title game, and they're going to beat the crud out of each other, with the chances of one team emerging undefeated - or even with one loss - incredibly slim. Regardless of the level of play, voters and computers don't look kindly upon defeats. Thus, even though the SEC is by far the most loaded conference in college football, and has four teams talented enough to be in the top ten and play for the national title contenders, they're probably only going to wind up with one spot in the final eight. Hypothetically speaking, would playing in the Peach Bowl make you happy if you were a one-loss LSU team who might be the most talented in the country?
5. The Other Power Conferences. While the SEC might be way up, two of the other traditional big dogs are down. The Pac-10 boasts only one team that can plausibly compete for the national title: USC. Arizona State is quality, but they still have six road games, and Oregon is too inconsistent to be considered right now. In another traditional powerhouse conference, the Big XII, only Oklahoma can be considered a threat for the national title, and they're playing with a backup quarterback, have to play Oregon on the road, and still have the neutral-site rivalry against Texas. The only other prayer to compete is the Longhorns. The boys from Austin would need to run the table, win the Big XII South, and beat whatever team comes out of the North (Nebraska, probably, who I can't see winning out). That's a tall order.
The Bottom Line: The only way the BCS can escape criticism this year is if two - and only two - college football programs go undefeated, and they both need to belong to the five big conferences. That's it, just like every year. They need USC to stay perfect, or Oklahoma, or one of the Big Ten trio, or a team from the SEC Royal Rumble, or Notre Dame, or one of the two decent teams in the ACC (Florida State and Virginia Tech). That's thirteen teams upon which the legitimacy of the BCS will ride in 2006. Sure, over the course of the season there might be one breakthrough team from a big conference, but after this week at least three will be crossed off. Then another, then two more, until finally the BCS has become a national laughingstock. Like it does three years out of four.
For a system that is supposed to solve ambiguity and ease frustration about the best teams not playing each other at the end of the year, it sure seems to be causing a lot of problems.
Call me crazy, but at the end of the season, I'd like to watch the eight most talented football teams take the field and see who's best. But right now, there's no way I can fathom that happening. Mark my words: this year will make five seasons out of nine in which the BCS has managed to create a major controversey. That's not a good record, is it? Is that really an improvement over the pre-BCS days? Save the baloney about money and "student" athletics, NCAA. I just want to see the best teams given a chance, and you're getting in my way.