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The Wild Card Game

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The Wild Card Game (WCG) is staged on the same weekend as conference championships. Loosely stated, the winner of the WCG alongside every conference champion will be considered for placement in the 4-team playoff.

The 3 divisions most likely to send a team to the WCG are the SEC West, the Big Ten East, and the Big 12; each with >35% chance of landing a team here. The three teams most likely to play in the game are Oklahoma (22%), Ohio State (13%), and Notre Dame (13%).

2015 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)
#1 Clemson vs. #9 UNC (ACC Championship)
#2 Alabama vs. #19 Florida (SEC Championship)
#3 Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion)
#4 Michigan State vs. #5 Iowa (Big Ten Championship)

#6 Ohio State vs. #8 Notre Dame (Wild Card Game)
#7 Stanford vs. #23 USC (Pac-12 Championship)

Oklahoma has entered the promised land of the Top 3 and has clinched a playoff berth, even if they are jumped in the poll by 2 Big Ten teams next week.

This year the Wild Card Game would not decide a playoff spot, but if either Clemson or Alabama lose, the WCG champ will be compared against Stanford and/or UNC for the last playoff spot.

2014 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)
#1 Alabama (11-1) vs. #13 Missouri (10-2) (SEC Championship)
#2 Oregon (11-1)vs. #8 Arizona (10-2) (P12 Championship)
#3 Florida State (12-0) vs. #11 Georgia Tech (10-2) (ACC Championship)
#4 TCU (11-1)
#5 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #10 Wisconsin (10-2) (BT Championship)
#6 Baylor (11-1) (Big 12 Champion)

With Ohio State’s commanding preformance over Wisconsin, the TCU-Baylor winner may not have been guaranteed a playoff spot, especially with struggling Florida State getting the nod solely on the basis of their undefeated record. But, at the least, if any of the other champions has been upset, a game between TCU and Baylor at season’s end would have been definitive in determining the final playoff team.

2013 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)

#1 Florida State (12-0) vs. #21 Duke (10-2) (ACC Championship)
#2 Ohio State (12-0) vs. #6 Michigan State (11-1) (Big Ten Championship)
#3 Auburn (11-1) vs. #5 Missouri (11-1) (SEC Championship)
#4 Alabama (11-1)
#7 Stanford (10-2) vs. #9 Arizona State (10-2) (Pac-12 Championship)
#8 Baylor (11-1) (Big 12 Champion)

Had OSU and FSU won, picking a 2-team playoff would have been cake. Thankfully with a WCG, picking 4 teams would be easy as pie regardless of each game’s outcome. 7 teams finished with 1 or fewer losses, and all 7 would play each other the final week, with 2-loss Duke thrown in against Florida State; a near perfect round-of-8.

Alabama and Baylor would meet in the WCG after neither was able to seal the deal against the top contenders from their divisions: Auburn and OK State. With only one loss, though, they’d have a chance to make amends and play their way into the playoff rather than screen-watch all day.

A strong case can be made for the Pac-12 champion making the playoff, but we are willing to bet that unless Duke upset Florida State, Stanford and Arizona State would finish outside in the cold. Still, they’d be eligible, and the eventual winner, 2-loss Stanford, did finish ranked ahead of 1-loss Baylor and Ohio State in our poll.

2012 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)

#1 Notre Dame (12-0) (Independent)
#2 Alabama (11-1) vs. #5 Georgia (11-1) (SEC Championship)
#3 Oregon (11-1)
#4 Florida (11-1)
#6 Kansas State (11-1) (Big 12 Champion)
#7 Stanford (10-2) vs. #17 UCLA (9-3) (Pac-12 Championship)

6 teams with 1 or fewer losses and we pair 4 of them off; how tough was that? Kansas State was #1 in consecutive weeks before a late November beat-down by Baylor. Losing late is a near death knell in the polls, especially with a resurgent Stanford breathing down your neck.

Outside the Top 3, KSU is not guaranteed a playoff spot; behind 2 at-large teams (Oregon and Florida), KSU can’t even play in the Wild Card Game. Instead they’ll be rooting for a poor performance by or upset of Stanford. Depending on the playoff committee’s angle, should Oregon defeat Florida in the Wild Card Game, KSU might get the final playoff spot simply to avoid a second Pac-12 participant.

At any rate, the WCG format clears up the selection process. Rather than selecting 2 of 4 teams (Oregon, Florida, Kansas State, Stanford), the committee has a simple choice between Stanford and Kansas State.

2011 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)

#1 LSU (12-0) vs. #14 Georgia (10-2) (SEC Championship)
#2 Oklahoma State (11-1) (Big 12 Champion)
#3 Alabama (11-1)
#4 Stanford (11-1)
#5 Houston (12-0) vs. #24 So Miss (10-2) (CUSA Championship)
#6 Va Tech (11-1) vs. #21 Clemson (9-3) (ACC Championship)
#7 Oregon (10-2) vs. NR UCLA (6-6) (Pac-12 Championship)
#12 Wisconsin (10-2) vs. #13 Mich St (10-2) (Big Ten Championship)

The Infamous Season.

This is the season that ultimately led to the 4-team playoff. While a simple rule giving a #3 Conference Champion preference over a #2 at-large would have cured what ailed the BCS, “simple rules” never seem to gain much traction.

Under the WCG, while LSU did battle against Georgia, Alabama would face Stanford to earn a playoff spot themselves. Both teams lost to the most difficult opponents on their schdules and, combined, defeated only two teams in the final Top 25 (#8 Arkansas, #24 Penn State).

The fourth spot? Undefeated Houston sat at #5 and, had it won its conference, would be a popular choice to round out the Top 4. Virginia Tech, the only other 1-loss team would have been another strong choice. Both lost their respective conferences’ championships.

Ultimately Oregon’s victory over UCLA propelled them into the Top 4. The Big Ten Champion would have slid in had the Ducks lost to the Bruins, and Georgia would have taken LSU’s spot had they won the SEC Championship.

2010 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)
#1 Oregon (12-0) (Pac-10 Champion)
#2 Auburn (12-0) vs. #18 South Carolina (9-3) (SEC Championship)
#3 TCU (12-0) (MWC Champion)
#4 Stanford (11-1)
#5 Wisconsin (11-1) (Big Ten Champion)
#6 Ohio State (11-1)
#7 Arkansas (10-2)
#8 Michigan State (11-1)
#9 Oklahoma (10-2) vs. #13 Nebraska (10-2) (Big 12 Championship)
#10 Boise State (11-1) // #11 Nevada (12-1) (WAC co-champs)

Oregon, Auburn, and TCU all finished the regular season undefeated and in the Top 3, guaranteed position to advance to the playoff. Who would be fourth?

Thankfully, rather than having pollsters and computers weigh and measure the differences between Stanford and Wisconsin, the two teams would settle it on the field on Championship Saturday.

Interestingly, the Badgers were only declared Big Ten Champs by virtue of their topping of the Buckeyes in the rankings. While this would not affect the Badgers’ decision to play Stanford, it does mean that Ohio State would be next in-line should Wisconsin and Auburn lose.

If Auburn loses and Wisconsin maintains Big Ten supremacy with a win over Stanford, the fourth spot would likely fall to the 2-loss Big 12 Champ. #10 Boise State and #11 Nevada were WAC co-champs (w/#25 Hawaii), though we think both Oklahoma and Nebraska would leap them to make the playoff in such a scenario.

2009 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)

#1 Texas (12-0) vs. #21 Nebraska (9-3) (Big 12 Championship)
#2 Florida (12-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-0) (SEC Championship)
#4 TCU (12-0) (MWC Champion)
#5 Cincinnati (12-0) (Big East Champion)
#6 Boise State (13-0) (WAC Champion)
#7 Oregon (10-2) (Pac-10 Champion)
#8 Ohio State (10-2) (Big Ten Champion)
#9 Penn State (10-2)

6 undefeated teams, only 4 playoff spots. Who goes and who stays home? This is also known as the year when two BCS Busters were pitted against one another rather than against teams from BCS Conferences. And, no matter how you slice it, picking one undefeated team over another would be very subjective.

With the WCG setup, however, every undefeated team would have a chance at the playoff. The election to participate in the WCG would be interesting. Likely it would be Cincinnati vs. Boise State, though either team may pass in the hopes that the other is upset by Oregon (though not in a rematch with Boise), Ohio State, or Penn State.

Still, even a loss may not put Cincinnati or Boise below Oregon in the next week’s rankings, so it is unlikely that either will pass on the WCG. Plus, what AD will hope for other teams to lose instead of guaranteeing their own squad a playoff spot by playing for the win.

And so, rather than the field being decided by the subjectivity of a poll, the difference between #4 and #5 is settled “on the field.” And there was much rejoicing.

2008 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)

#1 Alabama (12-0) vs. #3 Florida (11-1) (SEC Championship)
#2 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. #18 Missouri (9-3) (Big 12 Championship)
#4 Texas (11-1)
#5 USC (11-1) (Pac-10 Champions)
#6 Utah (12-0) (MWC Champions)
#7 Penn State (11-1) (Big Ten Champions)
#8 Texas Tεch (11-1)
#9 Boise State (12-0) (WAC Champions)

It was recently publicised that, looking back on 2008, the Playoff Committee would have selected Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and USC. Although Alabama placed #4 in the BCS after losing the SECCG, the Committee went with the conference champion #5 Trojans.

The greater injustice, however, is that Texas waltzes into the playoff while Oklahoma must don their gear once more in the Big 12 Championship Game (that Texas beat Oklahoma in season is of no point, because the Big 12 changed its internal selection process that Spring).

With the WCG setup, Texas too must gird their loins for one final battle. Who will they battle against? Not USC; the Trojans are virtually guaranteed the #3 or #4 playoff spot. No, it will be Utah @ Texas for the final playoff spot. The undefeated mid-major gets a crack at the National Championship; something the committee alone cannot provide.

Had Oklahoma stumbled against Missouri then # 7 Penn State, the 11-1 Big Ten champs. would have filled the playoff void.

2007 Season Analysis (CFB Fan Poll)
#1 Missouri (11-1) vs. #8 Oklahoma (10-2) (Big 12 Championship)
#2 Ohio State (11-1) (Big Ten Champion)
#3 Georgia (10-2)
#4 Virginia Tech (10-2) vs. #13 Boston College (10-2) (ACC Championship)
#5 USC (10-2) (Pac-10 Champion)
#6 Kansas (11-1)
#7 LSU (10-2) vs. #14 Tennessee (9-3)
#9 Hawaii (12-0) (WAC Champion)
#10 West Virginia (Big East Champion)

With #2 West Virginia losing in the final week and USC clinching the Pac-10, it is difficult to reconstruct final rankings before conference championship games. Might USC have been in a coveted Top 3 spot if they locked up the conference a week before other Championship Games?

At any rate, a final game between Georgia and USC would have been useful to combat the rising boats of Oklahoma, LSU, and Virginia Tech. At the end of a wacky season, no end would have brought order to the chaos. Just look at Kansas, 11-1 and sitting outside playoff eligibility.

Still, one more game would mean one more team eliminated from the mess as well as one more game of must-see television.

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