Better Off Red: Gotta Love the Broken System

In light of Wisconsin’s obvious ascendance to the top of the Big Ten, I thought I’d turn my attention to that perennial talking point: the BCS totally sucks. This year, though, it’s the best chance Wisconsin’s got.

Wisconsin surged ahead in the polls after thrashing a Nebraska team that was probably a little overrated thanks to name value. Sitting in the top-5 after winning what was expected to be one of the toughest games of the year is a great spot; there isn’t a whole lot more we could have hoped for. But the problem, of course, becomes the games that come next. Illinois, currently ranked #19, is the only top-25 opponent remaining on Wisconsin’s schedule. The Badgers are obvious favorites to reach the Conference Championship game out of the Big Ten West (I’m just going to start calling it that in preparation for the division name changes next spring), meaning they’ll likely have one more high-profile game to impress the human and robot voters. The two road games at Michigan State and Ohio State are still a bit intimidating, but unfortunately, they offer essentially nothing to gain and everything to lose: win, and it gets passed off as what was supposed to happen; lose, and it’s an upset at the hands of an unranked opponent–kiss any National Championship hopes goodbye.Such are the perils of a system that comes under fire every single year for the exact same reasons.

After spending a paragraph describing how little credit the BCS is likely to give Wisconsin little credit for 80-plus percent of its schedule, it would seem like I’m selling the BCS  hard. And I am, to a certain extent. But I’m also not going to overlook the potential magic that such a broken system can produce!

Remember Boise State? Yeah, that team sitting one spot below Wisconsin in both polls even though nobody has spoken their name since early September? They live off the broken BCS system! Because as much as college football analysts want to ignore it, the BCS is all about one thing: not losing. You want to get to the National Title game? Get a high ranking and sit on it. As of now, Wisconsin is set up to do so beautifully. The same infuriating process that keeps Boise State buzzing around all year could potentially send Wisconsin to New Orleans. Feels…dirty.

Look at the teams currently ahead of Wisconsin in both polls: two SEC powerhouses and the preseason #1. Without a doubt, those three have been the most impressive teams in college football this season. But all three have numerous opportunities to lose. Alabama and LSU play each other on November 5th, a game late enough that it’s likely to knock the loser out of serious contention for a national title. Oklahoma visits Oklahoma State, another top-10 team, for their final game of the regular season. Should Oklahoma and the LSU/Alabama winner run the table the rest of the way, they’re in, and deservedly so. But should any of them falter, the Badgers are right there to step up, presumably after dropping 63 points on Purdue in Camp Randall.

No matter what happens, lots of people are going to be mad. If Bucky somehow slips into a top-2 spot, not only will my head explode, but there are going to be TONS of people complaining about the weak Big Ten and strength of schedule and yadda yadda yadda. And you know what? They’re all probably going to be right, at least to some extent. But hey, that’s the system we’ve got! Great, isn’t it? I’m enough of a realist to accept that, even if the system is obviously broken, it’s there until it’s not. And if that broken system puts Wisconsin in position to claim a National Title, I’ll cast aside every moral ideal I hold against it.

Now it sounds like I’m trying to tear down what the Badgers have put together this season–that’s not my intention either. This is undoubtedly one of the best teams Wisconsin has ever put together. If ever the program deserves a showcase on the national stage, to prove how far it has risen, this year is it (even if it took a trip to the Rent-A-QB). Still, there’s a system that could make the whole issue obsolete…

Consider a hypothetical 8-team playoff seeded from the BCS rankings (we’ll just consider the AP poll as it is for now). Your four first-round BCS Playoff Games are:

  • 1v8: Clemson at LSU – A championship-worthy defense versus a Clemson team making it’s apparent tri-annual run through the ACC where they are suddenly really good and everybody wonders where Clemson is.
  • 2v7: Stanford at Alabama: Another exceptional defense gets a shot at stopping the best NFL quarterback prospect since John Elway.
  • 3v6: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: Oh, just an in-state rivalry featuring elite players at a bunch of positions.
  • 4v5: Boise State at Wisconsin: Set the O/U at 176.5. If this is a night game, Madison will need to be covered in bubble wrap to protect itself from itself.
Yeah, I’d watch those.

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