Once a year, many college football fans, including myself, tend to ask the "what if we had a playoff system in college football?" question. As Wisconsin would again be present in numerous iterations of a playoff bracket following a solid regular season and Big Ten Championship victory, let's take a hypothetical look at what Wisconsin's position would be in a few postseason bracket set-ups. I decided to use the AP Poll rankings to simulate what a hypothetical playoff committee would rank teams, as I feel it is the most reasonable ranking system out there. I also used the college football simulator at WhatIfSports.com to produce the tentative winners of these games, which is just much more fun and intriguing than advancing the higher seeded team. (Note: USC will not be considered eligible for this exercise.)
FOUR TEAM CONFERENCE CHAMPION BRACKET
This setup would cause as much controversy as the BCS already does, but it's the only way Wisconsin would earn a spot in a four-team playoff this year. In this scenario, the four highest ranked conference champions would earn their way to a four-team showdown.
Monday, Jan. 2
#6 Oregon Ducks (11-2, Pac-12 Champions) at #3 Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1, Big 12 Champions): 4 PM, Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla. (Oklahoma State wins 44-34.)
Monday, Jan. 9- Semifinal losers meet in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Tentative opponents: LSU vs. Oregon. (Oregon wins 23-20.)
Wednesday, Jan. 11- Semifinal winners meet in the National Championship in New Orleans, La. Tentative opponents: Oklahoma State vs. Wisconsin. (Wisconsin wins the national championship, 34-31.)
Notes: Not an easy road for the Badgers here. LSU at their place at night would be incredibly tough task, but it would be a really fun to see how Russell and Montee match up against the Honey Badger and the rest of the staunch LSU defense. I don't know why WhatIfSports thinks we could drop 55 on the Tigers in Death Valley! (The second sim I did, to make sure it wasn't broken, had LSU winning 31-24.) A Wisconsin win means facing a tough offense in the national championship, a loss means a nice consolation appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. The predictor taunts us with a Wisconsin national championship victory. By the way, this particular playoff set-up doesn't seem sustainable.
EIGHT TEAM BRACKET
The more the merrier, right? There are many ways you can set up a eight team bracket, and here I'm going to go with a few basic rules to set this one up. There are six potential guaranteed berths: SEC champion, Big Ten champion, ACC champion, Big 12 champion, Pac-12 champion, and highest-ranked non-AQ team (not necessarily champion). Yes, the Big East is now no longer considered an AQ conference here. But there's one caveat to these guaranteed berths: the team has to finish in the top 15 of the hypothetical committee's rankings to qualify for the guaranteed berth. This year, all 6 guaranteed berths qualified, leaving 2 at-large spots. Other years, more at-large spots could be open.
Saturday, Dec. 24
#14 Clemson Tigers (10-3, ACC Champions) at #1 LSU Tigers (13-0, SEC Champions): 7 PM, Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La. (LSU wins, 40-3.)
#9 Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, Big Ten Champions) at #2 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1, at-large berth): 4 PM, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Alabama wins, 44-30.)
#8 Boise State Broncos (11-1, non-AQ qualifier) at #3 Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1, Big 12 Champions): 1 PM, Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla. (Oklahoma State wins, 45-27.)
#6 Oregon Ducks (11-2, Pac-12 Champions) at #4 Stanford Cardinal (11-1, at-large berth): 8:30 PM, Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif. (Oregon wins, 38-21.)
Monday, Jan. 2: Highest remaining seed hosts lowest remaining seeds, 2nd highest remaining hosts 3rd highest remaining. Tentative: Oregon at LSU (Oregon wins, 16-9), Oklahoma State at Alabama (Oklahoma State wins, 62-27.)
Wednesday, Jan. 4: Two quarterfinal losers meet in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla. Tentative: Clemson vs. Boise State (Boise State wins, 66-19.)
Thursday, Jan. 5: Two quarterfinal losers meet in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, La. Tentative: Wisconsin vs. Stanford (Stanford wins, 37-20.)
Monday, Jan. 9: Semifinal losers meet in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Tentative: LSU vs. Alabama (Alabama wins, 52-17.)
Wednesday, Jan. 11: Semifinal winners meet in the National Championship in New Orleans, La. Tentative: Oregon vs. Oklahoma State. (Oregon wins the national championship, 52-35.)
Notes: #7 Arkansas is the team that gets screwed in this scenario. If #5 USC was playoff eligible, they'd be screwed too. #6 Oregon having to go to #4 Stanford in the first round would raise a lot of eyebrows as the Ducks beat Stanford head-to-head, but the committee looks at more than just head-to-head results when compiling their rankings, and Oregon's loss to USC hurt the Ducks' ranking. Wisconsin vs. Alabama would be another fun game, and I actually kind of like the Badgers' chance in that one. The road to a national championship would be Alabama, LSU, and Oklahoma State, so the Badgers would certainly have to earn it. Other interesting oddity is the possible clash of Boise orange and Clemson orange at the Orange Bowl.
That will do it for the first part of this what-if playoff installment. The two Rose Bowl participants both picked up hypothetical national championship victories, so congratulations to the Oregon Ducks and Wisconsin Badgers on their fake titles. In part two next week, we'll throw even more teams into the playoff mix and see what craziness ensues. See you then.