Beginning with the 2014 season, a four-team national playoff will replace the Bowl Championship Series. The College Football Playoff will consist of four teams playing in semifinal action, and eight more competing in high-caliber bowls. A committee will determine the selections and the slotting.
When considering this new era, it’s easy to wonder what if this new playoff structure was enacted instead of the BCS for the 1998 season? Also, what if six primary bowls always were the norm instead of four (1998-2005) or five (2006-present)?
So looking back through the BCS era, I put together each season’s likely playoff field plus the four other bowls. I used the current rotation (Rose and Sugar will host the 2014 season’s semifinals) and stuck with the current parameters. That means the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 champions automatically qualify. Also, when the Rose and Sugar are not semifinals, those bowls automatically pick up the current contracted match-ups (Big Ten vs. Pac-12 and SEC vs. Big 12).
On non-semifinal years the Orange Bowl receives the ACC champion, and it faces either the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. Additionally, at least one other conference must be represented (the former Big East counts in this hypothetical).
So here’s how it would work with each season’s BCS rankings as a guideline. But, again, the selection committee will overrule any rankings. Plus, travel and tradition do not count, unlike in past selections. Also don’t weigh that season’s bowl results in making the match-ups. These games are based before the bowls take place. (* means automatic qualifier)
Orange (semifinal): 1. Notre Dame vs. 3. Florida*
Cotton (semifinal): 2. Alabama* vs. 6. Stanford*
Rose: Wisconsin* vs. 4. Oregon
Sugar: 7. Georgia vs. 5. Kansas State*
Peach: 12. Florida State vs. 15. Northern Illinois*
Fiesta: 11. Oklahoma vs. 9. Texas A&M
Breakdown: As Pac-12 champion and winner of their head-to-head match-up, Stanford trumps Oregon. Stanford ultimately is considered a better choice than Kansas State for final slot. Alabama and Florida split to avoid Notre Dame-Stanford rematch. Despite a head-to-head loss, late-charging Texas A&M trumps LSU for Fiesta slot. Committee opts for Oklahoma over SEC teams LSU and South Carolina.
Rose (semifinal): 2. Alabama vs. 5. Oregon*
Sugar (semifinal): 1. LSU* vs. 3. Oklahoma State*
Orange: 15. Clemson* vs. 13. Michigan
Cotton: 6. Arkansas vs. 10. Wisconsin*
Fiesta: 4. Stanford vs. 7. Boise State*
Peach: 8. Kansas State vs. 9. South Carolina
Breakdown: Oregon trumps Stanford with head-to-head win and conference title. Committee splits LSU-Oregon to avoid rematch. Michigan’s strong end of regular season earns bid over 12th-ranked Virginia Tech.
Peach (semifinal): 1. Auburn* vs. 5. Wisconsin*
Fiesta (semifinal): 2. Oregon* vs. 3. TCU*
Rose: 9. Michigan State vs. 4. Stanford
Sugar: 7. Oklahoma* vs. 8. Arkansas
Orange: 11. LSU vs. 13. Virginia Tech*
Cotton: 6. Ohio State vs. 10. Boise State
Breakdown: On basis of conference title and one fewer loss, co-Big Ten champion Wisconsin jumps over at-large Stanford.
Orange (semifinal): 1. Alabama* vs. 3. Cincinnati*
Cotton (semifinal): 2. Texas* vs. 4. TCU
Rose: 7. Oregon* vs. 8. Ohio State*
Sugar: 5. Florida vs. 22. Nebraska
Fiesta: 6. Boise State vs. 10. Iowa
Peach: 9. Georgia Tech* vs. 13. Penn State
Breakdown: TCU and Cincinnati flip spots to provide geographical semifinal. Committee considers Nebraska better than Oklahoma State for Big 12′s Sugar Bowl slot. Penn State jumps LSU and Virginia Tech based on human poll rankings.
Rose (semifinal): 1. Oklahoma* vs. 5. USC*
Sugar (semifinal): 2. Florida* vs. 3. Texas
Orange: 10. Ohio State vs. 19. Virginia Tech*
Cotton: 6. Utah* vs. 7. Texas Tech
Fiesta: 8. Penn State* vs. 11. TCU
Peach: 4. Alabama vs. 9. Boise State
Breakdown: USC edges Alabama for final slot based on USC’s Pac-10 title and Alabama’s convincing loss in SEC title game.
Fiesta (semifinal): 1. Ohio State* vs. 4. Oklahoma*
Peach (semifinal): 2. LSU* vs. 3. Virginia Tech*
Rose: 13. Illinois vs. 7. USC*
Sugar: 5. Georgia vs. 6. Missouri
Orange: 14. Boston College vs. 12. Florida
Cotton: 8. Kansas vs. 9. West Virginia*
Breakdown: A hot mess of a season breaks down rather easily in a four-team playoff. Boston College and Florida fill the ACC’s and SEC’s respective Orange slots, and Illinois takes Big Ten’s Rose bid. The pre-arranged bowl deals push those teams past 10th-ranked Hawaii.
Cotton (semifinal): 1. Ohio State* vs. 5. USC*
Orange (semifinal): 2. Florida* vs. 3. Michigan
Rose: 6. Wisconsin vs. 18. California
Sugar: 4. LSU vs. 10. Oklahoma*
Fiesta: 8. Boise State vs. 9. Auburn
Peach: 6. Louisville* vs. 14. Wake Forest*
Breakdown: USC’s Pac-10 title trumps LSU’s runner-up SEC West finish. No. 11 Notre Dame left out based on criteria (never would happen under any other system).
Rose (semifinal): 1. USC* vs. 3. Penn State*
Sugar (semifinal): 2. Texas* vs. 4. Ohio State
Orange: 8. Miami* vs. 6. Notre Dame
Cotton: 9. Auburn vs. 11. Virginia Tech
Fiesta: 5. Oregon vs. 12. LSU
Peach: 7. Georgia* vs. 11. West Virginia*
Breakdown: Penn State and Ohio State flip to schedule traditional Pac-10/Big Ten match-up of champions. Pretty much a straight-forward postseason alignment except for no SEC team (seriously) in the semifinals.
Fiesta (semifinal): 1. USC* vs. 3. Auburn*
Peach (semifinal): 2. Oklahoma* vs. 5. California
Rose: 13. Michigan* vs. 19. Arizona State
Sugar: 4. Texas vs. 7. Georgia
Orange: 8. Virginia Tech* vs. 12. Iowa
Cotton: 6. Utah* vs. 11. LSU
Breakdown: Committee would overrule late-season poll jump by Texas over California for final semifinal slot. California would face Oklahoma to avoid rematch with USC. Two-loss Iowa and LSU considered stronger at-large teams than one-loss Louisville (No. 10) and Boise State (No. 11).
Cotton (semifinal): 1. Oklahoma* vs. 4. Michigan*
Orange (semifinal): 2. LSU* vs. 3. USC*
Rose: 5. Ohio State vs. 16. Washington State
Sugar: 6. Texas vs. 8. Tennessee
Fiesta: 9. Miami* vs. 10. Kansas State
Peach: 7. Florida State* vs. 12. Georgia
Breakdown: A disaster of a BCS season that resulted in a split title would have a clean-cut semifinal field. SEC East Division champion Georgia edges 13th-ranked Iowa and 11th-ranked Miami (Ohio).
Sugar (semifinal): 1. Miami* vs. 3. Georgia*
Rose (semifinal): 2. Ohio State* vs. 5. Iowa
Peach: 8. Kansas State* vs. 11. Michigan
Cotton: 6. Washington State* vs. 10. Texas
Orange: 14. Florida State* vs. 9. Notre Dame
Fiesta: 4. USC vs. 7. Oklahoma
Breakdown: Iowa outranks USC in both human polls, boasts unbeaten Big Ten season and has one fewer loss. Committee pushes Ohio State-Iowa match-up in Rose Bowl because teams didn’t meet in regular season.
Peach (semifinal): 1. Miami* vs. 3. Colorado*
Fiesta (semifinal): 2. Nebraska vs. 4. Oregon*
Rose: 8. Illinois* vs. 9. Stanford
Sugar: 11. Oklahoma vs. 13. LSU*
Orange: 10. Maryland* vs. 5. Florida
Cotton: 6. Tennessee vs. 7. Texas
Breakdown: Colorado and Oregon flip to avoid Colorado-Nebraska rematch. Stout year for the Big 12, which had four selections.
Cotton (semifinal): 1. Oklahoma* vs. 3. Miami*
Orange (semifinal): 2. Florida State* vs. 4. Washington*
Rose: Purdue* vs. 6. Oregon State
Sugar: 7. Florida* vs. 8. Nebraska
Fiesta: 9. Kansas State vs. 10. Oregon
Peach: 5. Virginia Tech vs. 11. Notre Dame
Breakdown: Miami and Washington flip to avoid Florida State- Miami non-conference rematch. It’s shocking to see the SEC and Big Ten each land just one qualifier.
Rose (semifinal): 2. Virginia Tech* vs. 3. Nebraska*
Sugar (semifinal): 1. Florida State* vs. 4. Alabama*
Orange: Georgia Tech vs. 8. Michigan
Cotton: 5. Tennessee vs. 6. Kansas State
Peach: 9. Michigan State vs. 10. Florida
Fiesta: Stanford* vs. 7. Wisconsin*
Breakdown: There was no year as simple to put together as this one. Even the original Florida State-Virginia Tech match-up fit nicely.
Peach (semifinal): 1. Tennessee* vs. 4. Ohio State
Fiesta (semifinal): 2. Florida State* vs. 3. Kansas State
Rose: 5. UCLA* vs. 9. Wisconsin*
Sugar: 6. Texas A&M* vs. 8. Florida
Orange: 12. Virginia vs. 10. Tulane*
Cotton: 11. Nebraska vs. 7. Arizona
Breakdown: Unbeaten Conference USA champion Tulane knocks out 15th-ranked Big East champion Syracuse. Two at-large teams outrank their conference champions for semifinal field.