Commentary

What would an eight-team playoff look like?

Originally Published: November 4, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Mike Leach (1) for President" write-in ballots sold separately in Lubbock -- vote early and vote often):

Amazing how back-to-back plays can change the course of a football program. One, the gift-wrapped-with-a-bow-on-top interception dropped by Texas freshman Blake Gideon, who has been a solid-gold overachiever all year. Two, Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree, to the end zone, to the top of the world, to a new place in the hierarchy. Suddenly Gridworld is looking at Texas Tech, and Leach's unconventional methods, with fresh respect.

Tech 39, Texas 33 offers renewed proof that the diversity of college football is a beautiful thing -- there's room for so many different schools, schemes and dreams in the same sport.

It's Time For A Change

No less a voice than Barack Obama's called on Monday night for a playoff in college football. To which The Dash says hallelujah, it's time for some pressure on the ossified system from the top down.

[+] EnlargeButch Davis
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIOnce upon a time, the Tide wooed Butch Davis to be their coach.
The first round of The Dash's eight-team playoff would shape up as follows today:

Top seed and SEC champion Alabama (2) versus eighth-seeded ACC titlist North Carolina (3) in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The backstory would make this interesting, since the Crimson Tide were interested in current Tar Heels coach Butch Davis as far back as 2000, when he was the coach at Miami. That was before Mike Price, before Dennis Franchione and before Mike Shula. Then Bama got it right -- royal-flush right -- with Nick Saban.

Second seed and Big Ten champion Penn State (4) versus seventh-seeded Big East winner West Virginia (5) in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. Just for fun they could award the old Lambert Trophy for the best school in the East to the winner.

Third seed and Big 12 champion Texas Tech (6) versus sixth-seeded Pacific-10 champ USC (7) in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Would anyone enjoy seeing the Red Raiders' O (first nationally in passing offense, second in total offense, third in scoring) against the Trojans' D (first nationally in pass defense, first in total defense, first in scoring defense)?

Fourth seed at-large selection Texas (8) versus fifth seed at-large selection Florida (9) in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow on the same field might be a little fun.

[+] EnlargeIrina Shaykhlislamova
Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImageThe thought of getting a trophy from Irina Shayk has The Dash screaming for a playoff.
(Dash apologies to Oklahoma and Utah for being the best teams left out. Y'all can console each other in, say, the Alamo Bowl.)

After that: semifinals at the Orange and Fiesta Bowls. National title in the Rose Bowl. Championship trophy presented by Dashette Irina Shayk (10).

Decide for yourself whether that playoff would generate any interest. After you've thought it over for five seconds, call the president of your favorite university and scream into the phone that you want a playoff. Do not stop screaming until you are out of breath or they have hung up on you -- and then redial and scream again.

Maybe it will come to pass by the time Tebow's kids are in college.

Or maybe it happens a little faster depending on Tuesday's election results.

Drug Testing, Please

For the coaches/sports information directors/football operations guys/pizza deliverymen who vote in the USA Today Top 25 (11). How they combined to plummet Texas from first to seventh after losing at the last second on the road to an undefeated team is unfathomable. The punishment is cruel and unusual -- except that this sort of stupidity tends to be business as usual in the coaches' poll.

The Dash's Heisman List

1. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech. Had a hero-type performance on the biggest of stages Saturday night, and you know the numbers will continue to be there. If the victories are, too, he'll be tough to catch. Hardest part will be deciding whether he's even the best candidate on his own team, given the prowess of receiver Michael Crabtree.

2. Colt McCoy, Texas. He was gritty and valiant in leading the Longhorns back in Lubbock on Saturday night. But his poor start to the game helped put the Horns in the hole. Still a very close second.

3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. His opportunities for advancement are coming in showdown games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

ESPN.com's Heisman Watch | Vote!
Consider who the Longhorns fell behind:

Oklahoma, a team they beat by 10 points on a neutral field.

Florida, a team that lost at home to 5-4 Mississippi.

USC, a team that never led for a second in a road loss to 5-3 Oregon State.

One other poll note: Penn State lost ground to Alabama in both of the Top 25s that matter, the USA Today and Harris (12) polls. Bama moved from 25 points ahead of the Nittany Lions to 61 ahead in the USA Today poll, and from 46 to 109 in the Harris. Keep an eye on that if both teams continue to win, and in relation to Texas Tech if the Red Raiders keep winning.

Smashing Pumpkins

With Great Pumpkin Phillip Fulmer (13) off the hot seat and officially into the fire(d) zone, it's time to ask what defines unsatisfactory in the Southeastern Conference. Specifically, can the third-winningest active coach in America with at least 10 years' experience (.746 winning percentage) justifiably lose his job less than a year after playing in the SEC title game?

[+] EnlargePhillip Fulmer
Vincent Laforet /AllsportPhillip Fulmer was once on top of the world in 1998 -- and hasn't been close since.
The answer is a complicated yes. The bottom line is that it's simply time for a change in Knoxville. Fulmer will leave as one of the most accomplished coaches in SEC history, but Tennessee is engineering his exit.

The best parallel is a basketball one: Tubby Smith at Kentucky. The record says he should have been able to stay as long as he wanted. The reality says Smith did the wise thing for himself and the Wildcats by bolting ahead of the posse for Minnesota in 2007.

Both Fulmer and Smith caught lightning in a bottle in 1998, winning national championships. Both continued to win a bunch of games over the ensuing years -- enough for people on the outside to wonder why people on the inside never seemed satisfied.

But both failed to replicate that high point, or even to come very close to hitting it. There were too many losses to prime competition, not enough victories worth real celebration. Fulmer was outwitted by Steve Spurrier early, and by Urban Meyer and Mark Richt late. Tubby was eclipsed by Billy Donovan.

It was never as good as '98 again, at schools that demand to win big.

For Fulmer, this is a long way from '98. The Dash predicted back in June that a superstar coach would resign or retire in the SEC this season, naming Fulmer and Steve Spurrier the most likely candidates (of course, The Dash also predicted in June that Texas' streak of seven straight 10-win seasons would end). But this season has been even worse than the most pessimistic prognostications.

The Volunteers are 3-6, in direct danger of losing seven games in a season for just the second time in school history. Their offense is anemic without security blanket David Cutcliffe (14) at coordinator, scoring 14 or fewer points six times in nine games. Tennessee is No. 64 in the Sagarin Ratings, and that's never going to fly at a place that sells more than 100,000 tickets for every home game.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
AP Photo/Dave MartinWith Fulmer already gone, Tommy Tuberville might be the next SEC coach to hit the bricks.
So the jig is up, and it's hard to feel overly sorry for a guy who will walk away with a reported $6 million buyout. But now Tennessee must choose Phil Fulmer's successor wisely. It's awfully easy to lose ground in the SEC, which Simply Eats Coaches.

Speaking of which: Tommy Tuberville (15) is the next big shot to find his name on the menu. Tuberville sounded almost resigned to a firing after 4-5 Auburn turned in yet another disastrous offensive performance in a 17-7 loss to Mississippi, telling The Birmingham News, "What happens at the end of the year happens, and there's nothing anybody can do about it."

It was Tuberville who got the coaching bloodshed started early this fall, whacking offensive coordinator Tony Franklin (16) six games into the season. Since then, Mondays have been scary days at the office for embattled head coaches.

Clemson accepted the resignation of Tommy Bowden (17) on Monday, Oct. 13. Washington forced out Ty Willingham (18) on Monday the 27th. Come the first Monday in November, it was time for Fulmer and Toledo's Tom Amstutz (19) to go. Expect the trend to continue next Monday.

Land-Mine List

Students of recent history know that shockers can come at the most unexpected times -- that's why they're called shockers, y'know? We're talking about seemingly overmatched teams making their season with a seismic upset of a huge favorite.

Last year, teams ranked 1-2 finished the season 3-7, continually finding ways to swoon their way out of BCS championship contention. The Dash has identified five candidates to be this year's season-turning stunner that blows up the rankings:

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesDoes Kirk Ferentz have a trick up his sleeve for Penn State?
Penn State at Iowa (19), Nov. 8. The Hawkeyes (5-4) have no idea how to win a close game, with all of their losses coming by a total of 12 points and all of their wins coming by double digits. Hard to foresee a double-digit Iowa victory against the Nittany Lions, but maybe Kirk Ferentz finds a weakness nobody else has been able to exploit. Perhaps Penn State loses some edge coming off its bye week. Chances of an Iowa upset: 10 percent.

Oklahoma at Texas A&M (20), Nov. 8. The Sooners are dump-trucking teams right now, and the Aggies' defense would seem to be overwhelmed here. But A&M (4-5) is showing signs of getting it under first-year coach Mike Sherman. And the fact is, Oklahoma has either lost a surprising late-season Big 12 game or come very close to losing one in each of the last five years. This is a potential letdown game with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State still looming. Chances of a Texas A&M upset: 8 percent.

USC at Stanford (21), Nov. 15. No way lightning strikes twice, right? No way the Cardinal ruin the Trojans' season two years running, right? No way the nation's No. 109 passing offense does anything but throw the ball to the nation's No. 1 passing defense, right? Except Stanford (5-4) actually believes it can win these kinds of games under Jim Harbaugh, and has a couple of quality home victories this season over Oregon State and Arizona. Stranger things have happened, if only barely. Chances of a Stanford upset: 12 percent.

Auburn at Alabama (22), Nov. 29. Picture the scene: Tommy Tuberville is carried off the field after his final act as coach of the Tigers: ruining the season of the No. 1 Crimson Tide, beating them for the seventh straight season and adding one more layer of lore to the nation's most intense rivalry. Hey, if Pittsburgh can walk into Morgantown last year and terminate West Virginia's national-title hopes, don't think for a minute that this isn't possible. Which is not to be confused with saying it's probable. Chances of an Auburn upset: 25 percent.

Florida at Florida State (23), Nov. 29. See above. What if Bobby Bowden's final home game becomes his first victory over Urban Meyer, taking the Gators out of the national-championship hunt? Chances of a Florida State upset: 33 percent.

Grind-Your-Heel Guys

A quartet of coaches who aren't in it to make friends with their opponents, and sure don't mind making a few enemies:

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer is no stranger to adding insult to injury.
Urban Meyer (24), Florida. Calling two timeouts in the final minute of a 39-point win against Georgia? Pure payback for the 70-man end-zone celebration of 2007. But that's not all -- don't forget Meyer ordered up a field goal with 25 seconds left while beating Miami by 20 in September.

Pete Carroll (25), USC. For an allegedly laid-back guy, Carroll has gone for the jugular an awful lot over the years. He's never been apologetic about leaving the starters in a couple of series longer than etiquette might dictate.

Steve Spurrier (26), South Carolina. Nobody has stuck the needle into opponents with greater frequency or more painful precision than the Head Ball Coach, who has run it up and laughed about it afterward. He hasn't had many opportunities to make jokes at the losers' expense with the Gamecocks, but Spurrier got in his shot the day after they whipped Tennessee 27-6 last weekend, kicking Smokey while he was down: "The Tennessee band was there last night, weren't they?" Spurrier asked, according to The (Columbia, S.C.) State. "I'm used to hearing 'Rocky Top' about 10 times. Did they play it at all? I can't remember any of it. Usually you hear that song, maybe they only play it after they score, I don't know. Their crowd was very quiet last night."

Kyle Whittingham (27), Utah. You might recall last year, when Whittingham heard that Wyoming coach Joe Glenn guaranteed the Cowboys would beat the Utes in front of a student group in Laramie. That gave Whittingham all the rationale he needed to onside kick while leading 43-0 -- which in turn led Glenn to give his coaching cohort the middle-finger salute across the field.

Strange Scheduling

Eastern Michigan (28) currently finds itself on a 21-day break. At 2-8, it should be really easy for coach Jeff Genyk to keep everyone focused for that Nov. 22 trip to Temple.

If you're Troy (29), you're just trying to remember what a home game feels like. The Trojans are 5-3 despite playing only twice at home so far. They have three home games left and could be on their way to the Sun Belt title.

Miami (Ohio) (30) played its last Saturday game in October. The RedHawks close with two straight on Tuesday night (including Buffalo on Election Night), followed by two straight on Friday night.

Plenty Of Tickets Available

The four worst remaining games, according to The Dash:

UAB at Tulane (31), Nov. 15. Green Wave ranked No. 124 by Jeff Sagarin; Blazers No. 136. Green Wave haven't scored more than 21 points in a game since September; Blazers gave up 70 last week to Southern Miss.

North Texas at Middle Tennessee (32), Nov. 22. Actually, this game could have been worse. The Mean Green (No. 164 Sagarin) could have stayed winless instead of knocking off Western Kentucky last Saturday, and the Blue Raiders (No. 115) might have just one win instead of two if their Hail Mary pass hadn't worked to beat Florida Atlantic.

Washington at Washington State (33), Nov. 22. Combined record: 1-16. Yes, the schedules have been brutal -- Huskies have played the toughest in the country, according to Sagarin, while the Cougars are No. 12 in strength of schedule. But the results are just horrifying. Washington ranks no better than 86th in any NCAA team statistical category, and is in triple digits on 15 of 17. Wazzu ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in 13 of 17 categories. Blech.

Ohio at Miami (34), Nov. 28. That's No. 117 visiting No. 135 in the old Ohio rivalry, if you care. And The Dash is pretty sure you don't.

Griffin Lips Out

It finally happened -- Dash Last Interception Pool champion Robert Griffin (35) of Baylor was picked off at last. Attempting to drive the Bears for a tying or winning score while trailing Missouri 31-28, Griffin was picked by Missouri's Brock Christopher (36) to end his streak at 209 consecutive passes without an oskie. That's an NCAA FBS record for most throws without an interception at the beginning of a career.

Which officially makes Griffin the heavy favorite for the 2009 LIP. Future-book odds are being compiled now.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Alabama safety George Teague (37), who made a rather memorable play in the 1993 Sugar Bowl the last time the Crimson Tide was ranked No. 1. Certainly former Miami Hurricane Lamar Thomas remembers it.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that former Georgia receiver and Cocktail Party hero Lindsay Scott (38) is alive and well and living in Valdosta, Ga., where he owns a cleaning business, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Dash thanks the spies, as usual, for their help.

Point After

When hungry and thirsty in booming Northwest Arkansas, The Dash recommends a visit to Doe's Eat Place (39) in Bentonville. They're a regional chain that will serve you a great two-pound steak, tamales and biscuits with honey -- but only the Bentonville location has 100 beers from around the world in stock and ready to pour. The Dash recommends a tasty local microbrew, Diamond Bear Pale Ale (40). And the staff is so friendly they'll break out their guitars and sing songs for you with only the slightest encouragement.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.