As college football ushers in its new four-team playoff this year, fans can point to the 2011 National Championship rematch between Alabama and LSU as the game that began the demise of the BCS.
The frustrations of fans coast to coast reached their limit as the uncompromising BCS formula matched up two SEC teams for the second time that season, picking a one-loss Alabama to face undefeated LSU in the title game in favor of fellow one-loss contender Oklahoma State. Many thought a subjectively selected playoff field would have given teams from outside the SEC a better shot at overcoming the conference’s dominance and reaching the championship game.
Two years later the College Football Playoff (CFP) was born.
However, the plan to limit the SEC’s dominance with a chosen-by-committee four-team playoff field has already backfired two months into the inaugural CFP season. The SEC has four teams currently ranked in the top 5 in the country, and there’s suddenly an even greater possibility the SEC will land two teams in the playoff field, keeping alive the potential for another all-SEC championship game.
If the BCS was still in tact, defending national champion Florida State would control its own destiny for one of the two spots in the title game. The other would likely go to the SEC champion, but FSU’s dominant run in 2014 would all but eliminate the potential for an all-SEC championship showdown.
Yet in the new CFP era, Florida State can now reach the four-team playoff field accompanied by two SEC teams, allowing those two SEC teams a chance to play their way into an all-SEC final in spite of the Seminoles’ tremendous regular season.
Current CFP executive director (and former BCS executive director) Bill Hancock said in January the playoff system would aim to avoid regular season rematches in the semifinal round, meaning not only is the SEC likely to land two teams in this year’s playoff, but those teams will control their own destiny in creating another all-SEC championship game.
For example, let’s pretend both Ole Miss and Mississippi State reach the Egg Bowl with undefeated records, and then MSU wins the Egg Bowl and SEC Championship Game. Not only would both the Rebels and Bulldogs have a great shot at reaching the playoff, but they’d almost certainly end up in opposing semifinal games, allowing them the chance to create an Egg Bowl rematch with a national title on the line.
When the BCS formula calculated an all-SEC title game following the 2011 season, it was a once-in-a-generation anomaly that many saw as the culmination of a widespread SEC bias. Of course, it had nothing to do with any bias, as the BCS determined title games with a non-negotiable formula that you’d need an Ivy League degree to understand. However, that perceived bias is what led to the current playoff system, which makes it all the more ironic how likely an all-SEC title game is in the CFP’s first year of existence.
It’s no guarantee two SEC teams will reach the national championship game, but it’s a distinct possibility. The BCS allowed it to happen one time, but the new CFP now leaves open the potential for an all-SEC final every year. The subjectively chosen playoff field originally aimed to limit the SEC’s overbearing success has only allowed the SEC to flex its proverbial muscle with four of the five best teams in the nation through eight weeks.
It hasn’t gone as planned, but it’s safe to say the SEC is welcoming the CFP system with open arms.