4th and inches …

Fourth and inches …

University of Georgia president Dr. Michael Adams has nabbed a share of the college football headlines recently, saying he wants a college football playoff in Division 1-A because “it is a matter of fairness and equity.”

Yeah, right.

The Bulldogs didn’t get invited to the Tostitos BCS National Championship game, so now we’ve got another whiner, albeit one with a little clout this time, making some noise and trying to replace a BCS system that works more often than not, with a playoff scenario that simply would not work at all.

Lest you forget, Florida president Bernie Machen began the whine last year before the Gators actually made it into the BCS championship game against Ohio State. To save face after the Gators’ romp over Ohio State, he had to play his move through, and tried to get the rest of the SEC presidents on board with a playoff scenario last May. The idea was abruptly checkmated by his conference colleagues — including Adams.

Now Adams complains that his Bulldogs shouldn’t have been pitted against Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl and Illinois should not have played USC in the Rose Bowl because of the resulting blowouts.

Well, guess what? If the BCS didn’t exist, Ohio State would have been playing USC in the Rose Bowl Game and Georgia might not have even played in a BCS bowl game because it failed to even win its own conference championship.

Then again, Georgia might have been granted the opportunity to play LSU in the Sugar Bowl, considering the two teams didn’t meet in SEC action this past year. Additionally, Oklahoma and Kansas might have clashed in the Fiesta Bowl to determine the true Big 12 champion because they didn’t meet in conference play in 2007, either. Then we could’ve left the final voting of who deserved to be national champion up to the sportswriters, just like in the good old days.

When you look back at the history of the bowl games and the national champions that were crowned by the sportswriters, they got it right most of the time. The regular season and winning a conference championship were all-important if a school wanted to secure the best possible postseason bowl bid.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of the BCS system. However, given the choice between what we currently have and a playoff structure that diminishes the tradition as well as the importance of the bowl games in college football, I’ll take what we have right now over a playoff system any day.

No matter what type of playoff scenario presented, be it four, eight or 16 teams, there would always be a few strong arguments about who should’ve been included and was left out. And that wouldn’t improve on the current state of college football one bit.

Just because there was a rash of upsets over top-ranked teams in the 2007 regular season and a two-loss squad made it into the national championship game is no reason to scrap the current system. So what if USC might have been playing the best football at the end of the season and might have whipped all comers in a playoff?

The Trojans still lost two conference games — one of them a home game defeat to lowly Stanford — and they barely ended up winning the Pac-10 Conference over Arizona State. For that they should be rewarded with a chance to win the national title in a playoff system?

USC still won a ticket to the Rose Bowl with its Pac-10 championship, and by virtue of winning that game soundly, the Trojans ended up finishing second in the USA Today poll and third in the AP poll for the year. That’s a rather accurate reward for their season after starting out No. 1, losing two regular-season games, and then dropping to the 11th ranking as late as the Nov. 18 polls.

The bowl game system has always been a reward for the regular season, and the most prized bowl invites, beginning with the BCS money bowls, go to the most deserving teams, most of the time. There was little argument last year when Florida took the national title trophy home to Gainesville. Ditto for the 2006 season, when Texas and USC traded blows until the last seconds of the epic 2007 Rose Bowl Game.

The current system gets it right more often than not. This year’s LSU-Ohio State matchup only occurred after West Virginia blew its season-ending home game to Pitt and Missouri stumbled a second time against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship.

If those outcomes had been reversed, we would have witnessed a 12-1 Missouri squad squaring off against 11-1 West Virginia in New Orleans for the BCS national championship, and you can bet your bottom dollar we wouldn’t have heard a peep from hardly any other school — except, perhaps, uh .. Georgia.

Fourth and inches …

We’re just about three weeks removed from the BCS national championship game and the cry for a Division 1 playoff has already begun to subside.

This happens every year.

Next year will be the same. There will be some playoff chatter as the season gets under way, but nothing of consequence. Near the beginning of November — about nine weeks into the college football season — the discussion about a playoff will begin to crescendo on fan boards and sports talk radio.

Most of the playoff talk will come from fans whose teams have lost a couple of games and have been mathematically eliminated from a chance to play for the national championship.

You know how the rest of the story goes…

Once the final BCS rankings are released and the BCS bowls have made their selections, a few deserving teams will have been left out. Their fans and administrators will then lead the next charge in crying for a playoff.

A playoff system wouldn’t eliminate the post-season whining in college football. Regardless of whether a 4, 8 or 16-team playoff scenario was deployed, teams who were ranked just outside the margin would continue the postseason whine.

So, let’s get realistic.

Without getting into a lesson on the history of the major college bowl games and their longstanding relationship with the Division 1 college football postseason, just accept the fact that any sort of playoff system would have to be based on a structure that upheld certain longstanding traditions (such as the Rose Bowl Game being played on New Year’s Day between the Big Ten and Pac-10 conference champions).

The major BCS bowls not only have the expertise of hosting national championship games; the Fiesta and Sugar Bowl folks have also proven in the past two years of the current system that they can host two major bowl games in successive weeks. Most important, is that the major bowl game organizations possess the power to make or break any new postseason scenarios.

Following is a playoff scenario that allows 10 teams to participate and keeps certain bowl game traditions intact:

The Cotton Bowl and the Holiday Bowl would host play-in games to reach the final eight…the four teams playing in these two qualifier bowls would have to be ranked in the Top 15 final BCS poll and be a conference champion from the MAC, WAC, MWC, C-USA, or Sun Belt.

Historically, there usually wouldn’t be more than one team from this pool…the other three slots are filled by the highest ranking teams that are not conference champions…this includes Notre Dame, Navy, or any team, regardless of conference affiliation.

In a season like 2007, the play-in scenario would look like this:

December 25
Holiday Bowl: Kansas versus Hawaii: Winner advances to Fiesta Bowl

Dec 26
Cotton Bowl: Missouri versus Georgia: Winner advances to Sugar Bowl

Your final 8 slots would look like this:

Jan 1
Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion (Ohio State) versus Pac-10 champion (USC)
Orange Bowl: ACC champion (Virginia Tech) versus Big East champion (West Virginia)

Jan 2
Sugar Bowl: SEC champion (LSU) versus Holiday Bowl winner
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champion (Oklahoma) versus Cotton Bowl winner

Final 4 slots:

Jan 8
Rose Bowl winner versus Fiesta Bowl winner, with Rose and Fiesta alternating each year as host for the semi-final
Jan 9
Orange Bowl winner versus Sugar Bowl winner, with Orange and Sugar alternating each year as host for the semi-final

The host site for the national championship game would alternate between the four sites each year…this means that each major bowl site would host a final 4 game two of every 4 years, a national title game once every four years, and once every four years only one game…

National Championship game:

Jan 16
Winner of the Jan 8 and Jan 9 games

This only adds a week to the season, and it allows for all the other bowl games to be played…one key addition to this scenario that might add vitality to the other bowl games…Each conference’s previous season bowl game record could add bonus points to their conference champion’s BCS final tally the following year…this gives all the teams playing in minor bowls extra incentive as they could be helping their own cause the following year.

The drawbacks? There are plenty. One glaring problem is that you could end up having a school playing in two major bowls and then the national championship game in three successive weeks. You would have to cap the payout amount they could receive under such a scenario and raise the payouts to all the Division 1 schools.

Another problem is the cost to fans who want to see their team play each week, the distribution of tickets, etc. Any way you look at it, don’t try to equate the current Division 2 and 3 football playoff systems with Division 1 football and think it would be easy to implement.

You have to factor in the major bowl games and that’s not an easy equation to solve. In fact, it might be close to impossible. But, that’s not a bad thing, either.

There’s something very special about college football’s regular season because it’s like a mini-playoff system in its own right. It may not be perfect, but the alternatives are far from perfect, too.

Fourth and inches …

This column is dedicated to all of the Class of 2008 recruits who have already made a verbal commitment to their college of choice and intend to live up to their word tomorrow on National Letter of Intent Day.

I applaud your integrity. I applaud your personal resolve and ability to withstand the intense pressure recruiters have heaped upon you to change your mind and break your commitment during the past few months.

Your decision to live up to your word now with this major life decision will be a source of pride to you for the rest of your life. Keeping your word now reflects the type of man you will probably be someday in the future.

Undoubtedly, other programs are still pursuing you because they operate on the premise that high school athletes are not mature enough to make a commitment and stick to it.

Isn’t it ironic how these same coaches expect their recruits to live up to their verbal commitments, and yet they think it’s alright for you to act as if your word meant nothing to anyone else but them?

Your word is supposed to mean everything when you make a commitment. The football program you committed to has spent tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of man-hours trying to assemble the best group of student athletes to represent their program for the next several years.

When you don’t live up to your word, you disrupt that program in more ways than you think. They passed on other qualified players at your position when you made your verbal commitment, making it virtually impossible for them to go back in the last weeks or days before NLI Day to fill the void you created.

If you have committed to a program, think about what it says about you when you keep your word. Think about what the coaches who want you to break your commitment are really saying about you as a person. They don’t care if they are urging you to be deceitful. They are telling you they care more about their program than they do about you being a man of your word.

Sure, there are a few legitimate reasons for breaking a verbal commitment, and certainly a change in the coaching staff is one of them. But, those are rare.

Hopefully, the number of recruits who renege on their verbal commitments tomorrow will comprise a very small group. Not only would it be a positive reflection on the Class of 2008, it would also help a lot of college football fans across the nation sleep easier tomorrow night.

Fourth and inches …

Does it really matter if you win the bragging rights to college football’s “best recruiting class” for the year?

It sure does to the fans. All you have to do is check out the fan message boards around the country. Some fans are complaining about their team’s ranking while others are gloating about theirs…the recruiting rankings provide a lot of fuel for posting on the boards this time of year.

The realists out there (you are out there, right?) recognize that the rankings put out by rivals.com, scout.com, and a multitude of other sports sites mean absolutely nothing until the athletes have proven themselves on the field.

In a signing day press conference two days ago, BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall offered his unique perspective on the ubiquitous star ranking systems:

“We don’t really care how many recruiting stars a player has when he comes here. Every player, once he comes to Provo, starts out with no stars. What we care about is how many stars he has when he leaves.”

Thanks for that fresh dose of common sense, coach.

By the way, for some peculiar reason, Mendenhall’s recruiting classes are downgraded by the ranking services every year, and yet BYU is 22-4 in the past two seasons with two undisputed Mountain West Conference championships, consecutive bowl wins over Pac-10 teams, and consecutive Top 20 rankings to their credit.

This year, Brigham Young’s recruiting class was ranked #53 by rivals.com and then they dropped 30 spots when 4-star linebacker recruit Uona Kaveinga reneged on his commitment and defected to USC. The Cougars signed 21 of their 22 commits and yet that one player dropped them below the rankings of Kent State and Middle Tennessee?

That’s just one example of how unreliable the recruiting rankings are, so let’s have some fun with them…on to the recruiting awards for the Class of 2008:

The “I have another top 10 recruiting class and I better figure out what to do with it quick” award goes to Charlie Weis of Notre Dame. There is no excuse if this man cannot win in South Bend from now on because he’s had three fantastic, top 10 rated recruiting classes in a row. The cupboard wasn’t exactly left bare when he took over for Ty Willingham, either.

The “This will keep our fans happy until we start winning consistently again” award goes to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Yes, it’s a superb recruiting class, ranked Numero Uno by several analysts, if that really means anything. Only time will tell, though with Nick Saban pulling the strings, it should happen sooner than later.

The “Good for you, tough luck for those who have to be patient” award goes to Terrelle Pryor, the Jeannette, Pennsylvania phenom who is considered to be the next Vince Young of college football. Pryor was going to announce his decision between Michigan and Ohio State on Feb 6, but decided to postpone his decision and take some time after his high school basketball season to check out Oregon and Penn State more closely. Pryor never verbally committed to any program, so good for him to take his time on this huge decision. Hopefully, he’ll realize playing for one of the Big Ten’s illustrious coaches (Paterno, Tressel, or Rodriguez) and the education he’ll receive at those universities will be far more beneficial than suiting up for Mike “Hothead” Bellotti out on the Left Coast…

The “Can you believe they got this kid?” award goes to Dan Hawkins and the Colorado Buffaloes for landing the #1 ranked running back in the nation, Darrell Scott. Scott, a 6-foot, 204 pound, 4.4-40 superstar athlete from Southern California, turned down offers from USC, UCLA, Texas, Florida, Miami, Florida State, Michigan and Penn State to sign with Colorado.

The “Waffle Waffle” award goes to Southern California prep linebacker Uona Kaveinga for back-to-back smack-downs handed out to UCLA and BYU. It’s understandable that Kaveinga broke his verbal commitment to the Bruins after Karl Dorrell was fired, but to break another “my word is golden” pledge just a month later in favor of a last-minute super-sell power play by Pete Carroll? Let’s just say this kid’s off-the-field credibility doesn’t match his on-the-field potential.

Talk about credibility…

The “Best acting award of the year” goes to Kevin Hart of Fernley High School in Nevada. Hart, a 6’5″, 290 pound lineman, set up an official signing ceremony at his school that attracted two local TV stations and the local newspaper. He claimed that he was signing with the Cal-Berkeley program and head coach Jeff Tedford. The only problem is Tedford and his staff had no idea who the kid was — he wasn’t recruited by any program! A law enforcement investigation is underway to determine if anyone else was involved in the charade.

Fourth and inches …

Looking back at my preseason picks for the BCS championship last year, I had LSU and USC playing for the title. Ohio State wasn’t even in my top five. You won’t find any preseason ranking that doesn’t include all three of these programs in the top five this season, and most of the experts’ lists show Georgia and USC headed for Miami and the national title game. I have to agree. If the Buckeyes had USC at home this year, I’d give Ohio State the nod for making it to the title game a third year in a row. But I just can’t see USC losing at home this season, even though Stanford pulled off the miracle last year.

The best college football columnists… if you sleep, eat and breathe college football, then you’ll want to make sure to read these six college football experts every week. Each of them offer fairly unbiased perspectives and consistently valuable insights about the sport.

Stewart Mandel, SI.com
Pete Fiutak, College Football News/Fox
Olin Buchanan, Rivals.com
Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com
Dennis Dodd, CBS Sportsline
Matt Hayes, The Sporting News

Best bet for a dramatic turnaround in 2008: Notre Dame will rebound from a deplorable 3-9 mark in 2007 and post an 8-4 record this season.

Student-athlete with the most pressure on his back this season who can actually handle it? Florida’s Tim Tebow.

Everybody’s favorite BCS buster: Well, except for Kirk Herbstreit, who loves to diss BYU every chance he gets, it’s Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars from the Mountain West Conference.

Most anticipated national television debut: The Mountain West Conference’s three year-old The Mtn channel kicks off its first year with national distribution featuring Division 1-AA heavyweight Northern Iowa at Division 1-A BYU, which is in the top 20.

And NO, I’m still not using that idiotic classification the NCAA introduced last year for referring to the two top divisions of college football. Join me in the backlash.

Quick Snap … presented by the 84th Annual East-West Shrine Game, Jan. 17, 2009, in Houston, on ESPN2:

What college football programs have received the NCAA’s “death penalty” since 1965?

Be quick and be correct. Send your answer to quicksnap@realfootball365.com. The first email received with the correct answer wins you a limited edition two-card set of 2008 Rose Bowl Game trading cards featuring Illinois and USC. The winner will be announced in next week’s Fourth and inches…

Top games this weekend, and why:
Hawaii at Florida. See a June Jones-less Hawaii get mangled by another SEC team.
Utah at Michigan. Michigan loses a second straight home opener.
USC at Virginia. These two teams have never played each other and Al Groh is still on the hot seat. The Trojans will light the fire that consumes him in 2008.
Appalachian State at LSU. Just to make sure you don’t miss it if “it” happens again.
Alabama at Clemson. Easily the best game in the country this weekend.
TCU at New Mexico. A fierce Mountain West Conference matchup between two solid teams; the loser’s conference championship hopes will be severely thrashed right out of the box in the new season.
Florida Atlantic at Texas. See if Schnellenberger’s troops can back up his bold claims on the road in Austin.
Washington at Oregon. Crucial Pac-10 contest that neither can afford to lose; will Locker’s hamstring hold up in real game action?
Illinois at Missouri. Both teams figure to be top challengers for their respective conference crowns this year. No love lost in this rivalry.
Michigan State at California. Classic Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup is a rare meeting between these schools. Cal QB Riley needs the win to hang on to the starting role over former starter Longshore.
Tennessee at UCLA. Rare Pac-10/Big Ten clash. A Bruin win would be shocking this year — even in the friendly homefield confines of Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium.
Fresno State at Rutgers. Bulldogs have sights set on a BCS bowl and can’t afford to stumble even once.

Upset Specials: Illinois Fighting Illini over Missouri Tigers; Alabama Crimson Tide over Clemson Tigers; and New Mexico Lobos over TCU Horned Frogs. Each of these clashes should come down to the wire. I was 21-23 last year in the Upset Special category, so flip a coin and see if I’m right.

Fourth and inches …

The biggest winner in UCLA’s upset overtime victory over No. 18 Tennessee? It has to be the university’s sports marketing department. They were getting royally flogged this week for running a controversial advertisement in the Los Angeles Times that showed coach Rick Neuheisel pointing, with copy that proclaimed “The Football Monopoly in Los Angeles is Finally Over.”

Some of the USC fan responses to what Neuheisel is pointing at in the ad: “Our national championship trophies in Heritage Hall,” or “a live mascot and not some stuffed plush powder blue teddy bear roaming the sidelines.”

UCLA fans respond back: “Nope, he’s pointing at the number of NCAA recruiting violations that are about to catch up with the Trojans.”

Three Top 25 teams that drank too much of the hype juice before their season openers last weekend:Virginia Tech, Clemson and Pittsburgh.

Best cutaway shot in college football television coverage last weekend: ESPN cut to UCLA’s Norm Chow and assistants jumping out of their seats in the pressbox after the Bruins scored a touchdown to take a 17-14 lead over Tennessee in the fourth quarter of their Monday night game.

Program suffering the worst successive beat-downs in 2008: Just under eight months after their 41-10 loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, Hawaii was pummeled 56-10 by Florida. Ouch.

BCS-buster watch: BYU took care of business with a 41-17 spanking of Northern Iowa … Fresno State whipped Rutgers 24-7, East Carolina upset Virginia Tech 27-22 and Bowling Green knocked off Pitt 27-17.

By the numbers: Graham Harrell (Texas Tech) was 43-of-58 for 536 yards, three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and an interception against Eastern Washington. Max Hall (BYU) went 34-for-41 for 486 yards and three scores (two passing, one running) against Northern Iowa. Mark Sanchez (USC) went 26-of-35 for 338 yards, three TDs and an INT against Virginia. Chase Daniel (Missouri) was 26-of-45 for 323 yards, three TDs and a pick against Illinois. Juice Williams (Illinois) countered Daniel with a 26-of-42, 451-yard, five-TD, two-INT performance.

Worst television production values: The Mountain West Conference’s 3-year-old The Mtn. channel is abysmal. You’d think co-owners CBS (CSTV) and Comcast would invest in some hi-definition cameras and whatever it takes to put on a quality telecast for a national audience now that DirecTV is carrying them, right?

Quick Snap … presented by the 84th Annual East West Shrine Game, Jan. 17, 2009, in Houston, on ESPN2:

How many losing seasons has Notre Dame football suffered in the history of its program?

Be quick and be correct. Send your answer to quicksnap@realfootball365.com. The first email received with the correct answer wins you a limited edition two-card set of 2008 Rose Bowl Game trading cards.

Last week’s question was: What college football programs have received the NCAA’s “death penalty” since 1965?

The correct answer is: Southern Methodist University.

Top games this weekend and why:
Navy at Ball State (Friday night). The Midshipmen put up crazy numbers on the ground and Ball State puts up crazy numbers though the air … also because my son graduates from Navy basic training this week. I’m proud of you, Zack.
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan. This could be the only game the Wolverines win for Rich Rodriguez in The Big House this year.
Georgia Tech at Boston College. These two teams could be the class of the ACC in ‘08. This game could prove to be huge before the season is over.
Brigham Young at Washington. BYU hasn’t won in Seattle in four tries and there’s never been more pressure to win than this time around.
Central Michigan at Georgia. NFL-bound Dan LeFevour is probably the best QB the Bulldogs will face this year.
West Virginia at East Carolina. Can the Pirates sink another ship from the Virginias?
South Florida at UCF. Hard to believe these are two of the three best teams in the Sunshine State.
Miami at Florida. This used to be one of the best games in the nation, and now the Hurricanes would be happy to be one of the top three teams in Florida.
Stanford at Arizona State. If Jim Harbaugh is really working magic in Palo Alto, then here’s a real Pac-10 test.

Upset Specials: (1-2 last week). This is really a crap shoot because there aren’t many reasonable choices this early in the season when most of the BCS teams load their schedule with patsy games. This is all about going out on a limb: Central Michigan over Georgia, Cincinnati over Oklahoma, Miami over Florida, and Southern Miss over Auburn.