What Might Have Been: What the BCS Would Have Looked Like in 2015

One of the main stated goals of the College Football Playoff was to restore the primacy of New Year’s Day in college football tradition. Part of this is obviously the two semifinal games. Another important part, though, is the collection of New Year’s Six games, which are supposed to provide top-level matchups between highly-ranked teams. The BCS also did that, but the BCS cared more about the bowls drawing butts in seats and eyeballs on television. In theory, the matchups are supposed to matter much more now. Is the CFP succeeding in this? I will present what the BCS would have looked like, and I will let you decide for yourselves.

First, we have to make two assumptions. I will assume that the AAC champion, as heir to the Big East, would have earned an auto-bid. I know this isn’t guaranteed, but the BCS was happy with six AQ conferences, so let’s assume it would have stayed there. This may very well be a bad assumption, but it is one I will make.

Houston would have finished at No. 14 in the BCS, which would have been high enough to make the Cougars a potential at-large, but not high enough to earn them an auto-bid (if the AAC wasn’t an AQ conference). Nevertheless, we will leave them as an AQ. (Of course, this assumption will ironically be irrelevant this year, as we will see later.)

The second assumption is a much easier one. We will assume that the BCS would have kept its rotation in terms of the order of picking teams. Had the BCS continued in its trend from 2011-2014 regarding the order of at-large selections, this year’s order would have been Fiesta, Sugar, Orange. With that background, let me present what the BCS Top 25 would have been.

Team Rating
1. Clemson 0.9611
2. Alabama 0.9431
3. Michigan St 0.8915
4. Oklahoma 0.8847
5. Ohio State 0.7918
6. Iowa 0.7787
7. Stanford 0.7706
8. Notre Dame 0.6822
9. TCU 0.6210
10. Florida State 0.5927
11. North Carolina 0.5212
12. Northwestern 0.5211
13. Oklahoma St 0.5168
14. Houston 0.4523
15. Ole Miss 0.4440
16. Oregon 0.3829
17. Michigan 0.3774
18. Florida 0.3197
19. Baylor 0.2575
20. LSU 0.2534
21. Utah 0.1927
22. Navy 0.1915
23. Wisconsin 0.1099
24. Georgia 0.0455
25. USC 0.0431

Obviously, as the Harris Poll no longer exists, I used the numbers from the AP Poll to replace them. Also, you may see that these numbers are a little different than some other “What the BCS would Look Like” numbers out there. The reason for this is the computers.

Several computers, most notably Sagarin, changed their methods once they were no longer bound to the BCS’ regulations. To counter this, I attempted to modify the current rankings from those computers to match what they would have been like in the BCS era. I have no guarantee that I got it right, though it was much easier with Massey than Sagarin. Even so, my approximation of what Sagarin and the others would have looked like is definitely more accurate than just basing it off what Sagarin looks like now.

Clemson and Alabama, as the top two teams, would have met in the BCS National Championship Game. Since Clemson would be the top seed, the Orange Bowl would get the top replacement selection and would probably take Florida State to keep its ACC tie-in. The Sugar Bowl would have the next replacement and, with no eligible SEC team, would take Notre Dame and its huge fan base. There are few schools that would ever get a nod over Ohio State, but Notre Dame is one of them, and the fact that the Sugar Bowl had the Buckeyes last year would play a factor.

Following that, the Fiesta Bowl would get the first at-large selection to meet Big 12 champion Oklahoma. They would take the Buckeyes without a second thought for a huge matchup of blue-bloods. The Sugar Bowl would have limited options as to whom it could take, though, as both the Big Ten and ACC would have hit their limit of two schools per conference in BCS games. They would have to choose either Houston, TCU, or Oklahoma State as Notre Dame’s opponent and would probably take Oklahoma State because of their bigger alumni base and head-to-head win over TCU, though that is a tough call. Lastly, the Orange Bowl would be stuck with Houston. Ironically, whether or not Houston had an auto-bid would be irrelevant. The Cougars would the only remaining eligible at-large team. The at-large doomsday scenario Boise State fans were dreaming of for close to a decade would have actually come to fruition with the BCS in 2015.

To sum up the BCS bowls, it would have been:

National Championship Game: Clemson vs. Alabama

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford

Sugar Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State

Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma

Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Houston

This overall lineup is actually pretty darn good and could compete with this year’s New Year’s Six lineup in terms of quality. One game would be identical (the hypothetical Orange Bowl is this year’s Peach Bowl) and two would have clearly been better (the Ohio State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl and the Oklahoma State-Notre Dame Sugar Bowl). Of course, we lose out on the two semifinals in this system, but in terms of overall quality it would have been competitive. The Peach (Chick-Fil-A) Bowl under the old system would probably be North Carolina versus either Florida or LSU, and the Cotton Bowl would have been Ole Miss versus TCU. Both of those are steps down from what we are getting now.

There are some years when almost all of the NY6 games would be clearly be superior to the hypothetical BCS bowls. Many years, though, would be like this. The top-level bowls might actually provide more great matchups (which makes sense, because two of the top 4 teams would be in the bowl pool instead of a semifinal). It is the second semifinal, plus the Peach and Cotton Bowls, where the NY6 will almost always prove superior. We might not get better matchups in each and every former BCS bowl, but we are definitely seeing more great matchups, just by virtue of changing it from five games to six.

Who should be ecstatic about the switch from the BCS to the CFP? Iowa. Because of the old BCS limit of two teams per conference in BCS games, the Hawkeyes would have been relegated all the way down to the Citrus Bowl (then called the Capital One Bowl). Instead, under the CFP, they are in the Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes may not be in the Playoff, but they probably have the most to be thankful for that the CFP exists.

About Yesh Ginsburg

Yesh has been a fan and student of college football since before he can remember. He spent years mastering the intricacies of the BCS and now keeps an eye on the national picture as teams jockey for College Football Playoff positioning.