This year's BCS championship race resolved itself in unusually clean fashion. No. 1 Notre Dame (12--0) locked up a spot in the title game with last week's win over USC. On Saturday, No. 2 Alabama (11--1) and No. 3 Georgia (11--1) will play for the SEC championship, with the winner facing the Fighting Irish in Miami on Jan. 7. But what if this were 2014, when the four-team playoff will debut? Imagine the arguments that would be taking place this final week, as fans of Oregon (11--1), Florida (11--1), Kansas State (10--1) and others clamored for spots in the bracket.
To set the playoff field, the BCS will scrap polls and computers in favor of a March Madness--style selection committee. SI test-drove that concept on Monday by convening a mock selection committee of 11 athletic directors and asking them to build a hypothetical bracket for 2012.
Last week ESPN reached a 12-year deal, worth $5.6 billion, to broadcast the new playoff. The difference between making the tournament and missing it could mean tens of millions for a team and its conference. While members of our committee were prohibited from discussing or voting on teams from their own leagues, fans and media will undoubtedly home in on the slightest potential for bias when selectors convene for real in 2014. "This is going to be the most highly scrutinized group of people in the history of college athletics," says UNLV athletic director (and member of our panel) Jim Livengood. "There's just so much at stake." Here's the 2012 playoff field chosen by SI's committee, which assumed that Alabama will beat Georgia on Saturday; if the Bulldogs win, they'll replace the Crimson Tide as the No. 2 seed. (See more of our bracket debate at SI.com/cfb.) Conspiracy theories not included.
NO. 1 SEED [Notre Dame]
NO. 2 SEED [Alabama]
NO. 3 SEED [Florida]
NO. 4 SEED [Oregon]
Debate #1: Body of Work
The committee was most split on how to weigh teams' full-season performance against who was hottest at the end. "I like Stanford [10--2] because of how they're playing now," said Livengood. Gene Smith spoke highly of red-hot Texas A&M. But Chris Massaro was willing to overlook Oregon's late-season loss to Stanford since the Ducks dominated in their other 11 games. "Games in September are just as important as the games in November," he said. The committee agreed.
Debate #2: Luck of the Irish