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December 27, 2010

Huguenin: Plus-one system the answer

We're five days away from Jan. 1, and most college football fans greet that news with a huge collective yawn.

New Year's Day used to be Christmas Day for college football fans. Now, the unintended consequence of the BCS is that every game but the national title game doesn't matter. In other words, the folks who are telling you that every single game matters in the regular season essentially are rendering meaningless any postseason game other than the title game.

But this is not another "We must have a playoff!" screeching. Instead, it's another call for a plus-one system.

Granted, that call might seem a bit bizarre this season. There are just three unbeatens, and Auburn-Oregon is about as appetizing a national title matchup as you could get. Still, a plus-one game has the potential to spruce up the entire college football postseason.

The word "potential" is used because some other changes need to be made, as well. And, frankly, they are simple changes.

First, cut the number of bowls from 35 to 26 or 27. Will anyone really miss the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl or the GoDaddy.com Bowl or the New Mexico Bowl or the Military Bowl?

Second, the season must end Jan. 8. So to give the plus-one teams a week to prepare for their game, the other bowls would have to be played Jan. 1 or earlier.

That's it.

The changes would return some excitement to the entire postseason and make sure some unworthy teams don't play in a bowl. Eleven teams that finished less than .500 in their league are in bowl games; in addition, 14 teams that finished 6-6 in the regular season are partaking of the postseason feast. The folks who talk about how the postseason "rewards" teams for good season cannot be taken seriously when those stats are brought up.

In addition, a "plus-one" would add excitement and importance to a vast majority of the bowls. For instance, this season's Rose Bowl matchup of TCU- Wisconsin certainly seems intriguing on paper. But it's not must-see TV simply because the teams aren't really playing for anything. If a spot in the plus-one game were at stake in the Rose Bowl, the stakes would be enormous.

In addition, how a conference fared in the bowl games would have an impact on the "plus-one" game, too. In other words, how SEC teams performed in the Gator and Capital One bowls, for instance, could help -- or hurt -- an SEC team hoping to be selected for the plus-one game.

Of course, there will be those who argue that a playoff would make every postseason game worthwhile, too. But a playoff is not necessarily the panacea that many believe.

College football has issues, no doubt. But it does have a regular season that is vitally important. A playoff cheapens the regular season, as it does in every other sport.

How many teams get in a playoff? Eight? Sixteen? Twenty, like in the FCS? There are problems with each of those numbers.

From a "structural" standpoint, an eight-team playoff is going to be hard to sell to the non-Big Six leagues. It also would be a hard sell to the Big Six leagues, too, unless each of those conference champs would be guaranteed a spot. And if each is guaranteed a spot, a more worthy team is going to be left out, and the complaints will pour in again.

A 16-team playoff, with each of the 11 league champs getting an "automatic bid"? Come on -- the Sun Belt or WAC or MAC champs deserve an automatic bid? Unless you simply are in love with the idea of bracketing, that's absurd. And if you choose the top 16 in the BCS standings -- or whatever they would be called -- the non-Big Six leagues and their proponents are going to continue to cry foul because, more than likely, the vast majority of those teams are going to be from the Big Six conferences. And, again, unless you guarantee a spot for each of the Big Six champs, a playoff plan simply will not be approved.

We won't even get into the blowback from a postseason model that would have a separate playoff and keep the bowls. If you think bowls are worthless now, they would be about as worthwhile as a Christmas tree lot on Dec. 27 under that scenario. And if there's a postseason model with just playoff teams, the cut-throat aspect of college football increases 10-fold and leaves schools such as Utah State, Eastern Michigan and Louisiana-Monroe even more in the dust. Should that matter? No. But someone, somewhere, would take offense and threaten legal action.

Is adding a plus-one game the perfect solution? Heck, no. But it would be better than the current system, and progress is going to have to come on an incremental basis.

The NCAA strikes again

OK, it's Christmas time, which means you want to be charitable, but the NCAA ruling on Ohio State just makes you throw your hands up in the air and say well, a lot of things.

As Georgia found out earlier this season with the four-game suspension of star wide receiver A.J. Green, the NCAA does not take kindly to players selling memorabilia and the like. Thus, Ohio State should not have been surprised that five players, including the team's three most important offensive skill-position players in quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron and wide receiver DeVier Posey, were hit with five-game suspensions that will begin next season for the selling of various memorabilia.

Still, there are a couple of puzzling aspects to this.

First, if you're a Buckeyes fan -- or a Georgia fan -- you have to be wondering how in the world the NCAA can find that a player was, basically, offered for sale yet received no blowback (i.e., the guy who won the Heisman) but a player who sells a jersey/ring/trophy gets hammered.

Second, since the NCAA obviously takes this extremely seriously -- suspensions covering almost half the season are big -- why in the world does the suspension begin next season? If this is such a big deal, why not suspend the players for this postseason, then the first four games of next season? Again, this is something the NCAA obviously feels strongly about. So why delay the suspensions?

Grid bits

If West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck doesn't believe in coach Bill Stewart, then why let him hang around for another season? WVU hired Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen as a one-season coach-in-waiting, with Stewart serving as the lame-duck coach next fall. "I didn't believe we had an opportunity to win a national championship with the direction of the program," Luck said at a news conference announcing Holgorsen's hiring. "At the end of the day, results matter, and we weren't getting the results. I expect us to compete at the highest levels." So how long does Holgorsen get to make WVU a national title-winning program?

Iowa will be without star WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the Insight Bowl against Missouri. Johnson-Koulianos and his non-football playing roommate were charged Dec. 6 with various drug offenses. While the roommate was accused of selling marijuana and charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and other charges, Johnson-Koulianos was charged with possession of cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, and with allowing drugs to be used and sold from his residence. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta held a news conference in mid-December to address the arrest and some other matters. Ferentz was asked how Iowa officials did not know a player was living with a drug dealer. "We don't do background checks on roommates, girlfriends," he said. "It's a pretty wide circle of friends that our players have. I don't know how you would track down, chase each and every one of them. Maybe that's something we need to do, do background checks on roommates that are not on the team. That we'll consider." That it might come down to doing background checks on players' friends and girlfriends seems beyond the pale. Schools already have to worry about where a player lives and what he drives. The Reggie Bush situation showed that schools also need to worry about where family members reside and possible illegal benefits provided to them. Now, schools have to investigate friends and girlfriends? But some schools might believe it's prudent to check into that type of thing because the potential exists for illegal benefits to be funneled through a friend or girlfriend -- or because a friend or girlfriend could be doing illegal things.

The participants in the FCS national title game were finalized last week, and the schools are getting almost three weeks off before playing Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas, for the national title. Third-seeded Delaware is playing fifth-seeded Eastern Washington for the crown, and each has a FBS transfer at quarterback: Delaware with former Penn State backup Pat Devlin, and Eastern Washington with former SMU starter Bo Levi Mitchell. Delaware (Colonial) and Eastern Washington (Big Sky) were co-champs in their leagues in the regular season and each beat a third-place team in the semifinals. If we were to use the final BCS standings as a guide and compare them with the FCS seedings, it would be No. 3 TCU meeting No. 5 Wisconsin for the national title.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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