College football needs a playoff system

From the very start, the college football season has been one wacky, wild and highly entertaining week after another.

Stanford, a Pac-10 bottom-feeder in recent years, stuns Southern Cal. And everybody else in the country. Little Appalachian State sets the tone with a season-opening upset of Michigan &

in the Big House, no less. South Florida says hello to the top 10 then falls victim to the No. 2 curse.

Well, the fun is coming to an end. On Dec. 2, to be exact.

That, of course, is BCS selection day. The day when college football's powers that be puff out their chests and declare they've identified the nation's two best teams.

Right. They'll announce they've figured out how to get Britney back on track, too.

"Even when you have two undefeated teams, somebody's unhappy," BCS analyst Jerry Palm said. "There's always somebody unhappy. Whenever you pick two teams, it's just not enough to make everybody happy."

Which is why there should be a playoff.

After years of fans and media clamoring for a Division I playoff, this season is the perfect example of why one is needed. Take any team in the top five &

heck, maybe even the top 10 &

and there's a case for why it should have a shot at the national title. Why it shouldn't, too.

Ohio State and Boston College are undefeated, but neither the Big Ten nor the ACC looks too mighty. LSU's only loss was at Kentucky and it took three overtimes; though it did have close calls at home against Florida and Auburn.

Oklahoma's loss at Colorado doesn't look so good, but it did beat Missouri and Texas. Oregon lost at home to Cal, but the Pac-10 might be the toughest conference in the country right now, and the Ducks offense is putting up numbers that would make Ernie Kent proud.

And with a month still left in the season and conference championships still to be played, shake-ups in the standings aren't close to being done. Odds are, the top two teams come Dec. 2 won't be undefeated. There could even be a two-loss team near the top of the polls if defending champion Florida wins out and the folks in front of the Gators stumble enough.

That means when the BCS announces which two teams will play for that big crystal football in the national championship game Jan. 7 in New Orleans, somebody &

maybe a lot of somebodies &

will cry foul.

"I suppose that'll make 95 percent of the people who want a playoff scream even louder," Palm said. "But they're screaming into the wind."

There are playoffs in nearly every sport at nearly every level. Even college football's lower divisions make it work. Appalachian State was hardened by its championship runs through the playoffs in what was Division I-AA the last two years.

But the BCS knows better. It insists its ranking system can produce a true 1-2 matchup and still keep the rest of the big-money bowl system relevant.

Never mind that the ranking system has been tinkered with more than a beat-up car, or that it's now as convoluted as golf's FedEx Cup points system. Or that, since it began in 1998, the BCS has gotten it right about once every third year. (This isn't that year, for those keeping track. The formula worked in 2005.)

BCS proponents argue that a playoff system would diminish the importance of the regular season and reward teams for losing. If Michigan wins out, a 10-2 record likely would put the Wolverines in the mix in a playoff system. Never mind that loss to Appalachian State.

But except for those rare years when there are two undefeated teams, the BCS system allows do-overs, too. Oftentimes, it's the team that had the good fortune to get its losing over with early.

Had Florida lost in the SEC title game instead of midway through the season last year, it wouldn't have made the national championship game. Michigan, on the other hand, had no shot after losing to Ohio State in its season finale.

A playoff system won't answer all of college football's problems. There still would be debates over the teams left out, and the No. — left standing at the end might be as lucky as it is good.

But this wacky season has shown the days of a few super programs dominating college football are over. There's little separating the top teams and the almost-top-teams, and watching them try and settle it on the field makes for great entertainment.

Too bad it has to stop Dec. 2.

Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at

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