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College Football Playoffs, Again

By Michael R. James, Crimson Staff Writer

I’ve got lots of different topics to touch upon in this week’s column, so let’s get right to them.

Over the past week, I’ve heard from several Montana fans who felt, quite simply, that I failed to give the Grizzlies the respect they deserve by saying that Harvard would only be a slight underdog on the road in Missoula if the Crimson were allowed to participate in the I-AA playoffs.

After watching Montana dismantle New Hampshire in a 47-17 rout, I’m beginning to come around. Through two rounds, Montana has recorded 103 points—12 shy of the consecutive-game record of 115 that it posted in 1995—while surrendering just three touchdowns and a field goal.

But that number could easily double this Saturday as the Grizzlies take on a ridiculously potent Sam Houston State offense that boasts Payton Award finalist quarterback Dustin Long, who has thrown for over 4,000 yards and 38 touchdowns this season. He leads a squad that has posted 89 points in its first two playoff games, including 21 in a ridiculous fourth-quarter comeback against Eastern Washington.

My money is on Montana, and my only advice is to bring your abacus.

And now let’s all pause for a moment of silence as we bid farewell to Furman—my pre-tournament pick to win it all—which fell last weekend to James Madison, 14-13. And that was the same score by which the Dukes defeated Lehigh in the first round. I’ll bet that streak comes to an end on Friday, as James Madison takes to the road for the third consecutive week, this time against William and Mary, which has scored a total of 86 points in wins over Hampton and Delaware.

With the Paladins out, I like the Tribe to win its half of the bracket and set up a William and Mary-Montana final on Friday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Sticking with college football, let’s move quickly to the Bowl Championship Series. Since the inception of the Bowl Coalition in 1992, the attempt to bring the top two teams in the country together in order to decide a playoff-less national title has been completely successful three times (1995, 1999, 2002). That’s 23 percent success rate, which is worse than a few government programs.

Three years (1998, 2000, 2001), there have been solid No. 1 teams but unsatisfactory resolutions to the answer of who was No. 2.

Three other years (1992, 1993, 1996), the prospect of a split national title was averted by crucial defeats of previously undefeated teams that were left out of the national title game. And then there are the three years when the NCAA wasn’t so lucky, as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the polls were prevented from meeting each other, which resulted in split national titles in 1997 and 2003 and a bitterly disappointed Penn State squad in 1994.

It’s pretty clear that the system doesn’t work. It didn’t work when they called it the Bowl Coalition. It didn’t work when they called it the Bowl Alliance. And it still doesn’t work, even after they incorporated the Rose Bowl and slapped the flashy BCS name to it.

There’s a reason why Division I-AA, Division II and Division III use a playoff system (despite the tremendous expenditure that has to be undertaken to transport players to nationwide sites). By implementing a playoff system, you push the debate about fringe teams from Nos. 2-4 to 8-10 or 16-20, depending on whether it is an eight- or 16-team tournament.

Sure, teams will still complain and will still feel cheated (just look at the effigies of NCAA committee members hung at Wofford in 2002 or the disappointment of Lehigh last season or Cal Poly this year). And they’ll make vociferous complaints. The point of those complaints, however, will be that those teams belonged in the field, not that the legitimacy of the eventual national title winner should be questioned.

Speaking of questioning the legitimacy of the national title, this week Harvard claimed the top spot in five of the eight computer polls used in the Gridiron Power Index—the I-AA equivalent of the BCS ranking system. The Crimson climbed to 38th and 41st in all of Division I in the Sagarin and Massey polls, respectively. No Ivy team has ever finished in the top spot of any single computer poll, much less five. And no Ivy team has ever won the I-AA national title.

But we all know why that is.

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at

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