East: Playoff system won’t be improvement

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG --  LSU Tiger Stadium and buildings around it taken in November 2010. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU Tiger Stadium and buildings around it taken in November 2010.

The debut of the four-team college football playoff is two years away, but it’s already doubtful it will be an improvement over the current BCS setup.

First, this season’s BCS Championship pairing shouldn’t ruffle feathers.

No. 1 Notre Dame is the only eligible undefeated team in the country, and the Fighting Irish have played a representative though not overwhelming schedule. They beat four teams that were ranked when they played them — No. 10 Michigan State, No. 18 Michigan, No. 17 Stanford, No. 8 Oklahoma — as well as USC.

So, love ’em or hate ’em — the Irish belong.

Notre Dame’s opponent in the title game will be the winner of Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship game between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia. It’s hard to dispute that a one-loss champion from the league that has won the last six national titles is the most deserving one-loss team.

So there you have it — Notre Dame vs. the SEC champion, clearly the two most deserving teams meeting for the national title. No ifs, ands or buts.

This isn’t an endorsement of the BCS system, just recognition that the playoff isn’t inherently better.

This season unfolded in a way that allowed a flawed system to yield a controversy-free match-up.

That wouldn’t be the case with the four-team playoff. Sure, the first three spots would be inarguable — Notre Dame, the SEC champion and 11-1 Florida, which will almost certainly move past the SEC runner-up from No. 4 to No. 3.

The yet-to-be-selected selection committee that will be charged with picking the playoff teams beginning in 2014, however, would still have to come up with the fourth title hopeful.

Next in the BCS pecking order are No. 5 Oregon and No. 6 Kansas State, the only other one-loss teams from automatic-qualifying conferences, assuming Kansas State beats Texas in its season finale Saturday.

The Ducks are higher ranked but couldn’t win their division in the Pac-12, and the Wildcats, if they beat Texas, will be outright champions of the Big 12.

There undoubtedly would be justified disagreement over which team would be more deserving of the fourth and final spot.

There also would be a reasonable school of thought that the two-loss SEC runner-up, whose second loss would come in a conference championship game, would deserve a shot. Kansas State’s league doesn’t have a championship game and Oregon’s does, but the Ducks weren’t good enough to qualify for it.

So not everyone would agree that an 11-2 Alabama or an 11-2 Georgia would be less worthy than an 11-1 Oregon and an 11-1 Kansas State.

The selection committee is supposed to factor in won-lost record, strength of schedule, head-to-head outcomes and conference championships in choosing the four playoff teams.

And exactly how is that better than pollsters and computers picking two teams?