Play­offs have a BCS feel to them again

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Tim Dahlberg AP Sports Colum­nist

Jim Harbaugh went on and on, as if his in­ces­sant whin­ing would over­turn the re­sult of what was, in ef­fect, a play­off game be­fore the play­offs be­gin.

Any­one who lis­tened to Harbaugh in his last year in San Fran­cisco would have eas­ily rec­og­nized the tone. It’s what he does when things go bad, and go bad they did Satur­day in a thriller at Ohio State that took two over­times to decide.

The out­burst cost Michi­gan $10,000 in the form of a fine Mon­day from the Big Ten, pocket change when the coach makes $7 mil­lion a year. What was far more costly to Michi­gan was blow­ing a 10-point fourth quar­ter lead in a game it dearly needed.

Now Michi­gan waits on the out­side, hop­ing against hope for a Hail Mary that will give the Wolver­ines one of the four prized spots in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

The fact that it’s not to­tally im­pos­si­ble shows how lit­tle things have changed since the five big con­fer­ences that rule col­lege foot­ball scrapped the Bowl Cham­pi­onship Se­ries three sea­sons ago.

Yes, the play­ers get paid a lit­tle more, so date night may now in­clude a movie as well as a pizza. And four teams now have a chance to prove their case on the field in­stead of the two anointed each year by the BCS.

But it’s still sub­jec­tive, with the fi­nal four teams and pair­ings de­cided be­hind closed doors in a con­fer­ence room in Texas. The first two years of the new sys­tem were rel­a­tively easy, but that all fig­ures to change this week in one of the odd­est years in col­lege foot­ball.

The new rankings will be out Tues­day, and they will be read like tea leaves for an in­di­ca­tion where the com­mit­tee is go­ing. But the real fun comes on Sun­day, when the con­fer­ence ti­tle games are over and the play­off teams are named.

For­mer Sec­re­tary of State and com­mit­tee mem­ber Con­doleezza Rice may need all her diplo­matic skills to pacify the schools left out.

Right now, Michi­gan seems to be on the out­side look­ing in, though that could change with losses by Washington and Clem­son in their con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship games. Ac­tu­ally, a lot of things could change if Washington or Clem­son lose, though you have to fig­ure Alabama is a play­off lock and Ohio State isn’t far be­hind.

What could keep com­mit­tee mem­bers up all night Satur­day, though, would be a win by Penn State over Wis­con­sin in the Big Ten cham­pi­onship game. There would be a lot of un­happy peo­ple in Happy Val­ley if the Nit­tany Li­ons won the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship and were left out of the play­offs.

They’d be even un­hap­pier if Ohio State — a team Penn State beat at home this year — got in in­stead. That’s de­spite the fact the com­mit­tee has al­ready in­di­cated it thinks Ohio State has a bet­ter re­sume than the team it lost to.

That aside, it’s any­one’s guess what kind of think­ing is go­ing on be­hind those closed doors in Texas. De­pend­ing on the out­comes of the con­fer­ence ti­tle games, there are var­i­ous sce­nar­ios that could see Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin, Penn State or even Colorado find their way into the play­offs.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that win­ning a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship may not be enough, which should give pause to those who in­sist con­fer­ence ti­tle games are more than just a chance to haul in mil­lions more in tele­vi­sion rev­enue.

None of it is par­tic­u­larly clear. What is clear, though, is that the new way of crown­ing a na­tional cham­pion still falls short of a true play­off sys­tem.

In too many ways it still feels like the BCS, where in some years it was dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out just what the cri­te­ria for get­ting in the ti­tle game was. That in­cluded the 2006-07 sea­son, where Ur­ban Meyer, then at Florida, fa­mously lob­bied to poll vot­ers who helped jump the Ga­tors over Michi­gan into the na­tional cham­pi­onship con­test.

Meyer may want to do some more lob­by­ing this week just to make sure his Buck­eyes are in. Noth­ing is cer­tain, though he and a lot of oth­ers can’t fathom the com­mit­tee leav­ing Ohio State out.

“I think we’re one of the top teams in the coun­try,” Meyer said af­ter Ohio State es­caped with an im­prob­a­ble win over Michi­gan.

As for Harbaugh, he may be in­ca­pable of putting to­gether a co­her­ent case for his team. He spent al­most all his postgame press con­fer­ence com­plain­ing about the of­fi­ci­at­ing , when he should have been talk­ing about how a team that lost by a point at Iowa and in dou­ble over­time at Ohio State could still be one of the four best teams in the coun­try.

Not to worry, though. Leav­ing Michi­gan out of the play­off se­ries will give him some­thing to re­ally whine about.

Tim Dahlberg is a na­tional sports colum­nist for The As­so­ci­ated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Michi­gan head coach Jim Harbaugh, left, yells at the field judge dur­ing the first half against Ohio State. Harbaugh blasted the ref­er­ees af­ter the Wolver­ines lost, and likely, fell out of contention for a play­off spot.

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