What Would A 4-Team Playoff Have Done For Iowa In The Past?

Could Iowa have ever held this prize in a 4-team playoff? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

So a college football playoff is finally -- finally! -- upon us. The exact details are still going to get ironed out (probably this summer), but the current BCS system as we know it will be gone baby gone after 2013. Come 2014 there will be some form of 4-team playoff in play. Huzzah.

But what would that have done for Iowa in the past? Or the Big Ten in general? Or the Rose Bowl? Let's take a look. For the sake of argument, we're going to use the final BCS standings from each season. I'm also going to assume that the Rose Bowl wouldn't have been one of the semifinal games and that it would have preferred to stay off to the side. I'm also going to assume that it would have continued to value its Big Ten/Pac-10 relationships over all else, so we would have had a Big Ten/Pac-10 showdown in that bowl every year.

(Edit: The exact plan that's going to be used is in flux; Pacific Takes has a breakdown of what things might have looked like under some different plans that appear to be in favor now. But who knows how things will shake out...)

1998

BCS Top Four: #1 Tennessee, #2 Florida State, #3 Kansas State, #4 Ohio State

Actual Rose Bowl: #9 Wisconsin v. #5 UCLA

New Rose Bowl: #9 Wisconsin v. #5 UCLA

Probably no change to the Rose Bowl here. Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan all finished 7-1 in league play. Wisconsin's lone league loss was to Michigan, Michigan's lone league loss was to Ohio State, and Ohio State's lone league loss was to Michigan State (Sparty... YESSSS?). Wisconsin got the Rose Bowl nod in real life by virtue of the fact that they'd gone the longest between Rose Bowl appearances (Michigan had been there in '98 and Ohio State had been there in '97). In the final four model, though, Ohio State is removed from the equation to be a part of the final four and Wisconsin gets the nod over Michigan since the Wolverines have two non-conference losses (to Notre Dame and Syracuse). UCLA finished 8-0 in the Pac-10, so there's no controversy over their selection.

Under this model, Kansas State's shot at the national title isn't killed by their Big 12 Championship Game loss to Texas A&M (as it was in real life). Kansas State-Florida State and Tennesse-Ohio State look like fun semifinal games.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? Kansas State no longer qualifies for the Final Four, meaning Ohio State moves up a slot and UCLA occupies the last slot. The semifinals become Tennessee v. UCLA and Florida State v. Ohio State, while the Rose Bowl becomes Wisconsin v. Arizona.

1999

BCS Top Four: #1Florida State, #2 Virginia Tech, #3 Nebraska, #4 Alabama (highest ranked B1G team: #7 Wisconsin)

Actual Rose Bowl: #7 Wisconsin v. NR Stanford

New Rose Bowl: #7 Wisconsin v. NR Stanford

Another year where nothing changes, although there's even less controversy this time: Wisconsin finished all alone atop the Big Ten at 7-1 and Stanford finished all alone atop the Pac-10 at 7-1. Easy peasy.

Meanwhile, we would have gotten Florida State-Alabama and Virginia Tech-Nebraska semifinals, which would have been tasty. How would Michael Vick have fared against Nebraska's vaunted defense? Would Alabama have kept the SEC's title game streak alive and upset Florida State?

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? No changes.

2000

BCS Top Four: #1 Oklahoma, #2 Florida State, #3 Miami, #4 Washington (highest ranked B1G team: #16 Michigan)

Actual Rose Bowl: NR Purdue v. #4 Washington

New Rose Bowl: NR Purdue v. #6 Oregon State

The Big Ten had tri-champions at 6-2 in 2000 (Purdue, Michigan, and just Northwestern); Purdue got the nod in real life (I think) by virtue of beating both Michigan and Northwestern, so it stands to reason they would again get the nod in our new scenario. The Pac-10 opponent is a little trickier, though. Washington was their real opponent, but they're going to get poached away by the Final Four. Like Purdue, Washington was actually also a tri-champion in 2000, alongside Oregon and Oregon State. Oregon State beat Oregon and finished 11-1 (and routed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl), while Oregon finished 10-2 (lost to Wisconsin and Oregon State). Beavers it is.

There would have been a lot of debate over how to seed Florida State, Miami, and Washington, though. Washington beat Miami in the regular season -- but ended the season ranked lower than them. Miami beat Florida State -- but ended the season ranked lower than them. The fairest ranking would probably be #2 Washington, #3 Miami, #4 Florida State... but that would have involved some serious reshuffling by the pollsters at the end of the season -- and we know how much they like that.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? No changes.

2001

BCS Top Four: #1 Miami, #2 Nebraska, #3 Colorado, #4 Oregon (highest ranked B1G team: #8 Illinois)

Actual Rose Bowl: #1 Miami v. #2 Nebraska

New Rose Bowl: #8 Illinois v. #9 Stanford

A-ha! Our first big change in Rose Bowls in this exercise. Miami-Nebraska was the national championship game for the '01 season, which is why we see things get shaken up. In our brave new world, Illinois represents the Big Ten (they finished alone atop the Big Ten at 7-1), while the Pac-10 gets very sticky. Oregon was the actual champion at 7-1, but they're going to get plucked by the Final Four. Stanford, Washington, and Washington State all finished 6-2 in the Pac-10. Stanford ended the regular season 9-2 and the second highest-ranked team in the Pac-10 (#9), but their two losses were to Washington and Washington State. Washington finished the regular season 8-3 with losses to UCLA, Oregon State, and Miami. Washington State finished the regular season 9-2 with losses to Oregon and Washington. What a clusterfuck. I'm guessing Stanford would have gotten the nod.

Meanwhile, there's more seeding hanky-panky in the new semifinals, since Colorado's reward for trouncing Nebraska (62-36!) in the final game of the regular season would have been a lower seed AND a semifinal date with that same Nebraska team -- in Lincoln. Talk about harsh. Not that it mattered, of course -- Miami was in full-on "god of destruction" mode in 2001.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? See ya, Nebraska! Colorado and Oregon move up a slot and Illinois (no shit) occupies the fourth Final Four slot (Florida, Tennessee, and Texas all finished higher in the BCS rankings, but none of them won their conference). This means we get to see Illinois dismembered by '01 Miami. The Rose Bowl becomes Michigan v. Stanford.

2002

BCS Top Four: #1 Miami, #2 Ohio State, #3 Georgia, #4 USC

Actual Rose Bowl: #7 Oklahoma vs. #6 Washington State

New Rose Bowl: #5 Iowa vs. #6 Washington State

No, that's not a misprint: Iowa finished the regular season as the #3 team in the AP Poll, but they were never higher than #5 in the BCS rankings. Damn you, strength of schedule. The Rose Bowl loses both of its first-choice participants to the Final Four in Ohio State and USC, but still gets a matchup of BCS Top 6 teams in Iowa and Washington State. So the bad news for Iowa is that they miss out on a shot at a national title (by 0.71 points), but the good news for Iowa is that they make their first Rose Bowl in over 20 years. And while Washington State was a good team (10-2 in the regular season), they were far more beatable than that juggernaut USC team Iowa played in the Orange Bowl in real life.

Meanwhile, we would have gotten a pair of tremendous semifinal games. Miami v. a clicking-on-all-cylinders USC team? The famed "Luckeyes" vs. a Georgia team that was also peaking at the end of the season? Real life gave us one of the most thrilling national title games in history (Ohio State-Miami), but this scenario would have given us some potentially classic games, too.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? No changes.

2003

BCS Top Four: #1 Oklahoma, #2 LSU, #3 USC, #4 Michigan

Actual Rose Bowl: #4 Michigan v. #3 USC

New Rose Bowl: #5 Ohio State v. #16 Washington State

For the second year in a row, the Rose Bowl would have lost both first-choice participants to the Final Four. Ohio State finished 6-2 in the Big Ten, same as Purdue, but they also held a head-to-head win over Purdue, which is why they jump them for the Rose Bowl slot. Washington finished 6-2 in the Pac-10 in 2003, just behind USC's 7-1. But they take USC's sloppy seconds and get a second-straight trip to the Rose Bowl (where I think Ohio State probably smokes them).

The semifinals wouldn't have been too shabby: Oklahoma v. Michigan and LSU v. USC.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? See ya, Oklahoma! LSU, USC, and Michigan all move up a slot, and Florida State becomes the final team in the Final Four. The semifinals become LSU-Florida State and USC-Michigan. No change to the Rose Bowl.

2004

BCS Top Four: #1 USC, #2 Oklahoma, #3 Auburn, #4 Texas (highest ranked B1G team: #12 Iowa)

Actual Rose Bowl: #13 Michigan v. #4 Texas

New Rose Bowl: #13 Michigan v. #5 California

Michigan and Iowa tied for the B1G crown in 2004 with matching 7-1 records and had matching 2-1 records in non-conference play, but Michigan had the trump card: a head-to-head win over Iowa in Ann Arbor. So they represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl in our scenario, just as they did in real life. Their opponent changes, though. In real life, they faced Texas, who was a replacement for USC (plucked away by the national title game). In our scenario, both USC and Texas are plucked away for the Final Four, so we're left with Cal, who was famously politicked out of the Rose Bowl in real life by Mack Brown's silver tongue. Justice is served in our scenario, though.

Meanwhile, we once again get some fabulous-looking semifinals. USC-Texas in a prelude to their titanic 2005 showdown? Oklahoma-Auburn in a showdown of unbeatens? Yes, please. Alas, Utah is on the outside looking in (they were sixth in the final BCS rankings).

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? Texas gets bounced and Utah gets the nod as the last team in the Final Four. This also gives us a Final Four comprised exclusively of unbeaten teams: USC v. Utah and Oklahoma v. Auburn. Tasty. No change to the Rose Bowl.

2005

BCS Top Four: #1 USC, #2 Texas, #3 Penn State, #4 Ohio State

Actual Rose Bowl: #1 USC v. #2 Texas

New Rose Bowl: #18 Wisconsin v. #5 Oregon

Well, this is a pickle for our scenario. Like 2001, the Rose Bowl served as the host of the national title game in real life, serving up the USC-Texas classic. In the Rose Bowl's ideal world, they probably would have pitted USC and Penn State in that game. Unfortunately, both teams are unavailable in our scenario since they finished in the top four of the final BCS rankings. Penn State and Ohio State finished tied at 7-1 in the Big Ten and there was a host of teams behind them at 5-3: Iowa, just Northwestern, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Wisconsin was the only team whose overall record wasn't pretty mediocre, though -- they were 9-3 prior to the bowl game, as opposed to the 7-4 records that Iowa, MIchigan, and Northwestern were sporting. That probably gets them the nod as the B1G representative. Meanwhile, Oregon finished 7-1 in the Pac-10 behind USC's 8-0 season, so they're the obvious choice to represent the Pac-10 in our scenario.

Meanwhile, this is perhaps the first year were the addition of two teams to the championship pursuit is pretty superfluous: USC and Texas seemed to be clearly the top two teams in the nation in 2005. So the question is: could Penn State and Ohio State have played spoiler to one (or both) of them in 2005? Possibly. Both PSU and OSU had lights out defenses, which would have given them a legitimate shot.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? Technically, both Ohio State and Penn State were B1G champions in 2005, but since the spirit of this rule is to allow only one team from each conference into the Final Four, Ohio State gets the boot by virtue of losing the h2h tiebreaker. They're replaced by Notre Dame, which would set up a rematch of the infamous "Bush Push" game in one semifinal. Meanwhile, Ohio State replaces Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and faces Oregon.

2006

BCS Top Four: #1 Ohio State, #2 Florida, #3 Michigan, #4 LSU

Actual Rose Bowl: #3 Michigan v. #5 USC

New Rose Bowl: #7 Wisconsin v. #5 USC

The Rose Bowl loses its first and second-choice options for the Big Ten representative in the Rose Bowl with Ohio state and Michigan getting plucked away by the Final Four... but an 11-1 Wisconsin would have been a fine consolation prize (and it's a hell of a step-up from their real-life Capital One Bowl appearance). Meanwhile, USC finishes outside of the Final Four for the first time in five seasons (they were #5 in the final BCS rankings), which means they get to go to the Rose Bowl in both real life and our scenario.

Meanwhile, the semifinals would have given us the ultimate B1G-SEC bragging rights showdown: Ohio State v. LSU and Florida v. Michigan. Would Ohio State have had more luck against Fat JaMarcus Russell than they did Chris Leak and Tim Tebow? Would Florida's defense have hounded Chad Henne into oblivion like they did Troy Smith?

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? Sayonara, Michigan! Adios, LSU! They're replaced by USC and (for real) Louisville, setting up Ohio State-Louisville and Florida-USC semifinals. That Florida-USC semifinal would have been a doozy. Meanwhile, the Rose Bowl becomes Michigan v. Cal (for the second time in three years).

2007

BCS Top Four: #1 Ohio State, #2 LSU, #3 Virginia Tech, #4 Oklahoma

Actual Rose Bowl: #13 Illinois v. #7 USC

New Rose Bowl: #13 Illinois v. #7 USC

Wait, Ron Zook still gets to a Rose Bowl? Yes, Ron Zook still gets to a Rose Bowl -- maybe. The Rose Bowl's first choice participant (Ohio State) is pulled away by the Final Four. Illinois and Michigan both finished at 6-2 in B1G play in 2007 and Michigan beat them head-to-head... but Illinois had just one non-conference loss (Missouri) to Michigan's pair of non-conference losses (Appalachian State and Oregon). Illinois was ranked higher in the polls than Michigan and had a longer drought in terms of Rose Bowl appearances... I think that would have trumped Michigan's h2h win. Meanwhile, USC finished #7 in the final BCS rankings in real life, so they serve as the Pac-10's participant in real life and in our scenario.

The semis would have featured a rematch of an early season blowout (LSU-Virginia Tech, which LSU won 48-7) and Ohio State-Oklahoma, two teams with a lot of BCS appearances in real life (but never against one another). Had the season ended three weeks earlier, though, the semis would have been far stranger: LSU v. Missouri and West Virginia v. Kansas. Although, come to think of it, now those games would both be conference matchups. What a crazy sport.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? No changes, actually.

2008

BCS Top Four: #1 Oklahoma, #2 Florida, #3 Texas, #4 Alabama (highest ranked B1G team: #8 Penn State)

Actual Rose Bowl: #8 Penn State vs. #5 USC

New Rose Bowl: #8 Penn State vs. #5 USC

Another year with no changes to the Rose Bowl; for the first time since 1999, no Big Ten or Pac-10 team is selected for the Final Four, so the real-life matchup reigns. Penn State, of course, would have featured in the Final Four if not for the heroics of one Daniel Murray.

Meanwhile, the semifinals give us Oklahoma-Alabama and Florida-Texas, which look like mighty exciting games on paper. Tebow v. McCoy would have been pretty epic. That said, there would have been some griping from Texas Tech (11-1 and the only Big 12 tri-champion not to make the Final Four) and a whole lot of griping from TCU and Boise State, both 12-0 and left out from the Final Four.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? As we saw in 2006, half the Final Four is removed from consideration -- so long, Texas and Alabama. In their place? USC and Utah. Sorry, Boise State. The semis become Oklahoma-Utah and Florida-USC, which would have been intriguing matchups. The Rose Bowl becomes Penn State v. Oregon.

2009

BCS Top Four: #1 Alabama, #2 Texas, #3 Cincinnati, #4 TCU (highest ranked B1G team: #8 Ohio State)

Actual Rose Bowl: #8 Ohio State v. #7 Oregon

New Rose Bowl: #8 Ohio State v. #7 Oregon

For the second straight year no Big Ten or Pac-Ten team finishes in the Final Four, meaning the Rose Bowl in our scenario is again identical to the real-life Rose Bowl. Iowa actually had the best opportunity of any Big Ten team to finish in the Final Four in 2009 -- they were as high as #4, pre-Wootenocalypse. If they'd been able to run the table, there's no way they would have finished lower than #4 (the day an undefeated Big Ten team gets jumped by a Big East or Mountain West team is the day Jim Delany secedes from the NCAA). They were already ahead of TCU and Cincinnati in the rankings and those teams only moved up by virtue of teams ahead of them losing (first Iowa, then Florida), so Iowa could have finished the season ranked #3, meaning a semifinal date with Texas.

Meanwhile, if '08 was the year the little guys got screwed by the Final Four, then '09 is the year the little guys got their revenge with both Cincinnati and TCU making the Final Four. Although it would have been interesting to see how far Florida would have fallen after their SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama if voters knew that keeping them in the top-4 would keep Florida (and Tebow) in the hunt for the national championship. Of course, Boise State (13-0) is again screwed out of an appearance. It's hard out there for a Smurf Turfer.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? No changes -- all four teams were unbeaten and won their conferences.

2010

BCS Top Four: #1 Auburn, #2 Oregon, #3 TCU, #4 Stanford (highest ranked B1G team: #5 Wisconsin)

Actual Rose Bowl: #5 Wisconsin v. #3 TCU

New Rose Bowl: #5 Wisconsin v. USC/Washington

After two years without any Final Four-induced havoc, the Rose Bowl gets shaken up in our scenario this year. TCU gets plucked away by the Final Four, leaving Wisconsin to face a different opponent. And the Rose Bowl in our scenario might have to replace both teams since you can get that Jim Delany and Bret Bielema would have campaigned like hell for Wisconsin to displace Stanford for the #4 spot (although they would have had to direct their arguments at the computers, since the pollsters already had them ahead of Stanford). But we'll stick with the actual BCS rankings, which had Wisconsin at #5, meaning they serve as the Big Ten's representative in the Rose Bowl in our scenario. Who they play is quite an issue, though. The Pac-10 had two good teams in 2010: Oregon and Stanford. Unfortunately, in our scenario both are poached by the Final Four. USC had Washington tied for third in the league with 5-4 conference records; Washington beat USC head-to-head, but also finished 6-6. USC lost the head-to-head to Washington but finished 7-5. Neither option is too appetizing, frankly.

Meanwhile, the semis give us Auburn v. Stanford (Cam v. Luck) and a matchup of perhaps 2010's best offense (Oregon) and 2010's best defense (TCU). Yeah, those look pretty damn good.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? Aloha, Stanford! Wisconsin slides in to take their place in the Final Four, giving us semifinals of Auburn v. Wisconsin and Oregon v. TCU and a Rose Bowl of Ohio State/Michigan State v. Stanford. All of those games look pretty fascinating, frankly.

2011

BCS Top Four: #1 LSU, #2 Alabama, #3 Oklahoma State, #4 Stanford (highest ranked B1G team: Wisconsin at #10)

Actual Rose Bowl: #10 Wisconsin v. #5 Oregon

New Rose Bowl: #10 Wisconsin v. #5 Oregon

And we're back to no changes between the actual Rose Bowl and our scenario Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl loses its first-choice Pac-12 representative (Stanford), but Oregon is more-than-adequate replacement and they retain their first-choice Big-10 representative. Huzzah.

The semis give us LSU-Stanford (can Luck solve LSU's defense?) and Alabama-Okie State (another great offense v. great defense matchup), which would have been a massive improvement from the dull LSU-Alabama rematch we got instead.

What if there was a conference champions-only rule in place? Sorry, Alabama -- you're toast. You too, Stanford. Replacing the Tide and Cardinal would be Oregon and... Boise State! Yes, seriously. Arkansas is disqualified for not being a conference champion and next in line is Boise. That sets up semifinals of LSU-Boise State and Oklahoma State-Oregon and just try to tell me those wouldn't have been incredibly interesting games to watch. Meanwhile, the Rose Bowl becomes Wisconsin v. Stanford.

So how does it all break down? Well, Iowa might have gotten to a Rose Bowl (in 2002) and if not for the Wootenocalypse they would have been in line to play in the "Final Four" in 2009 (assuming they could beat Ohio State, of course). Otherwise, things don't change too much for Iowa, although they may have been bumped up (or down) the bowl pecking order a time or two.

In terms of other teams...

MOST APPEARANCES UNDER A STRAIGHT TOP-4 MODEL

5: Ohio State, Oklahoma
4: Alabama, USC, LSU, Texas
3: Miami
2: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Oregon, Michigan, Auburn, Florida, TCU, Stanford
1: Tennessee, Kansas State, Washington, Colorado, Georgia, Penn State, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State

MOST APPEARANCES UNDER A CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS MODEL

6: USC
4: Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma,
3: Miami, Oregon, LSU
2: Virginia Tech, Alabama, Auburn, Texas, Florida, TCU, Utah
1: Tennessee, Nebraska, Washington, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Penn State, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, UCLA, Illinois, Notre Dame, Louisville, Wisconsin, Boise State

APPEARANCES BY CONFERENCE UNDER A STRAIGHT TOP-4 MODEL

Conference affiliations at the time

ACC: 4
Big East: 5
Big Ten: 8
Big XII: 14
Pac 10: 9
SEC: 14
other: 2

ACC's glory comes almost entirely from the dying days of the Florida State dynasty in the late '90s/early '00s. The Big East benefits from Miami's run of greatness in the early '00s (and the Michael Vick-led Virginia Tech team). The Big XII and SEC dominate, which is hardly surprising considering how many real BCS title games have featured one (or two) participants from those leagues.

Conference affiliations as they exist now

ACC: 8
Big East: 1
Big Ten: 10
Big XII: 13
Pac 12: 10
SEC: 14
other: 2

The ACC benefits from the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech (which simultaneously guts the Big East). The Big Ten adds Nebraska's two top-4 appearances early in the '00s. The Big XII loses those (and a top-4 showing from Colorado), but mitigates those losses by adding TCU. Nothing changes for the SEC, since neither Texas A&M nor Missouri add any value as far as top-4 showings.

APPEARANCES BY CONFERENCE UNDER A CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS MODEL

Conference affiliations at the time

ACC: 6
Big East: 5
Big Ten: 8
Big XII: 9
Pac 10: 11
SEC: 11
other: 6

USC's dominance of the Pac-10 really pays off for the conference under this model.

Conference affiliations as they exist now

ACC: 9
Big East: 1 (3 if you include Boise State)
Big Ten: 9
Big XII: 8
Pac 12: 15
SEC: 11
other: 0

Things get even better for the Pac-10 in this model -- Utah and Colorado actually combined for three conference championships in the '00s.

ROSE BOWL APPEARANCES FOR BIG TEN TEAMS

Real life

Wisconsin: 4
Michigan: 3
Illinois: 1
Ohio State: 1
Penn State: 1
Purdue: 1

Under Top-4 Model

Wisconsin: 6
Ohio State: 2
Illinois: 2
Iowa: 1
Michigan: 1
Penn State: 1
Purdue: 1

Under Conference Champions Model

Wisconsin: 3
Michigan: 3
Ohio State: 3 (or 4)
Illinois: 1
Iowa: 1
Penn State: 1
Purdue: 1
Michigan State: 1 (or 0, depending on how they settled the tiebreaker with OSU after the 2010 season)

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