Friday, December 02, 2005

Playoff Predictions, Round 2; Improving the Playoffs

Every year, I love following the I-AA playoffs. I pick the games, and follow the teams until the champion is crowned on December 16th at Finley stadium in Chattanooga, TN.

The 16 team playoff system is a good one, no doubt about it. 8 autobids, and 8 at-large bids makes for a perfect 4-game playoff and national champion.

But the playoffs could be made even better. Here, in my not-so-humble estimation, are five ways to make the playoffs even better.

1). Get the Ivy and SWAC in there. I don't care what it takes - find a way to move mountains, cajole, and politic the SWAC and Ivy to participate in the playoffs. The Ivy and SWAC teams not only are some of the most important conferences in I-AA, they represent some of the largest, and biggest potential moneymaking, football teams in all of I-AA.

Right now huge teams like Southern, Grambling St., Yale, and Harvard are considered I-AA, but aren't considered part of the I-AA playoffs. That has to change. When most people think I-AA football, they think of Harvard/Yale and Grambling St./Southern. Having schools with a legendary tradition in the I-AA playoffs makes it better for everyone.

2). Expand the playoffs with more at-larges and autobids. It won't be easy, but by adding more autobids (and adding more at-larges, by the NCAA rules), you would have to expand the playoffs to include as many as 24 teams. Along with the Ivy and SWAC, I think the NEC and Pioneer should have the opportunity to also have autobids. That would give 12 autobids, and 12 at-larges.

The rules for a conference playoff autobid would have include the following: there has to be at least 6 playoff-eligible teams in your league, you cannot play a championship game, and no team in your league can play more than 2 non-D-I opponents. The SWAC and Pioneer would have to abandon their conference championships, and many of the scheduling habits of Pioneer teams would have to change. But I-AA would benefit tremendously.

3). Have the first round of playoff games be "play-in" games of significance. The Patriot League, Ivy, SWAC and MEAC have been talking about starting, or restoring, "bowl games" between their champions for years. Why not have these leagues have 10 game seasons, with the 11th game being a bowl game (in a neutral site) where the winner moves on in the I-AA playoffs?

Here's how it could work. Every year during "Rivalry Week", the SWAC and MEAC champions would meet in a brand new "Heritage Bowl", the Patriot and Ivy champs would play in the "Walter Camp Bowl", and the Pioneer and NEC champs play in the "Sports Network Bowl". The last two teams could be the two best at-large teams in the 10-game conferences.

It would require some sacrifice. Grambling St./Southern, Alabama State/Tuskeegee, Lehigh/Lafayette, and Harvard/Yale would have to be pushed back a week or two. But you've got to believe that the prospect of a new "Heritage Bowl", or a new Patriot/Ivy Bowl game, would mitigate some of the changes.

4) Give teams the week of Thanksgiving off. With teams playing an 11-game season, it's only reasonable to give teams a week to rest and heal before a brutal 4-game stretch. In addition, it gives folks a couple of weeks to make their playoff plans. Anyone who has tried to pull together their friends on Thanksgiving week to try to get some friends to go to a I-AA playoff game knows what I mean.

5) Move the championship to around Christmastime. I'm looking at the I-A Bowl schedule, and I see the Motor City Bowl on December 26th, pitting the 7th placed Big 10 team versus the 1st or 2nd placed MAC team. Certainly, there is room on this day for the I-AA championship game, too?

For fun, I made a sample 24-team playoff bracket based on this year's records. See if this wouldn't make the playoffs even more exciting! Plus, every playoff participant would play an equal number of games!

November 12th: Grambling St./Southern; Harvard/Yale; Lehigh/Lafayette

November 19th: Grambling St./Hampton (Heritage Bowl); Brown/Colgate (Camp Bowl); San Diego/Central Connecticut St. (Sports Network Bowl); Lafayette/South Carolina St.

My predictions for Round 2 of the I-AA playoffs:
Northern Iowa at New Hampshire. This will be billed as a shootout, and will be a sold-out Cowell stadium, but I don't think that the kitties will do very well outside the dome. I don't think the Panthers will upset the Wildcats here. UNH 50, UNI 35.

Furman at Richmond.
Looking to be the best game this Saturday, the resurgent Paladin defense will take their hand at containing the Stacy Tutt show in a game for those who love defense. Tutt and Ingle Martin will make this a low-scoring game which could be a fun one settled by a late score. Give this one to Furman, who have played in a lot of these all year. Furman 27, Richmond 24, OT.

Southern Illinois at Appalachian St. This just looks like a mismatch to me. Yeah, the Saluki defense is resurgent, but I just can't see them stopping the Mountaineers at Kidd Brewer stadium. This is my pick to be the ugly game today. App St. 49, SIU 7.

Cal Poly at Texas St. Nobody pretty much picked Cal Poly to be here this weekend, and the 'Stangs are rewarded by appearing for the first time on ESPN2. Unfortunately, if Bobcat QB Barrick Nealy plays the way he did last week, the 'Stangs will be heading home in a hurry. I see the 'Stangs hanging for a half, but the Bobcats should make the semi's without too much of a problem. Texas St. 38, Cal Poly 14.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Patriot League Season Over

The Patriot League's football season is officially over in the I-AA playoffs this weekend. Lafayette and Colgate fell to a pair of great I-AA football teams in New Hampshire and Appalachian State.

I had the honor of watching most of both of these games on TV this weekend. The Colgate game, unfortunately, was over reasonably early. When I saw New Hampshire KR David Boyle return a punt for a TD, I thought that Colgate may be in for a long day, but that obscured a pretty good defensive effort in the first quarter, stuffing the Wildcats on three out of four possessions. Unfortunately, despite freshman RB Jordan Scott's eye-popping 205 yard 3 TD performance, it wasn't enough. Colgate just didn't have the high-powered offense to stay with the hyper-charged offenses of Top 25 I-AA teams, and it showed. With Scott, Colgate has lots to look forward to next year, and Lehigh will have a tough time stopping them.

For the second year in a row, Lafayette almost pulled off the upset of the century. For the first half, coach Tavani and the Leopard assistant coaches showed what Lehigh fans know all too well - these guys are sharp. After dominating time of possession on their way to a 17-10 halftime lead, Lafayette battled throughout the 3rd quarter to keep the score knotted at 20-20. Lafayette played their game brilliantly - spreading the ball, doing a good job stuffing App St. on third down, and benefitting immensely by Mountaineer turnovers. Senior QB Pat Davis and junior RB Jonathan Hurt played brilliantly, picking up where they left off against Lehigh.

Tavani then called an incredibly gutsy onside kick recovered by senior LB Blake Costanzo, which was then overturned by an incredibly questionable offsides call. After the kickoff, the Mountaineers responded with a sense of urgency, driving the length of the field to go ahead by 27-20. After responding with a FG and having a chance to score, Davis was drilled from behind, fumbling the ball, with the Mountaineers recovering. Going in for the kill, senior QB (and Payton award nominee) Richie Williams lofted a perfect pass to WR Daniel Bettis to seal the deal. Lafayette's offense and defense battled until the very end, but at the end of the game you could tell they couldn't overcome an 11 point deficit with 2 minutes to play. Even so, Davis, battered and shaken, battled until the very last play.

Lafayette really held the banner of the Patriot League very high today. App St. may very well be going to the I-AA championship game, but Lafayette for the second year in a row went down to one of the toughest places to play in I-AA and gave them a better game than nationally-ranked Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern. You can't help but think "what if the refs weren't so gutless taking the onsides kick away from Lafayette"? and what might have been.

I haven't forgotten recapping the Lehigh season, postseason awards, etc. I will be starting that process later this week. Congratulations to Lafayette, though. They deserve high honors for what they were able to accomplish in Boone, NC last Saturday.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...