Making the Playoffs, the Newest Hallmark of Dominance
College football has significantly changed in the last 20 years and Nebraska has changed along with it. In the early 1990's the Huskers were showing the signs of dominance that would lead to the national titles in '94, '95, and '97. While the BCS did not officially begin until after that time, the national media and fans wanted to see a team crowned as the one true king for that year. Before the BCS, dominance was measured in 9+ win seasons, bowl game blowouts, and conference titles. What will change with the race to the playoffs?
As most college football fans should know based on the headlines of the major sports news sites, the 4-team playoff starts in 2014. A selection committee will choose the top teams and the current bowl sites will be turned into the semifinals locations. Of course there are severe detractors, as there were when the BCS was formed. NU's President Harvey Perlman also spoke out about it and said that this decided upon format was only the third best choice for Nebraska. Perlman did follow up that comment with a handful of flowery, wonderful things to say about the new system.
All the details are not yet ironed out, such as the formation of the selection committee and determining which bowls will be a part of the semifinals. Once these items are settled, college football programs will have to look at a few things. For one, coaches contracts that specifically indicate bonuses and raises upon successfully reaching a BCS bowl will have to account for the change in the system. How schools respond to any contract changes will be the first line in how the schools value the new playoff spots. Are bonuses going to be the equivalent of a coach bringing his team to a BCS game, or will these coaches end up with bonuses more on par with successfully winning a conference title?
Once programs level set a few years into the new system, there will probably emerge a pattern of teams that make it to the top 4 selected. In the last few years, the pattern has been met by the way the SEC plays football. Defense gets the teams to the big games and gets them to win the big games. Before that, it seemed as if the Big 12 had the top teams. With the selection of four teams (picked by humans and not computers), it may be less likely that multiple teams from the same conference will be chosen. Certain teams will have a perceived value (similarly to how preseason polling works) that may favor one over another. Strength of schedule and perception were what kept teams like Boise State, TCU, and others out of games they should have been a part of.
That being said, will Nebraska be closer to being a part of this playoff? The 4 open spots at the end of the year that will get a chance to play for the title is absolutely a better shot than getting to the top two in the BCS rankings every year. And because of the selection committee, it is possible that a team may not even be ranked in the top 4 by polls and will get selected to play in one of these games. The Huskers need to continue competing for conference titles and manage to mostly run the tables leading up to the game. It is the only way to look good enough on paper for a selection committee to consider. Winning the conference title was not explicitly stated in any criteria yet, but it should be a assumed that will be a major part of the process.