4 23 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

PHOENIX — Most of us just remember the missed field goals. Bryan Harsin recalls a running quarterback winning with his arm. And then a receiver making the catch, but unable to keep his feet — with victory only a few yards away, the pass was perhaps just a tad too long.

Either way, those critical moments in Boise State's overtime loss to Nevada on a wild Friday night in November 2010 produced a critical moment in college football. Even now, Harsin — then the Broncos' offensive coordinator, now their head coach — can't help but wonder what might have been. If Boise State, then ranked No. 4 in the BCS rankings, had won its 25th consecutive game?

"It gives you the potential," Harsin says, "to get into the game."

JIM DELANY: Q&A on College Football Playoff

He was referring to the BCS National Championship. And if it seems unlikely for several reasons — starting with the fact that Auburn and Oregon both finished unbeaten and wouldn't have been dislodged from the top two slots — at the time, it was a legitimate probability. As the calendar neared December, Boise State and TCU (at the time a Mountain West member) were firmly entrenched near the top of the BCS rankings. All that was needed was a slip by either the Ducks or Tigers to create a no-doubt opportunity for the ultimate Cinderella.

"Who knows?" Harsin says. "But it was all out there."

SCHEDULING: Uncertain future for Power Five

And now it's gone. As a new era in college football gets set to unfold next fall, it's time to bid goodbye to the entire phenomenon. There won't be another BCS-buster.

It's more than just the name change, from Bowl Championship Series to the College Football Playoff. Along with the new format comes guaranteed access for one team from the so-called "Group of Five" conferences (American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt) to one of the upper-tier bowls being called the "New Year's Six." The breakthrough is being celebrated by college football's little guys as an important advance: no busting necessary.

"It provides a much more direct route," says MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who adds: "The fact that any of us made it to a BCS bowl game is quite remarkable."

UNION EFFORT: House committee grills college leaders

Now, they'll be in every year. But getting into the four-team playoff? Not only are there no guarantees, it's probably a lot less likely than earning a slot in the old BCS title game ever was. If that feels counterintuitive — the number of teams has doubled (from two in the BCS national championship game to four in the playoff) — the more important change isn't of expansion but instead of method:

The combination of human polls and computer rankings that made up the BCS formula is gone. Love it or hate it, the formula was fairly predictable, and a team from outside the Big Five conferences could work its way toward the top. The selection committee is a completely different animal.

"The old BCS, it was good to us," Harsin says. "We knew what we had to do to get there. … I don't know how the whole selection (committee process) is going to go. The way it sounds, it's probably more difficult."

The recent verbal scuffling over whether the Big Five conferences should play eight- or nine-game schedules is all about strength-of-schedule comparisons, as is the desire by those leagues to play nonconference games against opponents from other Big Five leagues.

Where does it leave programs such as Boise State? Scrambling for nonconference opponents, perhaps — but that's not the point. If strength of schedule means so much — and it's among the listed criteria the selection committee is supposed to weigh — it's hard to see the scenario in which the selection evaluates, say, an undefeated Mountain West team as more worthy than a major conference team with one or even two losses.

"That's what we'll all strive for," Steinbrecher says. "Obviously, that's gonna be a really steep mountain."

That leaves another chase. While overshadowed by the focus on the race for the playoff, the pursuit by teams from the "Group of Five" conferences for that one automatic slot in a New Year's Six bowl promises to be intense, as well.

"There will be hard competition," Steinbrecher says. "You've still got to crawl over some people."

No one's sure how that race will play out, either. Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson noted that under the old system teams from smaller conferences "had to be unbeaten, unblemished, unscored upon" to qualify for a BCS bowl. Now, he wonders if the selection committee might lean more heavily on strength of schedule in choosing the Group of Five's participant in the New Year's Six bowls.

"There's just as much debate, from our perspective, on the back end (of the selection process)," Thompson says, "because the selection committee is gonna have to say, 'Dang, they're 12-0 but they really didn't play (anybody) and they have two FCS wins, and this other team is 10-2 but they won — I'll say the Mountain West — and they beat Oregon State and Cal."

For intrigue, that will probably have to do. There probably won't be a College Football Playoff-buster, though Steinbrecher insists: "You never say never."

Take Boise State, for example. The Broncos could conceivably make a run, build credibility over several seasons, beat a big boy — they have a home-and-home series scheduled with Florida State — and then catch the perfect storm and ride it to a playoff berth. But given all of the details, big and little, that would have to come together and mesh perfectly? It's hard to see happening.

"To get into the four (playoff slots) is gonna be really challenging," Thompson says, adding: "There will still be that Cinderella aspect. I think there's still gonna be room for that. It's just that the definition is gonna be a little different."

GALLERY: PROJECTING THE TOP 25 FOR 2014

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions
4 23 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1jqydna