The dog days of summer are upon us, which means another college football season is just around the corner. This offseason was more newsworthy than most, with the adoption of a new playoff system and programs playing musical chairs from conference to conference. With that, we bring in Rece Davis, the esteemed ESPN college football commentator and Advisory Board member for the Capital One Cup, which annually recognizes the best NCAA Division I men’s and women’s athletics programs. Davis talks all the offseason changes, his sleeper choices for the BCS title game, the Capital One Cup, and, of course, his preseason Heisman Trophy pick.
BIG LEAD SPORTS: The biggest news of the offseason, of course, was the adoption of the four-team playoff format, beginning in 2012 and lasting through 2025. What are your thoughts on the new system?
Rece Davis: I think the timing was right for it. I think the appetite for a playoff among the fans of college football had grown so large, the powers that be recognized that adjustments and changes were needed.
For those who are looking at playoffs as a panacea, I don’t think it is one. I think the same questions that are being asked now will still be asked, but with different dynamics. Under the new system, people will ask why No. 5 didn’t get into the postseason, instead of why No. 3 didn’t get into the BCS title game. It simply presents a different set of circumstances.
College football is constantly evolving. The time was right for [a four-team playoff]. With some minor exceptions, I agree with how they’ve gone about it. I would have preferred to see semifinals played on campus. That would have preserved or ensured a great atmosphere largely populated by true fans. And rather than a selection committee, I would have liked to see some type of new method or formula, like we have in college basketball with the Basketball Power Index, which would be purely objective checks and balances to a human vote. That’s what I would have liked to have seen if I was the one making rules.
BIG LEAD SPORTS: Was a “Final Four” enough, or should they have considered an eight-team format?
RD: I think a “Final Four” is right for right now. Everything changes and evolves. That’s why they have the 12-year number people have talked about for the format. One thing we’ve learned over the years is that in college football, change moves very slowly, very cautious and methodical. So there’s no big rush to a bigger playoff. They might at some point, but there so many other issues involved if you start making it larger. There would be more revenue: How much of that goes to players? How quickly would you enact it?
You also have to ask, at what point do you start to damage the regular season? Regardless of what people say, college football has the most significant regular season in all of sports. I liken it more to the entire season being like an elimination pool. With the postseason format, there’s a chance you can get your loss and still come back. Like Alabama last season, look at all the things that had to fall just right to get that second chance.
BIG LEAD SPORTS: We’re in the middle of a tectonic shift in college football conference alignments. Is this good for the sport, bad, or somewhere in the middle?
Rece Davis: A little conflicted on it. I’m a traditionalist, I want to see Texas and Texas A & M play every year. I want to see Kansas play Missouri every year. Every school has the right to decide what’s best for them. If it is a financially viable alternative, when you can remain viable over their entire athletic program and school, you have to do what’s best for your school. Now, if you’re asking me if we’re not going to see some of those traditional rivalries, I think when some wounded egos get soothed and some of the hurt feelings go away over time, we’ll see cooler heads prevail. If you’re, say, Texas and Texas A & M, all you have to do is look at rivalry games Florida vs. Florida State and South Carolina and Clemson. They’re not in same conference, but, I mean, there sure seems to be lot of intensity in Florida vs. Florida State, doesn’t there? Once cooler heads prevail I think we’ll see great rivalries be restored.
BIG LEAD SPORTS:: Let’s turn our attention to the play on the field. When we last spoke for the Capital One Cup, your early picks for the 2012 season were for an LSU-Alabama repeat, with USC as a sleeper. Has anything changed since then, and do you see anyone emerging as a potential sleeper?
RD: I think those three teams are the ones virtually everyone has at the top of the list. What’s also interesting to note is that each of those schools finished in the Top 12 of the final men’s Capital One Cup standings this past year, showing that they’re more than just football powers. Two teams that I think can potentially break through and challenge are Oklahoma and Florida State, but those two teams have a tendency in recent years to spit up a game they shouldn’t. Oregon has talent, but the Ducks have questions at quarterback. The more I thought about it, I don’t know if I’d use the word “sleeper” in this sentence, but I think you better keep eye on Texas, I think their defense will be among the best in the country.
BIG LEAD SPORTS:: Is it fair to put “Heisman Trophy favorite” tag on USC quarterback Matt Barkley?
RD: Absolutely. He’s not the only one, [Oklahoma quarterback] Landry Jones is a real contender. Depending on how his numbers look in Dana Holgersen’s offense, West Virginia’s Geno Smith will get some attention. But Barkley is hands down the favorite. Not only is he really talented in his own right, but he has two of the best receivers in the country at his disposal in Robert Woods and Marquis Lee, just so many weapons around him.
BIG LEAD SPORTS: We’ve talked a lot about college football, but it’s just one sport among many that helps determine who wins the Capital One Cup. How big of an accomplishment is it for Florida and Stanford, who claimed the 2012 men’s and women’s trophies, respectively.
RD: Winning the Capital One Cup is a testament to the hard work and commitment of all student athletes at these schools. It takes excellence across many sports to be able to say that you are the best men’s and women’s college athletics programs. You look at Florida, and yes historically they have a strong football program, but the Gators vaulted to the Capital One Cup title this year by winning a national championship in track and field and with their strong finish in baseball. The Stanford women pulled off an amazing feat by winning national championships in soccer and water polo and finishing in the top 10 in eleven sports. Winning the Capital One Cup trophy and the combined $400,000 in scholarships for student athletes is something that these schools, their student athletes and fans claim as bragging rights for the next year.