A little more than a month ago, the Oregon Ducks and Kansas State Wildcats appeared to be on a collision course to play in the Discover BCS National Championship. After Alabama lost to Texas A&M, the Ducks and Wildcats were best positioned to capitalize, boasting two of the most explosive offenses in the nation and winning almost all of their games in the first two months of the season in dominating fashion.
On the night of Nov. 17, however, both Oregon and Kansas State lost, paving the way for Notre Dame and Alabama to meet for the title. Starting in 2014, college football will expand the national championship format to a four-team field, and upset losses late in the season may not be as costly. But the margin for error is virtually nonexistent under the current system, and Oregon and Kansas State are the just the latest in a long line of great teams on the outside looking in.
But how would Oregon and Kansas State have fared in a four-team playoff? And beyond the Ducks and Wildcats, how would other top teams from recent seasons -- teams that didn't reach the BCS title game -- have done in a playoff?
We ranked teams from the past five seasons (2008 season through 2012 season) that did not play in the BCS title game, in order from 1-10, and calculated the likelihood that each would have had to win a four-team playoff. The rankings are based on our drive-based, opponent-adjusted FEI ratings. (These overall ratings measure the opponent-adjusted efficiency of each team, its ability to generate value on its own possessions and limit the value generated by its opponent.)
These rankings are not designed to identify teams that perhaps should have played for the BCS championship instead of those that did, but rather are designed to identify teams that were best equipped to win the national title if they had been given the opportunity.
1. 2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Overall FEI rating: 0.311
Likelihood of winning a four-team playoff: 24.7 percent
Like the Ducks and Wildcats, Oklahoma State suffered an upset loss in mid-November that kicked them out of the driver's seat for a BCS championship berth. The Cowboys' double-overtime loss to Iowa State last season was enough for voters to slip one-loss Alabama ahead in one of the most controversial BCS selections. Unsatisfying results such as this one helped pave the way for the new four-team playoff.