1. Penn State gets left out: No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Alabama both finish 13-0 and win their respective conference championship games. Like Auburn in 2004, a 12-0 Penn State, which has not played a game since Nov. 22, finishes No. 3 because it played a weaker schedule. Joe Paterno, 81, is denied the chance to end his career with a national championship game. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, one of the strongest opponents to a four-team playoff, gets an earful from Paterno.
I have nothing against Penn State. Of all the road venues to which I traveled in college, Penn State had the best, most reasonable fans. There's nothing especially dislikeable about that program. I'm even willing to acknowledge that Evan Royster might be an exception to the maxim that Big Ten running backs are perennially overrated because they get the ball 30+ times per game and they run against thick-legged linebackers.
With that caveat out of the way, the Big Ten and Pac Ten need to be punished for being the primary roadblocks against a plus-one playoff. Those two conferences will change their minds when there is sufficient pressure from their member institutions to do so. An unbeaten Penn State team sitting on the sidelines in January while Texas and Alabama duke it out for the national title would be exactly the tonic to cause the stodgy Big Ten to stop opposing evolution.
Penn State on the outside looking in would be nothing new. Penn State was unbeaten and uncrowned in 1969 as Texas won the national title. The Lions were unbeaten and uncrowned again in 1973 as unbeaten Alabama and unbeaten Notre Dame played a classic in the Sugar Bowl. It would only be appropriate in an election year in which Nixon's Ghost has made an appearance for college football to pay homage to the Nixon era by Penn State losing out to Texas and Alabama.
Getting back to the subject at hand, the better scenario for college football's long-term interest would be the following: 11-1 Florida blows Alabama out in the SEC Championship Game and jumps 12-0 Penn State and 11-1 Southern Cal to play Texas in the national title game. I'll admit that this scenario is a smidge unlikely because the voters' unconditional love for unbeaten teams from major conferences usually trumps the recency effect, but if the gap between Florida's and Penn State's schedules is significant and Florida can point to a big win over an unbeaten Alabama team at a neutral site, it's not impossible. The voters' love for teams with great offenses will also come into play, as will the recent history between the SEC and the Big Ten. (The latter factor would be totally unfair to Penn State, but who ever said that the voters are fair or can make distinctions like "Ohio State and Penn State are different teams?") If the long term goal is a plus one, then a pissed off Penn State and a pissed off USC would be ideal.
One note regarding the scenario above: I played it out with Florida instead of Georgia for two reasons. First, Georgia's case to jump Penn State and USC would be less compelling because the team the Dawgs would be beating in the Championship Game already beat Georgia in Athens. Penn State supporters could point out that Georgia was simply evening its account with the Tide as opposed to establishing that they are clearly better than an unbeaten, top two team. Second, Florida is more likely to put up the big number that would force voters to think long and hard.
[Update: it occurs to me that this post might hoist me by my own petard in the event that Michigan is in the running for a spot in the national title game in the (distant) future. If angering the constituents of the Big Ten is the key to a better post-season structure, then surely angering the fans of the bluest of the Big Ten blue bloods would be the ultimate.]