College Football As Futbol: The 2013 College Football Season Played Out In World Cup Format

Buda Mendes

What if ... the 2013 college football postseason was determined using the World Cup tournament format?

I find the FIFA World Cup's format fascinating. The tournament format fits both the sport and the event perfectly. Thirty two teams, divided into eight groups, battle in out during the group stage ... with the top two teams in each group advancing to a single-elimination, 16-team knockout stage.

So what if this quintessential tournament format was applied to college football?

First, some caveats. The whole World Cup qualification process is complicated. Like, really complicated. A convoluted system of multipliers and rankings determines how many nations from each confederation make the World Cup, while the FIFA rankings keep the top seven teams in the nation (plus the hosts) in separate groups so as to prevent them from knocking each other out too early.

Let's start with qualifying. Here's this year's World Cup qualifying distribution by confederation:

-- AFC (Asia): 4 or 5 places
-- CAF (Africa): 5 places
-- CONCACAF (North, Central American and Caribbean): 3 or 4 places
-- CONMEBOL (South America): 4 or 5 places (plus host Brazil, so 5 or 6 places)
-- OFC (Oceania): 0 or 1 place(s)
-- UEFA (Europe): 13 places

See? Really complicated. I have no clue how FIFA determines that UEFA deserves 13 places while CONMEBOL gets just five. Frankly, I don't really care. While I don't want to replicate that complexity here, the similarities with college football remain. Five confederations with more than one World Cup representative -- the Power 5? -- and the OFC, which may or may not send a representative for any given World Cup. Hello, Notre Dame.

Let's limit our scope thusly. The hypothetical College Football World Cup pool will consist of the Power Five conferences -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 -- and Notre Dame. And with apologies to Louisville.

Now, the ground rules:

The 2013 college football regular season will serve as the World Cup qualifying stage. Conferences have the autonomy to run the regular season as they see fit (fully appreciating that division play and the resulting unbalanced schedules clouds qualifying). The previous year's final BCS standings (so, 2012) determine how many teams will qualify from each conference.

The distribution of Power Five teams ranked in the final 2012 BCS standings:

-- SEC: 5
-- Big 12: 4
-- ACC: 3
-- Pac-12: 3
-- Big Ten: 3
-- Notre Dame: 1

Extrapolated over a 32-team field, here is the qualifying distribution by conference:

-- SEC: 9 places
-- Big 12: 7 places
-- ACC: 5 places
-- Pac-12: 5 places
-- Big Ten: 5 places
-- Notre Dame: 1 place

Programs must finish with at least a .500 conference record to qualify. Should a conference fail to fill its World Cup slots, the unfilled slots will go in an at-large pool, with replacement programs playing their way into the final tournament field.

Here's the qualifying by conference:

SEC (8)

Program W L Pct.
y - Auburn Tigers 7 1 0.875
y - Alabama Crimson Tide 7 1 0.875
y - Missouri Tigers 7 1 0.875
y - South Carolina Gamecocks 6 2 0.750
y - Georgia Bulldogs 5 3 0.625
y - LSU Tigers 5 3 0.625
y - Vanderbilt Commodores 4 4 0.500
y - Texas A&M Aggies 4 4 0.500
Florida Gators 3 5 0.375
Mississippi St. Bulldogs 3 5 0.375
Ole Miss Rebels 3 5 0.375
Tennessee Volunteers 2 6 0.250
Kentucky Wildcats 0 8 0.000
Arkansas Razorbacks 0 8 0.000

The SEC manages to fill eight of nine slots. Auburn, Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia, LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M all qualify for the World Cup. One slot goes to the at-large pool.

Big 12 (5)

Program W L Pct.
y - Baylor Bears 8 1 0.889
y - Oklahoma Sooners 7 2 0.778
y - Oklahoma State Cowboys 7 2 0.778
y - Texas Longhorns 7 2 0.778
y - Kansas State Wildcats 5 4 0.556
Texas Tech Red Raiders 4 5 0.444
TCU Horned Frogs 2 7 0.222
West Virginia Mountaineers 2 7 0.222
Iowa St. Cyclones 2 7 0.222
Kansas Jayhawks 1 8 0.111

Like the SEC, the Big 12 also fails to qualify the same number of teams as qualifying spots available. Five programs are in -- Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State -- with Texas Tech just missing the .500 requirement. Two spots go into the at-large pool.

ACC (5)

Program W L Pct.
y - Florida State Seminoles 8 0 1.000
y - Clemson Tigers 7 1 0.875
y - Duke Blue Devils 6 2 0.750
y - Virginia Tech Hokies 5 3 0.625
y - Miami Hurricanes 5 3 0.625
z - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 5 3 0.625
z - Syracuse Orange 4 4 0.500
z - North Carolina Tar Heels 4 4 0.500
z - Boston College Eagles 4 4 0.500
Maryland Terrapins 3 5 0.375
Pittsburgh Panthers 3 5 0.375
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 2 6 0.250
Virginia Cavaliers 0 8 0.000
N.C. State Wolfpack 0 8 0.000

Florida State, Clemson and Duke are in. Of the three teams tied at 5-3, Virginia Tech is the first qualifier given its 2-0 record vs. tied teams. Miami went 1-1 vs. the Techs so the Hurricanes are the fifth team to qualify. Four teams -- Georgia Tech, Syracuse, North Carolina and Boston College -- are entered into the at-large pool.

Big Ten (5)

Program W L Pct.
y - Ohio State Buckeyes 8 0 1.000
y - Michigan State Spartans 8 0 1.000
y - Wisconsin Badgers 6 2 0.750
y - Iowa Hawkeyes 5 3 0.625
y - Nebraska Cornhuskers 5 3 0.625
x - Penn State Nittany Lions 4 4 0.500
z - Minnesota Golden Gophers 4 4 0.500
Michigan Wolverines 3 5 0.375
Indiana Hoosiers 3 5 0.375
Illinois Fighting Illini 1 7 0.125
Northwestern Wildcats 1 7 0.125
Purdue Boilermakers 0 8 0.000

A pretty straight-forward qualification for the Big Ten. Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska are all in. Minnesota is thrown into the at-large pool, while Penn State sits this out serving the first year of a four-year postseason ban.

Pac-12 (5)

Program W L Pct.
y - Arizona State Sun Devils 8 1 0.889
y - Stanford Cardinal 7 2 0.778
y - Oregon Ducks 7 2 0.778
y - UCLA Bruins 6 3 0.667
y - USC Trojans 6 3 0.667
z - Washington Huskies 5 4 0.556
Arizona Wildcats 4 5 0.444
Oregon State Beavers 4 5 0.444
Washington State Cougars 4 5 0.444
Utah Utes 2 7 0.222
Colorado Buffaloes 1 8 0.111
California Golden Bears 0 9 0.000

Out west, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and USC all qualify. Washington is thrown into the at-large pool.

Notre Dame (1)

The Irish qualify via their 8-4 regular season record.

Inter-conference Playoffs (3)

There are three single-elimination, inter-conference playoff games to determine the final three qualification spots to the World Cup. Matchups are drawn at random out of a pool of Boston College, Georgia Tech, Minnesota, North Carolina, Syracuse and Washington:

-- Minnesota vs. North Carolina
-- Boston College vs. Georgia Tech
-- Syracuse vs. Washington

Using's game simulator -- "just one SIM" -- here are the results of the inter-conference playoffs:

North Carolina 54, Minnesota 5. The Gophs jump out to a 5-0 lead on a Minnesota safety and a Chris Hawthorne field goal, but the Tar Heels proceed to score the next 54 (!) points to rout Minnesota. Carolina QB Bryn Renner finishes the day 24-of-38 for 362 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions. [Box score]

Boston College 34, Georgia Tech 23. Andre Williams rushes for 196 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries as the Eagles bounce Georgia Tech, 34-23, from the World Cup playoffs. Yes, I got BC to beat Tech on the first attempt. [Box score]

Washington 42, Syracuse 24. The Huskies jump on the Orange to the tune of 20-0, and SU can't recover as the Huskies pound Syracuse 42-24. Washington's QB Keith Price throws for 319 yards and 4 touchdowns on 24-of-34 passing, while RB Bishop Sankey rolls up 230 yards and a touchdown on the ground. [Box score]


Seeding for the World Cup is based on the final regular season 2013 BCS standings. The top eight teams in the final 2013 BCS standings filled the seeded positions:

1. Florida State
2. Auburn
3. Alabama
4. Michigan State
5. Stanford
6. Baylor
7. Ohio State
8. Missouri

For the final draw, the 32 teams are organized into four pots based on seedings and conference affiliation / geographic region, mostly.

Pot 1 (Seeds) Pot 2 (SEC & B1G) Pot 3 (ACC, Notre Dame) Pot 4 (Pac-16)
Florida State Georgia Clemson Oklahoma State
Auburn LSU Duke Oklahoma
Alabama Vanderbilt Virginia Tech Texas
Michigan State Texas A&M Miami Oregon
Stanford Wisconsin North Carolina Washington
Baylor Iowa Boston College Arizona State
Ohio State Nebraska Notre Dame UCLA
Missouri Kansas State South Carolina USC

One teams from each pot is placed into Groups A-H at random (none of this Pot X nonsense). Here is the final draw:

Group A Florida State Kansas State Clemson USC
Group B Auburn LSU Boston College Arizona State
Group C Alabama Nebraska Virginia Tech Washington
Group D Michigan State Wisconsin Duke Texas
Group E Stanford Texas A&M Notre Dame Oklahoma
Group F Baylor Vanderbilt Miami Oregon
Group G Ohio State Georgia South Carolina Oklahoma State
Group H Missouri Iowa North Carolina UCLA

Next week, I'll simulate group play for all eight groups to determine which 16 programs will advance to the knockout stage. Until then, initial impressions on the draw? Does BC have a chance in hell of advancing out of Group B, or will the Eagles wind up among some of the first teams eliminated from the tournament? Any groups of death out there? Which schools have the easiest route to the knockout stage?

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