The college football offseason is long. It seems even longer in places where the sport is king.
Nebraska is one of those places.
For 12 months out of the year, college football is the top story on sports talk radio in Nebraska. In the offseason months, spring practice, recruiting, transfers — even off-field legal issues — all dominate the airwaves in places like Omaha and Lincoln. Those items and issues, however, only do so much to quench the thirst of the rabid college football fan base.
One Omaha radio show has come up with a rather creative and entertaining way to fill the football void in the Cornhusker state. The hosts and producer of "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" on Omaha's 1620 AM, The Zone, are using a video game as a way to engage and entertain listeners beyond the daily content of the show.
It's called "The Alphabet Playoff."
The idea came about during a discussion involving show hosts John Bishop, Josh Peterson and producer Michael Stibbs. The conversation was centered around whether or not all College Football Playoff ideas had been exhausted. It was then when Bishop tossed out the idea of a playoff that included every FBS team.
The idea then evolved to creating a bracket and matching up teams at neutral sites, seeding them alphabetically. For example, the first four teams alphabetically would be "1-seeds." A couple of play-in games featured teams that began with the letters at the end of the alphabet.
You can view the actual bracket by clicking here.
The final step: break out the Xbox 360.
The show's producer, Michael Stibbs, had an Xbox 360 and owned NCAA 2014 — the last version of EA Sports' popular and now defunct college football video game franchise.
"I went out and downloaded the updated rosters from 2018. The 2019 rosters aren't out yet, so we are using last year's teams", Stibbs said. "I also had to download a couple of teams that weren't on the game when it was out. Other teams like Georgia Southern and Liberty haven't been created by anyone, so the bracket is missing a couple of teams."
The guys wanted to make sure that the show's listeners could watch this virtual playoff in real time, so Stibbs rigged up his Xbox 360 to a Mac in the studio. He then set up a YouTube channel so he could stream the games to the listening audience, live. Viewers can also go back and watch any game they missed.
The massive tournament is conducted one game at a time, each day during Unsportsmanlike Conduct's 2 p.m. central time slot. It provides extra content during the often dull spring sports season when local sports chatter is mostly limited to college baseball. Listeners react to the tournament during the show via email, social media and sometimes phone calls. Crazy video-game stats, comebacks, and flaws in the game are popular talking points. And the hosts always make sure to get in some good-natured jabs at certain programs.
The Alphabet Playoff has also drawn the attention of the social media accounts of certain teams as well some college players who are tagged by Stibbs during the games if their avatar does something notable. "Texas Tech's YouTube account was commenting and reacting during their first-round game, and we had some interaction from one of the kickers at Colorado State."
Stibbs and Co. have even taken the playoff on the road to remote locations where the show is broadcast from. At those locations, the host bars will air the virtual games alongside real sports content on other televisions.
Local interest was piqued when the Nebraska Cornhuskers were matched up against and subsequently defeated the Miami Hurricanes in a first-round game. It was agreed upon that the game would take place at the Orange Bowl for nostalgia's sake, and the show ran special promos hyping the matchup leading up to it.
The Unsportsmanlike Conduct team is all in on The Alphabet Playoff, especially in such a rabid college football market. The tournament should wrap up sometime right before the actual 2019 college football season begins. Stibbs says he would like to have a local sports bar host the championship game during a remote broadcast and is currently in talks to make that happen.
The first round of The Alphabet Playoff wrapped up in mid-May, but it's not too late for any bored college football fans around the country to head over to YouTube during a dull afternoon at work to get your college football fix. Follow John Bishop,Josh Peterson, Michael Stibbs and the Unsportsmanlike Conduct twitter accounts while you're at it for further commentary and analysis.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Top photo courtesy of Michael Stibbs, 1620 The Zone, Omaha)