*By Brad Kelly and Chris Spooner
It’s that time of the year again. It feels like just a couple weeks ago we were all getting amped for the start of the college football season. Now the regular season is over, conferences have crowned their champions, and it’s time to get ready for bowl season. With that, comes the inevitable arguing about who should go where. Who’s really worthy of being a National Champion, and which team was snubbed in the process.
College Football Playoff Provides Improvement, With Flaws
When the College Football Playoff system was instituted, it was done so with the goal of improving upon the existing system, the BCS bowl system. Nearly every season the BCS was around, there was controversy regarding the teams chosen to play in college football’s biggest game. Fans had been protesting for years that college football was in dire need of a playoff system, and they finally got one.
To the NCAA’s credit, the College Football Playoff system has done what it set out to do. It has improved upon the BCS system. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement in the system. That room for improvement in evident in what has happened the past two seasons, and this one in particular. There’s a simple way around the controversy that has befallen the College Football Playoff in recent years. Let everyone have a seat at the table.
Everyone? Well no, not literally everyone. We’re not calling for a bloated, tournament-style playoff system like we see in college basketball. But more teams need to have a seat at the table for the College Football Playoff system to really give fans a legitimate National Champion. For all the positives that the system has given us, it still has the fault of excluding major conference champions, while allowing teams that didn’t win their division, let alone the conference.
Last season the controversy came when a 1-loss Ohio State Buckeyes team was chosen to be one of the last four teams standing at the end of the year, despite not even making it to the Big Ten Championship game. Ohio State’s one loss came mid-season to the Penn State Nittany Lions, who would earn the spot in the Championship on a tie-breaker. The CFB Playoff committee chose not to take a 2-loss Penn State team and sided with the Buckeyes.
This season the Buckeyes again find themselves embroiled in the controversy, this time finding themselves on the other side of the coin. The Buckeyes were left out of the College Football Playoff despite winning the Big Ten, and instead are headed to the Cotton Bowl to face off against another Power 5 conference champion, USC, who doesn’t get a seat at the table. Both teams left out in favor of the Alabama Crimson Tide, a team that didn’t even appear in the conference title game, let alone win it.
Expanding to an 8 Team Playoff
How fair is it to the Ohio State’s and USC’s of the world that a team doesn’t even have to win it’s division to get a shot at the National Championship, but they’re left on the outside looking in? And how fair is it that a team with no losses on the season, the University of Central Florida, is good enough to be ranked near the top-10, but gets exactly zero consideration for the title despite being the only team to run the table? The solution here is simple. Get rid of conference titles entirely and expand the College Football Playoff to 8 teams. Conference titles in the current format are meaningless, so do away with them entirely and give college football fans more meaningful games at the end of the year.
With an 8-team playoff, you don’t have teams like Ohio State and USC feeling like the season, and their conference, have no meaning to the CFB Playoff committee. And with an 8-team playoff you can give someone a legitimate chance at a Cinderella story, something that just isn’t possible in today’s current format. College sports, and sports in general, are better when the underdog has a chance. Just look at how much excitement is generated every season by March Madness.
The 8-team College Football Playoff would take each of the conference champions from the Power 5 Conferences. This season that would be Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State, and USC. After the conference championship slots have been filled, the committee could choose two “Wild Card” teams. Teams who have a legitimate resume, but for one reason or another fell just short. This season’s “Wild Card” teams would be Alabama and Auburn. With the 8th and final spot, the committee can take the highest-ranked “Group of 5” school, provided they are in the top 15. This season that would be an undefeated University of Central Florida, ranked 12th in the final rankings.
Breaking Down the Potential Matchups
- #1 Clemson vs #8 UCF
- #2 Oklahoma vs #7 Auburn
- #3 Georgia vs #6 USC
- #4 Alabama vs #5 Ohio State
In our opinion, this sets up three dream match-ups in Oklahoma vs Auburn, Georgia vs. USC, and Alabama vs. Ohio State. Six true college football blue blood programs playing against each other with their seasons on the line. Lastly, surprise team UCF, the only undefeated team in the country, would have a chance against the #1 seed Clemson.
The Oklahoma vs Auburn game would pit two teams with a rich tradition against each other. Auburn has shown to have National Championship level potential when they’re rolling this season, beating both Georgia and Alabama. They would be matched up with Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and the high octane Oklahoma offense fresh off beating down TCU.
Georgia vs USC would matchup a swarming Dawgs defense against potential #1 overall pick Sam Darnold. Though Darnold has struggled at times this season, he has shown to be a gamer and play his best ball in pressure situations. A QB like that in the playoffs would be fun to watch. Georgia had one slip up this season against Auburn, but their defense has hordes of NFL talent and the ability to take over games.
The dream coaching matchup of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer would happen in the #4 vs. #5 game, which would be a rematch of the CFP semifinals from New Year’s 2015. These teams were heavily debated on who should make the CFP this season, with the expanded playoff there would be no such need for that debate as we would be able to settle it on the field.
Lastly, undefeated UCF and up and coming head coach Scott Frost would have an opportunity to show what they’re made of against #1 and defending national champion Clemson. Dabo Swinney’s squad has shown some vulnerability this season losing at Syracuse, which would surely get some Golden Knight fans thinking upset. An undefeated team from the “6th Power” American Athletic Conference is worthy of having a chance at the National Championship, and with their talent they can play with anybody.
Is it a perfect system? No, of course not. No system anyone comes up with is going to be perfect. No matter how many teams you expand to, there’s always going to be an argument between the last team in and the first one left out. But this system places far more emphasis on winning your conference, which should matter. It allows for a great team (this year it’s Alabama) to have one slip-up not derail the entire season. And it gives teams who don’t have a shot a long-overdue seat at the table to prove their worth. Simply put, it makes college football better at every level.