Thursday Thoughts: College football must consider expansion in playoff format

By almost all measures, the College Football Playoff is a perfect way to determine a champion.

Except for one tiny, little problem: Some of the best teams in the nation get left out.

Look, the CFP is a serious improvement from the old Bowl Championship Series, which featured no playoff at all and often had two teams that hadn’t quite earned it playing for all the marbles.

The expansion to a four-team playoff was a good stepping-stone, but that is where the problem lies. It should have been no more than a way to dip our toes into the water before jumping into an expanded, wildly entertaining eight-team playoff.

In the first year the CFP was established, the four-team playoff provided plenty of excitement. No. 4 Ohio State upset No. 1 Alabama in the national semifinal and then went on to rout No. 2 Oregon in the championship. That championship game never would have happened in the BCS format and the Buckeyes never would have had the opportunity to hoist the hardware. (On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t have had a playoff that year).

OSU’s championship run provided justification that more than just the top two teams should have a chance at the title. It displayed the beauty of a true playoff—that the top team in the nation during the regular season isn’t always the best team when it matters most.

But that first playoff would have been even better if other teams who were deserving also had a shot at the title. TCU and Baylor were both left out. Michigan State was excluded. TCU demolished No. 9 Ole Miss 42-3 in its bowl game, a team that beat Alabama earlier in the season. Baylor and Michigan State played a thrilling shootout in which Sparty came out on top with a 42-41 victory, thanks to 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Those three teams could have played with anyone in the nation. A first-round matchup between Oregon and Baylor would have been an unbelievably fun shootout. If TCU had played OSU in a quarterfinal, its potent offense might have crushed the Buckeyes’ title hopes before they even got started. And if the Horned Frogs could beat-up on Ole Miss as badly as they did, they certainly could have played with the Crimson Tide. There’s no reason they shouldn’t have gotten a shot to become champions.

This season is shaping up in similar fashion. Right now, Alabama is the undisputed best team in the country. But there are at least four other teams deserving of spots in the CFP if the season ended today. Michigan and Ohio State have both looked dominant. Clemson and Louisville have been stellar, and Louisville’s only loss was to Clemson by six points. In all likelihood, only two of those four can get in, despite a high chance that their only losses will come against each other.

Then there’s Washington, which may win out, claim the PAC-12 title and still not get in. Texas A&M is undefeated in the SEC. And don’t forget about that one team in the Big Ten that has two top-ten wins and only lost to the No. 4 team in the country by a touchdown. (That team is Wisconsin, just to be clear).

So if the CFP teams were selected today, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and either Washington or Michigan would get in. That leaves out one-loss Louisville, undefeated Texas A&M, one-loss Wisconsin and of course, either undefeated Michigan or Washington.

It’s just plain madness for most of those teams to not have a chance to play for the title. They are college football’s cream-of-the-crop and deserve their shot to take on the best of the best.

If we moved to an eight-team playoff, the bracket would probably look like this: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Wisconsin; No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Louisville; No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 6 Texas A&M; No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 Washington. All of those matchups have the potential to be competitive and wow, does that sound like a lot of fun.

I’m not a huge fan of letting everyone into the playoffs. The NBA allows mediocre, sometimes below .500 teams to make the playoffs, which is pretty ridiculous. But we aren’t talking about average teams. We are talking about the best squads in the nation, teams that can hang with anybody, units that deserve their hard-earned shot at a title.

So let’s stop the madness,r rather, let’s create a new (March) madness in late December and early January. Maybe call it Winter Wackiness? OK that’s terrible, but still, an eight-team playoff would surely be filled with drama and nail-biting action.

The four-team playoff is great. An eight-team playoff would be greater.

Do you think college football should expand to an eight-team playoff, or do you prefer the current four-team format? Is “Winter Wackiness” the worst possible name for the playoff? Email Bobby at sports@dailycardinal.com.

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