The goals of the sport have changed and we haven’t quite caught up to it yet. Football, as a sport, is dying. Elite levels of recruiting are dominated by eight teams. College football is the only sport where championships don’t matter and a committee is 100% responsible for selecting Playoff participants.
I’ve laid out my reasoning for why the Playoff should expand. But what would that even look like?
Glad you asked.
This past week the College Football Playoff Management Committee met to discuss, among other things, the possibility of expanding the Playoff. Those discussion apparently included 63 different models of expansion, including 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 16-team options, each with a variety of different scenarios. While no formal recommendation for change was reached, there is enough chatter among the the college football culture - and from important, influential college football characters as well - that an expanded Playoff is inevitable.
So, given that the CFP Management Committee apparently heard my plea and started talking about it, let’s take them at their word and explore the options that we are aware of. I have no idea what those 63 models looked like but I do know how to whip up a bracket with the numbers they’re working with. Using the 2020 season as our model, I’ll project a sample of each bracket size, starting with the smallest, to give you an idea of what that would look like. Also, because I’m a monster and have been doing mock brackets for years, I’ll tell you if any Missouri team from the past 20 years would have made it into the scenario given.
Ok! Let’s start with a 6-team Playoff!
In this scenario we’ll take the five Power 5 champions plus the highest ranked Group of 5 champion and seed them based off of their final College Football Playoff Poll ranks. Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State are still #1, #2, and #3, respectively. 6th-ranked Oklahoma is the 4th-highest ranked P5 champion and nabs the 4th seed to square off against the highest rated G5 champion, #8 Cincinnati, who gets the 5th seed. And #25 Oregon - pinch-hitting for the COVID-related-ineligible Pac 12 North Champion Washington, and beating USC to win the conference title - gets the 6th seed. The top two seeds get a first round bye.
Oklahoma-Cincinnati would be a super awesome clash of styles and a surprisingly close matchup according to SP+. I give the lean to Oklahoma due to that dynamic offense but Cincinnati would be able to mess up that Sooner defense pretty well. Ohio State-Oregon would have been interesting for a half but Justin Fields would have done a number to the Duck secondary and easily pulled away.
After that, Alabama probably mauls Oklahoma and we get the same Ohio State-Clemson matchup that we actually got in our version of the Playoff so we know the outcome of that game. That leaves the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes in the title just like we saw and...well, we know that outcome.
So it’s not that much different than what we currently have but 1.) at least two more teams get a crack at it, 2.) there’s a G5 participant! and 3.) no Notre Dame.
Would Missouri have made it into a 6-team Playoff in the past 20 years?
In an 8-team scenario the P5 conference champions are automatically in, as is the highest-ranked G5 champion, but now we add two at-large teams which will be the two highest ranked teams in the CFP poll that don’t get automatic bids; in this case it’s part-time ACC affiliate Notre Dame and the SEC’s Texas A&M. Teams 1-7 are seeded in the same manner that they were ranked in the last CFP poll, 25th-ranked Oregon gets the 8th seed.
The two at-large teams unfortunately have to paly each other in the first round with A&M probably beating Notre Dame comfortably. Ohio State-Oklahoma would be the most fun matchup of this round with a race to see who gets 70 points first. I would love to have seen what that Cincinnati defense could do to Trevor Lawrence but would have probably faltered down the stretch. And Alabama was by far the best team in the country and would have easily dispatched Oregon.
Once again we have a different matchup for Alabama and the same matchup of Ohio State-Clemson. ‘Bama would beat the brakes off of A&M and we’re right back to the 6-team (and real life) outcome: Roll Damn Tide.
Would Missouri have made it into a 8-team Playoff in the past 20 years?
The 2007 team was ranked #6 in the BCS after their loss to Oklahoma in the Big XII Championship game. If the Committee saw those Tigers the same as the BCS did then our ‘07 Big XII North Champions earn the at-large bid with a 6th seed and face off against the BCS (CFP Poll) #3 Virginia Tech...which should have happened in real life if not for the screw job that sent kansas to the Orange Bowl instead of Missouri. In our fantasy world that has a Playoff in 2007, Missouri very likely would have beaten the Hokies - SP+ saw them as a much better team - but fallen to the eventual National Champion LSU Tigers in the second round.
Ten teams is where things get really interesting. Their are ten conferences between the Power 5 and Group of 5 so you could just send all ten conference champions to the Playoff and call it a day. To me that would be the most fair...as traditionalists would say, the regular season must count for something! You’d get the potential for a delightfully drama-filled Alabama-UAB matchup and Coastal Carolina would absolutely ruin someone’s day. But there’s just no way that the CFP Management Committee would ever keep P5 teams out of the Playoff so there’s no reason to entertain that thought. Instead, we’ll go with this:
That’s the P5 champs, top two G5 champs, plus three at-large bids for the next highest ranked teams. That’s a decent compromise to me!
Unfortunately the two G5 champs play each other for the right to play Alabama which...is less than ideal. But you do get some fun matchups, like Kyle Trask and Florida going against Trevor Lawrence and Clemson AND...of course...Oklahoma-Ohio State.
You’ll notice that - more or less - we get to the same final teams and ultimate champion in these expanded scenarios. Don’t read too much into that...I’m just assuming the better teams wins these matchups which is hardly ever how these things go. Plus, adding multiple rounds and all sorts of randomness...who knows how the games would end up.
Would Missouri have made it into a 10-team Playoff in the past 20 years?
Totally! The 2007 Missouri would have beaten #3 Virginia Tech and then met LSU while the 2013 Missouri squad would have gotten a postseason matchup against the South Carolina team that DOINKED them to their lone regular season loss; the winner of that rematch would have then played Florida State.
Twelve is easy and I won’t give the NCAA a break this time: all ten conference champions plus the next two highest ranked teams.
A little more variety, a little more fun, especially since Cincinnati beats Oregon here. This is fun! Are you having fun? I’m having fun.
Would Missouri have made it into a 12-team Playoff in the past 20 years?
Of course! Much like the last scenario, both ‘07 and ‘13 teams make it into the Playoff here. Chase and the ‘07 boys beat Central Michigan, then beat Virginia Tech, then lose to LSU which is the best run yet! The ‘13 squad gets South Carolina and then Jameis Winston and the ‘Noles.
My personal favorite! All conference champions plus the next six highest ranked teams in the CFP Poll.
Ball State and UAB were the only two teams in this 16-team sample that were not ranked in the last CFP poll so I ranked them by weighting their final record and SP+ rank as a simple tie-breaker. Also, the Sun Belt technically had split champions between Coastal and Lafayette but, since the Chants won the regular season matchup, they get the automatic title berth here. Finally, seeds 1-12 match their actual CFP final ranks, San Jose State finished ranked 22nd and Oregon finished ranked 25th.
I’m not predicting any upsets here but, still, wouldn’t this be fun? Mid-majors with a shot, non-traditional powers like Indiana and Iowa State getting to play for a National Title...yes we assume we end up with the same ending but it’s a much more legitimate way of doing it.
Would Missouri have made it into a 16-team Playoff in the past 20 years?
Yes with ‘07! Yes with ‘13! ‘14 Missouri ended the regular season ranked 16th and too far out to get an invite with a 16-team Playoff. But, hey, at least we still have the usual two suspects breaking in!
More teams in the postseason is a good thing! It would give more teams more opportunities, help keep the sport popular outside of a few regions, give high school athletes more options when picking schools who have a shot at winning the championship, and legitimizes the process much more than what we currently have. In addition, there would be upsets, which is the most fun aspect of college sports, and on a gigantic stage no less!
The Playoff is going to expand, no question about it. It’s simply a matter of how small much they push it and long it takes to get there. And when it does, we’ll all agree...we should have been running college football’s postseason like this the entire time.