We’re only in year one, and is there any doubt in anybody’s mind that casting off the oft-maligned BCS system for the College Football Playoff was a fantastic idea?
What happened in the two semifinal games was a breath of fresh air. Ohio State and its third-string quarterback kicked the SEC out of the title game for the first time in something like 743 years, and Oregon made the Pac-12 impossible to brush off as a finesse conference (despite Stanford’s valiant attempts) by utterly manhandling the defending national champions.
And, as has been pointed out on Twitter in the aftermath of Jan. 1, remember: Under the BCS system, both Oregon and Ohio State would have been preparing for a consolation Rose Bowl clash and waiting for an Alabama-Florida State title match, because SEC (and FSU) bias.
The biggest lesson to take away from this season is that it’s impossible to compare the relative mights of different conferences’ elites through the regular season because of the vast size of the FBS college football world and the utter lack of consistency between conferences in strengths of schedules (yes, I’m looking at you, SEC).
Which, of course, just accentuates the value of meaningful postseason games all the more. Everybody is interested in these games not just to see who is ultimately crowned champion, but also because in the end, it doesn’t look like the elites in the conferences are separated by all too much, as was demonstrated in the spectacular quality of both games on Jan. 1 (before Florida State effectively gave up, at least).
With the enormous success of this season’s playoff in mind, I think it’s both inevitable and necessary that the playoff be expanded — as long as there aren’t so many games that it stops becoming must-watch football.
Now, I think eight teams are too many, because I think that seven games would really dilute the intensity of the matchups and make conference championships and truly elite seasons (versus just very impressive seasons) less meaningful for everybody involved. I’d imagine those quarterfinal matchups to have the feeling of the NFL wild-card round games: People will watch, sure, but it just won’t feel truly special.
In my ideal world, I’d love a six-team playoff with first-round byes given to both top overall seeds. In this case, there would be five overall games, meaning that each of the former “BCS Bowl” sites could play host to a playoff game every season, with the championship held at either a neutral site or as a second game at one of those sites (in a throwback to the BCS days, I guess).
In this case, there would be no issues with TCU/Baylor feeling left out because of the playoff’s perception of conference strengths (although Baylor did eventually end up losing to the second-best team in the Big Ten, silencing their complaints), as all five major conferences would get an automatic bid. The sixth spot would be given to either an at-large team from one of the Power Five conferences or automatically awarded to a Group of Five conference champion that’s, say, in the top 20 at the end of the season.
Everybody’s happy: If there’s a worthy Cinderella team, it’ll get its shot every year. There won’t be a Power Five team that’s left slighted. No “major” bowl location will be financially slighted by not getting to host a playoff game every season.
Finishing in the top two after the regular season becomes much more meaningful again because in the college football landscape, a first-round bye would be absurdly advantageous. Given how crazy college football postseasons can be, any fewer opportunities to lose to a good opponent would probably be welcomed by elite teams.
Here’s how something like this would probably have been seeded this year:
3: Florida State
4: Ohio State
I’m drooling just thinking about this.
Do-Hyoung Park is also drooling over the fact that by the time the four team playoff becomes a six team playoff, the Minnesota Vikings might actually be in the NFL Playoffs. Send him your condolences to dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.