Sunday, June 13

It’s time to reform the College Football Playoff — but how should it expand?



Tuesday’s latest set of College Football Playoff rankings created the same talking point among those who follow the most mercurial postseason in organized sports.

Cincinnati, one of only eight undefeated teams in the FBS, somehow fell another spot in the penultimate rankings, despite being idle at 8-0 on the season. Three two-loss teams sit in front of the Bearcats, including a Florida squad that fell only one spot after a dismal loss to a historically bad LSU team.

The growing discontent with the College Football Playoff selection committee’s process — which seemingly doesn’t follow any internal logic on a week-to-week basis — has only gotten more pronounced in 2020. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that after vastly reducing the data pool with which the committee can work. That doesn’t change the fact it clearly doesn’t value talented teams that have the misfortune of playing outside the Power 5.

MORE: Update College Football Playoff rankings

Sporting News’ own Mike DeCourcy said this of the Playoff on Dec. 2, back when Cincinnati still ranked seventh nationally and appeared to have a chance at making the Playoff:

“The CFP ought to be known strictly by its acronym,” DeCourcy said. “Forget what the letters represent, because they are a misnomer. This is not truly a playoff. It is an invitational.”

It seems inevitable that, at some point, the Playoff will expand. And, while it may offend those who prefer the traditional exclusivity of the sport, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Group of 5 representation must be taken into consideration if — when — the Playoff expands. And, if Group of 5 teams are to generate automatic bids to the Playoff, it only makes sense that each of the Power 5 conference champions have the same consideration.

What better way to make sure every single game remains important in one of the best regular seasons in organized sports?

With that, Sporting News looks at some of the ways that expansion might take place to turn the College Football Playoff into an actual playoff, including simulated matchups from each of the last three seasons:

College Football Playoff expansions

— Seeds based on final CFP rankings, then AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll rankings, if available, for a given season; unranked teams seeded by overall record, then conference record.

— Bolded teams denote P5/G5 automatic qualifiers.

Six-team College Football Playoff

Participants: Power 5 automatic qualifiers, highest-ranked independent/Group of 5 team
Format: Top two seeds get bye; Nos. 3/4 seeds host Nos. 6/5, respectively, on campus

This might be the most viable option for those who think four teams are all you need to determine the best team in the country. It preserves college football’s unique exclusivity while ensuring each Power 5 champion and only the best Group of 5 team gets into the Playoff. Deficiencies include scenarios in which independent teams such as Notre Dame keep the Group of 5 out. It also leaves no room for talented at-large teams to compete. And how big an advantage is that first-round bye?

2019

1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Oregon
6. Memphis

2018

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Notre Dame
4. Oklahoma
5. Ohio State
6. Washington

2017

1. Clemson
2. Oklahoma
3. Georgia
4. Ohio State
5. USC
6. UCF

MORE: There’s 0.0 chance CFP committee will let Bearcats into their club

Eight-team College Football Playoff

Participants: Power 5 automatic qualifiers, highest-ranked Group of 5 team, two at-larges
Format: Top four seeds host quarterfinals on campus before advancing to semifinals

This scenario allows Power 5 automatic qualifiers and the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion to earn bids while maintaining room for two deserving at-larges. Even among the Group of 5, however, there is a degree of separation between the haves and have-nots: The AAC or Mountain West would likely earn the Group of 5 bid most seasons, recreating college football’s current debate among the Group of 5. There’s also the argument that there won’t be eight championship-caliber teams in most seasons.

2019

1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Georgia
6. Oregon
7. Baylor
8. Memphis

2018

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Notre Dame
4. Oklahoma
5. Georgia
6. Ohio State
7. UCF
8. Washington

2017

1. Clemson
2. Oklahoma
3. Georgia
4. Alabama
5. Ohio State
6. Wisconsin
7. USC
8. UCF

MORE: Eight College Football Playoff scenarios for 2020 conference championship weekend

12-team College Football Playoff

Participants: 10 automatic qualifiers from Power 5, Group of 5 conferences; two at-large bids
Format: Top four seeds get bye; seeds 5-8 host play-in games on campus; seeds 1-4 host corresponding play-in winners on campus in quarterfinals before advancing to semifinals

This scenario allows each of the 10 FBS conference champions to make the Playoff, ensuring every team has an equal shot to make the postseason at the start of the season. Expanding to 12 teams creates the need for first-round byes (not unheard of; just look at the FCS and NFL playoffs), but also keeps the field as limited as possible while still allowing for at-larges. Cons include the potentially disproportionate advantage of having a first-round bye; others might argue spots taken up by G5 champions that can’t realistically challenge for the national title should be given to more talented Power 5 at-large teams.

2019

1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Georgia
6. Oregon
7. Baylor
8. Memphis
9. Boise State
10. App State
11. FAU
12. Miami (Ohio)

2018

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Notre Dame
4. Oklahoma
5. Georgia
6. Ohio State
7. UCF
8. Washington
9. Fresno State
10. App State
11. UAB
12. Northern Illinois

2017

1. Clemson
2. Oklahoma
3. Georgia
4. Alabama
5. Ohio State
6. Wisconsin
7. USC
8. UCF
9. Boise State
10. Troy
11. FAU
12. Toledo

MORE: Should Group of 5 create their own four-team College Football Playoff?

16-team College Football Playoff

Participants: 10 automatic qualifiers from Power 5, Group of 5 conferences; six at-large bids
Format: Top eight seeds host Round 1 games on campus; highest-ranked Round 1 winners host quarterfinals on campus; highest-ranked quarterfinal winner picks preferred semifinal site.

A 16-team playoff should be the last viable option if the push to expand continues beyond six, eight or 12 teams. This has the best of the previous expansion scenarios: Every conference champion gets a shot, six non-champion at-larges can make the playoff and there’s no need for first-round byes. Some of the first-round matchups are downright intriguing, too: 2019 has No. 6 Oregon in a Pac-12 champion rematch against No. 11 Utah; 2018 has No. 6 Ohio State against No. 11 LSU and (former quarterback Joe Burrow); 2017 has two Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups and Auburn-Miami.

It’s precisely the volume that might turn off college football fans, however. Not every team, especially those in the Group of 5, can win the national title. The same can be said for all but a handful of Power 5/independent teams. It also somewhat reduces the need to win the conference championship, with so many at-large spots available.

The question then becomes: Does every team deserve a shot at the postseason, similar to the NCAA Tournament, or do you skip the middleman and place only the most likely contenders? And, if it’s the former, what does that do to the bowl season, a unique facet of college football? All questions that would need to be addressed. As it stands now, however, it’s clear expansion, with some form of Group of 5 consideration, is the next logical step for college football.

2019

1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Georgia
6. Oregon
7. Baylor
8. Wisconsin
9. Florida
10. Penn State
11. Utah
12. Memphis
13. Boise State
14. App State
15. FAU
16. Miami (Ohio)

2018

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Notre Dame
4. Oklahoma
5. Georgia
6. Ohio State
7. Michigan
8. UCF
9. Washington
10. Florida
11. LSU
12. Penn State
13. Fresno State
14. App State
15. UAB
16. Northern Illinois

2017

1. Clemson
2. Oklahoma
3. Georgia
4. Alabama
5. Ohio State
6. Wisconsin
7. Auburn
8. USC
9. Penn State
10. Miami
11. Washington
12. UCF
13. Boise State
14. Troy
15. FAU
16. Toledo





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