The current 4 team playoff this year leaves out two of the five P5 conferences (and also the top G5 team).
Based on the committee’s discussions about Georgia, it almost left out three of the five P5 conferences.
This is the third year in a row that the Big Ten champion has not gotten in (although Ohio State did get in as a non-champion). The Pac 12 is also left out again. It has been left out three of the five years of the CFP’s existence.
This is not a sustainable situation.
Keep in mind that the CFP is an artificial construct, created by an agreement among the P5 conferences. If it keeps leaving out 40% to 60% of those conferences, it will not survive.
It needs to be expanded beyond 4 teams.
An 8 team playoff is the sweet spot. It allows the five P5 conference champions to all get in, the top G5 team for “fairness” / anti-trust reasons to get in, and two worthy at-large’s to get in.
Based on this year’s conference champions and the committee’s rankings, the 8 teams would be:
- ACC champ: Clemson (#2 seed, based on CFP rankings)
- Big Ten champ: Ohio State (#6 seed, based on CFP rankings)
- Big 12 champ: Oklahoma (#4 seed, based on CFP rankings)
- Pac 12 champ: Washington (#8 seed, based on CFP rankings)
- SEC champ: Alabama (#1 seed, based on CFP rankings)
- G5 “champ”: UCF (#7 seed, based on CFP rankings)
- At Large #1: Notre Dame (#3 seed, based on CFP rankings)
- At Large #2: Georgia (#5 seed, based on CFP rankings)
Based on the CFP rankings, the first round of games would be:
#1 Alabama (SEC champ) vs. #8 Washington (Pac 12 champ)
#2 Clemson (ACC champ) vs. #7 UCF (G5 "champ”)
#3 Notre Dame (At Large #1) vs. #6 Ohio State (Big Ten champ)
#4 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ) vs. #5 Georgia (At Large #2)
Those are some compelling matchups that include all five P5 conferences, the top G5 team, and two worthy at large’s.
A twist on Seedings: If it was up to me however, I would only seed the top 4 ranked teams – #1 through #4. The bottom 4 ranked teams – #5 through #8 would be seeded randomly via a lottery draw.
So, #1 would still play #8, #2 would still play #7, etc., but which teams are #5 through #8 are would be determined randomly from the bottom 4 ranked teams.
This keeps the G5 team from always being the sacrificial lamb having to play the #1 or #2-seed every single year. It also adds some actual drama and excitement to “Selection Sunday” where the seeding lottery draw could be done real-time, ala the NBA lottery.
This year, the top 4 teams would be #1 ranked Alabama, #2 ranked Clemson, #3 ranked Notre Dame, #4 ranked Oklahoma.
The bottom 4 ranked teams would be Georgia, Ohio State, UCF, Washington. These 4 teams would randomly draw for seeds #5 through #8. Any one of them could get matched up with #1 Alabama. Any one of them could be matched up with #4 Oklahoma, etc. It would be up to the draw. This would help keep the first round from getting too stale with possible mismatches.
Should all P5 champions get in, even if they have multiple losses? I would say yes. If you win a P5 conference championship in December, you have something on the ball, even if you got off to a slow start. If Northwestern had beaten Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, then they would be a team that has gotten it together by the end of the season. They are not just an “8 and 4” team. They are ready to compete in a playoff environment.
Why 8 is much better than 6: The problem with 6 is that it has most of the logistics issues that 8 has, but without the benefits.
The main benefit of 8 over 6 is that it helps preserve the integrity of the regular season . . . the very DNA of college football.
The two at-large’s in an 8 team playoff retain the incentive to schedule quality OOC opponents, for the same reason that incentive exists today with a 4 team CFP.
Even if you are Alabama, you cannot assume that you will automatically win your conference and get a P5 auto-bid. You will want to be in a position where you can get in via the at large route, competing with a group of other at large candidates. With 2 at large's, you know you won’t have a shot of getting in if you schedule like Washington State does.
As far as 6 goes, it is better than 4, but it still has two big problems:
If 6 includes all five P5 conferences plus a G5 team, then it becomes just a pure auto-bid system. There are no at large’s. There is no incentive to schedule quality OOC games, just win your conference. OOC games become exhibitions.
If 6 is instead “top 6”, or “top 5 plus top G5” (i.e. no auto-bids), it will still regularly leave out conferences and worthy at large’s in favor of conferences like the SEC which will frequently get multiple teams in.
If you are going to expand, an 8 team playoff is the way to go.
As shown for this season, it allows the five P5 conference champions to all get in, the top G5 team to get in, and two very worthy at-large’s to get in. It also solves both the “Notre Dame problem" and the perennial “second SEC team problem” without screwing the rest of college football.