What an 8 Team Playoff Would Look Like This Season.

Submitted by M-Dog on December 2nd, 2018 at 6:22 PM

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.



B1G or Bust

December 2nd, 2018 at 7:28 PM ^

How can high School, NCAA Divisions 1 FCS through 3, and the NFL can all have sufficient playoff formats but Division 1 FBS has to have 4 team invitational determined by a committee popularity contest?


December 2nd, 2018 at 7:29 PM ^

I do not agree with this:

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.

This radically changes the notion of a college football national championship.  If you do this, it's no longer about rewarding the best team over the course of the season.  Even if Northwestern had pulled the upset, you could not seriously think a four-loss team that had barely beaten Rutgers was playoff-caliber.  They were in the Big Ten title game because the West division is comically bad, not because they had gone through some gauntlet.  

Maybe reserve one spot for a G5 team (if it meets certain record criteria) but otherwise, just pick the best teams.


December 2nd, 2018 at 7:42 PM ^

You could also scuttle the divisions and do a 1 vs 2 like the Big 12 does. This eliminates the division  imbalances, avoids having the Pitts and Utahs in the CFP, and creates more competitive conference championship games. So for this year it would have been Clemson vs Syracuse, OSU vs Michigan, and UW vs WSU. Rematches of the rivalry games, some might not like that, but I'd be fine with it. The challenge though is that it's hard to create schedule parity with these larger conferences. You'd have to either go to a flexible scheduling methodology, or accept large differences in scheduling which is the one advantage the division format has. 


December 2nd, 2018 at 7:53 PM ^

I'd like to dump the conference title games altogether.   They are a waste of time, eating up a valuable weekend.

If you go to an eight-team playoff, use that first week of December for the first round, to be played on campus.  Higher-seeded teams get home field.  This is better than asking fans to travel to three neutral sites around the holiday season (or four, if you keep the conference title games).   

The semifinals are on New Year's Day.

Play the final on a Saturday (not Monday) in mid-January so if people in the Eastern time zone have to stay up late, it's not on a school/worknight.  The NFL can deal.


December 3rd, 2018 at 5:06 PM ^

I really, really like this.  How fun would a December playoff game (with a bit of snow falling) be in the Big House?  

I also wouldn't mind a few regulations regarding scheduling FCS schools.  Like, the FCS team must have made the playoffs in the last 2 years prior to scheduling.  So, no scheduling the Citadel, but you could schedule North Dakota State (but please, please do not schedule North Dakota State, Michigan.)


December 2nd, 2018 at 9:29 PM ^

A bye in football should not be a part of the equation.  Football is much to physical to offer a bye and keep things fair.    You need an even number. 

The Fugitive

December 2nd, 2018 at 9:47 PM ^

the #1 team should be able to choose their opponent of the at large teams #5, 6, 7, 8.  They get to pick the most favorable matchup. #2 gets to pick the next most favorable matchup. It might not look too different but it could be more fun.

1 Alabama vs 7 UCF, end all of the 'we want Bama' talk
2 Clemson vs 8 Washington, could pick Ohio State because of their dominance over them
3 Notre Dame vs 5 Georgia, revenge for 2017 game 
4 Oklahoma vs 6 Ohio State, rematch of 2017 game


December 2nd, 2018 at 10:49 PM ^

Yes, an expanded playoff to 6 or 8 teams makes the regular season much more relevant and makes the champion a truly deserving one. When there were only 2 teams in the "playoff," much of the regular season was meaningless because undefeated teams were left out.  Their entire season was meaningless from a championship standpoint and we had no idea whether the "champion" was deserving.  The current 4 team format leaves out at least 1 power conference every year, sometimes 2, and again sometimes a deserving team may be left out.  There's really no discernible difference between Oklahoma and OSU but one is left out.  I hate to say it but OSU may be the best team at the current time based on recent performance.  There is just not enough interconference play to say, for certain, that one conference is clearly superior.  The SEC is probably best (at the top) but has benefited from bias which has likely resulted in additional championships recently - the bias is reinforcing.  Heck, one "championship" was an all SEC affair - it was ridiculous and a bogus championship, in my opinion.  An 8 team playoff does dilute the field a bit much but it does allow adequate representation of all conferences - a 6 team playoff is probably enough and independents would just have to join a conference.

Red is Blue

December 3rd, 2018 at 11:49 AM ^

If the playoff selection involves some selection of participants based on some ranking, committee... (ie, has "at-large" bids) then the more teams you add to a playoff the more likely it is that there is no discernible difference between the last team selected in v. the first team not selected.



December 2nd, 2018 at 11:47 PM ^

Right now, the college football playoff operates under a glorified bowl system method of determining a national champion. Not that we have been disappointed by the exclusion of certain teams from the process since it was launched. But the process is simply a revised version of bowl selection.

I mean the SEC automatically figures its the best conference in the country and therefore should get special recognition whether deserved or not. Matters not. 

I mean this year's bowl matchups suck. And they suck because beyond putting four teams in a championship bracket, there is no interest in how other bowl games make a living. Saturday's conference championship games did little to alter perspective on the outcome of the playoff challenge or the well-founded notion that the bowls are an extra game to be played just because history declares that they be scheduled and played.

And because they are simply stupid exhibition matchups with passing interest, like a Feast Week tournament that nobody attends, but all the records count, that is why college athletes are finally asserting what little independence they are permitted to exercise in playing in a contest that is basically a vacation marketing opportunity. And the NCAA recognizes this by allowing swag handouts that under every other one of their bylaws would be a violation of something.

This was a payoff which has become so inculcated in the bowl system, that our interest in it is a more a curiousity over generosity than concern whether other student athletes fail to receive the same benefit because their playoff process isn't determined by choice but by performance.

If every game counts in Division 1, it's only a subjective opinion on whether you're good enough in Division 1, in every other division of college football, your record dictates your place in the world. Perfection isn't the requirement, it's just a standard that follows weekly performance.


December 3rd, 2018 at 6:32 AM ^

I agree that an 8 team playoff is preferable; however, I think it would have the unintended consequence of encouraging teams to schedule non-conference games the way Alabama (and the SEC as a whole) does. Louisville, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, The Citadel, YGBFSM. But there's no incentive to do otherwise so why play someone good?

If Michigan had, say, played another MAC team instead of Notre Dame, they would have finished 11-1 and most likely made it as an at-large at the expense of Georgia or UCF.

Even a win over Notre Dame would not have helped in this case - 11-1 is in either way. A loss, however, is the only thing preventing Michigan from making the cut.



December 3rd, 2018 at 3:52 PM ^

I don't think so.  If there are only 2 at-larges, you are competing with all of the other highly ranked non-conference champions. 

SOS becomes more important to distinguish yourself, not less.

Look at this year . . . a Michigan resume with an OOC loss to top 4 ND is going to blow away a Washington State resume with only cupcake OOC wins.



December 3rd, 2018 at 8:36 AM ^

Don't seed the first round. Conference tie ins to bowls first.

  • OSU vs. Washington (Rose)
  • Bama vs. Oklahoma (Sugar)
  • Clemson vs. UCF (Peach)
  • Notre Dame vs. Georgia (Fiesta)

Assuming chalk, you get in the next round:

  • Bama vs. OSU (Orange)
  • Clemson vs. Notre Dame (Cotton)


December 5th, 2018 at 11:51 PM ^

If you can convince school administrators to allow two further games in January (maybe a double-header for a semi-final site), then fine.

But please don't make the mistake of emulating the pros and schedule those games a week apart. College players/teams/coaches/fans need more than a week--preferably ten days to two weeks--between those games to recover, make plans, get ready, and maybe even squeeze in a little school. So maybe the semi-final would be mid-January and the final later January, possibly that weekend before the Super Bowl.

Only two teams would have a season that dragged on that long, but I am sure there would be a lot of resistance from those who complain about the length of the season and its effects on student-athletes.


December 3rd, 2018 at 8:44 AM ^

My 2-cents....

  • If you go with 6, the G5 doesn't get an auto-bid.  They are lumped as an at-large.
  • If you go with 8, I guess the G5 can get one seat at the table.
  • In both cases, I think there needs to be a rule about losses, however.  Something like "If you're the conference champ but have 3+ losses then your spot isn't automatic.  

So let's say NW wins.  They are still a contender for the spot, but with 4 losses they will be considered as an at large candidate.  Unless everyone goes the B12 route where the two best teams play for the conference title, I think you have to have some restrictions.  


December 3rd, 2018 at 8:55 AM ^

All it takes is one upset in the CFP for everyone to change their tune. 

While obviously upsets in football are much more rare than say basketball, the NCAA tourney and even the individual conference championships show how when teams have a little time to prepare and play on a neutral site, a lot of weird stuff can happen. Not saying UCF or an unbeaten WMU should be automatically given a spot but if they did expand the playoffs to 6 or 8 teams, I think a couple of those teams deserve a shot. 


December 3rd, 2018 at 9:09 AM ^

It should be more teams, but it absolutely should not rely on conference championship games. Northwestern would have won one fluke game and still been the team you've seen all year. If we go to more playoff teams I hope the conferences do away with championship games. Just rank the 8 best teams. 


December 3rd, 2018 at 9:51 AM ^

Dislike any playoff that retains a ranking or seeding element. Rather see a pre-determined rotating matchup (i.e. B10vSEC year 1, B10vB12 year 2, etc.). Eliminates some of the BS and favoritism. 

Let the G5 pick the 3 reps to round out the 8. And Yes - to hell with ND. And no sympathy for the P5s who didn’t quaify.

Keep conference championships as it essentially expands the field to 16 teams. Let each conference determine their own model for a determining who plays in that “play in” game.

i’d watch a Pac 10 championship if it was a quarterfinal for the right to meet M in the semi.

And it opens the door for great non-conference matchups since it would have no bearing on playoff eligibility.


December 3rd, 2018 at 12:24 PM ^

8 teams always made the most sense which is why you don't see it done here.  But I think you just put in the top 8 teams regardless of conference championships or the like.  Like, UCF probably deserved a bid last year and we can debate forever about this season, but a couple years ago I believe Navy was the best G5 team?  They were fine, but years where, I don't know, Utah St. goes 11-2 doesn't mean you should get into a playoff.  

Honestly, if you look at the top 8 teams in the final ranking it's hard to find one that couldn't have a semi-realistic shot at only losing to Alabama by 14 points or so, which should be the barometer.


December 3rd, 2018 at 4:06 PM ^

There should be at least some conference auto-bid tie in's, or it will just wind up being an SEC beauty contest, with even more SEC teams in it.

Perhaps make it that no conference can be left out multiple years in a row, something like that.

A system that consistently leaves out 40% to 60% of the conferences - and always the same conferences - will not be sustainable.  They will feel disenfranchised and they'll backlash.  They won't just stand idly by. 

ex dx dy

December 3rd, 2018 at 1:33 PM ^

I don't like two things about this:

  1. The at-large concept. You weren't good enough to win your conference, but you could be the best team in the country? Nope.
  2. Giving half the conferences in FBS auto-bids, and the other half have to fight for one spot. Either make the G5 in FBS or not: none of this second-class citizen nonsense.

The solution is simple and elegant: 10-team playoff. Conference champs in, everyone else out. Conferences sort out how to determine the champion fairly without having to worry about how to pad their members' resumes. Big non-conference matchups have no impact on playoff selection, but every impact on playoff and conference preparedness, so there's no downside to scheduling tough games. Everyone must join a conference.

Here's this year's playoff with this format (seeded using margin-aware Bradley-Terry):

#1 Alabama vs (#8 Appalachian St / #9 UAB)

#2 Clemson vs (#7 Washington / #10 Northern Illinois)

#3 UCF vs #6 Fresno State

#4 Oklahoma vs #5 Ohio State

Yes, I understand you can make much sexier matchups with at-large teams, but in my view that compromises the sport's integrity.

Ron Utah

December 3rd, 2018 at 1:33 PM ^

Mostly agree with the OP.  I do NOT believe that the G5 should get an auto-bid.  There should simply be three at-large bids.  UCF does not deserve a shot at the playoff until they schedule some real competition.  Best team they played this year is Pitt or Cincinnati...they have not proven they belong.


December 3rd, 2018 at 4:13 PM ^

I don't love the idea of the G5 getting an autobid, but I think the political reality is you need to do it.  Or do something that assures they will be able to get in some way at least periodically.

Otherwise, they will never get in and you will get backlash against the P5 monopoly.

Let's face it, you will almost always find 8 P5 teams that you think are better than the top G5.  At some point you need to cut off the number of P5 teams at 7.



December 5th, 2018 at 11:27 PM ^

Except that it hasn't been proven that they don't belong. They haven't faltered. For two years now. They're scheduling difficulties are not entirely their fault: nobody wants to schedule stronger G5 teams nowadays.

A number of times in recent years, G5 teams have beaten pretty good P5 teams in bowl games, etc. Excluding half of the FBS from even having a shot is not good for the sport. It may end up with the #8 seed every year and have to face the #1 seed, but if that's the case, so be it.


December 3rd, 2018 at 2:53 PM ^

I like this.

You would still have some politicking and selection controversy, but only for 3 of the 8 teams, and for seeding. 5 of 8 selected teams are 100% objective - win your conference and you qualify.

It makes P5 conference title games de facto playoff games. 

Raises the stakes of P5 conference play.

8 is a perfect number. Not 12, not 16. It should be difficult to qualify for the CFP




December 3rd, 2018 at 4:09 PM ^

I thought about posting something similar to this, however, I did not want to take a lot of time defending my point so I will give you the short version here. 

My thought is to remove the playoff system as it is and the CFP rankings and the dumb show that comes with it.

The CFP has ruined college football in a lot of ways, because bowl games, even the top tier games have become obsolete. I would be in favor of going back to a regular poll, so that the bowl games that are more important match ups will still be important, ie. Cotton bowl, Rose Bowl, Fiesta, Sugar etc. After all of the bowls have been wrapped up, the polls select a consensus top 2 that would play for the national title. This year, in the current format, the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach bowl are after thoughts.  

In my scenario, you would remove the conference championship game and take the regular season champion for those tie in bowl bids. I think that eliminating the CFP would keep the elite bowl games special and would possibly encourage guys going to the NFL to play. For example, let's say Bosa was still healthy, he probably sits out the Rose Bowl, but if they still had a chance to be selected as the top 2 after the bowl games are played, it is possible he would play (I am all for players choice to sit out by the way). This would turn the new years six into pseudo semifinal games. Obviously teams like Florida, Michigan, LSU all would be unlikely to be selected in the top 2 in a season like this, but some of the other fringe teams could still play for something other than pride.

This could also fix your situation of a team like Notre Dame who has been scrutinized for their schedule this year and doesn't really seem to be a team that anyone thinks can actually win a national championship. This would allow voters and the rest of the country an opportunity to see them play a big time game against a big time opponent.


December 3rd, 2018 at 5:37 PM ^

I'd create criteria for the G5 Champ.  They have to be ranked say Top 10? to get in.  Most years there aren't any undefeated G5 teams.  I wouldn't throw one in most years just because.


December 4th, 2018 at 12:03 AM ^

I think the only conference tie in should be the B1G, SEC, PAC12, Big 12, ACC and Big East (unless they have less than 3 losses if 3 or more losses then they really don't belong), then there should be 2 invites, may be more if the conference champions have 3 or more losses.


December 4th, 2018 at 6:50 AM ^

scrap everything and simply have the  “NCAA Championship Playoff Selection Show” headlined by Beth Mowins and Joey Galloway with guest appearances by 10 of the most recently fired position and head coaches.  In between actual game selections you would have trophy presentations  to schools for accomplishments such as, “Worst Scandal,” and “Worst Scandal Reaulting In No Actual Penalty Assessed” utilizing canned laughter fem the last season of My Mother The Car.



December 4th, 2018 at 9:50 AM ^

8 is way too many, and it makes the regular season not as meaningful. Michigan blew their shot at the playoffs in Columbus. Georgia blew their shot at the playoffs in the SEC Championship game. The only thing that makes sense is a hybrid playoff system. The number of slots are based solely on what the end of the season dictates, but the only requirements for a playoff are:

  • 1 loss Conference Champs are guaranteed a spot.
  • Undefeated Teams reviewed and added only when they make the numbers 6 or 8 (G5 + Independents)

2014: Instead of Baylor, TCU or Ohio St, all 3 get their shot. 6 team playoff tree required, and 2 extra bowls are made part of the CoFoPoff system that year. 1st/2nd ranked get bye weeks, 3 plays 6, 4 plays 5, then lowest ranked plays 1, etc.

2015: Stays at 4. MSU, Iowa and Ohio St all it with 1 loss, but do 3 B1G teams really deserve a spotwhen two of those teams lost to the third? I think the committee would want to make the regular season and conference championship games matter and stick with 4. 

2016: Stick with 4 again. 13-0 Western Michigan doesn't deserve a slot based on resume, but would have been eligible if a 5th team was present. 

2017: Not all Group of 5 conferences are created equally. Undefeated UCF actually does deserve a slot this year. But the B1G dropped the ball. 2-loss conference champion is left out, and the 12-1 Badgers lost their play-in game. Again, we stick with four.

2018: UCF get's their revenge!  No 1-loss P5 conference champ deserves to be left out based on perception, so 5th seed goes to Ohio St. UCF gets their chance with another undefeated season, evening the numbers at 6. If UCF lost last week? We still roll 5, with Oklahoma/Ohio St. fighting over the fourth slot on the field, not in the media. No Georgia doesn't belong over UCF because they played Bama close. They lost their play-in game! Michigan couldn't even make it to their play-in game... 

I don't think this is complicated logistically since there are 3+ weeks to work it all out. Overflow college football playoff games go to the third tier bowls. Bowl games like the Alamo, Outback, Citrus and Gator bowls can be moved to the Saturday/Sunday before Christmas in the event that more than 4 teams make the playoff. That ensures things like the Rose Bowl is never shifted away from Jan 1 when it isn't part of the playoff structure. 


December 5th, 2018 at 11:39 PM ^

I agree to a large extent. What we have is a limited tournament, not really a playoff.  An actual play-off would mean exactly that: a play off between teams only when there is uncertainty as to which team is the absolute best. Anything else is a tournament.

Some years, there will be no doubt as to who is #1. If no one doubts that Alabama is the best team in the country this year, stop and crown them #1 right now. That's what we had in the old days.Only when there is some doubt, those one or two or three other teams should be playing in a Play Off. No talk of others deserving a chance.

But that would be 'leaving money on the table'. We live in a real world where the priority is not determining a national champion, it's on maximizing revenue potential and exposure, and minimizing any negatives.