COLUMN: Playoff is in need of changes
It is time to take a long, hard look at the College Football Playoff system, because simply put, the current model just is not cutting it.
Every season since its inception, the criteria used to determine the four teams seems to be completely different. In 2014, the first season for the playoff, Ohio State was bumped past Baylor and TCU to the fourth spot, and we know how that ended. The reason given for that move was that the Buckeyes played in a conference championship game, while the Bears and Horned Frogs sat at home as the Big 12 did not have one at that time. The Big 12 has since added one to make sure that scenario does not keep its teams out again, but now one has to question if the conference title game matters as much as was said to matter back then.
Flash forward to this weekend. The Buckeyes, for a second straight season, won the Big Ten championship game, beating a ranked team, Northwestern, by three touchdowns. Not only was that not enough to get them in one of the four coveted spots — again — it did not move them up from the six spot at all in the final rankings.
Notre Dame is independent, so it obviously does not play in a conference championship, but it’s going to the playoff. Last year it was Alabama that did not win its conference and was still in it. The Buckeyes made it in 2016 without winning the Big Ten. The Fighting Irish, as well as Alabama and Ohio State in previous seasons, were seemingly unpunished for the same thing that kept the aforementioned teams out in the past. Georgia, while it did not make the top four, finished in fifth, the first team out, ahead of Ohio State. The Bulldogs lost the SEC title game, and finish with two losses. One of those losses was a 20-point loss to an LSU team that finished the season unranked by the committee. That is significant because Ohio State’s fatal wound in the eyes of the committee was its lopsided defeat to Purdue, an unranked team.
So what exactly is the criteria if it is different from team-to-team and year-to-year. I would say the committee needs to answer some questions, but when they have they eventually just contradict what they said originally anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, after the Purdue loss I did not think the Buckeyes were a playoff team, but given what they did to Michigan, who was a top-four team at the time, and then winning the conference title game to finish with one loss, the previous criteria backed up a third playoff appearance for Urban Meyer and company, and, if nothing else, it at the very least backed up them being ahead of Georgia. I mean, how exciting would a Tua Tagovailoa vs. Dwayne Haskins match up have been? We’ll never know.
A lot of these problems are created by the fact that, to do a playoff format correctly, four teams is just simply not enough.
With the top eight legitimately having some argument to be a part of the dance, making these selections is splitting hairs.
Here is my solution — make it eight teams. Actually, I would prefer 16 teams, but that’s a little far-fetched right now, so for the purpose of this conversation lets stick with eight.
There are five “power five” conferences, but four spots. So, the current model is set up to leave a deserving conference winner out from the get go. It also (I’m talking about you, University of Central Florida), guarantees that a non-power five school can never make it. UCF has won 25 games in a row, won a conference championship game, and yet could not even move above the No. 8 spot. That is crazy.
Here is what an eight- team playoff would look like with the rankings this season.
¯ No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 UCF. This would give the Golden Knights a shot at the top team to see what happens. Alabama probably has no issue in this hypothetical game, but upsets do happen. It’s why people love March Madness (UMBC, anyone?).
¯ No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Michigan. A match up that definitely would be intriguing.
¯ No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Ohio State. Does it really get any better than two of the country’s most popular programs squaring off on a big stage? The ratings would be fantastic, and there is some recent bowl game history here.
¯ No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Georgia. The high-powered Sooners offense against a quality SEC defense.
That’s using the teams as they would have been selected in the current system. My desired criteria for picking the top eight teams would be as follows: The power five conference champions get an automatic bid. The most impressive group of five conference champion takes a sixth spot to ensure one of the little guys gets shot to shock the world. And, finally, two at large bids.
This year’s field would be a perfect example for this hypothetical system. The power five winners (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Washington) all finished in the top-10. Washington would be the lone team not in the current top eight to get bumped up. UCF would obviously be the non-power five invite. Notre Dame would be a clear No. 1 at large bid, while a debate between a teams like Georgia and Michigan would be what the second spot came down to. There would still be much to argue, but the criteria would be clear for more than half of the field, which is a lot more than what can be said now.
Will this or anything similar happen anytime soon? Who knows. This is for certain, though, this season gives plenty of reason for a push for change and it is desperately needed.
Make it happen, college football.
(Grimm can be reached at email@example.com.)