“Four teams aren’t enough.”
I said that the second I heard that a four-team playoff was introduced to College Football. I was met with the expected response that the teams would sort it out and there would only be four deserving teams at the end of the year. I laughed. We must not have been watching the same sport for the last 10 years.
And here we are.
The season is coming to a close and there is absolute chaos. Florida State has been struggling, but looks to remain undefeated and a miracle season by Duke could have them and FSU with one loss at the end of the year. Baylor and TCU both have one loss and have already played each other (plus the Big 12 has no championship game). Alabama and Mississippi State could both end the season with one loss. Ohio State or Nebraska could end the season with one loss, as well as Oregon or Arizona State. All of this is happening and there are only three weeks left.
Let’s get into why exactly more than four teams should be in the playoff.
There are five power conferences.
Power conferences are not made alike. Using the eye test alone, the pass-happy offenses of the Big 12 are much different than the rushing attack-oriented Big 10. Each conference has its own flavor, as well as its own strengths. Who is to say that Florida State wouldn’t get a loss in the Pac 12? Who’s to say that 2-loss Kansas State wouldn’t have one loss in the Big 10? We simply don’t know because the conferences don’t really play each other. If a conference is a “power conference,” its champion should be in the playoff. There should be some sort of requirement, however, to ensure that the conference champion is one of the best teams in the nation. An example could be that the champion has less than three losses or maybe it is ranked 12th or better. If a team wins a conference, it is the best team in the conference and it did enough to prove that. Let the conferences sort it out. With a six-team playoff, there is an extra spot for Notre Dame, a BCS buster, or possibly a second team from a big conference. An eight-team playoff would remove even more doubt.
The Baylor-TCU situation from this season.
This was a conundrum I saw coming from a mile away. What happens when two one-loss teams play each other and the team that won that game loses to a sorry opponent? The team that won between the two will be devalued due to a bad loss and the team that lost that tiebreaker will have a better loss (TO THE OTHER TEAM). Couple this with the team that lost the head-to-head playing better football when the playoff comes around and the problem appears. For instance, this year, Baylor and TCU both have one loss, but Baylor beat TCU 61-58 when they played. Baylor followed that win with a horrible 41-27 loss to unranked West Virginia. Because of this, TCU is ranked higher than Baylor in every national poll despite losing to Baylor. In many mock playoff selections, TCU has been popping up, but not Baylor. If both teams win out, this is going to be a a sticky situation.
The Alabama-LSU situation from 2011 or Alabama-Auburn situation from 2013
In 2011, Alabama missed four field goals during a 9-6 loss versus LSU. In 2013, A last-second Alabama field goal didn’t go far enough and was caught by Auburn’s Chris Davis, who then returned the now technical punt 100 yards for the game winning touchdown. I can’t think of two other games in College Football history than left viewers staring at the screen more unsure if the better team won the game. With a 4-team playoff, neither loser of those games should get another chance. The 2011 National Championship between two SEC teams was the most pathetic joke I’ve ever seen in sports (How can a team that couldn’t win its own half of its conference deserve to fight to be the best team in the nation over other conference champions?) However, in a 8-team playoff, it’s fair-game and that losing team would still be in. The better team lost on that given day? Prove it in the new bigger playoff.
When a conference champion loses a game because of injury but regains form come playoff time.
This is a specific example, but it is one that affects Ohio State and Arizona State, none-the-less. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was knocked out for the season due to injury 11 days before the season started. Freshman back-up J.T. Barrett came in and looked awful. Ohio State looked sloppy against Navy, then lost against Virginia Tech. Barrett was shaken and couldn’t do anything right. Seven games later into the season and Ohio State is unstoppable and Barrett just dismantled Michigan State, which was statistically one of the best defenses in the nation. OSU also has gained at least 49 points and 533 yards in six of its last seven games Obviously this argument only works for a conference champion, but it is obvious that this is not the same team that lost to Virginia Tech. Because the Virginia Tech loss is the worst out of all of the contenders, this four-team playoff system will leave Ohio State and all of us will miss out on a potentially great team competing for the trophy.
Arizona State also fell victim to injury and lost starting quarterback Taylor Kelley for three games. In backup QB Mike Bercovici’s first game, ASU looked awful and turned the ball over four times. UCLA throttled them 62-27 in a game that is hardly representative of the team that just beat No. 10 Notre Dame 55-31.That 35-point loss is going to keep being brought up if ASU wins the Pac 12 and analysts are looking for every reason why certain contenders shouldn’t be in the playoff. Like Ohio State, Arizona State now is not the same team that played in their lone loss.
A four-team playoff is better than the two-team National Championship of last year, but it still isn’t enough. It is better to have all of the real contenders with a couple pretenders, just like the systems of every other major sport. The current system leaves teams that have proved they’re among the nation’s best sitting at home. The sport, the teams, and the fans would all be better off with a playoff that features more than four teams. That’s my opinion.
-Marty F. Nemec