The Big Ten had four of the top eight teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings, but plenty of fans from the conference were left wanting more.
Despite clearly having the most fearsome foursome in the country, only No. 3 Ohio State will have a chance to play for a national championship. Penn State fans feel shafted, after the Nittany Lions won nine straight games, including one against the Buckeyes, and also claimed the Big Ten title Saturday night by beating Wisconsin in Indianapolis.
Michigan fans feel upset because the Wolverines are in the top four in several statistical-based rankings. Wisconsin fans are at least mildly annoyed that the Badgers were seven points shy against the Nos. 3, 5 and 6 teams in the nation and are relegated to the Cotton Bowl.
One solution is expansion. Not for the conference, but for the College Football Playoff.
It tooks decades to reach this point and at least have four teams in play. It might take decades more, but eventually the playoff will expand. Every sport in this country has expanded the number of teams that can reach the postseason, and often several times.
Maybe the next logical step is eight teams. That keeps it still relatively simple. It doesn’t wipe away the remnants of the archaic bowl system that has had a stranglehold on the key decision-makers in the sport for too long.
That’s an easy one to project, too: Alabama-Western Michigan (a mandatory Group of Five representative so those conferences don’t mutiny), Clemson-Oklahoma, Ohio State-Michigan and Washington-Penn State. Maybe teams get shifted around for Ohio State to avoid a rematch, but those would be the teams.
There’s still no Wisconsin in there. And what about No. 9 Southern Cal, which might be playing better than anyone but Alabama in the second half of the season?
Let’s go further.
What would the 2016 College Football Playoff look like if it expanded to look more like the 12-team NFL playoffs? Or what about the 24-team FCS playoffs?
The ‘NFL’ model
What if college football decided to adopt something like the NFL approach? We’re talking about 12 teams, with the top four seeds getting byes into the quarterfinals.
This would be pretty easy to visualize, but maybe a little hard to put together. The bowls could be involved, with 11 games total in the tournament. Or they could stay out of it, and the rest of the country would vie for spots in the bowl games.
Logistically, it would be better to keep the bowls out. Then it would make sense to have the four “wild card” games (they’d probably be called opening round or first round) on campus sites and it certainly would be a good idea to reward the top four seeds with home games in the quarterfinals. Then use neutral sites for the final four and the championship game.
What would an NFL-style playoff look like this season? For starters, all five conference champions would get an automatic bid, and the top Group of Five champion would earn one as well. That would leave six at-large bids.
No. 9 Southern Cal at No. 8 WISCONSIN, winner plays at No. 1 Alabama
The Trojans are hot, and the Badgers are smarting after blowing a 21-point lead in the Big Ten title game. Could USC get a shot at redemption against Alabama after the embarrassing season opener?
No. 10 Colorado at No. 7 Oklahoma, winner plays at No. 2 Clemson
So we’d get an old Big Eight/Big 12 rivalry renewed? Yes, please. If the Sooners win, they’d get a rematch from a playoff semifinal last season against Clemson.
No. 11 Florida State at No. 6 MICHIGAN, winner plays at No. 3 OHIO STATE
A lot of people would watch this game. Hey, a lot of people are going to watch this game … it’s the Orange Bowl. This would be an incredible pod, whether we get a rematch of The Game or not. The Seminoles could give the scuffling Wolverines problems.
No. 12 Western Michigan at No. 5 PENN STATE, winner plays at No. 4 Washington
P.J. Fleck’s crew would row their boats to Happy Valley, and two of the longest winning streaks in the nation behind Alabama would be on the line. Then the biggest debate of the actual playoff might get settled. Or college football gets its first true Cinderella.
The ‘FCS’ model
The artist formerly known as Division I-AA expanded its playoff from 16 to 24 teams in 2013. Some of those poor student-athletes could actually have to play five postseason games.
While the purists or the bowl apologists might whine about diluting the product, four the five FCS teams with four losses that made the playoffs this season had one to an FBS school. So we’re talking about 23 schools with three losses or less against the division.
There are some pretty strong three-loss teams at the FBS level this year. The one Penn State is playing in the Rose Bowl (No. 9 Southern Cal) would be a pretty dangerous team in any expanded format.
Same deal here for the bowls. There would be 23 postseason games. The NCAA could use the top 22 for the playoff and leave the rest for the mediocre teams that missed out.
Or the “Round of 24” and “Sweet 16” games could be on campus, and then neutral sites could start with either the quarterfinals or semifinals.
In this format, every FBS conference champion is getting an automatic bid. That would be a must. So 10 automatic bids and 14 at-large selections.
We’ll use the final CFP rankings, but lean on Bill Connelly’s S&P+ advanced stats model to seed the Group of Five champs that are outside the top 25.
A Big Ten-related note here: Iowa would probably be considered one of the last teams out. The top 25 teams that miss out would be No. 21 Tennessee, No. 22 Virginia Tech, No. 23 Pittsburgh and No. 25 Navy.
No. 17 Florida at No. 16 West Virginia, winner plays at No. 1 Alabama
The Will Grier Bowl! Also, possibly a rematch of the SEC title game, which wouldn’t be great.
No. 18 Stanford at No. 15 Western Michigan, winner plays at No. 2 Clemson
We’d find out if the Cardinal have really rebounded from a sluggish start or just preyed on the underbelly of the Pac-12. Plus there’d be a potential for a preseason Heisman Trophy favorites Christian McCaffrey and DeShaun Watson in the second round.
No. 19 Utah at No. 14 Auburn, winner plays at No. 3 OHIO STATE
Two run-heavy offenses that can be fun when healthy. Or in Utah’s case, when its best player comes out of retirement. A Gus Malzahn vs. Urban Meyer matchup might also be fun.
No. 20 LSU at No. 13 Louisville, winner plays at No. 4 Washington
This could be the game of the opening round with a possibly healthy Leonard Fournette (and Derrius Guice) vs. Lamar Jackson. Then it could be a Heisman finalist showdown between Jackson and Washington’s Jake Browning.
No. 21 Western Kentucky at No. 12 Oklahoma State, winner plays at No. 5 PENN STATE
Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers could give Mike Gundy’s crew a great game. Plenty of potential for it to be the most entertaining opening-round game. And another explosive offense awaits the winner.
No. 22 Temple at No. 11 Florida State, winner plays at No. 6 MICHIGAN
If Owls coach Matt Rhule wasn’t already a hot coaching candidate, he’d have a chance to at least give the Seminoles a scare and cement his in-demand status.
No. 23 Appalachian State at No. 10 Colorado, winner plays at No. 7 Oklahoma
The Mountaineers edged out Arkansas State for the automatic bid from the Sun Belt based on S&P+ ranking. They’ve been America’s darlings before after knocking off Michigan when they were still an FCS program.
No. 24 San Diego State at No. 9 Southern Cal, winner plays at No. 8 WISCONSIN.
The Trojans are rolling right now, but the Aztecs are pretty good. An added bonus here: San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey would have a chance to break Ron Dayne’s NCAA career rushing record. Imagine if he didn’t get it, but the Aztecs pulled off the upset. He’d get a chance to break Dayne’s record at Camp Randall Stadium.
COMING TUESDAY: We get really crazy. What if college football’s end-of-season tournament looked a lot like that one everyone calls “March Madness” …