I think you get the gist of the “what” this article will be about from the title, so allow me to elaborate the “how” and “why” we need an 8-team NCAA College Football Playoff.
50% of the 2017-17 season’s College Football Playoff was composed of teams from the Southeastern Conference. While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, it could certainly be argued that the committee put them in the final four based off of their records and the prestige of the conference instead of their actual body of work. Yes, those two SEC teams in the playoff, Alabama and Georgia, both bested their opponents and made it to the championship game, but was the SEC really the best conference?
If we assume that the SEC was the best conference, then there’s no real issue and we can all sleep soundly knowing that the best team in the country, Alabama, earned their championship fair and square. But what if the SEC wasn’t the best conference? What if we look at the Big Ten’s 7-1 bowl record versus the SEC’s 5-6, and decide that the Big Ten was the best conference. The Big Ten did not have a presence in the College Football Playoff because the committee decided its top teams had too many losses. However, you can make a strong argument that the top Big Ten teams (Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State) all had losses because the conference as a whole was so formidable. If this was truly the case, then the Playoff Committee failed in their jobs by punishing the Big Ten for being a competitive conference. In contrast, the SEC had a clear trio of teams (Alabama, Georgia, and Auburn) leading a conference full of disappointing mediocrity. The Big Ten also wins the “eye test” over the SEC. That championship game? Ugly. Compare that to the Big Ten’s bowl wins; most of those were well-played games where the Big Ten teams established themselves clearly as the better team. It’s hard to watch the dominant Big Ten performances from December 2017 and think that the Playoff Committee was correct in leaving out the Big Ten champion from the playoff.Then there’s also the issue of the UCF Knights. They ended the season undefeated. Did they have the toughest schedule in the world? Absolutely not. However, you could tell by watching them play that UCF was fielding a spectacularly good team. Unfortunately, the Playoff Committee displayed clear Power Five bias by not even ranking UCF in the top ten at the end of the season. Then what happened in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day? The Knights defeated Auburn convincingly, ending their season unbeaten with a win against an SEC team who themselves held wins over half the playoff field. Uncertainty over relative conference strengths. Power conference bias. Too much sway in the hands of the committee. These are all issues, and they can all be downplayed with a properly-formatted eight-team playoff. Here’s how it would work: each of the “Power Five” (the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big XII) conferences’ will receive a bid. The highest-ranked non-power conference champion will also receive a bid. The remaining bids (normally 2, but it could be 3 if no non-power team is ranked) will go to the three next highest-ranked teams who do not already have bids. The bracket will then be assembled based off of teams’ ranks. Conceivably, this would result in the #1 ranked team in the country playing the non-power team most of the time.
If this playoff system has been in place this year, the first round would have looked like this:
1) Clemson [#1] vs. 8) UCF [#13]
2) Oklahoma [#2] vs. 7) USC [#8]
3) Georgia [#3] vs. 6) Wisconsin [#6]
4) Alabama [#4] vs. 5) Ohio State [#5]
UCF was the highest-ranked non-power team. Auburn was ranked 7th, but since USC was a Power Five conference champion, they would get in over Auburn despite being ranked 8th. This system would make the “which conference is the best” discussion irrelevant since all major conferences would be represented. It would also give non-power conferences a chance to prove themselves and take less of the decision-making (or chance to mess up, so-to-speak) out of the hands of the Playoff Committee.
There will be many calls for a College Football Playoff expansion after how this 2017-18 bowl season turned out. Hopefully this helped explain some of the reasoning.