Reimagining the College Football Playoffs
The 2016 College Football Playoff didn’t conclude without its fair share of drama and speculation.
For the upcoming offseason, many fans and pundits have turned their heads to the incredibly young College Football Playoff and its many flaws. The Cougar talked about realigning the conferences to a Power-4 format last year, but after seeing the BIG 12’s debacle of an expansion attempt, it’s become apparent the industry isn’t interested in such a drastic change.
There has been much talk about expanding to an eight-team playoff, but recently there has been a growing opinion in the Group of 5 programs for a separate playoff without the Power 5.
We’ll explore both of these possibilities and focus more on the practical than the hypothetical.
With eight teams in the playoff, we won’t have to worry about one of the Power 5 conferences not being represented. Unless the Big 12 actually does implode.
There wouldn’t have been a month-long argument over whether Ohio State deserves to be No. 3 or why Penn State won the BIG10 and wasn’t allowed into the playoff. The arguments would’ve been purely over seeding, which isn’t nearly as complicated.
The games would’ve been more entertaining as well.
Instead of being blown out by Clemson, Ohio State would’ve re-matched Michigan. The Game two times in one year? Their matchup in November already made history, being the first time it went into overtime. So why not make it the first time either team played each other twice in one month? If there’s anything that bumps ratings, this is it.
Instead of a lopsided Washington defeat, they would’ve faced off against Penn State. Penn State had the highest-scoring Rose Bowl ever against USC in a 52-49 loss, and Washington had one of the most prolific offenses under sophomore quarterback Jake Browning. Combine the two and you have an entertaining shoot-out on your hands.
The other two games would’ve probably ended poorly, however. Alabama would’ve dominated Wisconsin, and Clemson would’ve sent Bob Stoops and Baker Mayfield back to Oklahoma crying.
But having two good games and two blowouts is much better than having just two blowouts.
However, where would this leave the Group of 5 programs?
In the three seasons under the new playoff system, no Group of 5 school has made it into the top eight. The closest any team has gotten was Western Michigan this last season. They went undefeated and ended up only at No. 15 with six 3-loss teams and one 4-loss team ahead of them.
The only Group of 5 school that has ever had a chance was Houston last season, and that was a product of luck and the possibility of two stellar seasons in a row. In 2015, Houston ended its season with an upset win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl and finished at No. 8 in the AP poll.
For the 2016 season, Houston’s strength of schedule was powered by playing both Oklahoma and Louisville. It was convenient that Heisman winner Lamar Jackson turned Louisville into an offensive power house while Oklahoma was in early contention for the national crown. Houston could’ve snuck into an eight-team playoff had they had only lost to Navy and not to SMU and Memphis.
Houston would’ve needed two consecutive 1-loss seasons to even be considered for a playoff spot in the top eight. But that is a near-impossible standard to meet.
The issue is obviously a discrepancy in the strength of schedules between the Power 5 and the Group of 5 programs. The solution is definitely not giving a more lenient ranking to Group of 5 schools because if you lose to 2-4 SMU, you don’t deserve to be ranked.
The Group of 5 simply doesn’t have a realistic road to even an eight-team playoff.
Group of 5 Playoff
The biggest argument against a Group of 5 championship is programs don’t want to play second fiddle to the Power 5. But isn’t that what’s already happening?
Power 5 schools get the best recruits, best TV deals, bigger stadiums and more national recognition. A non-Power 5 school hasn’t won a championship ring since BYU in 1984. It’s no question that Power 5 schools outclass the majority of Group of 5 schools.
It’s just a matter of admitting that Power 5 programs are superior.
Instead of playing against Power 5 teams at their worst, the best of the Group of 5 could play each other. But since there’s no ranking for just Group of 5 schools, it’s hard to guess which teams would’ve been included last season, so the above graphic is completely fictional.
Watching the best of the Group of 5 duke it out would be far more entertaining than trying to convince the world they can run with the big boys.
A Group of 5 Playoff would also help a program’s argument for being included in a Power 5 conference that decides to expand. If a team consistently shows that it’s the best in the Group of 5, it can bring that consistency to the next level.
It may just be a competition for the junior varsity crown, but the alternative of having one Group of 5 team in a New Year’s Six bowl isn’t much more appealing. Group of 5 teams are simply incapable of going to the national championship, even in an eight-team playoff.