The landscape of college football entering the 2020 season is unprecedented and unusual to say the least, but it will make for a unique product on the field. Both the Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences have announced that they will be shifting into a conference only schedule for the upcoming college football season. Other major power 5 conferences will be discussing further action over the next week.
Primetime out of conference match-ups like Ohio State vs. Oregon, Penn State vs. Virginia Tech, and Michigan vs. Washington will not be played in 2020 and could be rescheduled or canceled altogether. This swirl of news has caused a loud group of people on social media to call for playoff expansion now rather than later. Even though expanding the playoff is inevitable, the four-team method that is in place now is the perfect recipe to crown a national champion.
When looking at the top ten rankings in the playoff era of college football, there has never been an instance where a team below the ranking of four deserved the chance to play for the National Championship. There has been some debate over the order of the top 4 and maybe even the last spot available, but the conversation has always been which team deserves it; not why can’t they both get the opportunity?
Championship weekend adherently serves as the college football playoff quarterfinals. The top four teams all have to pass a final test against an opposing team who is most likely in the top 10 or maybe even in the top 4.
This past season, National Champions LSU faced off against Georgia; a playoff contender and a team that was on a six-game win streak. Ohio State was in a rematch against Wisconsin and got tested in the first half but prevailed in the second half, and klahoma and Baylor were in a winner get the final spot in the playoff situation in the Big 12.
All of these games were chances for the lesser ranked team to win just like they would have in a quarterfinal match-up in an 8 team format. They could not get the job done and were rightfully placed in New Year’s 6 bowls instead of magically ending up in the playoff despite losing their last game. The Playoff should be reserved for the best in the sport and teams that cannot win against the best in the sport do not deserve another chance to compete for a championship.
Part of what makes the sport of College Football so sacred and special is its exclusive playoff format and the beauty of the regular season. Expanding the playoff undermines the importance of the regular season and ruins the exclusivity of the Playoff.
In the regular season, every game truly matters. Unlike the NFL, being average does not give you a chance to win at the highest level of the sport. Teams with multiple losses are rarely still in the playoff hunt and depending on the conference, one loss could knock you out of contention.
The other part of what makes College Football so special is the tradition and passion that is rooted in every major team. That passion from the players to the coaching staff to the fans makes important regular-season games between elite teams that much more entertaining and special. Think about how monumental the LSU/Alabama game was this past season.
The LSU program was stuck for years against Bama; running an offense that was outmatched every year against the greatest college football coach of this generation. Mind you, Saban had led LSU to a National Championship earlier in the century and then beat them constantly over the last decade.
That win for LSU kickstarted their dominance over the rest of the sport and was the beginning of their run which can be considered as one of the best of all time. In every other major sport in America, one regular-season loss will not mean the season is over, but it can in College Football.
An expanded playoff format means more losses is still acceptable to make the playoff and contend with the big boys. And if the non-elite teams failed to beat the big boys in the regular season, then what makes you think they will be able to beat them in the playoff?
Over the course of the CFP history, we have seen some all time classics from the rivalry between Clemson and Alabama to the emergence of star players on the biggest stage in Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, and Tua Tagovailoa. There has also been a fair share of duds in the Playoff Semifinals.
Alabama and Clemson have been evenly matched against each other but have torn up the competition before their match-ups. Clemson has destroyed the likes of Notre Dame and Ohio State (2016) while Alabama has done the same to Michigan State and Washington in other semifinals match-ups. So if some semifinal games aren’t even competitive, then why will any quarterfinal games be different considering the elite teams won’t even be matched up against each other in the quarterfinals.
Let’s revisit the conference championships games from this past season one more time. Georgia and Wisconsin as previously mentioned were completely overmatched against the best; proving they were not good enough to win the title. If we switch the match-ups to Wisconsin vs. LSU or Georgia vs. Ohio State or even Baylor versus anyone in the top three, the results would not change.
Quarterfinals match-ups would be a waste of energy for the teams because they have already proved that they can beat or lose to those other teams in the regular season and in the conference championship games. Getting to the top in College Football is not easy and the Playoff format should reflect that fact by only allowing the four best teams that prove their greatness in the regular season.
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