Yes, you read the title right. What if college football adapted the same format as the world cup every four years. To start with, there’s a lot, and I mean a lot of guidelines and rules for me to breakdown to establish how the brackets were established
To start with, let’s assume the committee would look at the record of each conference for the past seasons they want to. I decided to choose the record of conference from 2018-2022 so the 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons. While the normal world cup is roughly a two year qualification series, college football isn’t easy to get a fair assessment of the talent without a five year period. In addition, having the tournament every five years would allow teams to be totally different each time and not keep one dominant team for at least two tournaments. The records of each conference are below: (For this scenario, Notre Dame is independent and any known conference realignments starting in 2023 or beyond are not factored in)
- SEC: 512-349 (59.47% win rate)
- B12: 343-264 (56.5%)
- B10: 450-361 (55.49%)
- ACC: 466-397 (54%)
- P12: 349-319 (52.25%)
- AAC: 364-340 (51.7%)
- MWC: 354-331 (51.68%)
- SBC: 403-389 (50.88%)
- CUSA: 384-434 (49.94%)
- IND: 202-205 (49.63%)
- MAC: 311-368 (45.8%)
I also believe the committee would consider an FCS team for this proposed bracket, and likely only one simply because it would bring in views, money, and more diversity. For this, there was really only one option and that is North Dakota State, who’s compiled a 54-3 record since 2018. Similar to the host country being a guaranteed bid in the World Cup, let’s assume the committee would follow a similar path giving the FCS team with the highest win rate an automatic bid.
Establishing bids was pretty simple, higher conference win rates will have more bids with the FCS being guaranteed one bid no matter what. We’ll still keep the 32 team format that the FIFA World Cup uses, giving us 31 bids to split between 10 conferences and the independents. An estimate of what the bids could look like and what they will for this scenario are below:
Teams would be decided based on two factors. A national championship victory in any form would guarantee that team a bid and thus the conference as well. This automatically gives the SEC three bids with Georgia, Alabama, and LSU earning one for their championship wins. In addition, Clemson and the ACC are given an automatic bid. That drops the bids remaining to 27 without even starting the conference choices.
To decide which teams would earn a bid from each conference, let’s assume that the college football committee would simply use the head to head record of each team when it comes to conference play inside the time period to decide who ends up taking the final bids
- SEC (8): Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Texas AM, Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn
- B12 (5): Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Baylor, TCU
- B10 (5): Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin
- ACC (3): Clemson, NC State, Pitt
- PAC (12): Oregon, Utah, Washington
- AAC (2): Cincinnati, UCF
- MWC (2): Boise State, San Diego State
- SBC (2): App State, Louisiana
- IND (1): Notre Dame (based on overall record)
- FCS (1): North Dakota State (based on overall record)
- MAC and CUSA (0)
Just like the World Cup, teams will be placed into four pools and then one team drawn from each to decide the groups. There’s numerous options for how teams could be put into pools, but simply going off win percentage would likely be the best option. Again similar to the World Cup, we’ll place North Dakota State inside pool one simply based on their automatic FCS bid. The rest will then be decided by win percentage with the pots being below:
- Pool 1: NDSU, Ohio St, Alabama, Clemson, UGA, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Oklahoma
- Pool 2: Michigan, UCF, App St, Boise St, Oregon, Louisiana, Washington, LSU
- Pool 3: Iowa, Penn St, San Diego St, Oklahoma St, Florida, Texas AM, Kentucky, Utah
- Pool 4: Wisconsin, Pitt, Texas, NC St, Baylor, TCU, Tennessee, Auburn
The fun stuff now. Like everything else, we’ll stick to the identical working of the actual FIFA world cup. In FIFA, the host, or in this case the FCS, is automatically given the top slide in Group A, then there’s drawings from each pool to determine who will fill out the rest of the bracket. For example, one bracket will feature a randomly drawn team from pool one, pool two, pool three, and finally pool four. Using a randomly selected feature, the first ever NCAAF “National Cup” groups would end up as the following:
- Group A: North Dakota State, Washington, Iowa, Wisconsin
- Group B: Georgia, Michigan, Utah, Auburn
- Group C: Ohio State, Louisiana, Oklahoma State, NC State
- Group D: Cincinnati, App State, Texas AM, Baylor
- Group E: Clemson, LSU, Kentucky, Texas
- Group F: Alabama, Boise State, Penn State, Tennessee
- Group G: Oklahoma, UCF, Florida, Pitt
- Group H: Notre Dame, Oregon, San Diego State, TCU
The rest of the “National Cup” would remain the same as it is in FIFA, there would be a round robin play between the groups to determine the top two seeds with scoring beginning somewhat similar, wins would be worth 3 points, losses none, and ties 1 point. To reduce the overall time needed for a game, and just reduce the impact on players, all games would end at the end of regulation meaning no overtime so straight draws. After that, it would simply be elimination games like a standard NFL playoffs or the World Cup.
There’s a lot of interesting possibilities in this bracket, with each group having some interesting games. Inside group A, North Dakota State could advance with simply the lack of overall talent in their group from Iowa and Wisconsin currently. Group B would be a fight between Georgia, Michigan, Utah, and Auburn looking to need an upset over one of the three teams. When we move into group C there isn’t much competition for Ohio State, and it would be a battle for 2nd like we see in some world cup groups as well. Group D would feature two of the best Go5 schools and obviously the much intriguing Texas AM/App State re-match.
Group E is likely our toughest with all four being good enough to win the group and the potential for all of them to advance deep into the actual bracket as well. Group F and G aren’t really talented and have clear cut winners with Alabama/Penn State and Oklahoma/Florida likely coming out of their groups. Finally Group H features three powerhouse programs all with potential to win the entire tournament.
Having a world cup typesetting in college football will probably and smartly never happen but it’s fun to try and imagine scenarios in which it could. The amount of upsets would be endless with a ton of marquee matchups as well.