In just a few days, Alabama and Oklahoma and Clemson and Notre Dame will play in the Cotton and Orange Bowls to determine the matchup for the national championship game on Jan. 7.
This season’s final four offers plenty of intrigue with the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide squaring off against Heisman winner Kyler Murray and a very good Fighting Irish squad taking another talented Clemson team.
Such games match up college football’s best against each other and will be exciting to watch. But in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed there’s an awful lot of grumbling online about how boring the college football playoff is becoming.
Boring? I think not.
Sure, groan all you want about the fact that in five years of the playoff, only 10 different teams have made it in. But I think that speaks to their ability to stay on top rather than something being wrong with the playoff.
For the record, I think the playoff should be expanded to eight teams, but more on that in a minute.
The college football playoff isn’t perfect, but the biggest problem is there’s no staying power in college football anymore. Rather than having a bunch of programs who can regularly contend for a playoff spot, you’ve got a handful of truly great teams who can do it and then you’ve got everyone else.
In my estimation, there are only five programs in college football right now with any kind of staying power: Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma.
Think about that for a minute and consider all the programs with rich histories I didn’t mention.
Sure every sport has its mainstays. I’m not really an Alabama fan, but I can respect what the Crimson Tide has been able to do for as long as they’ve been able to do it. There are a lot of good programs, who are on the cusp of being elite. But the fact of the matter is, most of college football isn’t good enough to compete year in year out for playoff spots.
That’s a hard pill to swallow for bluebloods like Michigan, Texas, USC, LSU, etc., but it’s reality. If you fall short in marquee matchups against the elite teams or get upset early, you turn into an also-ran. Every few years, everything lines up perfectly for a dream season for some of those teams, but a lot of them are staring at 10-2 or 9-3 records when it doesn’t.
I like some degree of parity in sports and I like the idea of having a different national champion every year. But as a college football fan I’m realistic too. If we’re being honest, there are really only about two dozen teams tops that have a legitimate shot at a national title. I mean should we really be surprised that Alabama or Clemson made the playoff again?
The best teams in the nation made a playoff system designed to reward the best four teams in the nation.
You want different playoff matchups? Teams need to get better, plain and simple. Winning’s the name of the game.
But as I said, I do support playoff expansion, but not because I think the current format is boring. I want a cut-and-dried system that (hopefully) eliminates any discussion about who the most deserving teams are.
Take the conference champion from each of the Power 5 conferences and put them in. Give the sixth spot to the top-ranked, non-Power 5 school. That gives the UCFs and Western Michigans of the world a chance to see if they can hang with the big boys. The last two spots are at-large bids which are up to the playoff committee to award.
Expanding the playoff gives every Power 5 conference a chance to put up or shut up every single year so there’s no more talk of how little one conference has made the playoff compared to another. If one conference has more than one team worthy of a playoff berth, the at-large bids should help with that as it should with independents like Notre Dame who make the cut.
Not only would expanding the playoff give more teams a chance to win the title, it will definitely add to the intrigue of the whole thing. Who knows, maybe one of these years a team like Central Florida becomes Utah in 2005 or Boise State in 2007 and pulls off an improbable victory in a marquee game they’re not really supposed to win.
The expansion of the playoff should also come with the elimination of at least half of the college bowl slate. Coaches can ramble on and on about how preparing for a bowl game gives players an extra month of practice and a chance to showcase themselves on a national stage, etc. But let’s be honest. For teams who have championship aspirations at the beginning of the season, a spot in the Holiday Bowl, the Cheez-It Bowl or the Gator Bowl means absolutely nothing.
Unless they’re playing for a championship, the allure of a bowl game isn’t exactly thrilling for players either as NFL-bound players like Rashan Gary, Will Greier and Greedy Williams have already announced they aren’t playing in their team’s respective bowl games this season.
Excluding the national title game, this year’s bowl slate features 39 different games. That’s 78 teams out of the 130 in the FBS, which means 60 percent of the whole subdivision makes a bowl game. Even the most ardent football fan will probably admit that’s a little much.
Keep some of the lower-tier bowl games so up-and-coming schools like Eastern Michigan and Georgia Southern have something to play for at the end of the season and hang on to some of the traditional top-tier games-I’m thinking games like the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl in years where they aren’t part of the CFP.
I believe (perhaps naively) college football is cyclical, so one day the Pac-12 might rule the college football world again or a team from the Big Ten (other than Ohio State) will win a national title or Alabama’s going to cool off.
Until that time, I’ll keep watching college football’s best battle it out in the playoff, even if the matchups are the same in 20 years.
And you know what? It will be just as exciting then as it is now.