Alabama kickoff return

Every weekend matters in the chase to earn a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff. Something quirky and unexpected happens to both thrill us and confuse us.

If the season ended today, there would be a fairly clear-cut group of five teams competing for four spots: Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson and Washington.

Exciting stuff, right? Yes — but college football could be more exciting by expanding its playoffs.

There are currently 11 undefeated teams. Four of them will play each other during the remaining season. Texas A&M and Alabama meet this weekend (Oct. 22) and Ohio State and Michigan face each other in the regular-season finale (Nov. 26) for both schools. (Presuming, of course, that the Buckeyes and Wolverines stay undefeated during their next five games.)

But there could be profound disappointment – especially if there are a whole bunch of one-loss schools throughout college football’s top 25 rankings.

We’re looking at the possibility of the sport’s most dynamic player – Louisville’s Lamar Jackson – being left out of the Playoff. The loser of the Ohio State vs. Michigan game could potentially find itself on the outside looking in. If both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines sneak in, what happens to potential Pac-12 champion Washington? How about Texas A&M, if its only loss is to Alabama? And then there’s the scenario that nobody outside of Waco is rooting for. What do you do if Baylor (ugh) is unbeaten?

Remember when everyone rooted for chaos because it would lead to the demise of the Bowl Championship Series? If you care about college football, you should root for as many teams as possible with legitimate gripes being left out of the four-team playoff.

It might be the only way the field will expand to eight.

Change happens at a glacial pace in college sports. College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said recently that “Four is the right number for this” and there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to increase the number of teams. Last December, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said “I don’t want to say never. I don’t think we’ll see it during the remaining years of the contract.”

College Football Playoff Announces The College Football Playoff Selection Committee - News Conference

The contract with ESPN runs through 2025. (#groan)

The NCAA and its member institutions aren’t the most forward-thinking bunch. Look how long it took them to put together a playoff. It’s going to take some serious grumbling from other Power 5 schools (Big 12, can you help?) to get this movement started.

Take a look at college basketball. What makes the NCAA tournament the greatest postseason spectacle of them all is that everyone has a chance. It doesn’t matter which conference you’re from and sometimes not even your strength of schedule. If you win enough games, your school – whether its North Carolina or UNC Asheville – competes for a championship.

College football probably will never be that, but it could be and should be more inclusive.

An eight-team playoff would also lessen the possibility of controversy. Sure, the ninth -or 10th-rated team will complain, but that’s fine. Expanding would create more buzz and interest, and be a fairer representation of the best teams.

In the inaugural 2014 College Football Playoff, the big controversy was the exclusion of the Big 12. TCU and Baylor shared the Big 12-team championship and were both 11-1. But since there was no conference championship game, there was no definitive Big 12 champ.

As a result, Ohio State snuck in. You could argue that the Buckeyes (11-1) who lost at home in their season-opener to Virginia Tech didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Ohio State enthusiasts will simply point to the end result: the Buckeyes on their third-string quarterback upset Alabama and Oregon to en route to winning the national championship. (Of course, whether they deserved to be in and whether they could win – are two different arguments).

In 2015, there was less drama. The four teams selected: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan State were clearly the four best. Still, in an eight-team field it would have been fun to see Ohio State have a shot at repeating. Or what about Stanford, Iowa or Notre Dame in the mix? The addition of four more playoff spots would also help eliminate the perception that the Pac 12 and Big 12 don’t get the respect they deserve. Especially when compared to the SEC or the Big Ten.

The Football Championship Subdivision has a playoff of 24 teams (10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large bids) and seems to do just fine in crowning a championship. They’re student athletes too. The regular-season is important too. There’s no legitimate reason why the FBS can’t do the same.

In an eight-team scenario, it would be nice if there were five automatic bids (the Power 5 conference champions) and three automatic bids. That would require the committee to only choose three schools to fill out the bracket. But that probably won’t happen.

If the season ended today who would be the eight teams in the playoffs?

How about this?

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Nebraska
  • No. 4 Clemson vs. No. 5 Washington
  • No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Louisville
  • No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 6 Texas A&M

That looks like an awesome weekend of college football. That looks like something that would definitely get people to the television sets. That looks like a no-brainer.

Playoff expansion can’t come soon enough.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.

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