Tonight the College Football Playoff Committee will release its third of of six weekly rankings, and immediately the controversy and the commentary will commence. With two or three games remaining, three unbeatens still in the mix, and some relatively 'easy' roads for a few teams, many football fans think the playoff teams are already a lock.
But I remember 2007 very well. The entire season, but especially the month of November, was one of the most tumultuous in college football history.
An unranked or lower-ranked opponent defeated a higher-ranked team 59 times over the course of the regular season. Teams ranked in the top five of the AP Poll were defeated by unranked opponents 13 times during the regular season, setting a new record in the history of the AP Poll when at least 20 teams were ranked. The only other season to see more such upsets was 1967, which was one of seven seasons when the AP Poll ranked only 10 teams.
2007 gave us Appalachian State over #5 The Rival, Stanford knocking off #2 USC, Oregon State defeating #2 Cal, Rutgers over #2 Southern Florida, FSU beating #2 Boston College, Arizona over #2 Oregon, Pitt knocking off #2 WVU, Kentucky sneaking past #1 LSU in triple OT in October, and Arkansas repeating the feat (with the 3OT) against #1 LSU in November. The final straw was #1 Missouri losing the Big XXII conference championship game to #9 Oklahoma by three touchdowns. 2007 was lit, as the cool kids like to say.
So what does that have to do with the College Football Playoff? 2007 was the BCS era, when polls and computers ruled, and we didn't have a weekly, over-produced, 1-hour, ESPN TV special to release the rankings of a 13-person committee sworn to secrecy.
The BCS era had something that a lot of people seem to be clamoring for right now: the six major conferences in that era (B1G, SEC, PAC, B12, ACC and Big East) received automatic bids to BCS bowl games for their conference champions. I've heard several commentators, and even 11W fans say they would like to see the CFP expanded to eight teams with the five major conference champions receiving automatic bids to the playoffs, plus three at large teams.
2018 provides a perfect case study in why that could be the worst possible thing to happen to college football.
The link above provides the current FBS college football standings. If the final two weeks of the 2018 season play out even remotely close to 2007, here are some possible "Power Five" conference championship game scenarios.
- Big Ten: OSU/UM (11-1) loses to Northwestern (8-4) in the title game. B1G has a 9-4 CC.
- PAC 12: Utah (9-3) or ASU (8-4) wins the PAC 12 CCG versus WSU (11-1). PAC has a 10-3 or 9-4 CC.
- ACC: Pitt (8-4) defeats Clemson (12-0) in the ACC title match. ACC has a 9-4 CC.
- B12: WVU loses to oSu this week. OU loses to WVU the following week. Iowa State wins CCG at 10-3.
- SEC: UGA loses to GA Tech but beats Bama in the SEC CCG. SEC has an 11-2 CC.
Likely? No. Possible? Absolutely, when 20-year old college kids are playing a game involving an prolate spheroid.
In an eight-team playoff, with automatic bids to CCs, we would likely see the following match-ups:
9-4 Arizona State vs. 12-0 Notre Dame
9-4 Northwestern vs. 11-2 Georgia
10-3 Iowa State vs. 12-1 Bama
9-4 Pitt vs. 13-0 Central Florida
Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, OU and WSU would be left out with one or two losses while teams that lost 33% of all their games play for the national championship. That's not exactly pitting "the best" eight teams against each other in a playoff.
If you want to make sure the regular season, and especially non-conference games no longer matter, push hard for automatic bids. Personally, I'd rather trust the sometimes suspect, often inconsistent, but generally justifiable rationale of the College Football Playoff Committee to put together a playoff of the four best teams.