I’m not posting this in the vain hope that there’s still a point to railing against the 12-team CFP, because there isn’t.
If that format was in place right now, the top two seeds would be the same as they are with the four-team model: Georgia and Michigan. But because of the upsets in the Big 12 and Pac-12 championship games, the third and fourth seeds would become Clemson and Utah.
If you’ve watched the season play out, that sounds really messed up. And when you look at how the rest of the bracket fills out because of it, you’ll see that the wrong teams are being rewarded.
For top-seeded Georgia, there’s no issue. They beat Tennessee easily with Hendon Hooker. They’d have little concern about facing the Vols without him in a quarterfinal… or Kansas State for that matter. And projecting to the semifinal round, whether it’s Utah, TCU or Tulane, that’s an easier draw than what the Dawgs have in real life this year against Ohio State.
But for second-seeded Michigan, this doesn’t work out as well. Sure, there’s a possibility that USC could upset Alabama (first-round games are on the home fields of the higher seeds, so that would be played in Tuscaloosa). But if Bama prevails, now the Wolverines have to open against the committee’s fifth-best team in a quarterfinal matchup – and not at home in Ann Arbor in the cold but rather at a bowl site, likely one that’s closer to Alabama’s campus than Michigan’s. That’s the reward for an unbeaten season that was worthy of consideration for the No. 1 seed?
The team that actually gets the big break is Ohio State. The Buckeyes would get to host Penn State, a team they’d already beaten on the road, and then draw Clemson on a neutral field. And while the Tigers’ QB change might make them better than they looked for most of the regular season, we’re still talking about OSU being able to reach a semifinal from the 6 slot by beating two lower-ranked teams.
And while you could argue that, being the fourth-ranked team (although sixth-seeded) should allow them such a path to a semifinal, here’s the other advantage for the Buckeyes. By not being the 4 seed, they’re now on the opposite side of the bracket from Georgia instead of having to face the Bulldogs in a semifinal.
So, what is Michigan’s reward for having gone into Columbus and won in late November and then following it up with the Big Ten championship? It’s difficult to see how that helped their national championship hopes in this future playoff model.
Unfortunately, when you give the 3 and 4 seeds to teams that clearly aren’t worthy of being in those spots on the bracket, the trickle-down effect is that the top two seeds will sometimes face a better opponent in a quarterfinal than they will in a semifinal. And while that does increase the chances of an “upset” that would give this expanded football playoff more of a basketball tournament feel, let’s be honest: in football, that’s rarely going to be a “Cinderella.”
Nah, I’m leaving this as a marker, so that a few years down the road when this becomes a reality that everyone and their brother questions and objects to, leading to the eventual screaming for another round of change, I can smile and say I told you so.
Naturally, I except from this Mickey, Fox and the P5 commissioners, who will all see this garbage as a feature, not a bug.
UPDATE: Oh, and look at what else playoff expansion begets.
The remaining football members of the Atlantic Sun and WAC have agreed to align to form the foundation of a 10-member football-only conference, sources told ESPN, with the intention of becoming the 11th FBS conference.
Sources said the founding documents for the league state the group intends to move “from what is currently known as FCS football to what is currently known as FBS football at the earliest practicable date.”
Shades of college basketball. That move should payoff handsomely when the CFP expands to 20 teams.
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