There are shades of 2011 at play again.
That was the year the University of Alabama football team broke the BCS. Designed to pair the top two teams in the nation for the national championship, it didn’t go over well when the Crimson Tide got a second chance at LSU.
The Tigers are still upset about it as well, but not Alabama, especially since the Crimson Tide won 21-0 in New Orleans.
Regardless, that was the impetus for college football to become the last sport in college athletics to set up a tournament to determine a champion. The four-team College Football Playoff was established and four years later there are already significant calls to expand it to eight, especially with Alabama backing in yet again.
The potential wear-and-tear on the players aside (after adding a 12th game to the regular season, conference championships plus playoff games), most believe it’ll eventually happen.
But what if the playoff had been eight teams all along?
For our purposes, we’ll make the assumption that it’s straight brackets and every game is still played at a neutral site (despite the cost to fans). Each Power 5 champion gets an automatic berth along with the three top-ranked at-large teams, and the seeding process still done by a committee.
The field for this season would look like:
- Conference champions: Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio State and USC
- At-large: Alabama, Wisconsin and Auburn
Penn State, Miami and Washington fans would all be complaining about three-loss Auburn getting in over them, and the Alabama-Ohio State debate that’s been raging for the past couple of weeks would not have occurred.
8 USC vs. 1 Clemson
7 Auburn vs. 2 Oklahoma
6 Wisconsin vs. 3 Georgia
5 Ohio State vs. 4 Alabama
The team that would especially hate that draw is Oklahoma, which would want nothing to do with a rested Auburn. Moreover, it would set up a possible third meeting between Auburn and Georgia in a semifinal (played in the Rose Bowl).
Similar issues would have existed during the previous three years.
- Conference champions: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor
- At-large: TCU, Mississippi State and Michigan State
- Pairings: 8 Michigan State vs. 1 Alabama; 7 Mississippi State vs. 2 Oregon, 6 TCU vs. 3 Florida State, 5 Baylor vs. 4 Ohio State
- Of note: None of the quarterfinal games would be especially appealing. … The team this setup might have helped the most is Alabama, which would have gotten a better feel for Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who had only made one start, before playing him. Instead, it got thumped by the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl, 42-35.
- Conference champions: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Stanford
- At-large: Iowa, Ohio State and Notre Dame
- Pairings: 8 Notre Dame vs. Clemson; 7 Ohio State vs. 2 Alabama; 6 Stanford vs. 3 Michigan State; 5 Iowa vs. 4 Oklahoma
- Of note: There would have a been a huge debate over the last at-large team between Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina and TCU, all with two losses. UNC would have the only one of them to play in a conference championship. … Whereas the eight-team field could have worked to Alabama’s advantage in 2014, in this scenario it might have been to the Crimson Tide’s chagrin. Coming in, Ohio State’s lone loss was 17-14 to Michigan State and many believe this team was Urban Meyer’s best with the Buckeyes.
- Conference champions: Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma
- At-large: Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin
- Pairings: 8 Wisconsin vs. 1 Alabama; 6 Michigan vs. 2 Clemson; 7 Oklahoma vs. 3 Ohio State; 5 Penn State vs. 4 Washington
- Of note: Michigan and Oklahoma swap spots in the bracket to avoid a Michigan vs. Ohio State rematch in the quarterfinals. … Wisconsin gets in despite a 10-3 record, over USC, Colorado, Florida State, Oklahoma State and Louisville. … Clemson would have had a much tougher road to the title game, possibly having to go through Baker Mayfield and the Sooners who had won nine straight.
It’s not much of a stretch to think that Alabama might have captured the 2014 and 2016 national titles with the eight-team format, but not in 2015.
Regardless, not only would expanding make injuries more of a factor, decrease the importance of the regular season and immediately spark the debate on going to 16 teams instead of eight, adding another round would benefit the “haves” over the “have nots” even more.
It would be better for Alabama, but probably not college football.