Holbrook: Finding the right number for the College Football Playoff


Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts during the Iowa State vs. Oklahoma game Nov. 9, 2019.

Trevor Holbrook

The past few weeks many people flooded Twitter feeds with their brainstorm for a better structure to the College Football Playoff.

It’s not a new trend, as the BCS system faced push back frequently in its heyday. People like to complain about things that are probably fine, but I do think there’s some value in addressing and possibly tweaking the format.

Since last weekend, though, the chatter died down with the conference championships going mostly chalk, and everything worked itself out, as it often does. (Even Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard chimed in.)

To recap, though, LSU received the top spot, followed by Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma, meaning LSU faces Oklahoma and Ohio State tackles Clemson in the first round.

Is there a better version of this? Well, let’s take a look.

Six Teams

This format suggests the five Power 5 conference champions earn a spot with one wild card. This year, that would be the four involved, Pac-12 Champions Oregon and Georgia as the highest-ranked non-champion.

I used to be on the six-team playoff bandwagon because it seems like a good middle ground between four and eight, but I think it has flaws.

For starters, the wild card team will almost always be a Big Ten school or an SEC school, which is fine, but it doesn’t put to bed the argument of including a Group of Five conference school.

It’s also worth noting, too, that having conference championship tie-ins could generate problems. So far, No. 11 is the lowest ranking of a Power 5 conference champion since 2014 (the first year of the playoff), but what if Virginia upsets Clemson last weekend putting a good but not great Virginia team in the playoff and bouncing either Clemson or Georgia as a wild card?

I don’t like throwing away the championship tie-ins either because it diminishes the value of winning the conference some and added interest in the championships means more dollars involved.

The six teams is a good start, but it’s just a little too cramped for my liking.

Eight Teams

Extending on the six teams, we also throw Baylor and Wisconsin into the mix, or Wisconsin gets replaced for Memphis if we’re looking for a Group of Five team to get in, too.

Personally, I say dump the automatic bid for a Group of Five team. If the school is truly good enough, it’ll rise up into the top five, but the committee needs to give more respect to a smaller school that runs the table.

Central Florida climbed to No. 8 during the undefeated 2018 campaign, but the Knights only jumped to No. 12 in 2017 and Western Michigan reached No. 15 in 2016 despite an undefeated record.

I think the committee needs to open up chances for those schools to compete in a playoff. In 2017, I’d take UCF over a three-loss Auburn (No. 7) or a two-loss USC (No. 8). If the undefeated Group of Five schools consistently get steamrolled, then the committee can reevaluate and adjust.

For a year like this year, though, a Group of Five school feels forced and undeserving.

If we roll with eight teams, I’d like to give the top two schools a reward for such a strong season. A first round bye muddies things because the other six teams would have three winners, creating an odd number.

Instead, let’s give the top two teams home field to open with neutral site locations for the rest.

To recap, I think eight is the best number, but the committee needs to sprinkle some respect toward undefeated Group of Five schools.

16 Teams

As fun as it would be, 16 is just too much. I know it works for the FCS, and Division II extends to 24, but Division I is a whole different animal.

A jump to any larger field has a lot of kinks to work out, and I’d have concerns diving into a playoff that’s four times as large as the current one.

If you roll with eight teams for a handful of years, I think it’d be fine set at that number. If there seems to be potential for more teams to be in it, then reevaluate again but ease into it.

Plus, I’m not sure teams like Michigan, Notre Dame and Iowa deserve to be in the playoff.