Projecting the Results for a Hypothetical 8-Team College Football Playoff

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 13, 2018

UCF QB Darriel Mack Jr.
UCF QB Darriel Mack Jr.John Raoux/Associated Press

College football fans have been clamoring for an expansion to the four-team playoff model since before the two-team BCS format was dead and buried in January 2014.

Every November and December, people gripe that four entrants aren't enough; that more than half of the FBS teams still have no hope of playing for a national championship. This year in particularas UCF rides a 25-game winning streak and without a path to the Top Four—those cries are louder than ever. But it seemed like we were just collectively screaming at a brick wall that wouldn't ever change to eight teams.

Until now.

According to The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach, the voices that matter in this situation are throwing their support behind an eight-team playoff. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Wisconsin athletic director and former CFP selection committee member Barry Alvarez and West Virginia president Gordon Gee were all quoted in that article as either being in favor of expansion to eight teams or at least in agreement that there should be a discussion about it.

Change may be coming, and it would make sense for it to happen for the 2020 season, as that is the midway point of the original 12-year deal, as well as a point in the rotation at which each of the New Year's Six Bowls has hosted an equal number of CFP games.

Unfortunately, nothing will change for this season, but we can still imagine how things would have played out.

For argument's sake, we're making the following assumptions about the logistics of an eight-team playoff:

  1. Conference championship week goes away, so we are working with the penultimate rankings as opposed to the final Top 25.
  2. The highest-ranked team from each power conference gets a spot in the field, provided that team is ranked in the Top 20. (Hard to imagine a scenario where an entire power conference has no one in the Top 20, but I would hope we don't need to include that conference in the CFP if it's that awful.)
  3. The highest-ranked Group of Five team also gets a spot in the field, provided that team is ranked in the Top 20.
  4. The rest of the field goes to the highest-ranked teams not already selected.
  5. Once the eight teams are selected, seeding goes in order of CFP rankings, regardless of whether that results in a quarterfinal matchup between entrants from the same conference.

Given those parameters, the hypothetical eight-team playoff for this season would be:

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Washington
  • No. 4 Georgia vs. No. 5 Oklahoma
  • No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Ohio State
  • No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 UCF

A quick note before we contemplate those matchups: Despite finishing at No. 7 in the rankings and only suffering losses to the teams ranked No. 3 and No. 6, Michigan still would not get a shot at the title. And looking at last year's Week 13 CFP rankings, No. 7 Miami and No. 8 Ohio State would have been omitted in favor of No. 10 USC and No. 14 UCF, while the SEC would've sent three teams to the playoff (Auburn, Alabama, Georgia).

While eight is clearly better than four, you'll have angry teams no matter what. Trust me: I write about who got unfairly omitted from the 68-team men's basketball tournament every year.

As far as this year's hypothetical bracket goes, we can pencil Alabama and Clemson into the semifinals. No disrespect to Washington or UCF, but the idea of Jake Browning and Darriel Mack Jr. up against the Crimson Tide and Tigers defenses, respectively, feels almost more unfair than not even giving those teams a chance to reach the playoff. Alabama and Clemson each would be favored by at least 17 points and win easily.

The other games are a good deal tougher to forecast.

Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins
Ohio State QB Dwayne HaskinsDarron Cummings/Associated Press

Notre Dame's secondary was great this season, and the defense held all 12 opponents to 27 points or fewer. But the Fighting Irish didn't face anything close to an elite quarterback, and Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins would enter this contest fresh off destroying a Michigan defense that met the same description.

If we're assuming these quarterfinals would be home games for the higher-ranked team, that might be enough of an advantage for Notre Dame to win. But it's a close enough call that we'll go with the Buckeyes, if only to get a look at how differently things could play out with eight teams.

And instead of letting the selection committee decide who deserved the fourth spot in the playoff, Georgia and Oklahoma get to battle it out on the field.

The Bulldogs should win. Excluding the SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama that wouldn't have happened in this scenario, Georgia ranked third in the nation in yards per play and averaged better than 40 points per game. It would destroy this Oklahoma defense, and the Bulldogs defense would be the toughest test the Sooners faced all season.

Both Georgia vs. Oklahoma and Notre Dame vs. Ohio State would be incredible battles, possibly producing 42-38 type of final scores. But even if they both turned into blowouts, there would be more eyes on those games than there will be on the actual Sugar Bowl (Georgia vs. Texas) and Rose Bowl (Ohio State vs. Washington). It's hard to believe any of the decision-makers would be opposed to that type of ratings grab.

That leaves us with semifinal matchups of:

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia
  • No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 6 Ohio State

Georgia RB D'Andre Swift and Alabama LB Dylan Moses
Georgia RB D'Andre Swift and Alabama LB Dylan MosesJohn Amis/Associated Press

That is, unless they reseed to pair the top team with the bottom team after each round, which would mean Alabama vs. Ohio State and Clemson vs. Georgia. Either way, awesome games.

Regardless, we're picking Alabama and Clemsonthe country's clear-cut two best squads all season, and the championship matchup that has felt inevitable since the moment Clemson's defensive line remained in college. Still, Haskins could make things interesting against Clemson's secondary, which Texas A&M's Kellen Mond (430 yards, 3 TD) and South Carolina's Jake Bentley (510 yards, 5 TD) both torched.

In the end, the eight-team playoff would produce the same national championship we expect from the four-team playoff, but with a lot more fun along the way and many more entrants who are at least content with having a chance to play for the title.

So keep speaking out in support of expansion, people whose opinions carry weight.

We want this CFP format ASAP.


Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.


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