Oklahoma's Loss to LSU Is a Reminder of the Downside to CFP Expansion

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2020

An Oklahoma fan watches play against LSU during the second half of the Peach Bowl NCAA semifinal college football playoff game, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
John Amis/Associated Press

This is not another piece about why College Football Playoff expansion is or isn't necessary. This is not another diatribe on how a single result serves as proof of one individual's preference. This is, however, an exploration of an undeniable trend.

If you're hoping the four-team playoff expands to six, eight or even 16 teams, we're not trying to dissuade you. If you're begging the powers that be to leave it at four, you're entitled to your opinion.

But after yet another semifinal blowoutOklahoma's 63-28 loss to LSUexpansion talk demands some perspective.

First, some basic thoughts to explain my bias:

I like the College Football Playoff. The 2019 season is a perfect example of why it's valuable, given that Clemson, LSU and Ohio State all finished 13-0. I'm content with four teams. I don't mind expanding, provided top-ranked programs are granted some sort of advantage like a first-round bye and/or home-field advantage in early rounds. I like football. More football is fun. Fun is good.

If we can agree on the aboveor at least not vehemently object to its foundationexcellent. Let's continue.

As currently constructed, the College Football Playoff provides a useful and essential margin for error to top-tier teams that previously would've been held out of contention.

In 2015, 2016 and 2018, the top two seeds (always Alabama or Clemson) advanced to a national title. But in 2014 and 2017, the No. 4 seed (Ohio State and Alabama) won the championship. Then in 2019, a fully deserving Clemson found itself ranked behind LSU and Ohio Statewhich would've been true if the BCS still existed:

Simply put, not every season has only two deserving championship contenders. The current setup accounts for that.

You might have objected to exclusions along the way (2014 TCU, 2016 Penn State, 2017 Ohio State or 2017/2018 UCF). Yet despite the CFP selection committee's ever-changing judgments of what matters most in a ranking—or so it seems, at least—the final Top Four has consistently proved correct.

Through the 2019 semifinals, the favored teams in the initial round own a 9-3 record, per Vegas Insiders data. Only one underdog winner had a spread greater than four points, and of those, only 2014 Ohio State was a controversial inclusion.

The correct teams are making it, and the favorites are usually winning.

Yes, any controversy in the rankings might be enough for you to believe expansion is necessary. While disagreements are inevitable and expansion doesn't solve itlook at March Madness; we argue about 68 teamsit's a reasonable conclusion.

If you want expansion, though, be prepared for blowouts. Through six editions of the College Football Playoff, five semifinal matchups have included a margin of 27-plus points.

2014 (Rose Bowl): Oregon 59, Florida State 20
2015 (Cotton Bowl): Alabama 38, Michigan State 0
2016 (Fiesta Bowl): Clemson 31, Ohio State 0
2018 (Cotton Bowl): Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3
2019 (Peach Bowl): LSU 63, Oklahoma 28

Throw in three more margins of 17-plus points, and only four semifinals have featured a final score within two possessions.

Plus, according to Vegas Insiders, seven of the 12 semifinals have included a spread of eight-plus points. In those games, the underdog is 1-6 with every loss by at least 11 points.

Just as not every season has only two title contenders, not every year has four realistic options, either. Since the likelihood of eight legitimate title hopefuls is infinitesimal, expanding the playoff is begging for more lopsided results.

Would an expanded CFP be more compelling? Probably! Teams ranked between fifth and eighth should win a game regularly and the national championship once in a while. And every upset only adds to the drama of a championship tournament.

Surely, it would be more profitable, and that's also a significant factor. Money—despite what the NCAA publicly says—rules the sport. Playing quarterfinal games at on-campus sites would provide a financial windfall to top-ranked teams.

For good measure, on-campus sites mean a true student-led home-field advantage would become a factor in these games.

The appeal of expansion is obvious. And if you'd like to argue it's also inevitable, that's fine.

Nevertheless, the six-year history of the CFP clearly indicates that expansion advocates must be prepared for several one-sided games in the quarterfinals and semifinals each season.

The current four-team setup is working sufficiently well. Increasing the number of participants would be enjoyable, too. But an expanded CFP certainly won't prevent lopsided results.

               

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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