In the year 2026, the college football playoff contract will expire. And with it, the idea that only four of the FBS’ 130 teams are good enough to compete for a title.
Here’s what a 16-team playoff format consisting of the 10 FBS Conference Champions and six at-large would look like in 2019
16. Miami-Ohio (MAC, 8-5) at 1. LSU (SEC, 13-0)
LSU would likely rest many of their starters and blow out the RedHawks, but isn’t that what a top seed would want? For a fantastic season, LSU would be rewarded with a virtual bye week, and still be able to prep for the later rounds in the playoff. Tigers’ fans would be rewarded as well with a home playoff game instead of being forced to spend thousands of dollars on expensive travel during the holiday season. Would it sell out? 100,334 fans purchased tickets to watch LSU destroy FCS Northwestern State 65-14. Why would Miami (Ohio) show up for a beatdown? A simple answer is money. The RedHawks made $1.2 million to play at Iowa earlier in the season. They’d make a lot more for a playoff game.
15. Florida Atlantic (C-USA, 10-3) at 2. Ohio State (Big Ten, 13-0)
Ohio State already beat Florida Atlantic, so why a rematch? FAU made $1.4 million to play in Columbus earlier which is an obvious reason for FAU to do it again. Florida Atlantic also gave the Buckeyes the 3rd toughest game on their regular season schedule. After the first quarter of the 2019 season, FAU actually outscored Ohio State 21-17, and OSU kept their starters in until the final drive of the game. Every FBS rematch in 2019 was closer than the original meeting, so couldn’t this one be too? FAU destroyed SMU 52-28 while missing their head coach and four starters in the Boca Raton bowl game.
14. Appalachian State (Sun Belt, 12-1) at 3. Clemson (ACC, 13-0)
Blowout? Let’s look at facts before assuming the worst. Appalachian State was a field goal away from a 14-0 season. If there was an extra minute on the clock against Georgia Southern, they likely would’ve gotten it. The Mountaineers dominated the New Orleans bowl after getting a wakeup call in the first quarter. They also were 2-0 against the “P5” with a game controlling performance at South Carolina, and a better margin of victory against North Carolina than Clemson had. Ranked No. 20, App State would be the highest-ranked team Clemson would’ve played in 2019, and the stage could’ve been set for an upset. Don’t forget that in 2016, the year Clemson won the championship, Sun Belt member Troy almost beat them in an upset. Certainly, a game that would’ve had fans on the edge of their seats in a playoff setting.
13. Boise State (Mountain West, 12-1) at 4. Oklahoma (Big 12, 12-1)
Does this game need an intro? In 2007, Boise State not only put themselves on the map with an unthinkable upset over Oklahoma, but they set the stage for more upsets. Upsets that they not only pulled off again in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2014, but set the stage for dramatic wins by UCF, TCU, Utah, Houston, and more. The marketing is already there, and Sooners fans would pack 86,112 seat Memorial Stadium for revenge.
12. Memphis (AAC, 12-1) at 5. Georgia (SEC, 11-2)
On December 28th, Memphis played in the biggest game in school history. A Cotton Bowl meeting with Penn State. But outside of Memphis, the game meant nothing more than a glorified exhibition. Instead of a meaningless game, why not a playoff game? Memphis was one bad call away from being undefeated, they’re 1-0 versus the SEC and have three wins over top-25 programs on their resume… The same amount as Georgia. The Bulldogs were already upset at home once this season by South Carolina, it could happen again in a playoff atmosphere.
11. Utah (At-Large, 11-2) at 6. Oregon (Pac-12, 11-2)
The most exciting thing that can happen in a playoff is that two division rivals go head to head in a win or go home scenario. The Pac-12 NEEDS this game. According to USAToday, the Pac-12 revenue dropped by $12.5 million as a result of being left out of the playoff in 2018. 2019 figures haven’t been released, however, revenue is likely down again without a Pac-12 team in the playoff. But why a rematch? As said earlier, every rematch in 2019 was closer than the original meeting. Wisconsin was a missed false start call away from possibly upsetting Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship; which could’ve put Oregon in the playoff. A sold-out opening round Pac-12 Championship rematch is all the college football community can ask for.
10. Penn State (At-Large, 10-2) at 7. Baylor (At-Large, 11-2)
Penn State traveled to Dallas, Texas to play in the Cotton Bowl. Why not have them travel another 90 miles south to Waco, Texas instead? Penn State had a good season. They almost pulled off a comeback on the road against a tough Minnesota program and gave No. 2 Ohio State their hardest fought win of the season. On the other hand, Baylor only lost to one opponent during the regular season. A 34-31 loss to Oklahoma in which the Bears led 28-3, and a 30-23 overtime loss against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship. This has the makings of an instant classic.
9. Florida (At-Large, 10-2) at 8. Wisconsin (At-Large, 10-3)
It’s not often an SEC team travels outside of the Southeast. An expanded playoff could force that to happen. Both of these programs have top defenses, and both have been tested against top offenses. An SEC vs. Big Ten opening-round playoff game is immediately more entertaining, and better financially than any meaningless bowl game.
Why should the college football playoff expand?
The current four-team format isn’t new to college football. The inaugural season of Division 1-AA football had a four-team playoff format. It included three regional champs and an at-large.
Spoiler alert: It was the 4-seed at-large Florida A&M that won the National Championship, much like Ohio State won the first-ever FBS playoff as the 4-seed. After much success, similar to what the FBS has seen, the FCS expanded its field frequently to the 24-team format that exists today.
The difference between the FCS, and the FBS is that the NCAA doesn’t own the FBS. It’s the lone college sport that is not owned by the NCAA, thus is why the FCS Champion is the official NCAA Div. 1 Champion. The 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame own the FBS football.
It’s a system that is driven by greed.
The college football playoff despite being owned by each conference awards 75% of its proceeds to the 65 “Power 5 Conference” schools (Big 10, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, Big 12). The other 25% is split up between the “Group of 5 Conference” schools (AAC, MW, SunBelt, MAC, C-USA). This inequity put the “G5” schools at a financial disadvantage. Not only does it hinder them while raising funds to support their football programs, but the “G5” has been unofficially barred from the college football playoff, as no G5 has ever been considered for a playoff spot despite UCF going undefeated two years in a row with a Peach Bowl victory.
One excuse by the college football playoff committee was that UCF hadn’t played a tough enough schedule, however, UCF had beaten more ranked opponents than Alabama, and this year’s 3rd seed Clemson has only one top-25 victory which is over No. 24 Virginia. The college football playoff committee has done everything in its power to keep the G5 from participating including changing the criteria to qualify for the playoff to fit their narrative. Don’t forget Baylor, and TCU were left out of the playoff despite a strong resume, because they “hadn’t played a championship game” like Ohio State had… 2016 Ohio State didn’t reach the Big Ten Championship, and the same can be said about Alabama in 2017. What’s the real reason Baylor and TCU were left out? Money! They weren’t called the “University of Texas”.
There’s an easy way to fix this. When expansion comes, skip the baby steps, and go to 16-teams. 10 conference champions and six at-large to the top-ranked non-champions. With a little bit of negotiation, the league can decide whether to start the postseason after championship week, or shorten the season (like the FCS), and have the teams with the best league records claim their conference bids. All conferences already have in place backup scenarios to break ties in case their championship game couldn’t be played.
Deals can be made with bowl sponsors to sponsor the opening rounds of the playoff instead. The smaller bowl sponsors would benefit by gaining the teams that just missed out of the playoffs, instead of mediocre teams that may have finished 5-7.
Meanwhile, the entire league would benefit from the substantial amount of money the playoff would make. CBS reported that an 8-team playoff would likely be worth around $10 billion dollars. 16 would undoubtedly be worth more.
Besides the obvious financial benefits the entire FBS would see with expansion, the competition would improve as well.
It may be scary for “P5” members who go unchallenged in recruiting, however, an expanded playoff would entice more athletes to choose “G5” schools where they can play earlier in their career without having to redshirt or ride the bench until they’re juniors. Boise State, Houston, UCF, Utah, TCU have all benefited recruiting wise by winning NY6 bowl games. Since TCU and Utah made the leap into the “P5”, they’ve competed with every foe, and are no longer outmatched in recruiting.
It’s time that the FBS becomes beneficial to the entire FBS community, and not just the selected traditional powers.