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Revisiting the 16 Team Playoff

We’re going there whether you like it or not.

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The College Football Playoff (CFP) management committee recently met to discuss the work done to navigate the pandemic this past season, the logistics around returning to a more normal football operation moving forward, and to just generally talk about how great a job they’re doing. Most important of all though, in the opinion of this humble “writer,” is the continued and detailed discussion around expanding the CFP from its existing 4-team format. Per the CFP management committee, they are evaluating “some 63 possibilities for change. These include 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 16-team options, each with a variety of different scenarios.”

As a longtime proponent of a 16-team playoff I don’t know what else to say but “finally!” Those who have been with us for an absolutely mind-boggling, unhealthy amount of time may recall that back in 2013 I outlined the format of a 16-team playoff and applied it to that particular season. And when I say outlined, I mean I largely followed the existing idea proposed by longtime Yahoo! Sports writer Dan Wetzel, aka Wetzel the Pretzel, and made minor tweaks from there. Back then the OTE faithful generally hated it, and the idea was scrapped after that season. You can revisit your terrible hot takes here. But now that the CFP management committee has finally caught up to my clairvoyance, make no mistake about it, dear reader: I am ready to hurt again.

Let’s revisit the 2020 season with a 16-team playoff in place. The structure remains largely unchanged because this playoff stands the test of time. For the uninitiated, the proposed format is as follows:

-16 teams (all 10 conference champions and 6 at-large selections)
-For simplicity, the highest CFP-ranked teams that don’t win their conference claim the at-large spots
-No more than 3 teams from a single conference
-Once the teams are selected they are ranked from 1-16 and put into the playoff bracket. For simplicity, CFP rankings are used when applicable and projected strength is used to slot the rest. Today I’m just using the final F+ ratings for CFP-unranked teams.
-I’m up for discussion on this, but I’m okay with first round matchups with teams from the same conference if applicable. For this past season it didn’t come up
-The higher seed hosts first and second round games, and the semifinals and championship game are held at neutral sites (Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, etc.)

With that in mind, here is the 2020 field:

Alabama (SEC Champion)
Clemson (ACC Champion)
Ohio State (B1G Champion)
Notre Dame (At-large #1 [I am not calling this an ACC team screw you and your money])
Texas A&M (At-large #2 [SEC #2])
Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion)
Florida (At-large #3 [SEC #3])
Cincinnati (American Champion)
Iowa State (At-large #4 [Big 12 #2])
Indiana (At-large #5 [B1G #2])
Coastal Carolina (presumed Sun Belt champion; game cancelled, highest ranked competitor)
North Carolina (At-large #6 [ACC #2])
Oregon (Pac-12 Champion)
Ball State (MAC Champion)
San Jose State (MWC Champion)
UAB (C-USA Champion)

And the bracket:

Initial reactions:

  • A couple interesting regional matchups with Alabama-UAB and Ohio State-Ball State.
  • LOVE LOVE LOVE a Florida-Indiana first round matchup.
  • We know now that Coastal Carolina fell off at the end with an inexcusable bowl loss to Liberty (seriously, what the hell?), but them taking on Oklahoma would’ve been one of the easiest underdogs to root for in some time. A must watch game.
  • Pac-12 stinks.
  • Ohio State-Cincinnati and/or Clemson-Florida/Indiana are excellent quarterfinal matchups.

So, why a 16-team format anyway? Well besides all the awesomeness above, the following considerations:

  • In every other professional and college team sport in this country, including the other divisions of college football, there are objective roads to a championship, typically via division/conference championships. By implementing automatic qualifiers for each conference, the FBS structure finally operates consistently with sport as we know it. Every FBS football player has a direct link to the national title here, as it should be.
  • Potential decentralization of the recruiting process. We have progressed more and more toward a climate where only a select few teams have access to top-tier recruits and the rest are forced to accept the domino effect from there. Does a more well-rounded format impact the college decisions of top recruits? I’m not sure, but I’d speculate that it’s easier for them to choose a school outside the top four programs if they know there’s still a legitimate shot at a title run there too.
  • A whole new world for 3-star talent. Building on the previous point, something I believe more strongly is that the next tier of Power 5 programs and the leading tier of Group of 5 programs become more attractive for recruits that may be borderline talent at the best teams they can join. If I’m destined to ride the bench at Ohio State but could contribute at Cincinnati, then Cincinnati is more appealing if they now also have a legitimate path to a title run. Over time I think this structure results in a better product coming from the Group of 5 conferences and perhaps even struggling Power 5 teams, which is good for parity in a sport that lacks it most.
  • A more enjoyable playoff. The existing 4-team setup has the same teams every year and has become less interesting over time as a result. I would watch all of the games above, and there would be new blood each year.
  • $$$. Still have to grease the wheels to go anywhere in college football, and this is a profitable road to venture down.

What are your thoughts? What would you change? What matchups do you like? Let us know below, you absolutely fool.


Do you want an expanded playoff?

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  • 78%
    (152 votes)
  • 21%
    No, I hate fun and/or you
    (41 votes)
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