How the race to the playoff almost lead to an eight-team format

How college football almost changed forever...

We have officially had over a week to recover from the College Football Playoff race, and boy, is it deserved. For months, college football, players, coaches, analysts and fans alike all around the country have been on the edge of their seats seeing which four teams the College Football Playoff Committee would choose to compete for the coveted National Championship.

While the race to the playoff was pretty consistent for most of the season, the inevitable late season drama was still there. Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame all had the top three spots locked up for virtually the entire year, but on championship weekend, the story became about the oh-so-elusive fourth spot, as it normally does.

With Oklahoma and later Ohio State winning their respective conference championships, the pressure was on the SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia to see how the College Football Playoff would shape up.

One incredible comeback and one terrible fake punt call later, Alabama came out on top, 35-28, and retained the No. 1 ranking and order was restored. Oklahoma received the No. 4 spot and the playoff matchups were set.

But what would have happened if Georgia didn’t call a fake punt on 4th and 11 at midfield with 3:11 to go? And what if Jalen Hurts hadn’t orchestrated a game winning drive? And Georgia reversed last year’s championship miseries and won it in overtime?

Jalen Hurts

Assuming that all other conference championship results stayed the same, Alabama would lose their No. 1 ranking. Georgia would shoot up into the top four, joining Clemson and Notre Dame who were both undefeated. But the real question is the 4th spot. Do you put in a one-loss non-conference champion Alabama team that everyone regarded as the No. 1 team in the nation all year, or a one-loss conference champion Oklahoma or Ohio State team?

Both Ohio State and Oklahoma have their respective flaws. The Buckeyes barely squeaked by unranked teams such as Maryland and Nebraska, and had a 29-point loss to Purdue on their record. Oklahoma on the other hand, has a defense that can give up 40 against anyone (even Kansas) on any given night. If it weren’t for Kyler Murray’s brilliance, they would probably be a three or even four-loss team.

With both teams having their negatives, that would leave the door open for Alabama. With only the one close loss to then No. 4-ranked Georgia, and having dismantled every other one of their opponents by more than 20 points, Alabama would have a clear path to the No. 4 spot.

Given that the committee included Alabama last year as a one loss non-conference champion, there’s no doubt they would have done the same this year. Granted, Alabama got in over a two-loss Ohio State last year, but also consider the fact that Alabama’s team this year is in all likelihood better than what they were last year. The committee would have included Alabama, and all hell would have broken loose.

With Alabama hypothetically getting in for the second straight year as a non-conference champion, the call for an expansion of the playoff would never have been louder. Players, coaches, analysts and fans of college football, especially those from the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences, would be furious and call for a change. The uproar would pretty much force college football to adopt an eight-team playoff system.

What type of eight-team playoff system that would be adopted is unclear. Would they use the same committee system they have in place right now, just with eight teams instead of four? Or would they use a system that rewarded conference champions? While the system they would use is unclear, it is clear that a playoff expansion would be necessary.

So while you’re enjoying your life after the madness of the playoff race, think of what could have happened if Georgia defeated Alabama. What would the future of college football look like with an eight-team playoff?


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