So, what if we had an eight-team playoff?
Louisville has a Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson.
It has a cushy little bowl spot to play in the Citrus Bowl.
But, could it have been a Playoff team if we had an eight-team field?
Of course not, you say, because the Cardinals lost their last two games, including one to Kentucky to end the season. They are 9-3 and ranked No. 13.
That’s a good point.
But with the College Football Playoff in a four-team format, Louisville went into that finale against Kentucky perhaps a bit deflated coming off a loss to Houston that ended the Cardinals’ dream to be in the Playoff. Would the Kentucky outcome have been different if the Cardinals were still in contention for a Playoff spot?
We’ll never know.
But let that be a caveat before we dive into what the College Football Playoff would have looked like under different potential eight-team formats. You change formats, you change motivations over the course of a season and, perhaps, outcomes.
So here are some guesses of how the College Football Playoff might have looked under some plausible formats.
Eight highest-ranked teams in CFP rankings
The Matchups: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Wisconsin; No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Oklahoma; No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Michigan; No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 Penn State.
The Good: It would be great to see how Oklahoma, representing the currently excluded Power 5 conference, would do. For that matter, it would be great to see how Big Ten champion Penn State would do.
The Bad: We have a problem. Ohio State would be playing Michigan in back-to-back games. Would there be a rule in place to avoid quarterfinal rematches? Maybe Oklahoma plays Ohio State and Michigan gets Clemson.
The controversy: But, but, but …USC was the hottest team in the nation at the end of the year! So, don’t get beat 52-6 in your opener next time.
Five autobids plus three at-larges (highest-ranked in CFP rankings)
The Matchups: The same, unless we would have had upsets by Florida and Virginia Tech in conference championship games. Then it would have been interesting. Using that “what if,” we get: 1. Ohio State vs. 8. Florida; 2. Alabama vs. 7. Virginia Tech; 3. Washington vs. 6. Oklahoma and 4. Penn State vs. 5. Clemson (completely guessing on what the upset would do to Alabama and Clemson).
The Good: Let’s say we had upsets and we had to make room for UF and Virginia Tech, two teams that otherwise never would have been in the Playoff. That would make conference championship games infinitely more interesting. And it would make conferences re-think their championship game formats to try to get the two best teams in as opposed to strictly-defined divisions.
The Bad: A first-round Ohio State-Florida pairing would be fun because of the whole Urban Meyer thing, but the game would probably be a stinker compared to the matchups with just the straight eight best teams.
The Controversy: If Alabama lost it would still be highly ranked and we might well be seeing Ohio State and Alabama, two at-large teams, 1-2. The complaint would be “Why do non-champions get better seeds?” And maybe the Big Ten would wonder why it didn’t get even more representation.
Five autobids, the best Group of 5 team, two at-larges
The Matchups: The same as the highest-ranked teams, with Western Michigan replacing Wisconsin as the No. 8 seed against Alabama.
The Good: By including the best Group of 5 team, the Playoff would capture a little bit of the appeal of the early rounds of March Madness. You’d have an annual David vs. Goliath matchup with a Western Michigan, or a Boise State or a Houston taking on a behemoth. In this case, you’d have a matchup of the nation’s two unbeaten teams. That’s part of what makes the basketball tournament great, so why not build in a mechanism for it here?
The Bad: Most of those Group of 5 games would be fun until about midway in the second quarter when they would start getting out of hand.
The Controversy: Western Michigan over USC? But, but, but USC was the hottest team in the country at the end of the year! Again, don’t lose your opener 52-6 next time.