You know all of these high stakes SEC games? They lose a lot of juice with an expanded Playoff
Calling the November slate of SEC games “electric” would be an understatement.
The month started with No. 1 Georgia traveling to take on No. 10 Auburn. What we got was arguably the most impressive single-game performance of the college football season from the Tigers.
Two weeks later, we got a do-or-die Iron Bowl that somehow lived up to its mammoth billing. For the first time in four years, we saw the mighty Tide fall to Auburn in a performance that one-upped the the Tigers’ Georgia showing.
Now, the Tide will sit at home while the Dawgs and Tigers play for a Playoff spot in the SEC Championship Game. Will one-loss Alabama make the CFP field? Does one-loss Alabama have enough quality wins to earn one of those four spots?
Ah, the beauty of the four-team Playoff.
All of that drama from the past month is dialed back several notches if we’re looking at an expanded field. You want an eight-team Playoff? OK, but that comes with a price. The cost is the epic scenario that we saw unfold for the last month with the top three SEC teams. That drama is lost, or at least greatly diminished, with an eight-team Playoff.
In that scenario, Auburn and Alabama would have already clinched bids. Maybe Georgia would need a win this weekend to lock up a spot. If that’s the case, maybe we’re talking about whether Auburn should rest Kerryon Johnson to keep him healthy for the Playoff instead of risking further injury.
Those aren’t the storylines we want to be talking about. This last month in the SEC is a perfect reminder of what makes this sport so great. Nobody can touch college football’s regular season. And as long as the field is set at four, we can continue to have months like the one we just had.
Under the current format, we’re led to believe that a contender gets a mulligan. The assumption is that a team can lose a game and it won’t make or break its Playoff chances (as long as it isn’t by 31 points at Iowa). That assumption, however, isn’t entirely true.
Alabama will not make the field if the top four teams win their respective conference championships. Period. Two years ago, one-loss Ohio State didn’t earn a Playoff bid. Three years ago, one-loss TCU was passed over. The common denominator in all three of those teams is that none of them had enough quality wins to earn that mulligan.
The current format doesn’t guarantee a one-loss team makes the field, yet it still emphasizes strength of schedule. If this year’s format was for eight teams to get in, consider this: two-loss Auburn would still have another mulligan. Alabama would be a lock without having a single win vs. a top-15 team.
Ohio State would undoubtedly be in with a win over Wisconsin in the B1G Championship Game despite the fact that it suffered its second loss at Iowa by 31 points!
Is that the kind of precedent we want to set in college football? Go out and lose a couple games to anybody, and don’t worry. Oh, it’s a blowout loss to a mediocre team on the road? And hey, you got blown out in your marquee non-conference game, too? No biggie. You’re in.
That sounds like the NFL, wherein the regular season lacks the must-win drama that is making college football increasingly more entertaining.
But let’s save that argument for another time and get back to the matter at hand.
This is about taking this year as a sample and seeing how it would play out under a different set of circumstances. An extremely hypothetical endeavor, it is, but an instructive one nonetheless. It’s easy to sit here and say “why wouldn’t you want an extra weekend of Playoff games with an expanded field? We could have the Iron Bowl 2.0!”
While that’s entirely possible, the risk of losing the November we just had is too great. In each one of those three SEC games (including the conference title game on Saturday), we had or will have a scenario in which at least one team needed a win to keep its Playoff hopes alive. If Alabama doesn’t make the field, we’ll look back on those three games as having five of the six teams in win-or-go-home scenarios.
That’s glorious. Why mess with that? Who cares if the No. 7 or No. 8 team in the country doesn’t get to play for a national title? We had 14 weeks of football to figure out who the elite teams are. Why would we be willing to reward anything less than elite regular seasons?
The system is set up for those elite teams to make the field. It welcomes madness. More importantly, it welcomes regular-season madness. The four-team Playoff doesn’t water down the regular-season product. It gives it unlimited shots of espresso and invites us to yell, “THEY AIN’T PLAYED NOBODY, PAWWWL!”
If those are the type of things an expanded Playoff field would deprive us of, well then, I just don’t get the point anymore.
In all seriousness, we’d still have the debates and the strength-of-schedule arguments. We’d still watch a rankings show and spend far too much time debating hypothetical scenarios because, after all, it’s college football.
But this November has been a college football fan’s dream. Expanding the field and lessening the regular-season product wouldn’t necessarily be a nightmare, because nobody complains about getting more football. This is America.
When you’re on the edge of your seat during conference championship weekend, just remember what these games would be like if 75 percent of the field was already locked in.
Not so electric anymore, is it?