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What would a four-team playoff look like this year?

McCarron AP

As you’ve no doubt seen by now, all five BCS games have been filled. There was no drama when it came to selecting the championship game between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama, but Northern Illinois crashing the BCS at-large party set off more than a few complaints.

Two years from now the college football world will finally rid itself of the preposterous postseason selection process code-named “BCS” and will be replaced with a slightly less preposterous selection process code named “playoff.” Or, BCS 2.0 for the more cynical bunch out there.

But who wants to wait for that? Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated put together a mock selection committee of university admins to determine, on a simplified basis comparatively, what a four-team playoff would look like following the 2012 football season. As you can imagine, it was no easy task. UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood even said “The thing that jumps out at me is that there are just four teams, it’s not enough of a sample. I was not a proponent of going larger than four, and this changed my mind totally.”

With those daunting words in mind, we here at CFT have decided to form our own two-member mock selection committee and choose four teams to compete for our inaugural Kercheval-Taylor Coaches’ Trophy.

(For those wondering, it’s a bowling trophy with a tennis ball attached to the top. Still, very prestigious.) 

First thing’s first: Notre Dame and Alabama are in. There’s no discussion about that. Those two have without a doubt earned the right to compete for a championship. But which teams fill the other two spots? That’s a bit cloudier. We’ve selected five that we feel should at least be in consideration and stated what we feel helps or hurts their cause.

So check out our picks and let us know what you think below. Also, remember that we deliberately left certain teams out because we hate them. You know, the ones we’re biased against. Yeah, those teams.


Believe it or not, there is good football outside of the SEC. You just don’t hear about it since the SEC has won six straight BCS championships and hacks like us won’t stop shoving that little factoid down y’all’s throats. Anyway, the Tide finished the season 12-1 with a dramatic win in the SEC championship game over Georgia. Other than that, the Tide’s only real sensational victory was against LSU. Michigan and Mississippi State turned out to be farces and Nick Saban’s team was upset at home by Texas A&M. Still, Alabama has two wins over current top-10 teams. That’s more than good enough to put them in a four-team playoff without complaints.

Notre Dame
Like the Irish or hate ‘em, Notre Dame has earned its right to be in the BCS championship game. There’s really no debate here, at least not as it pertains to Notre Dame being worthy of one of four spots. Go undefeated in any conference – or, Independent, as this case would have it – and a team should have a shot to compete for the whole enchilada.


This would be the most difficult selection by far even though Florida has the best résumé in college football. The Gators stand against everything expanding the championship field was supposed to correct (or, at least help correct). Will Muschamp’s team didn’t win its own division, let alone its own conference, nor did it win the head-to-head matchup with Georgia. But Florida does have wins over Florida State, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M. All are 10-win teams.

When someone says the regular season needs to matter, it can be viewed two ways. On one hand, that argument should favor the Bulldogs for the reasons mentioned above even though the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party turned into the World’s Largest Turnover Festival. On the other hand, if we’re talking about what a team did during the season, and not what it didn’t do, then it’s tough not to name Florida one of the four best teams in the country. No, it hasn’t always looked good for the Gators, but if the so-called “eye test” was the overriding consideration, Oregon would be a lock.

The other side of the cocktail glass. What’s a Bulldog have to do to get a little respect, anyway? Georgia has the head-to-head against Florida and came thisclose to winning the SEC. Unfortunately, an ill-fated pitch and catch may be the difference between a shot at a national title and being left to wonder what could have been.

There’s no doubt Georgia’s a good team, but are they a final four team? Ask yourself this: do final four teams get beat 35-7 by South Carolina? If head-to-head battles mattered as much as Georgia might argue, what would be the cost of a loss like that one? Kansas State faces a similar situation with its loss to Baylor, which you’ll read below. Losses happen, but blowouts? The only way UGA gets the benefit here is that it happened early enough in the season that the Bulldogs could point to how well they’ve played since. Like Alabama though, Georgia’s overall schedule is so-so. Of its seven conference wins, only two came against opponents with winning records.

Kansas State
If there’s one thing holding the Wildcats back from being a lock for a four-playoff, it’s Baylor. It’s tough to remain perfect every single week. Individuals, teams have off days. It happens. So my general rule is to penalize teams less for losing and reward them more for winning, but it’s impossible to ignore the whipping K-State took in Waco at the hands of a team that didn’t even have a .500 record at the time. Granted, that started a three-game winning streak for the now-bowl eligible Bears, but the Wildcats were outmatched – dominated up front, really — by statistically one of the worst defenses in the country (123rd in yards per game; 122nd in passing yards; 117 in points per game).

K-State’s best win came on the road against Oklahoma in late September, but the rest of KSU’s wins are a bit deceiving. The Wildcats played four AP top-25 teams this year, but only two (Oklahoma and Texas) actually finished in the AP top 25. The reason? Tremendous parity in the league. Half of the Big 12 finished with a 7-5 overall record and a 4-5 conference record this year. Still, there are nine bowl-eligible teams from the Big 12 this season with a round-robin schedule.

The Ducks are in a similar boat (so to speak) as Florida. Oregon did not win its division nor did it win its head-to-head game with Stanford. Oregon’s schedule is a bit like Kansas State’s too in that it played five ranked teams this year, but only two – Stanford and Oregon State – ended the season ranked by the AP. Prior to Oregon winning the Civil War last week, its best “W” was against a USC team that was on the verge of a late-season slide.

What the Ducks need from a selection committee is faith in how they look. Oregon is flashy and scores a lot in a hurry. The general curiosity about Chip Kelly’s team is whether it could score like that against a defense from Florida or Notre Dame. However, Oregon couldn’t do much at all against the Cardinal, statistically one of the best run defenses in college football. The Ducks could make an argument that loss was a fluke – it wasn’t – but it may have answered that curiosity.

Stanford might be the hottest team in college football with seven straight wins. Not only that, the Cardinal had three consecutive wins over top 25 teams (four if you count UCLA twice; once in the regular season and once in the Pac-12 championship) to end the season, so David Shaw’s group is playing well at the right time too. That win over Oregon in Eugene is one of the best of the year.

But Stanford’s body of work isn’t spotless. An early-season upset over USC gives the Cardinal two wins against top-five teams, but the Trojans have fallen hard in the past month. Still, USC was highly-regarded at the time. The following week, however, Stanford fell flat on its face and was upset by a Washington team that finished 7-5. Overall, the Cardinal has most of what a selection committee would look for: a conference championship and a handful of quality wins.


Ben’s four: Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Stanford

John’s four: Alabama, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Stanford

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17 Responses to “What would a four-team playoff look like this year?”
  1. pike573 says: Dec 3, 2012 11:54 PM

    Stanford? Bama, ND, Fla, K St

  2. mrlaloosh says: Dec 4, 2012 12:42 AM

    Don’t quit your day jobs.

  3. okieviacal says: Dec 4, 2012 1:18 AM

    James Franklin’s selections: Bama, LSU, Florida, and Georgia with Texas A&M and Vanderbilt as alternates/honorable mentions. Oddly enough, Franklin went on to vote Notre Dame and Kansas State into the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

  4. truefootballinsight says: Dec 4, 2012 1:23 AM

    Yeah the coaches poll is nonsense. They all vote for their interests

  5. udub says: Dec 4, 2012 1:50 AM

    This is a joke right?


    These experts know they lost twice don’t they?

    Dumbest thing about college football is the lose early, be ‘hot’ late thinking.

    If Oregon lost to Stanford week 2 instead of November that same game would be deemed a ‘fluke.’

    If Stanford lost to Washington mid November the same people would be asking Well, how good are they if they lost to Washington.

    I know it won’t happen while I’m alive because too many casual fans and ‘experts’ are prisoners of the moment, but a loss in September should be the same as one in November. It’s not that hard to think that way.

    If you look at any team listed above they have the worst loss. A team worthy of being in the top 4 doesn’t lose to an average team, being hot late be damned.

  6. barbeaux says: Dec 4, 2012 2:00 AM

    A four team playoff would look like…..not enough.

  7. dgbk says: Dec 4, 2012 2:51 AM

    no way kansas state should be in over fla ga or oregon…. u cant lose to one of the lesser teams in ur conference and get in…. ga lost to bama and scar fla lost to ga and oregon to standford…. those were all close games besides the scar and ga game but scar is a top ten team. k-state was never in that game to a sub 500 baylor team at the time .

  8. parkcityute says: Dec 4, 2012 3:14 AM

    At least an eight team playoff would be better representative. Much more than that would get too far into January or infringe too much into the class schedule, though basketball does that all season long and professors give extra time and allowances to those athletes.

  9. v2the4 says: Dec 4, 2012 3:48 AM

    the FCS, Div II, Div III, the NAIA and junior colleges are currently in playoffs right now featuring….

    college student athletes.

    what is the FBS’s issue again as to why they cant a full blown playoff? the players will miss class time….hell, they are missing class time now, especially players in sports other than football…

  10. cometkazie says: Dec 4, 2012 7:51 AM

    Isn’t college football fun?

  11. florida727 says: Dec 4, 2012 9:03 AM

    Ben, this was a great read, thanks for the article. I think what you accomplished though was in stating a case for an EIGHT team playoff, not the four that we’ll end up with. All of the teams mentioned are “deserving”, because all of them accomplished a lot. Did everyone have their ‘down’ moments? Sure. Yes, even Notre Dame. Undefeated? Obviously. But winning 5 home games by a total of 27 points against the likes of BYU, Pitt and Purdue doesn’t exact scream “Strength of Schedule”. Everyone else though actually LOST, so the arguments reign supreme… as they should :) As #cometkazie alludes to, it’s what makes college football so great. Heck, as a fan, I’m just glad my favorite team is even in the conversation.

    Bottom line: I think a four team playoff almost raises more questions than answers in most years. An eight team playoff only expands the season by ONE additional game for 2 of the teams and it largely eliminates a lot of controversy. If you’re #9 or #10, you don’t have much argument room when talking “national championship”. There won’t be many teams with only one loss left out of an eight team playoff. There will be when only four get invited. History has proven that very few teams run the table. Everyone stubs their toe at least once during the year. Four needs to be multiplied by two if you really want to have a true playoff.

  12. 8to80texansblog says: Dec 4, 2012 10:21 AM

    My 4: Bama, ND, Stanford, Florida.
    You can’t keep out Bama or ND. Stanford to me is a no brainer over Oregon. Florida is the conundrum. Hard to put them in over Goergia but that resume is too strong.

    To be honest though… I don’t like the committee aspect of this. Let the polls pick the top 4 and lets play…

  13. dolfan66r says: Dec 4, 2012 11:13 AM

    What about Northern Illinois and Louisville????

  14. herbertjablonski says: Dec 4, 2012 12:18 PM

    picking the top 4 is harder than picking the top 2, I can’t even do it, I have to go with 8:
    bama, ND, florida, stanford, ksu, oregon, georgia, tx a&m (4 sec teams wow)

  15. rubbernilly says: Dec 4, 2012 1:20 PM

    “The most meaningful regular season in all of sport” is probably the biggest load of bunk in all of sport.

    In any given year, you’re talking about maybe… maybe 20 teams that have a legitimate chance to win a national title. And not because of how they play, but because they’re talked about (polls). For the other hundred-ish schools, their seasons don’t matter, since they never really had a chance.

    Then, hope your school doesn’t have a loss, because chances are (with a few notable exceptions) as soon as you lose the rest of your season is going to be meaningless. Talk to Oregon or Kansas State about that.

    So we’ve got a hundred schools playing schedules/games that don’t matter, and another dozen or so whose seasons stop mattering somewhere along the way.

    For all that I enjoy college football, I would be hard pressed to find a regular season that mattered LESS.

    Get to a playoff, and let every conference champion play.

  16. 8to80texansblog says: Dec 4, 2012 2:12 PM

    herbertjablonski says:
    Dec 4, 2012 12:18 PM
    picking the top 4 is harder than picking the top 2, I can’t even do it, I have to go with 8:
    bama, ND, florida, stanford, ksu, oregon, georgia, tx a&m (4 sec teams wow)

    I love the Aggies, but how do they make the top 8 over LSU??? A&M lost to LSU at home…. (Now the kicker missed 2 sub 40yd FGs and an XP and they lost by 5, but thats another argument)

  17. mrpowers88 says: Dec 4, 2012 5:36 PM

    4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, 64… it doesn’t matter- I’d rather be debating who the 4th, 8th, n-th best team in the country is instead of who gets a one-game-take-all shot at a national championship.

    And for argumentative purposes, Florida and Stanford would take the next two spots because of they have the best resume and best-win+conference title, respectively.

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