Was Week 1 a step toward an eight-team playoff?

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Ask anyone associated with the College Football Playoff and they undoubtedly tell you the playoff field will remain four teams for the duration of the current contract, which expires at the end of the 2025 season. It is up to you to decide whether you accept that statement at face value or remain skeptical. The precedent for changing the stance from the playoff has already been made after just two years with the decision to alter its scheduling to be more accommodating for fans and, more importantly, their television partner ESPN. So what is it going to take for the College Football Playoff to expand the playoff beyond four teams before the culmination of the inaugural contract?

There are a couple scenarios that are likely to lead to the playoff to fell the pressure to expand on an accelerated timeline. The first would be one conference getting two teams into the College Football Playoff, thus ensuring two power conferences are left out entirely, as opposed to the one guaranteed to be left out as currently structured. The Pac-12 missed out last season while it was the Big 12 left locked out in the first year. Another worst-case scenario would involve Notre Dame or a Group of Five conference champion making the playoff, again presenting the scenario in which a second power conference loses out on the playoff.

One development from this past weekend was the emergence of Houston. The Cougars of the American Athletic Conference pulled away from Big 12 favorite Oklahoma, presenting quite an interesting debate down the line if the season plays out as Houston fans expect. If the committee is faced with deciding on a playoff spot between an undefeated Houston (including wins vs. Oklahoma and Louisville) and a one-loss Big 12 champion, Houston has to get the nod, no? Well, that depends. Is it a one-loss Texas or a one-loss Oklahoma? If it is a one-loss Oklahoma, the value of a head-to-head win will be weighed heavily by the selection committee, and it should favor Houston. But a one-loss Texas? That’s a different story. Did Texas lose to Oklahoma? If yes, then give the nod to the Cougars. If not, do the Longhorns get the benefit of playing in power conference where Houston does not?

One variable that may have already been wiped out by the Longhorns is the Notre Dame scenario. The Irish are independent so will never have a conference championship to put on their playoff application. This gives Notre Dame a small margin for error compared to most others. An 11-1 Notre Dame is hard to overlook though, and a 12-0 Irish team brings a pot of gold to the postseason tournament. Despite losing to Texas in the opener, Notre Dame can still cause a problem for the College Football Playoff’s foundation. An 11-1 Notre Dame would likely take the Pac-12 out once again as it would mean having wins against Stanford and USC. Don’t count out the Irish just yet, although they have some concerns to sort through (getting Brian Kelly to stick with Deshone Kizer, for starters, as well as defense).

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on Tuesday he believes it is “probably inevitable” the playoff is expanded to eight teams while making a guest appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, although he says it will happen at the end of the current contract.

“As you know, money drives this whole thing,” Herbstreit said. “At some point somebody’s going to say ‘You know it would be really nice if we opened this thing up to more teams and give more teams a chance.’ I like four. I think it still gives us that urgency.”

That’s fair. With only four spots available, the weekly mission to impress the selection committee is real. The argument against expansion suggests moving to an eight-team model eliminates such a possibility. Herbstreit suggests the urgency would still be there with an eight-team playoff model, and that may very well be true depending upon how the playoff system is then constructed. Would eight spots be up for grabs? If so, then the wide-open race would likely keep the games most interesting. One possibility for an eight-team playoff would reserve one spot for each power conference championship game. What to do with the three remaining spots is up for debate.

For the record, my eight-team playoff model is as follows;

  • One guaranteed spot for conference champion from ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.
  • One guaranteed spot for highest-ranked champion from AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt
  • Two at-large bids to be determined by selection committee
  • Selection committee ranks all eight playoff teams from 1 through 8.
  • Top four teams host first round of playoff on campus.
  • Second round continues to be played in New Years Six rotation, championship game continues to be up for bid by cities.

If you want the playoff to be expanded before the current contract is set to expire in 2025, then here is what you need to root for this season;

  • Houston goes undefeated (13-0), Oklahoma goes 11-1 and wins the Big 12. Big 12 misses playoff for second time.
  • Notre Dame goes 11-1, knocking out the Pac-12 champion along the way if possible (Stanford?). Pac-12 champ goes 11-2 to miss playoff for second straight season
  • Someone other than Alabama goes 12-1 and wins the SEC, handing Alabama their only loss of the season. Both teams get in the playoff.
  • Boise State or San Diego State goes undefeated (13-0) and gets left out (Sorry Boise State fans, you know I love you)
  • BYU goes undefeated, or 11-1 perhaps (BYU plays Boise State).
  • The selection committee is dared to leave out a one-loss Ohio State (for a second season in a row) or a one-loss Michigan. One of them is guaranteed to lose, of course.

Welcome to Team Chaos.

QB controversy in Tuscaloosa? Freshman Tua Tagovailoa impresses at Alabama spring game

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Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game took place at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday and those tuning in to the Crimson team’s last minute 27-24 win over the White team had to be especially impressed with the Tide’s explosive offense under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

In particular that comes at the quarterback position, where there might be more of a controversy at the spot than first thought. Incumbent Jalen Hurts was very sharp on his downfield passes but his strong outing (301 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was overshadowed by true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who simply stole the show down in Tuscaloosa.

The early enrollee signal-caller from Hawaii jumped onto the scene in the first half of the game and wound up completing 17 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception while working with both the first- and second-team offenses. You could normally dismiss numbers put up against a team’s second-string defense, this is Alabama we’re talking about so you know it’s coming against numerous future All-SEC players.

Tagovailoa did throw a pick-six in the second quarter but that was mostly because linebacker Terrell Hall made an unbelievable play on a swing pass to snatch the ball out of the air and run it all the way back to the opposite end zone. Freshman tailback Najee Harris (70 yards rushing) as well as stud wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster and Jerry Jeudy (134 yards, two scores) also stood out on Saturday.

In all, offense ruled the day as the two quarterbacks combined for over 600 yards through the air. That probably won’t make reviewing film with Nick Saban all that pleasant for members of the secondary next week but was probably good news to most fans after lackluster performances down the stretch to end last season.

Either way, everybody should probably start brushing up on how to pronounce Tagovailoa even if he doesn’t ultimately unseat Hurts as the starter because the young QB has lived up to the early billing by recruiting analysts.

Baylor freshman tailback Abram Smith out for the season with spring ACL tear

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Baylor kicked off the first spring game of the Matt Rhule era on Saturday and wrapped things up with a 65-39 Gold team victory over the Green squad that included a pretty impressive touchdown catch from former basketball player Ish Wainright.

The news wasn’t all rosy in Waco however as after the game Rhule announced that freshman running back Abram Smith would be lost for the 2017 season after suffering an ACL tear in the Bears’ first spring practice.

Smith wasn’t being counted on as being a starter this season but his loss is a fairly big blow to the team’s depth at the position. Returnees JaMycal Hasty and Terence Williams already missed parts of the spring game due to injuries on Saturday, leaving just senior Wyatt Schrepfer to take most of the carries late in the contest.

All three figure to be good to go by the time fall camp rolls around but there’s not much behind them with Smith being lost for the year. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, the early enrollee likely would have seen some snaps in 2017 but will instead have to spend it redshirting on the bench.

Brian Kelly takes the blame for Notre Dame’s struggles last season

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Notre Dame wrapped up spring football with the Irish’s annual spring game on NBC Sports Network on Saturday afternoon in South Bend and front and center was not surprisingly head coach Brian Kelly.

While fans of the team were probably most interested in how quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked, Kelly did go into detail about what the offseason has been like after last year’s disappointing 4-8 campaign. While the coach has been known to be a bit defensive when it comes to the team’s struggles, he did open up during a sit-down interview and was transparent in taking the blame for the way 2016 went.

“When you have a losing season, you have to look at yourself first,” Kelly told NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth. “I’ve always felt like there isn’t a bad football team but there is bad leadership and I don’t think I provided the kind of leadership (last year). It starts with yourself.”

Kelly goes on to discuss the significant changes to the Irish coaching staff, how this team is very much a work in progress and how Wimbush is handling taking over as the starting signal-caller.

The Gold team ended up winning the spring game 27-14 over the Blue team behind a strong defensive performance. If Saturday’s outing was any indication, Notre Dame should be much improved this upcoming season and that seems to start from the top on down.

SEC commissioner confirms graduate transfer rule changes will be discussed at spring meetings

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We’re still over a month away from the SEC’s annual spring meetings down in Destin, Fla. but one item we might be able to confirm is on the agenda will be the graduate transfer rules for the conference.

It’s a hot topic around the league and particularly so at Florida, which is in the mix to land Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire but can’t officially take him due to restrictions from the conference office.

That may change however, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed in a radio interview on Friday with ESPN Gainesville.

“It will come up,” Sankey said, according to SECCountry.com. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

At the heart of the issue is a rule that limits schools from taking additional graduate transfers if previous graduate transfers failed to meet academic requirements after enrolling. The move was designed to prevent a number of situations where players would transfer over just to play and not really go through coursework at their new school.

Other NCAA conferences have failed to follow the SEC’s lead in this area however and now the league is being put at a bit of a disadvantage on the graduate transfer market. This is particularly an issue with the Gators this offseason but it seems as though there will be quite the discussion down in Destin among athletic directors and head coaches about changing the rules to be on more of a level playing field with other conferences on this front.