Texas coach Tom Herman and Utah's Kyle Whittingham pose with the Alamo Bowl trophy during the final press conference Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, before their teams face each other at the Alamodome. Brian Davis/American-Statesman Staff

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: An eight-team CFP field works for Herman, Whittingham, Group of Five …

Posted December 30th, 2019

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  • So maybe the resounding clamor here and elsewhere for expansion to an eight-team playoff field could subside. Or not. We’re barely halfway through the 12-year College Football Playoff contract, but many — including myself and both coaches facing each other in Tuesday's Alamo Bowl — heartily endorse an eight-team field.
  • “I’ve said before that I certainly would be in favor of eight teams,” said Herman, who has won two New Year’s Day 6 bowls including last year. “I think every other level of collegiate football has many more than eight.”
  • It’d be appropriate to schedule quarterfinals in an eight-team format before Christmas to take the place on the schedule of the conference title games and playing them on the home campuses of higher seeded teams to retain the meaningfulness of the regular season. 

SAN ANTONIO — LSU’s dizzying romp over fourth-seeded but clearly overmatched Oklahoma, and Clemson’s wild comeback win over mistake-riddled Ohio State made for a deep appreciation for Joe Burrow and riveting drama in the nightcap.

It also may have made another thing abundantly clear in some corners.

Four is enough, some are saying.

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Heck, three were plenty, given how OU looked. The Sooners showed they didn’t really belong among the elite of the Final Four. 

So maybe the resounding clamor here and elsewhere for expansion to an eight-team playoff field could subside. Or not. We’re barely halfway through the 12-year College Football Playoff contract, but many — including myself and both coaches facing each other in Tuesday’s Alamo Bowl — heartily endorse an eight-team field.

Eight would still be great.

Seriously, why would any coach not push for more teams, bettering their chances to be labeled a playoff team to help their likelihood of raises or better jobs, enhanced recruiting, appeasement of rich boosters and Top 25 momentum for the next season.

Tom Herman and Kyle Whittingham made it clear Monday they favor an eight-team bracket.

“I don’t think (the look of just three worthy championship contenders Saturday make) it a case for four,” said Whittingham, whose 11-2 Utah flirted with the CFP until it fell to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. “Maybe this year, but I don’t think overall. I think overall it should be expanded. That’s been my stance for a lot of years. Just because of what happened in one of those playoff games this year, I don’t change my opinion on that.”

Texas’ Herman was also on board with a larger field although he correctly pointed out the idea of “uniform scheduling” with all teams playing the same number of conference games and more Power Five competition must first be sorted out because otherwise the CFP selection committee is “comparing apples to oranges.”

Let’s make everyone play nine league games and at least one Power Five opponent.

“I’ve said before that I certainly would be in favor of eight teams,” said Herman, who has won two New Year’s Day 6 bowls, including last year. “I think every other level of collegiate football has many more than eight.”

That’s true in the other FCS divisions as well as high school playoffs, but none of those offer quite the physical grind and the bigger scrutiny the big boys undergo. Remember when Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware, the defensive MVP of the 2016 title game, said, “If we had to do another game after this? God, no. I’d literally die.”

He made a valid point, which could be addressed by removing conference championship games from the equation and simply instituting tie-breakers for leagues with divisions to declare a champion. 

It’d be appropriate to schedule quarterfinals in an eight-team format before Christmas to take the place on the schedule of the conference title games and playing them on the home campuses of higher seeded teams to retain the meaningfulness of the regular season. 

Any plan moving forward should not do damage to or diminish the regular season. But Sports Illustrated’s Bryan Driskell offered an enticing plan whereby the Power Five champions play teams selected by the CFP or the bowls in the five major bowls and then have the committee pick a Final Four after those bowls. His idea restores the significance and the television ratings of the big-time bowls, all big enhancements.

There are other reasons not to grow the post-season.

Do all of the Power Five conferences really deserve a seat at the table? Were it not for the overwhelming dominance of Clemson, who’s to say the ACC champion belongs? And twice-beaten Oregon waxed Utah in the Pac-12 title game, but does anyone really think the Ducks would have put up any stiffer a fight for LSU than the Sooners did? Probably not.

One thing a Final Four does do is continue to keep college football as the only meaningful regular season in all of sports, save maybe the NFL although an 8-8 Dallas Cowboys had a chance to have punched their postseason ticket, had the Eagles cratered against the mediocre New York Giants.

Now it’s hardly a democratic process because as it stands now, half the field — 65 of the 130 FBS teams — have no chance of cracking the CFP. Zero. Zilch. Just ask two-time unbeaten Central Florida, which didn’t come close to reaching the playoffs with perfect records. An unbeaten Auburn has been left out. So have Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor. And a deserving 2008 Texas team.

In fairness, eight teams might make for four lousy matchups in the first round although the idea of an historic upset would be appealing. Who ever thought a No. 1 basketball team would lose to a No. 16 seed, but it happened in 2018 when top-ranked, 20-point favorite Virginia was crushed in the first round by a 10-loss Maryland-Baltimore County.

Who knows. Maybe the Boise State team that bumped off Oklahoma in that magical 2007 Fiesta Bowl could have been a No. 8 in an eight-team field and given a shot at a miracle in the year that Florida demolished Ohio State in that same Fiesta Bowl site a week later. After all, the Broncos were ranked No. 9 as the WAC champion and finished the year as college football’s only undefeated team.

The chance of seeing history and enjoying intense rivalries are what drive sports. So does total access to championships.

As Herman said when discussing a larger bracket for the national championship, “I do think the more the merrier.”

And more college football should make everything merrier.


 

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