The Need for an Eight Team Playoff

(USA Today)

(USA Today)

There must be an eight team playoff in college football. This college football season has been the best of any in recent history. There is constant rhetoric on who should have been in the playoffs and who shouldn’t.  There is constant questions on who is capable of challenging the unbeatable Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama has clearly looked like the best team in the country, but games are not won on paper and anything can happen once the ball is kicked off. There are upsets every week and Week 11 showed it more than ever. For the first time since 1985, the second, third and fourth ranked teams all lost on the same day. It was madness and chaotic and we all loved it! College football still has a little guy, Western Michigan, that went undefeated and gets absolutely no love at all. Their schedule is blamed for their low rankings at the end and throughout the year. There is an issue with the current format of a four team playoff.

College football is exciting and a four team playoff system was a great start, but we want, no, we need more. There needs to be an eight team college playoff. Part of the reason the college game went to a playoff system was because the BCS system didn’t allow the nation to see a true champion. There was rarely a year in which the third ranked team in the BCS didn’t have a case to be in the national championship. This year is no different. As mentioned previously, Western Michigan went undefeated and has to settle for playing in the Cotton Bowl. This isn’t the first time a small school had been disrespected by the polls.

The Little Guy

(Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage)

(Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage)

Why can’t the little guy get a chance to upset Goliath? There are plenty examples of teams who did not have a snowball’s chance in Hell to win against a college football giant, but somehow found a way. In 2006, Boise State won one of the greatest games in college football history.

The 2006 Boise State team was a member of the Western Athletic Conference, which is now extinct in football. It was a conference that was considered one of the worst in the country.  Boise State had two big non-conference wins that season. The Broncos beat Oregon State 42-12 and they also won at Utah 36-3. Boise finished the season undefeated, but the BCS only ranked Boise at eighth. Boise State was never considered for the national championship because of their weak conference. They had to settle for playing number 10 ranked Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl which became an instant classic.

To sum up the game, with a 1:02 left in a 28-28 tie, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky threw an interception to Marcus Walker who ran the interception back 34 yards for a touchdown to give Oklahoma a 35-28 lead. Fast forward to Boise State’s next possession with 18 seconds remaining. It was fourth and 18. Boise State ran the famous hook and lateral that worked for a touchdown. The game was tied at 35 with just seven seconds remaining.

Oklahoma got the ball first in overtime and Adrian Peterson ran it in for a 25 yard touchdown to give Oklahoma a 42-35 lead. Boise was able to answer with a touchdown and head coach Chris Petersen decided to go for two. Boise State ran the statue of liberty in for the two-point conversion and the win, 43-42. The Broncos finished the season with a perfect 13-0 record and the only team left undefeated that season.

Continuing with the theme of small conference schools being snubbed, the next example is the 2008 Utah Utes who were in the Mountain West. Utah won at (24) Michigan, then beat (11) TCU and (14) BYU at home. They finished ranked sixth in the final BCS rankings and had to settle for playing in the Sugar Bowl against (4) Alabama. Utah easily won the Sugar Bowl 31-17 even though they were 10 point underdogs. They finished the year as the only undefeated team in the country, but were not the national champions.

(ESPN/The Associated Press)

(ESPN/The Associated Press)

That same year Boise State finished the regular season undefeated as well, and was ranked ninth in the BCS. The Broncos only had one impressive win that season in which they won at Oregon 37-32. It was the famous LeGarrette Blount punch game. That year Boise didn’t even get to play in a BCS Bowl game. They played TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl and lost 17-16.

2009 left the BCS in chaos at the end of the year as there were five undefeated teams: Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State. The national championship game ended up being Alabama versus Texas. The other three undefeated teams were not given the chance to play for a national championship.

Texas had gone 3-0 against the top 25 with only one of those wins coming on the road. Cincinnati had gone 4-0 against the top 25 with three of those wins coming on the road. Texas was chosen because of their name. The small schools always get the short end of the stick when being listed with the best of the best.

(https://www.reddit.com/r/CFB/comments/3ucxld/week_13_trash_talk_thursday_trashgiving/)

(https://www.reddit.com/r/CFB/comments/3ucxld/week_13_trash_talk_thursday_trashgiving/)

The last example of small schools from small conferences comes from 2010 from TCU. TCU won at (24) Oregon State to open the season. The Horned Frogs only had one other ranked game which came on the road against (6) Utah. TCU demolished the Utes 47-7. In the end their wins weren’t impressive enough as they finished the season in the BCS ranked third. The two teams that finished ahead of them, Auburn and Oregon, were both undefeated as well. TCU ended up in the Rose Bowl against (4) Wisconsin and won 21-19 to finish the season undefeated.

They Can’t Beat The Big Boys. Or Can They?

(http://www.bendbulletin.com/slideShows?layout=2&storyId=1430295)

(http://www.bendbulletin.com/slideShows?layout=2&storyId=1430295)

There is a common theme with all these undefeated small schools. Utah, TCU and Boise State were almost always involved. Utah has had two undefeated seasons in the past 13 seasons and accomplished both of their undefeated seasons in the Mountain West Conference. The Utes ended up leaving for the Pac-12 because it is a power five conference. TCU finished with their only undefeated season in the Mountain West as well, but left for the Big 12, a power five conference. They left because of the disrespect year in and year out towards the Mountain West Conference. The last of these three teams, Boise State, has had three undefeated regular seasons in their last 11 seasons.

Typically a program this consistent would have played in a national championship, but Boise has yet to play for one. There is a bias against teams not in the power five and Western Michigan is the snub this season. The most common response from someone who argues that these teams don’t deserve the shot because of their small conferences has one of two responses.

The first is “let’s see if they do this again next year and next year if they are undefeated they should be in.” There are two problems with that reaction and the first is the team that is undefeated this year is a completely different team than they will be the next year. The second issue is that statement has proven to be false because Boise State had three undefeated regular seasons in four years and never got the chance.

(http://www.nobodywinsontheblue.com/2013/08/2013-boise-state-football-preview.html)

(http://www.nobodywinsontheblue.com/2013/08/2013-boise-state-football-preview.html)

Another common response is “Oh they would get blown out by Alabama and other big schools”. That statement is once again false as there are countless examples of smalls schools upsetting the goliath schools. Above there were examples listed, including Utah beating Alabama, and here are some more: In 2010 FCS member Jacksonville State beat Ole Miss 49-48, FCS James Madison won at (13) Virginia Tech 21-16 and perhaps the biggest upset of all time, 2007 Appalachian State beat (5) Michigan 34-32.

All these small schools pulled off what many believed to be impossible but the game is played on the field and not on paper, or by the amount of stars a recruiting class has. Western Michigan might be able to beat Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State but everyone assumes they have no chance because of history. Yes, these programs have been national powers for decades but that doesn’t mean the little guy can’t hang, or win. An eight team playoff needs to be made with certain requirements similar to the ramifications in college basketball. These requirements are needed because of the mistakes made since the inception of the four team playoff.

Playoff Mistakes

The college football playoff started in 2014 and is only entering their third year. In 2014, college football fans were so happy to finally receive the playoff system that they had been so desperately asking for for almost a decade. Fans were so happy in fact, there was no chance it would be criticized in the first year, but they had set precedents in which would eventually make the committee look like hypocrites.

(http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2014/12/02/college-football-playoff-projection-alabama-oregon-florida-state-tcu/19748763/)

(www.reddit.com)

In 2014, heading into conference championship week the rankings were as follows: (1) Alabama 11-1, (2) Oregon 11-1, (3) TCU 11-1, (4) Florida State 12-0, (5) Ohio State 11-1, and (6) Baylor 11-1. All six teams had won their game on championship week by wide margins. The final college football rankings finished with TCU dropping to sixth and Ohio State finishing in fourth, thus knocking TCU out of the college football playoff. The reasoning given by the committee stated that TCU did not win their conference therefore Ohio State deserved to be in. TCU and Baylor were both 8-1 in conference play, but Baylor beat TCU head to head 61-58.

Fast forward to this year where the playoff committee selected Ohio State over Penn State. Ohio State had one loss on the year to Penn State. Penn State had two losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan. Two years earlier the playoff committee favored Ohio State because they won a conference championship and yet this year left Penn State out who won head to head versus Ohio State, won the division in the BIG 10 in which Ohio State is in, and won the BIG 10 Championship. The college football committee that said conference championships matter two years earlier ignored that Ohio State didn’t win their conference.

Essentially the committee is saying head to head wins mean nothing, nor do conference titles after this year’s playoff selection. Subliminally they are saying whoever can bring in the most revenue will make the playoffs if they have a good year. If revenue matters that much then push it to an eight team playoff to create even more dollars.

In the first year, the college football playoff paid out 500 billion dollars to schools which was the largest payout ever, which improved in areas of 200 million from the final BCS season. In total there was a 63 percent increase in postseason revenue. Doubling the amount of teams in the playoff could essentially double the amount of money to be made with extra games of importance.

 

What Should an 8 Team Playoff Look Like?

(AP Images)

(AP Images)

If and when college football goes to an eight team playoff, there needs to be a few rules on who can make the playoffs. In the current system a conference championship means nothing and part of what has made college football great for the past 100 years is the thrill of winning the conference. In basketball, winning your conference give you an automatic bid to the tournament. Football should follow that model to an extent. There are 10 conferences plus four independent schools so with a six team playoff not everyone can automatically get a bid. Here is how college football should handle the eight team playoff that would make everyone happy.

If you win the conference championship of a power five conference (BIG 10, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, ACC) you are guaranteed a spot in the eight team playoff. To accommodate for small schools and give them the chance they have earned, the sixth spot goes to the highest ranked team from the group of five conferences (AAC, Conference-USA, MAC, Sun-Belt, Mountain West). There would be two spots remaining and those spots should be At-Large bids given to the best two teams remaining in the country. This is what this year’s eight team playoff would look like in this format:

(1) SEC Champion: Alabama vs. (8) Group of 5: Western Michigan

(2) ACC Champion: Clemson vs. (7) Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma

(3) At-Large Bid: Ohio State vs. (6) At-Large Bid: Michigan

(4) Pac-12 Champion: Washington vs. (5) BIG 10 Champion: Penn State

(David Dermer / Associated Press)

(David Dermer / Associated Press)

This college football playoff would have the perfect amount of teams. Aside from the two At-Large bids, nobody can argue the selection of the other six teams. There will always be that argument of bubble teams and who is the most deserving bubble team. In this format some people would be mad that USC isn’t in because of how hot they were towards the end of the year. The simple solution is to tell USC, if you win your conference and you’ll be in.

 

This format doesn’t require a team to go undefeated. An early loss in the season would allow you a second chance to bounce back and win the conference. That can’t be said now. Penn State and Oklahoma won their conference and don’t get a shot to be the national champion. Western Michigan is told good job on going undefeated but your conference is weak, and so is you’re schedule so just take this Cotton Bowl bid. The four team format was a great start, but this eight team format would be the perfect way to crown a champion.

Five Non-Power Five Teams to Watch for this Season

Everyone loves an underdog story, a David slaying a Goliath. Yet, there’s few non-power 5 teams that make it to a prestigious bowl, even with a solid record. And it seems that every year, there is at least one team from a non-power five conference that dominates their schedule with one loss or no losses, wins their conference title, and enters an esteemed bowl game with more to prove than any number of District Attorneys.

Cutting to the chase, here are, in my opinion the top five non-power five teams in terms of what they bring to the table — excluding Notre Dame, who is normally the quality of a power five school.

5. Marshall (Conference USA)

non power 5 college football teams

Chase Litton comes out of a stellar freshman season to lead the charge for the Thundering Herd. Thanks to tbo.com for the photo.

Marshall lost a lot and kept a lot from a team that finished 10-3 with a win in the St. Petersburg Bowl last year. Sophomore quarterback Chase Litton, pictured above, comes off a season where he threw for 2,608 yards and 24 touchdowns. Marshall has been a pass-based offense as of late (no one rushed for 600 yards or more for them last year) and they have their gunslinger to continue the aerial attack.

The question is who he will throw the ball to.

Marshall lost their top two receivers in Devonta Allen and Deandre Reaves, who reeled in 715 and 705 yards worth of catches, respectively.

Of course, those two don’t compare to the graduation of stud linebacker Evan McKelvey, who led the team with 121 tackles and was second with 9.0 tackles for loss. Also gone defensively is third leading tackler and starting safety Taj Letman (80 of them) who intercepted three passes. And the starter next to Letman and second leading tackler last year Tiquan Lang (91) faces a possible suspension after being arrested in late April.

Seems like quite a bit to overcome, doesn’t it? Until you hear that four of five starting offensive linemen for Marshall are returning from last year, and the one that isn’t a returning starter missed last year with injury and was first-team all-conference in 2014, Clint Van Horn. Litton will have a lot of time to find an open man.

And on defense stud defensive end Gary Thompson is back, who led the team in two categories defensively in 2015: sacks with 9.0 and tackles for loss with 12.5. At cornerback returning is Corey Tindal, who defended thirteen passes and intercepted two more.

In the end, Marshall needs contributors from two position groups to step forward: receivers and linebackers. Two starters are gone from both groups. The receiving corps gets some help from returning 400 yard receiving tight end Ryan Yurachek, but will need wideout production from a group that contains no one ever to have a season of at least 350 at that specific position. Justin Hunt, who has progressed steadily each year at Marshall and enters as a senior in 2016, and converted former tight end Deon-Tay McManus could look to try and get some production. And at linebacker the names appear to be Devontre’a Tyler and Shawn Petty.

My prediction: Marshall gets cake games against Morgan State and Akron, then wins one of their two tougher non-conferences either against Louisville or at Pitt. I see them tripping up against Western Kentucky and missing out on the conference championship, coming out mad in their bowl game and finishing 11-2 with a win in the New Mexico Bowl.

4. Appalachian State (Sun Belt)

non power 5 college football teams

The Mountaineers return the talent to climb to the top of the Sun Belt conference. Photo courtesy of 247sports.com.

Appalachian State used a balanced offensive attack and solid defense to earn an 11-2 record and a victory in the Camellia Bowl with a Sun Belt title. They bring back a lot of impact players from a team that was top-25 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Those impact players include 2,300 yard passer Taylor Lamb, 1,400 yard rusher Marcus Cox, three starting offensive linemen, their top two tacklers on defense Eric Boggs and John Law with 104 and 72 tackles last year, respectively, and interception leader Latrell Gibbs who picked off seven passes — returning two of them for touchdowns.

Wow.

The only detrimental loss seems to be stud defensive end Ronald Blair, who led the team in TFLs and sacks while coming in third for total tackles.

One spot of bother for the Mountaineers could be the tough opening to their schedule, they head to Tennessee in the opening week and then have to host Miami (FL) following their week two match-up with Old Dominion. Get out of those two brawls healthy, and it could turn into another ten win season with a bowl win for the Mountaineers.

My prediction: Someone important goes down in either the Tennessee or Miami game, and Appalachian State drops one during their conference play. They manage to get out with title in the Sun Belt though, or at least a share of one, as no team runs the table in the conference. The finish is 9-4, the aforementioned Sun Belt title, and a loss in the New Orleans Bowl.

3. Western Kentucky (Conference USA)

non power 5 college football teams

Taywan Taylor is the featured player in this year’s Western Kentucky attack. Photo courtesy of youtube.com.

Losing a 5,000 yard passer (that number led the nation) is never going to be easy. But when you have two receivers who were both over 950 yards last season back, one of which is 1,400 yard man Taywan Taylor, it makes the adaptation for your knew starter a bit less demanding. That replacement will likely be one of three players: Junior USF transfer Mike White, who threw for 1,639 yards and 8 touchdowns with the Bulls last year, senior Nelson Fishback, who has attempted 8 passes in his Hilltopper career, or senior Louisville transfer Tyler Ferguson.

The rushing attack will have no issue complementing whomever is under center, however. Anthony Wales returns off a 1,000 yard season, behind an offensive line totalling 130 combined starts of experience. That line includes first-team all-conference left tackle Forrest Lamp. New O-line coach Dale Williams has been given the keys to a Porsche and told not to crash it.

A mid-tier defense last year for Western Kentucky will look to improve for this season, as they return leading tackler and backfield plug in linebacker T.J. McCollum (106 tackles, 12.0 TFLs) and second leading tackler Branden Leston (96). Top defensive lineman Derik Overstreet also returns.

But if that defense wants to make the necessary jump, and in turn bring this team from a conference leader to potential contender for a New Year’s Six bowl, they will need a boost in the secondary, specifically at corner. Both starters are gone, including the only player with more than three interceptions for that Hilltopper defensive backfield in Prince Iworah.

The most experienced pair are juniors Joe Brown and De’andre Simmons. Both intercepted one pass last year, and Brown may have asserted his role as the primary cornerback with 9 PBUs. Both will have assistance from senior safeties, the aforementioned Branden Leston and Marcus Ward. The pair combine for 291 tackles and four interceptions on their respective careers.

My prediction: In the end, I think it could really come together for the Hilltoppers, one of three teams on this list (the top three, of couse) that I think finishes ranked nationally. They open with a win over Florida International before falling by no more than 20 to Alabama, a moral victory that will allow them to run the table… including wins over Vanderbilt, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, their opponent in the Conference USA title game, and their opponent in the Boca Raton bowl.

That’s 13-1, for those of you counting at home.

2. San Diego State (Mountain West Conference)

non power 5 college football teams

The Aztecs’ defense makes them a force to be reckoned with in 2016. Photo form sandiegouniontribune.com.

San Diego State is going to defend their conference title from 2015.

Literally.

The biggest loss from a defense that was top ten nationally last year in scoring is fifth leading tackler Jake Fely (75, 8.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks). They return stud linebacker Calvin Munson, who led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks (98, 15.0, 10.5). Damontae Kazee (pictured above), returns and brings 8 interceptions with him. Defensive end Kyle Kelley, who had 7.5 sacks last year, will lead the defensive line. They return third leading tackler and second leading interceptor safety Malik Smith. And they return the centerpiece of their 3-3-5 defense, all-conference nose guard Alex Barrett. In other words, the offense won’t have to score all that much.

But they bring back the firepower to score a lot.

Sure they lost their leading passer. But when that quarterback barely cleared 1,500 yards, it doesn’t matter that much. Why? Because San Diego State is a running offense. And you know what they do return? A rusher of 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns named Donnel Pumphrey. He runs behind three returning starters on his line, including all-conference offensive guard Nico Siragusa.

Needless to say, the Aztecs look incredible entering this season.

My prediction: SDSU upsets Cal early in the season and goes on a rampage. It is tough to go undefeated, but easier with a Mountain West schedule. They do it, win the conference title game, and head to the Cotton Bowl as the “group of five” representative. From there I can’t tell, depends on who faces them there.

So either 14-0 or 13-1 is what I predict dependant on who they play in that bowl game.

1. Houston (American Athletic)

non power 5 college football teams

Second-year coach Tom Herman looks to repeat the success of 2015. Photo from al.com.

Notice I put above that I believe San Diego State becomes the “group of five” representative that receives a berth into the Cotton Bowl. I think Houston is the better team, but they run into Oklahoma week one… a game I don’t see them winning. Hence, number one team but not the number one finish.

Why is Houston the number one team? They come off a Peach Bowl win and return their star player, leading passer and rusher (he and Deshaun Watson are the only two quarterbacks ever to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000) Greg Ward. While his favorite target in Demarcus Ayers left early for the NFL, man number, two Chance Allen, does return off a season of over 750 yards. The ground game will have to replace second leading rusher and top running back Kenneth Farrow, which they were looking to do with junior Javin Webb.

Until he was dismissed from the team in February.

With that and the graduation of Ryan Jackson, Houston has lost its next three rushers after Ward. No other running back posted even 100 yards last season, the only one even to gain positive yardage being upcoming sophomore Kaliq Kokuma, who ran 18 times for 92 yards. He should compete with fellow sophomore Tyreik Gray.

At the very least they do have four returning starters up front to pave the way for the inexperienced backs.

Flipping the coin to the defensive side, Houston’s 3-4 defense returns all-conference nose guard B.J. Singleton, backed by linebacker Steven Taylor who had 92 tackles with 18.5 TFLs and 10.0 sacks.

Houston should be able to cope fine with the loss of their leading takedown getter Elandon Roberts, as Taylor returns with fellow linebackers Tyus Bowser (35 games experience) and Matthew Adams (49 tackles in 2015). The real worry is the departures at safety, where the Cougars lost both starters in 2016. That includes Adrian Mcdonald, who intercepted 17 passes in a career that also included 299 tackles. The most senior player remaining is junior Khalil Williams, who registered 18 tackles and intercepted a pass last year.

The rest are a group of inexperienced sophomores including Garrett Davis, Michael Eke, and Darius Gilbert. One of them needs to fill some shoes.

As said at the beginning, Houston loses week one in a moderately close bout with Oklahoma, but wins out and goes to dominate the conference championship game and a dominating win in either the Hawaii Bowl or Armed Forces Bowl.

 

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