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Put 8-5 Wisconsin in the Playoff, you cowards

Increasing access would not mean letting terrible teams win national titles. But if it did, that’s cool too!

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

Whether you think the College Football Playoff should expand or not, let’s agree we can find better points to argue than that one:

“A Playoff of eight or more teams would mean three-loss teams winning it, diluting the credibility of the entire thing. Remember the 9-7 New York Giants winning the Super Bowl? No one cared about the Super Bowl after that.”

I agree that having frequent three-loss national champions would go against the spirit of FBS’ national championship, which has almost always gone to a team with one loss, tops. I agree there’s no perfect number, though data suggests six or eight would be fairest. I agree none of this matters if players aren’t taken care of. And I agree there would be unintended consequences with any Playoff size, whether it’s 0 or 128.

But this What About Bad Champions objection isn’t worth raising.

1. Not that many three-loss teams would ever be in such a position.

For each of these exercises, let’s say we give autobids to Power 5 champs and the top non-power, plus two at-larges. That’s a popular idea seemingly likely to interest decision makers, since I’m not sure you can expand without showing each conference an access route. But among feasible plans, it’s also the one most poised to get weak teams close to the title game.

Using that system, these would have been your #8 seeds over the last decade, if we went by committee/BCS rankings (and, just for format consistency, didn’t count the Big East as an autobid power):

  • 2018: 10-3 Washington, which ranked #9 and thus would’ve been almost in the field on merit anyway
  • 2017: 12-0 UCF
  • 2016: 13-0 Western Michigan
  • 2015: 12-1 Houston
  • 2014: 11-2 Boise State
  • 2013: 11-1 UCF
  • 2012: 8-5 Wisconsin lmao (Note: this is largely because 12-0 Ohio State was amid NCAA sanctions. An 8-4 Penn State was also sanctioned. Otherwise, 12-1 NIU is your #8.)
  • 2011: 10-3 Clemson
  • 2010: 11-2 Virginia Tech
  • 2009: 11-2 Georgia Tech, also #9

Take away NCAA things (not the Playoff’s fault), and the only sad 8 seed from this decade would’ve been a Clemson that, in real life, was about to suggest it shouldn’t have been bowl eligible to begin with (also not the Playoff’s fault). Giving more good teams a chance doesn’t equate to giving lots of bad teams a chance.

Alternatively, set a ranking threshold — maybe those P5 champs must still in the top 12 — and then this isn’t a worry at all.

2. Even fewer would have any hope of pulling it off.

How many of these 1-vs.-8 underdogs would you have picked outright? Some of these look like glorified byes.

  • 2018: Washington already lost to an Auburn that #1 Alabama destroyed.
  • 2017: In hindsight, UCF would’ve had a shot against Clemson.
  • 2016: WMU would’ve been annihilated by one of Bama’s best teams ever.
  • 2015: Houston beat an ACC team in a bowl IRL! #1 Clemson beat those Noles also (and didn’t lose to UConn).
  • 2014: Bama would’ve been favored to beat #8 Boise State by well over two touchdowns.
  • 2013: Same for #1 Florida State against UCF.
  • 2012: 8-5 Wisconsin lmao
  • 2011: Well, #1 LSU blew out the West Virginia that’d put 70 on Clemson.
  • 2010: Any team could’ve played Auburn to any conceivable margin of victory this year. #8 VT could’ve lost by 99 or won. Who knows.
  • 2009: Bama would’ve been favored over #8 GT by at least two touchdowns.

So we probably have somewhere between zero and two 8 seeds advancing to the second round.

And then they have to beat another top-five team.

And then they have to beat another top-five team.

3. If you want more proof that bad teams wouldn’t somehow own the Playoff, look at FCS.

That thing has 24 teams and even gives autobids to the bad conferences, so it probably has 7-5 teams winning the tournament all the time, right?

Nah. Here’s the all-time list of FCS champs that lost to three non-FBS teams along the way:

  • 1980 Boise State

That’s it.

I think FBS can handle eight teams.

(Even funnier, the 1980 FCS playoffs only had four teams. A four-team bracket already gave us the only three-loss tournament champ in Division I history, so we might as well expand FBS past four anyway.)

4. Still, if one of these three-loss boogiemen did pull all this off, then shit, why not crown ‘em?

(Especially if that 8 seed was undefeated to begin with!)

Let’s use 2018 as an example, with 10-3 Washington at #8.

  • To win the Playoff, those uninspiring Huskies would first have to beat a monstrous Alabama.
  • If the rest went according to chalk, Washington would then have to beat the Heisman winner’s #4 Oklahoma, which just beat #5 Georgia.
  • The Huskies would have to finish by beating a 15-0 Clemson.

Washington would have finished with a conference championship and three wins over final AP top-five teams, while only losing games by a total of 10 points. Why the hell not call that 13-3 team a champ?

(Besides, those infamously 9-7 New York Giants were not 9-7. They were 13-7. They beat four straight fellow playoff teams, including one of the best teams ever. All the games mattered, but some mattered more. That’s what we want, right?)

College football champs are supposed to be unbeaten (or close to it). But college football loves two things even more than it loves undefeated records: random lunacy and knee-jerk decisions.

You’re telling me there’s an alternate reality in which [deep breath] 8-5 Wisconsin (lmao) stormed to a Playoff title by beating an undefeated Notre Dame (actually feasible), a 12-1 Oregon, and #2 Alabama, partly thanks to Ohio State’s previous head coach lying about players getting tattoos, and then everyone got so mad about this that we scrapped the entire Playoff and went back to the pre-BCS setup [exhale]?

I think that sounds insanely college football. Let’s do it immediately.