Q: Should Houston be realistically in the CFP discussion? What would it take to get the Cougars in?
A: No way. No how.
I have the utmost respect for Tom Herman and his Cougars, who’ve been one of the biggest surprises of the season. Herman is obviously a budding star of the coaching ranks, and his knack for coaching up quarterbacks will earn him a hefty pay raise from someone in a few weeks. But we’re talking playoffs. Top four teams in the country. A chance to play for a national championship. Houston, having faced no one that is currently ranked—NO ONE—simply does not meet the criteria.
It’s been an amazing, transformational year in the American. And the winner of the inaugural league championship game has earned the right to play in a Big Six bowl game. However, that’s where the journey ends. Houston’s best wins of 2015? Louisville and Memphis. Nice, but there a dozen other teams in the country who’d also be unbeaten if they played the Cougar schedule. And what would Houston’s record be if it had to run the Pac-12 or SEC gauntlet? 8-2? 7-3?
I have no reason to disparage or denigrate Houston. The Cougars are legitimately one of the 20 or so premier teams in the game. Top four? I just don’t see it, based on their schedule and their roster of talent. And barring some unlikely turn of events that results in a preponderance of two-loss Power Five conference champs, Houston shouldn’t even be a serious factor in the committee’s upcoming discussions.
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To be realistically included in the CFP would require Houston playing a Power 5 conference schedule, visiting Power 5 conference stadiums. Either that, or when the day comes that we finally admit four playoff spots for a division that has nearly 130 teams is farcical.
Our long-time readers will recognize this for its repetition, but we can make college football nirvana with two simple moves: first, truly separate the FBS into the Power 5 and the Group of 5 divisions, instead of the ridiculously unwieldy number we have today. And second, let each division play for its own national championship best of 8 format.
Stick with me for a second.
There’s simply too much money in an eight-team playoff, which makes it inevitable. If you want to know what’s coming next in any business, follow the money.
In this particular case, it’s also the most equitable move in terms of finding a true national champion. You can’t have four spots for 60+ teams and five major national conferences and with a straight face say you have a “just” playoff. With 8 teams, you take (i) each conference winner, (ii) the best Group of 5 team, and (iii) two at large picks to account for an independent or great teams that barely missed out.
This will also have a wonderful impact on September, which is increasingly becoming a boring month of college football with over-matched contests. If coaches know they can make the playoff even if they lose a tough out of conference game, then given the current financial dynamics, you’re going to see a lot more big teams playing big games in September. Teams are currently making $4-$5 million each for playing in “Kickoff Classics” … yet coaches for the most part resist scheduling tough non-conference games. As would you if you were making $3 million a year, and the extra non-conference cupcake could be the difference between keeping that salary or losing it. An 8 team playoff gives ADs more ammunition to argue against coaches who don’t want to play tough September games. Again, follow the money.
As for the Group of 5… The Temple story this year has been special … right up until they lost to USF. Same with Memphis … until the past two weeks. But on the whole, the vast majority of Group of 5 teams have no business being compared evenly with Power 5 programs. Continue scheduling games between the Power 5/Group of 5, sure … that’s how many fans develop interest in the Temples … and Houstons … and Navys … and Memphises, when they defeat Power 5 teams. Structure the Group of 5 playoff similar to the Power 5.
Everyone on the outside looking in can participate in the bowl system … just like they do today.
After the conference championship games are over, take two weeks off for finals and game prep. Then play the first round of the playoffs in the home stadium of the higher ranked teams, with the Group of 5 playing on Fridays, and the Power 5 on Saturdays. Sprinkle the bowl games Mondays through Thursdays, involve the bowls for both sets of semi-finals as you do today, and you have three weeks of non-stop college football heaven … much of which is “win or go home”, survive and advance intensity for a championship trophy.
Suddenly December becomes BETTER than March Madness. And drives much more money.
Plus you finish before the NFL Playoffs, which each year robs attention for our penultimate game.
Yes you will watch the Group of 5 playoffs. Why? Because it’s Friday, there’s nothing better to watch, and it’s playoff football … and you know these better Group of 5 teams, because you’ve been hearing about them throughout the season as they beat Power 5 teams. Moreover, for those saying college players can’t play 15 games? We already do it in the FCS, not to mention high school football. Pro football plays even more.
In fact, nearly EVERY LEVEL OF FOOTBALL does it, except for that which has been allowed to be co-opted by the private promoters of the college bowl system. Which is a nice segue into…
If you can’t stomach playing the first round of the playoffs in the home stadium of the higher ranked team – thus truly making each game matter, rewarding the fan base/community of the actual school, playing in our sports’ beautiful cathedrals (stadiums), and making southern teams travel to play in the north – then I argue you’re presently making a living off the bowl system.
I suppose ESPN owns too many of the bowls now, plus the almighty broadcasting rights, so they’re the ones making a living off the bowl system. OK, keep the bowls. Whatever. Fans will travel to one extra game.
But this system drives more revenue, is more equitable, and crowns a true champion. And drives more revenue.
Did I mention it drives more revenue?
It also ramps the profile of college football even further into the stratosphere.
Make it happen.