College football’s confusing and exclusive playoff system may have finally become fair—and all it took were years of complaints and the sport’s behemoths falling all at once.
For decades, the human aspect of the sport has meant that only the top teams really stand a chance at the national championship, while the less-regarded schools can’t even qualify for the championship.
Even the College Football Playoff, a fairer system than it used to be, relies on people selecting the four most deserving teams, rather than relying solely on who has won the most games.
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Last year, the University of Cincinnati, which is not in any of the five major power conferences, remained undefeated but finished eighth in the latest Playoff rankings, behind five schools that had lost at least once (and one, Florida, who had lost 8 -3 went). ).
The sport is essentially about perception. Since there are more than 120 schools, not all of them can play against each other. The top schools have won more in the past and recruited more highly regarded high school students, so they’re considered better, even if they haven’t shown that by playing, you know, real football.
Cincinnati lost a close contest to take mighty Georgia to power after the perfect 2020 regular season; the question was whether they would even qualify for the four-team playoff if they went undefeated again.
For weeks it seems they may not be. They started the season eighth in the AP Poll and continued to win; then the first Playoff ranking came out, and they were sixth, behind three schools that had lost a game.
Cincinnati needed help. Finally they got it.
Down went No.3 Michigan State; Cincinnati slipped into fifth place. #3 Oregon lost (again); they tumbled through the sequence and suddenly Cincinnati was in the top four.
This weekend, the last of the regular season, saw another shocking loss as No.2 Ohio State fell to No.5 Michigan for the first time in years. Meanwhile, No.3 Alabama survived multiple overtimes against longtime rival Auburn, again showing that the reigning National Champions are not as good as the brand on the can suggests.
There’s still a week of Conference Championship games to go before the playoff field is set — and a chaotic season means Cincinnati can and should make the final four.
Here are last week’s rankings:
No.1 Georgia (11-0)
No.2 Ohio State (10-1) [lost this week to Michigan]
Number 3 Alabama (10-1) [nearly lost this week]
Number 4 Cincinnati (11-0)
Number 5 Michigan (10-1)
Number 6 Our Lady (10-1)
no.7 State of Oklahoma (10-1)
No.8 Baylor (9-2)
no.9 Ole Miss (9-2)
No.10 Oklahoma (10-1) [lost this week to Oklahoma State]
Perpetual contender Ohio State, with two losses, will not play for its conference championship and thus certainly will not be considered. Neither Clemson (three losses) or Oklahoma (two).
Michigan will jump over Cincinnati for its win over Ohio State (because of the quality of the win. Yes, I know they lost a game. Trust me, they will) and it’s unclear if Alabama and Cincinnati will switch places . At worst, Cincinnati would have to be fourth.
The question is whether any of the teams below them could still pass them by winning their conference title.
Relevant conference championship matchups (with likely new rankings)
SEC: No.1 Georgia vs No.3/No.4 Alabama
Big Ten: No.12ish Iowa vs No.2 Michigan
Big 12: No.7 Oklahoma State vs No.8 Baylor
AAC: No.3/No.4 Cincinnati vs No.20ish Houston
So this is the probable pecking order…
No matter what, because they looked so dominant
Control their fate
Next in line if one above loses, and must lose at least one
5. State of Oklahoma
6. Notre Dame (not playing next week, lost to Cincinnati early in the season)
7. Baylor (probably need Alabama/Michigan to lose both)
8. Iowa (probably need Alabama/Cincinnati to lose both)
The only tender point is whether a Big 12 champion Oklahoma State can beat an AAC champion Cincinnati, but Oklahoma State hasn’t been super respected all season.
If things go as planned—Georgia beats Alabama, Michigan beats Iowa, Cincinnati beats Houston, Oklahoma State beats Baylor—those four winners would probably be our Playoff four.
Thats crazy! Georgia was runner-up in the national title in 2017 and has made it to the playoffs almost every year, but none of the other three have ever made it. And Cincinnati would be the first conference team to have no power actually, not just theoretically, playing for a national championship in decades.
The matchups in that scenario would likely be No.1 Georgia-No.4 Oklahoma State and No.2 Michigan-No.3 Cincinnati; either Michigan or Cincinnati would play for the title! Michigan almost fired its coach late last year and Cincinnati… is Cincinnati!
An almost totally unpredictable Playoff. After year after year of seemingly the exact same Clemson-Alabama-Ohio State-Oklahoma hegemony, something different is finally happening.
Just in time for expansion.
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