College football is broken. With social media and sports media being more widespread and accessible as ever, cries for changes to the system to determine a national champion have never been as loud. Those who feel they have a claim to the title, like this year’s UCF Golden Knights, who capped off a perfect season with a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Talks of strength of schedule and quality wins vs. quality losses have been skewed by a belief that just because a team is in a certain conference, they’re better than most other teams.
A quick glance at Alabama or Georgia’s schedules shows some glaring problems. First off, who on Earth is Mercer and why did Alabama waste their time scheduling them? The Tide won 56-0. They beat Fresno State 41-10 and Colorado State 41-23. Nobody is surprised they won, but why, when you’re trying to prove your dominance, would you schedule the Puyallup Tree Frogs tee-ball team to face the New York Yankees?
Many SEC apologists will turn the attention towards games like Bama’s 66-3 win over Ole Miss, or their 59-0 clobbering of Vanderbilt to show Bama’s dominance over SEC opponents. They’ll ignore the fact that they fell to a two-loss Auburn team in the Iron Bowl and struggled to beat Mississippi State, who had no business being in the top 25, and had to hold on to beat Texas A&M.
The argument is not that Alabama is a bad team, they certainly aren’t. They belong in the national championship discussion as long as they keep playing they way they are. The issue is that any team in the SEC is automatically assumed to be superior to a team outside of it. The argument is also not that the SEC is a bad conference, because it is certainly a quality place for top recruits to show off their talents. The argument is more that while champions are not made equal, bottom-feeders are bottom-feeders. Tennessee, one of Alabama’s victims this year, went 0-8 in conference play and beat UMass by only 4 points. Their season-opening win came against ACC opponent Florida State, then ranked #3 in the AP Poll. The Seminoles lost their starting quarterback for the season in that game and finished the season barely bowl eligible. Bama’s best out-of-conference win was “good” because of preseason rankings, which are essentially guesses. Their SEC wins were against, with the exception of LSU, mediocre teams hiding behind a label of excellence: S.E.C.
Alabama is essentially the coach’s son at quarterback relying on a star receiver to score for him, and the other SEC teams are freshman offensive linemen getting used to their size who get state championship rings for practice squad work.
Georgia at least has one more quality win than Alabama with their victories over Auburn (who beat both Bama and Georgia this season) and Notre Dame, and perhaps deserves even more to be in the discussion.
Again, these aren’t bad teams. Anyone would be proud to see their son play for these teams and join the proud college football tradition they carry. The issue is that the College Football Playoff Committee has been unable to resolve the issues that the BCS formula had. For whatever reason, there is some agreement that the SEC is the best conference in America. Fans literally chant S-E-C in the stands, because it’s become a brand. Just like a Yankees cap is recognizable in the jungles of South America, the SEC logo is a familiar sight in any backwoods trailer in Arkansas. Many of their national championships came thanks to a computer programmed to favor their conference during the BCS era, and they’ll continue to be ushered into situations to win by weak schedules and a committee that favors the third-place team in the SEC over a Big 10 champ.
The resolution is simple: an 8-team playoff. Everyone expected the 4-team playoff to fix all the problems with college football, but it’s only perpetuating them. People will still gripe in an 8-team playoff system, but people complain no matter what. This season, an 8-team playoff would have allowed Wisconsin to prove their status as champions, UCF to test their perfection against the highest competition, and more widespread representation across the conferences and country.
This isn’t, perhaps, the most eloquent column ever written, but there’s a problem with college football, and it needs to be fixed. Expand the playoff, see how it feels.