College Football Weekly: What Would A 16-Team Playoff Look Like

A look at how a 16-team playoff would look with the most recent rankings

We are now in the part of the season where the college football playoff rankings are released weekly. Let the debates commence.

Fans of the sport know how it works. The top four teams are in the playoff, with the one seed facing the four seed and the two seed facing the three seed. Pretty simple, other than the fact that someone is always going to feel like they got ripped off. With five major conference plus Notre Dame, there is a guarantee at least one conference is getting left out.

To no one's surprise, No. 1 is Alabama and No. 2 is Clemson in the current rankings. The two teams have faced each other in the playoff each of the last three years.

Any questions that were still remaining about Alabama and their lack of tough opponents seemed to be answered last week when they decimated No. 3 LSU 29-0 at Tiger Stadium. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in average scoring margin, winning by an average score of 37.2. Second in the nation in average scoring margin? That would be Clemson, winning on average by 33.6. So in other words, nothing new at the top.

Through the first four years of the college football playoff, I believe that the committee has for the most part gotten the four teams right.

In the inaugural season of the playoff, the Big 12 was very upset that 11-1 TCU and 11-1 Baylor were left out in favor of 11-1 Ohio State. That argument lost a lot of its gravitas when OSU went on to beat Alabama and Oregon to win the national title.

Last season, Ohio State was 11-2 and the Big Ten conference champion, while Alabama was 11-1 with their only loss being to Auburn in the last week, but they did not win their conference. The committee opted to take Alabama, who like the last scenario, went on to win the championship.

With Notre Dame currently sitting at 9-0, there is a real possibility some feelings are going to get hurt. If Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame win out, that means either the Big Ten champion, the Pac-12 champion or the Big 12 champion is getting left out. Not to mention a possible second team from the SEC.

With all those Power Five conferences being left out, what would a 16 team playoff look like? There are 129 FBS college football teams, why just let four teams have all the fun right?

Here is what the current college football rankings are 1-16.

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Michigan
  5. Georgia
  6. Oklahoma
  7. LSU
  8. Washington State
  9. West Virginia
  10. Ohio State
  11. Kentucky
  12. UCF
  13. Syracuse
  14. NC State
  15. Florida
  16. Mississippi State

These would be the first round matchups assuming that they would just take the top 16 teams and not give Power Five champions an automatic bid and then do 11 at-large bids:

-No. 1 Alabama vs No. 16 Mississippi State

-No. 2 Clemson vs No. 15 Florida

-No. 3 Notre Dame vs No. 14 NC State

-No. 4 Michigan vs No. 13 Syracuse

-No. 5 Georgia vs No. 12 UCF

-No. 6 Oklahoma vs No. 11 Kentucky

-No. 7 LSU vs No. 10 Ohio State

-No. 8 Washington State vs No. 9 West Virginia

Some of those matchups leave a lot to be desired, such as the first four seeds vs the bottom four seeds. I believe the first four seeds would all be double digit favorites against those bottom four teams. But starting with Georgia and UCF, the games start to look like competitive match ups.

There are a couple of adjustments that would have to be made to make this work. First of all, I think conferences would need to get rid of conference championship games or take a game away from the regular season. If you left the format as it is now, there would be a possibility for 17 games, 12 regular season, a conference championship game and then four playoff games. That is more than the NFL.

Secondly, I’d make it so the higher seed would host the game at home in the first round. That would give teams added encouragement to finish the regular season strong and the possibility of a second home game could be the nudge these programs need to make a change. Money talks and another home game would mean more money for those programs.

Also, it wouldn’t work out with these current rankings, but if LSU and Ohio State were flipped and OSU was No.7 and LSU was No. 10, how fun would it be to see the the Tigers go to Columbus in December?

After the first round, there could be a rotating cycle of the New Year’s Six bowls, with four hosting the quarterfinals and two hosting the semifinals. For example, this is what it might look like, assuming all of the top seeds were to win:


Rose Bowl

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Washington State

Cotton Bowl

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 LSU

Peach Bowl

No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

Sugar Bowl

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 Georgia


Orange Bowl

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Michigan

Fiesta Bowl

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

Now how much fun would those games be? If you made it through that gauntlet, there would be no one questioning the two teams in the championship.

Another possible added bonus of this format is it would encourage teams to schedule tougher non-conference games because if you lose you are less likely to be eliminated from the playoffs. The way it is now, there really isn’t all that much incentive to scheduling tough non-conference games because a loss hurts you much more than a win helps you. I talked at length about how Alabama opts to just play neutral site games in an earlier column.

I personally love the drama that a four-team playoff creates. It creates an urgency in every single game throughout the regular season that I believe just wouldn’t be there if there were 16 teams in the playoff.

With that being said, at some point these Power Five conferences are going to get real sick and tired of being left out of the playoff. And although I like the current format, there is no denying a 16-team playoff would be a ton of fun.