One Foot Inbounds
The college football weekend in review

OFI: The Best Playoff Foursome

Oklahoma Sooners QB Jalen Hurts
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Out of the Power 5 conference championship games, Oregon was the only team to pull an upset, although Baylor tried their absolute best. Unfortunately for Utah, their 37-15 loss didn't just mean that they wouldn't be Pac-12 champs, but also that they would miss the playoff, since LSU would go on to trounce Georgia the next day in the SEC Championship Game.

It's a really tough break for the Utes, who had their best team in years. In fact, looking at CollegeFootballData's Team SP+ trends, this was their second-best team since 1970! But Oregon decided to just run all over the Utes, while mixing in a few explosive passes and big defensive plays too.

The Ducks only had an average overall efficiency, with a 40% success rate, but were better on standard downs (48% success rate, compared to just 21% on passing downs). Instead of per-play efficiency, four explosive plays really defined the Ducks' day offensively. Two were explosive touchdown runs of 70 and 31 yards for C.J. Verdell. He had 208 rushing yards on 18 carries for the day, so half of his yardage production came on just those two plays. His expected points added (EPA) on those two plays alone was 11.7 points! The other two big plays were through the air. Although Justin Herbert's overall day wasn't exactly prolific, he did complete two 45-plus-yard bombs to Juwan Johnson and Johnny Johnson III, which netted 8.3 EPA.

Meanwhile Oregon's defense completely tripped up Tyler Huntley, who averaged -0.4 EPA per pass attempt, which is in the bottom 15% of all games this season. He had two interceptions, one of which was intercepted in the end zone and netted -4.7 EPA. Zach Moss and the run game couldn't get going either. While Moss crossed the 100-yard mark thanks to a 42-yard run, the Utes' overall rushing performance was in the bottom 14% for the 2019 season.

In this game we got a preview of what Mario Cristobal's ideal Oregon performance would look like. He might prefer a more efficient run game than the 24% EPA success rate they got, but elite, run-stuffing defense plus deep shots downfield are probably his platonic ideal for a smashmouth Pac-12 team. As a result, the Pac-12 missed the playoff for the third straight season.

Baylor tried their absolute best to do the same to Oklahoma, forcing the game to overtime before ultimately falling short 30-23. The Bears were forced to go through three quarterbacks during the game due to injuries, with Charlie Brewer and backup Gerry Bohanon giving way to third-stringer Jacob Zeno. Neither of the first two QBs were effective, throwing for 71 total yards and averaging -0.9 and -0.3 EPA respectively, but Zeno came in in the fourth quarter and then things went bananas. Zeno completed only two of his six pass attempts, but they were for 81 and 78 yards each!

Baylor had averaged a 26% standard downs success rate and couldn't run the ball thanks to Oklahoma's attacking defense, but the Bears remained in the thick of it due to their defense and three explosive passes of their own. What was most surprising about the Bears defense/Oklahoma's offense was that someone finally slowed down the Sooners' run game. Oklahoma averaged -0.2 EPA per rush and had just a 22% rushing EPA success rate. While LSU has shown some susceptibility to quarterbacks being involved in the run game (i.e., the game against Ole Miss), Baylor might have provided a template for how to deal with the threat from Jalen Hurts and Kennedy Brooks running the ball. Ultimately for Baylor though, the lack of any kind of efficiency doomed them in overtime, where Oklahoma could more effectively pin their ears back and pressure Zeno. As a result of surviving their sixth one-score game of the season, the Sooners get a shot at the most accomplished team of the season, Joe Burrow's LSU.

Speaking of the Tigers, LSU absolutely blasted Georgia 37-10. Burrow was his usual elite self, throwing for 349 yards on 38 attempts while averaging 0.4 EPA per attempt (which is in the 79th percentile of passing EPA games this year). Basically the game came down to Georgia being unable to do anything on offense, which was easy to predict given how they've played this season, but especially because of the mounting injuries and suspensions that the Bulldogs have experienced.

Coming into this season, Georgia planned to rely on returning receiver Jeremiah Holloman, who was fourth in receiving yards on last year's team with 418. The Bulldogs' top five other receivers left for the NFL. But then Holloman was dismissed from the team over the summer, leaving Tyler Simmons as the new leading returning receiver with just 138 yards. Against LSU, top freshman George Pickens was suspended for the first half. Then Georgia's other strong freshman Dominick Blaylock tore his ACL, and leading rusher D'Andre Swift had a shoulder injury and only received five snaps. That lack of receiver depth, a strangely inaccurate Jake Fromm, and a new offensive coordinator who has underwhelmed in James Coley meant that Georgia couldn't take advantage of any potential weaknesses in the LSU defense. Fromm isn't a running quarterback like Ole Miss' John Rhys Plumlee (who, funny enough, was a signing day flip from Georgia to Ole Miss), and he doesn't have Alabama's receivers to exploit any gaps in coverage.

So the game was about as predictable as you could expect given those circumstances. Georgia's elite defense held on for as long as they could, but eventually the floodgates opened and your future 2019 Heisman winner made plays whenever he needed to. In fact, LSU made it look so easy that they were able to vault Ohio State for the top seed in the final playoff rankings.

Ohio State tried their very best demote themselves from that top spot too, needing a 27-point run in the second half to come back against Wisconsin. The first half was Ohio State's sloppiest half of play in any game this season. The Buckeyes defense struggled in the first half against Michigan last week but turned it around in the second half, and their offense more than kept pace with Shea Patterson and the Wolverines. That wasn't the case this week as the Buckeyes defense was again lax in the first half, but the offense also failed to take advantage of opportunities. The Buckeyes' first drive ended on downs while their second drive ended with a fumble on third-and-goal. In the first quarter the Buckeyes averaged -0.1 EPA with just a 37% success rate, while the Badgers averaged 0.44 and 0.54 EPA in the first two quarters. The result, capped by a four-play, 75-yard drive with under a minute left in the first half, was a 21-7 Badgers halftime lead.

What was most surprising was the Buckeyes defense allowing multiple big plays. In the first half alone, Jonathan Taylor had runs of 44 yards (for a touchdown) and 45 yards, while Quintez Cephus had receptions of 27, 24, 17, and 17 yards. The Buckeyes have rarely allowed big plays this year (unlike last season, where big plays were the norm), so it was shocking.

But the Buckeyes came storming back in the second half, keeping Wisconsin off the scoreboard while scoring 27 straight of their own. Chris Olave and K.J. Hill had big performances while J.K. Dobbins got going on the ground as well. The Badgers were held to 19% and 25% EPA success rates in the third and fourth quarters while Ohio State's average EPA jumped to 0.4 and 0.2 (the Buckeyes' third- and fourth-quarter EPA differential were 0.99 and 0.49 per play).

The Buckeyes will have a few things to clean up before their rematch against Clemson (in 2016 Clemson infamously shut out the Buckeyes 31-0). First will be to get everyone healthy. Justin Fields has taken some big hits and has worn a large brace on his knee since getting injured last week against Michigan and also taking big hits against Penn State. And J.K. Dobbins is likely sore after totaling 100 carries over the last three weeks. Second, the Buckeyes offensive line allowed five sacks against Wisconsin, and Clemson is sure to be able to bring pressure against that Ohio State front. The Buckeyes defense also needs to adjust after allowing Shea Patterson to cut through the secondary in the first half last week and Jack Coan to do the same in the first half of the Big Ten Championship Game. Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson receivers are several notches above any passing attack that the Buckeyes have faced this season, so those five-star defensive backs will have to play like it if they want to get back to the National Championship Game.


  • Clemson's 62-17 win over Virginia is barely worth discussing. Trevor Lawrence threw for 302 yards on 22 attempts, averaging 0.78 EPA (top 4% of all passing EPA games this season) with Tee Higgins as the primary beneficiary. Some of the passing game's biggest plays were just Clemson receivers simply outrunning and/or out-jumping Virginia defensive backs, highlighting obvious physical and talent mismatches that are to be expected against 98% of other teams. Three different Clemson receivers had catches of over 50 yards. The Tigers defense forced Bryce Perkins to pass, and he did well outside of two interceptions, but it's almost always a problem when your quarterback has nearly twice as many rushing attempts as your running backs combined.
  • Memphis also beat Cincinnati for the second time in two weeks, 29-24, meaning that the Bearcats have lost to the Tigers by a combined 15 points. The Bearcats had an inefficient passing attack, and eventually the Tigers were able to pile up enough explosive plays to get the AAC title. What's most interesting about Memphis (and probably now for Florida State too, since Mike Norvell was reportedly hired away) is that skill players both run and catch the ball in creative ways. Antonio Gibson and Kenneth Gainwell were both the top two rushers and the second- and third-leading receivers against Cincinnati. The win means that Memphis is the Group of 5 representative in the New Year's Six, where they will see Penn State.


  • Quintez Cephus, WR, Wisconsin. Quintez Cephus was the game's leading receiver with seven catches for 122 yards against an elite Ohio State defense. He also had two of the team's top three EPA plays, which alone added about 6.5 EPA for the Badgers.
  • C.J. Verdell, RB, Oregon. As mentioned above, Verdell's two big runs accounted for half of his yards for the day and really opened the game up for the Ducks in their win over Utah. He finished with 208 rushing yards on only 18 carries.


  • Derek Stingley Jr., DB, LSU. Derek Stingley Jr. had two interceptions against Georgia that resulted in a -10.0 cumulative EPA. One of those interceptions was a 17-yard return into Georgia territory and had a -6.7 EPA.
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon. Kayvon Thibodeaux is going to be on a ton of watch lists next year as a Chase Young-type difference maker. He had 2.5 sacks and a blocked punt, combining for a cumulative -7.5 EPA on four plays.

Thanks to @msubbiaiah and his cfbscrapR package for EPA data!


73 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2019, 2:47pm

1 It amazes me how…

It amazes me how disconnected college football has become in the past 10 years once conferences expanded and the playoffs showed up. It's pretty much impossible to rank teams without using scoring margin or play-by-play details anymore.

Memphis, for instance, finished 12-1 and no one would even think about putting them in the playoffs - except practically every single ranking system that ignores margin-of-victory. Not kidding. Virtually every single one has Memphis ranked somewhere from 3-6. And they all basically have Alabama 15-20 or so. Which means they basically all have Memphis *above* Penn State, and Michigan above Alabama.

It's awesome, since it means those bowl games are like "BCS vs CFP" deathmatches. Of course it'd be nice if people realized that it's exposing scheduling rather than proving that humans are better than computers or something.

It's really nuts because some of those ratings are really smart ways to do binary rankings (won/loss only, no measure of degree). And 15 years ago or so it actually worked pretty well! It's just totally impossible to do that with college football anymore.

12 Time for a dramatic change to college football conferences

I know it would never happen, but I would absolutely love to see an English soccer style promotion/relegation implemented in the college football world. Have the power 5 conferences (after balancing the numbers) feeding an NCAA "Premier League" which plays a round robin season among the "top" 12 teams with a playoff at the end to keep fans happy to crown the "National Champion". Have the lower conferences feeding their regional "power 5" conferences. It would lead to parity in the regular season and give a real reward to lower level teams that have a great season. Imagine if The MAC winner got promoted to the Big 10. 

Again, it will never happen but I think it would be one of the perfect places in American sport for it to actually be implemented if I were granted sports dictator powers for a day.

2 Gosh, would it ever suck if,…

Gosh, would it ever suck if, this Saturday, we had Georgia at Okkahoma, Oregon at Clemson, Baylor at Ohio State, and Wisconsin at LSU. Just awful. Glad that isn't happening.

4 I don't get it. If that's…

I don't get it. If that's supposed to be an 8 team playoff, 3 of those possible games already happened. So wouldn't it make a ton more sense to tell Notre Dame to jump off a cliff, get rid of pretending the non-Power 5 conferences have a shot, and have a play-in game for the 4th/5th seeded champs?

Or failing that keep the 4th/5th play-in and tell the committee "no rematches if at all possible." 

5 Which three games happened?

Which three games happened?


To be clear, I don't have any issue with telling Notre Dame that they have to join a power 5 to get in the playoff, or excluding anybody outside the Power 5. I kind of changed my mind on the latter, now that the edifice on player compensation has started to crumble. I also would tell the committee that seeds 1-4 have to be conference champs, with discretion on the 5th conference champ's seeding,  and to avoid rematches in round 1 whenever possible.

6 I don't really have a…

I don't really have a problem with non-Power 5 teams making it.

2004 and 2008 Utah; 2009-2010 TCU; 2006, 2009, 2011 Boise; 2013 and 2017 UCF, or 2004 or 2013 Louisville deserved to get into the playoff.

8 The problem with doing "best…

The problem with doing "best of the non-power 5 teams" means it's going to be Notre Dame a huge percentage of the time. It also generates pressure to leave the Power 5, which in general means it's going to just reduce the quality of games during the regular season.

College football's honestly too big already, dropping everyone except the power 5 at least gets you to a reasonable size. Maybe add a second playoff or something for the lower tier conferences, who knows.

7 I didn't mean 3 of those…

I didn't mean 3 of those particular games, but of the 8 you listed, 3 of the possible 2-team combinations had already happened. As in, Wisconsin-OSU, Baylor-Oklahoma, and LSU-Georgia. And Wisconsin-OSU/Baylor-Oklahoma happened twice already!

My point is that I don't see the advantage in the list you have over just going with the Power 5 conference champs. You get a bunch of rematches, which seems really silly when college football is dramatically underconnected. I don't really see the point in expanding past 6 at most, and preferably 5 if you get Notre Dame into a conference. 6 is silly because you're either just going to get a rematch or Notre Dame most years if you avoid rematches.

9 I'd be fine with 5 champs…

I'd be fine with 5 champs and one wild card, seeds 5 and 6 at conference champs 3 and 4 on the second Saturday in December. T.V.-wise, 4 games in one day can be a ratings challenge anyways. Two games, 3 P.M and 7:30 P.M. E.T., would get blockbuster ratings.


Oh, and  Notre Dame really should be told that they have to join a Power 5 to get in the playoff.

10 I just don't know what you…

I just don't know what you do about the wild card. If you've just got the Power 5 and Notre Dame's forced in one, you're likely just going to get some rematch, which while I know some people might not hate quite as much as me, avoiding a rematch is always going to give you more information, and something more novel, at least.

If you go straight power-5 with 4/5 having a play-in game, and also forcing the conference championships to be decided on total record (rather than conference record - so for instance, the 2016 Big Ten championship would've been OSU/Wisconsin rather than Penn State/Wisconsin since PSU was 10-2 and OSU was 11-1) I don't really see a great argument for a 6th unless you go outside the Power 5, and really, if you want anything sane you need to split college football anyway.

11 The disparity in non…

The disparity in non conference, and interdivisional, schedule strengths makes me oppose using total w-l records to determine conference champs. I'd prefer teams use intradivisional records, with head to head as tiebreaker, using intradivisional point differential as the tiebreaker when 3 or 4 way ties exist after head to head, for division champs, then a conference championship.

13 The more I think about it, I…

The more I think about it, I think the only way to do it with the situation we have is to just let the CFP select the teams in the conference championship (which will never happen, but we can dream). I just think there's no real sane way to do it with fixed rules - there are too few games and too many teams. Even with divisions of only 6 teams there's sometimes as few as 2 teams worth a damn, and sometimes not even that.

Of course it's all insane as long as you have only 12 games and 100+ teams. Pretty much everyone knows that it's de facto impossible for the teams outside the power 5 to ever make the playoffs (see UCF 2017), and that's not a bad thing, since the sport is too big. The only problem I have with that is that it should be codified

17 We really ought to be frank,…

We really ought to be frank, and admit that maximizing television ratings is the function of the entire enterprise. If getting the focus shrunk from about 130 teams to 85 results in more talent accruing to the bottom 40 teams of the 85, or even more talent in teams through 40, then quality of games should drive better ratings overall.

24 I don't think college…

I don't think college attendance and ratings are a quality-driven as you think. Otherwise the largest football stadiums would not be college stadiums.

The seven largest primarily-sports arenas by capacity are all college football stadiums. Jerryworld is not only not the largest football stadium in Texas, it's not the largest football stadium in Dallas. And Dallas's college teams don't play there!

25 There are about 85 stadiums…

There are about 85 stadiums we are talking about. There is significant underutilization of seats right now, and t.v. ratings still pale in comparison to the other major television football product.

27 "and t.v. ratings still pale…

"and t.v. ratings still pale in comparison to the other major television football product."

Is this some odd definition of 'pale' I don't know about? NFL generally hits a total combined rating of around 50 or so with primetime games on three days, and college football is generally around a combined total rating of 25, concentrated on one day. If you compare NFL on Sunday to college football on Saturday, the ratings are actually pretty much equivalent.

The problem isn't lack of interest, it's the fact that college football generally doesn't want to move off of Saturday.

30 They have been playing on…

They have been playing on Friday night for 15 years, and it certainly wasn't academics which made them cede Thursday night to the NFL.

Rather than get into "pale in comparison" semantics, I will note the early Sunday Niners Saints game had about 30% more viewers than the best ranked college game the day before, and the combined viewers of the two highest rated college games did not match the total viewers of Patriots Chiefs. I will forgo looking at percentages of seats sold. There is a lot of meat still on the bone of college football revenues.




33 "They have been playing on…

"They have been playing on Friday night for 15 years, and it certainly wasn't academics which made them cede Thursday night to the NFL."

Actually, it was, just not the way you think. The major universities don't want to play on Friday, or any day during the week. Networks pushed it on them. They stick to Saturday because 1) tailgating is a multibillion dollar industry and it has massive effects on the colleges - namely, attendance decisions and donor contributions, and 2) recruiting can't be done easily during the work/school week. 

"Rather than get into "pale in comparison" semantics, I will note the early Sunday Niners Saints game had about 30% more viewers than the best ranked college game the day before, and the combined viewers of the two highest rated college games did not match the total viewers of Patriots Chiefs."

That's because college football's still regional, whereas the NFL's national. The major teams are essentially pegged in their immediate viewing area, and their attendance is, too.

So you could say that yes, that means that the non-major teams have a ton of growth available, and they do, but that's going to take time - the major football programs have a massive head start on them because all the money they make and bring in goes essentially straight into staff and facilities. Which pulls them farther away from the other schools. It's as if the NFL was 28 copies of the Bengals and 4 actual NFL teams.

There's certainly nothing that college football's doing wrong, it's just that all the growth is in teams/markets where college football isn't that interesting. Again - regional, not national.



26 Yeaahh... no. The talent's…

Yeaahh... no. The talent's not going to even out until you balance the money and that's not going to happen unless they become "not college football" teams.

Besides I don't think you actually want to balance out the talent if you're trying to drive ratings. There are only so many timeslots available and spreading out the talent is going to lower the quality of the best game available. Right now only maybe 20 or so teams drive national ratings at all due to the size of the universities. Penn State's got freaking 700K alumni plus the regional boost from basically all of Pennsylvania. There's a massive size difference between the attendance at the top-tier universities and basically everyone else.

I mean, if you really want to be frank, the current playoff system is a massive benefit to the ~70 or so schools that realistically don't have a chance, because they all benefit from the increased popularity of the huge schools. A minor increase in their own popularity probably isn't worth it.

36 Well, first of all, anybody…

Well, first of all, anybody who makes confident predictions on what the college football industry looks like in 10 years is a fool. The reason the edifice on player compensation is crumbling is because the NCAA and power 5 conferences have a deathly fear of losing an antitrust suit in a way of completely upending the cozy nature of their cartel. Thus they are trying to ride the tiger, without falling off. Any regime for player endorsement income they devise, however, is going to easily risk still running afoul of antitrust law, since, for instance, Ohio State and Alabama ARE economic competitors, and if they enter into agreement with each other as to what compensation they allow players to earn, that agreement, absent players organizing and having a CBA, is going to be immediately suspect.

I think there is a chance that absent the cash flow provided by a power 5 t.v. contract, a nontrivial number of schools are going to drop football, and that will provide more talent to some of the perennial bottom dwellers of the power 5.

38 Yeah, it's more complicated…

Yeah, it's more complicated than that, at least for several of the schools. Many of them are state agencies, so stuff like antitrust law doesn't work (Parker immunity). The NCAA's way more at risk than the universities are, especially the major public ones.

edit: I should point out that yeah, obviously, universities don't get automatic Parker immunity, but state legislatures do - so for instance, the NCAA drafting a student athlete compensation act and pushing for it to be enacted in multiple states (and a federal law allowing it, obviously) works perfectly fine. Not quite so simple to shield private institutions, obviously. But it's not far off from what the NCAA's already previously done with other legislation.

14 I'm very confused. Why does…

I'm very confused. Why does Notre Dame have to join a power 5 conference? What's in it for them? And why does this make everyone so angry? 

The NCAA is a completely made up organization which exists solely to reward friends with money at the expense of letting the market decide.  Notre Dame was one of the last major holdouts to joining the NCAA, after the NCAA had strong armed everyone else to join or be banished.  That's a good thing.  Or is bad to go against the cronies?  

Which is it? Do we like cronies or not? If we don't like cronies, why do we want ND to bend over for them again?  

Think about this... what exactly IS the selection committee?  It's 2019 and we have bunch of connected people meeting in secret like it's the Federal Reserve Board trying to plan interest rates.  We have at our fingertips all the information we need to form an opinion about who the best college teams are, and yet we insist that this committee of cronies do it for us?  Really? And we get mad when a university says nah i'll do my own thing?  Really?

Maybe they can join the Big 12 i don't know.  At least that way, the Big 12 doesn't have to sham it's way to a fake championship game just to impress the cronies (and it doesn't even impress them anyway).

15 Who is "mad" at Notre Dame?…

Who is "mad" at Notre Dame? The question is not "What's in it for Notre Dame to join a power 5?", but rather "What's in it for the power 5 schools to let Notre Dame participate in their playoff?" and the answer to that latter question is pretty much "nothing". If I'm a power 5 conference commissioner, my short speech to Notre Dame is "You go ahead and do whatever you want, but if you want to participate in our playoff, you need to join a conference, because that is what is in our interests, and while you are nice to have around, your participation with us is not even close to being critical.  Have a nice day.".

19 But again... WHY?

Why? Who cares what the committee wants? Again, these are nothing but cronies shuffling money around at the expense of smaller, less connected universities.  Why do you care what the committee chairman wants?

You already know who the best teams are, don't you? Why do you need him to tell you?  I mean, if you don't, scroll  up.  Or read any of the other dozen websites that do college football rankings.  

Conference championships don't change any of that.

22 "Again, these are nothing…

"Again, these are nothing but cronies shuffling money around at the expense of smaller, less connected universities."

Huh? The committee is a group of people selected by the 10 conference commissioners plus Notre Dame's athletic director.

"Or read any of the other dozen websites that do college football rankings."

According to the largest compilation of college football rankings I know of, #1 and #2 are unanimously in. Clemson (#3) is nearly unanimous, with one outlier. #4 is all over the damn place, with Oklahoma, Georgia, Wisconsin, Oregon, Alabama, Penn State, Notre Dame, Utah, Memphis, Boise State, and Appalachian State all going as high as #4.

28 If you trust the committee…

If you trust the committee process, that's great.  This whole thing was put in place to make sure more money went to the connected programs.  Participation from the Group of 5 commissioners keeps them in line is what I suspect.  They have no real path to the playoff. Ever.

As for folks ranking Group of 5 teams (or ND this year for that matter) at #4, well drugs are fun and all but we shouldn't listen to people who do them.  There is the SEC, Clemson, Ohio State, and everyone else.  

32 "Participation from the…

"Participation from the Group of 5 commissioners keeps them in line is what I suspect.  They have no real path to the playoff. Ever."

Of course they don't! They don't care. They get more money this way. Any setup that made it harder for the power 5 teams to get in at the expense of the remaining conferences would just have the Power 5 conferences walk away and do their own thing, and the remaining conferences would make way less.

"As for folks ranking Group of 5 teams (or ND this year for that matter) at #4, well drugs are fun and all but we shouldn't listen to people who do them."

Yeah, crazy people like some of the greatest mathematicians of all time. We all know Laplace was on some wacky drugs. And Bayes, man, he was totally cray-cray.

Those ranking systems are all completely valid. They're just math. They just don't take into margin of victory. Those same wacko ranking systems had UCF clearly in the playoffs, by the way, and then went on to beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl. You know, that same Auburn that beat Alabama that year.

"There is the SEC"

Which again just stresses the point - college football's so ridiculously disconnected that you get these ingrained ideas that bias your entire view of the system. Top teams don't play each other anymore. There's no reason to believe that there are any other top-level teams in the SEC other than LSU.

Don't get me wrong, LSU/OSU/Clemson are the three best teams but Oklahoma is being very dismissed.

16 "Notre Dame was one of the…

"Notre Dame was one of the last major holdouts to joining the NCAA, after the NCAA had strong armed everyone else to join or be banished.  That's a good thing.  Or is bad to go against the cronies? "

I think you're confused about how the college football playoff system is set up?

The NCAA is an association of 1268 schools, including FBS, FCS, Division II, and Division III. It handles championships in FCS and in Division I for basketball. It doesn't have anything to do with the college football playoff (CFP). There are completely valid reasons to criticize the NCAA.

The CFP is controlled by a committee consisting of all 10 FBS conference commissioners plus Notre Dame's athletic director, and keep in mind each conference commissioner is elected from each conference with each member having an equal vote. So if the CFP committee told Notre Dame "yeah, you're going to have to nominally join a conference, at least from a scheduling perspective" and Notre Dame said "nah I'll do my own thing" it wouldn't be them saying that to a bunch of cronies. It'd be them saying that to representatives from 100+ schools.

There are reasons to criticize the conferences themselves, too, obviously, but not in terms of "if you want to be in our playoffs you have to play by our rules."

As for the reason for having Notre Dame join a conference, if you do that (and split off the other 5 conferences, obviously) it regularizes the whole playoff process. Now scheduling doesn't really matter, each team's path is straightforward - win your conference and then just keep winning. The relative strength of the conferences doesn't really matter then.

20 If you think this is true...

it regularizes the whole playoff process. Now scheduling doesn't really matter, each team's path is straightforward - win your conference and then just keep winning

You and I watch a different process at work.

23 This isn't what happens now,…

This isn't what happens now, this is what would happen if you split off the power 5 conferences and Notre Dame really joined one (say, fully joined the ACC), and then took all the 5 conference champs (say, with a 4/5 play in). At that point the interconference games whittle down each conference to a "best team" and then the playoff decides those remaining 5 teams.

29 The only conference that I…

The only conference that I would support Notre Dame joining is the SEC.  All other conferences are minor leagues anyway.  I am sure readers here have an inkling but i don't think most fans have any idea just how tilted the playing field is.  It should be the Power One. The Pretending 4. And the Thanks for Participating 5.

35 "but i don't think most fans…

"but i don't think most fans have any idea just how tilted the playing field is."

That might be because almost every rating system that uses information other than just win/loss other than F/+ has the Big Ten and the SEC basically equivalent this year. Pure win/loss rankings generally have the Big Ten significantly better than the SEC thanks to Alabama's utter garbage out of conference schedule.

Plus, I mean, "thanks for participating"? Seriously? Biased much? The ACC's not as deep as the SEC obviously, but the top-end talent's clearly equivalent, and the Big Ten's generally been quite deep but a little off at the top end (maybe not this year). The SEC and the ACC are tied for CFP championships, with OSU one behind, and given that OSU/Clemson/LSU are basically freaking equivalent in every ranking out there, there's a decent chance that either the ACC could pull ahead or the Big Ten could make it a three-way tie.

Now, the Big 12 and Pac-12, that's a different story.

40 It's never going to happen

Either the playoff is run by the bowls & ESPN (as now) or by the NCAA. Neither has the slightest bit of incentive to create a postseason structure where one of the biggest draws has to do something they really don't want to do in order to participate. And it shouldn't; if ND is happy with what they can get without being in a football conference, why should they have to join one? Because angry fans of other teams say so?

The end of football independence for everyone major except ND basically killed most of my rooting interest's football rivalries; I'm not about to get mad at them for being able to maintain it.

41 The playoff is run by the…

The playoff is run by the desire for cash, and the evidence is overwhelming that there is great deal of cash being left on the table. If Notre Dame remaining independent inhibits the institution of a playoff which much better serves the interests of the power 5 teams, sorry, it's not personal, it's just business. Either get on the boat or get tossed over the side. Go play a mix of Mountain West and other teams from conferences without large t.v. contracts. Best wishes.

51 "The playoff is run by the…

"The playoff is run by the desire for cash"

No, it really isn't. It's run by the desire to create high-profile, high-visibility games for the major conferences. It's the same reason it took so long to even get to 4. Because they "didn't want to diminish the bowl experience." Those bowl games which are basically parties for their fans, with continually declining TV ratings. The same bowl games that about a third of the teams lose money on.

Again - if these schools were making decisions based on money, why would they press for a system that costs them money? Because it's not about money. It's about visibility. And while I'm sure the smaller schools would love to have more higher-profile playoff games, the larger schools don't, because it'll dilute their impact. 

65 The collective revenue of…

The collective revenue of the universities involved in college football dwarfs the "billions of dollars" mark. The CFP was a 12-year deal worth 5.64 billion. The total revenue of the universities involved over that same period is well into the trillions. The total value of that 12-year deal isn't even enough to cover the operating revenue of like, one major university for a year.

70 Of course it has profit as…

Of course it has profit as its primary goal. The profit of the university. Not the profit of the CFP. Not even the profit of the athletic department.

If some startup came along and offered the CFP twice the amount of money but its viewing technology was mainly on the West Coast with spotty access in the Great Lakes/Deep South, they'd say "thanks but no thanks." I mean, it's a stupid example but I hope the point's clear. 

I mean, even if someone came in and offered the CFP twice the money and said "but you have to wear our branded apparel" that'd be another "ha, go away"  - apparel deals are significantly more valuable to the Lake Erie/Deep South universities (sorry, "major" is just so much easier). Or even if someone came in and said "here, but our logo needs to be as visible as yours." Yup. Nope.

Let me try another example: if someone came to OSU, Michigan, Alabama, Penn State, Georgia, etc. and said "hey, if you pay us $1M/year, we'll give you a 10% chance of a nationally televised event featuring your university and 1 other one" - of course they'd do it, right? It's cheap advertising. And that's why the playoff is so small - they're giving up money (which they can afford) to keep the profile of these games higher. The only reason the playoffs are likely expanding is because those major teams aren't getting in as much as they thought.

21 Other than OU/UGA, these…

Other than OU/UGA, these games would be 10-pt. spreads. So, sure I'd watch but these are hardly must-see showdowns. Not seeing much value here. UGA is not a legit contender, nor is Wisky or Baylor. ORE would be the only outsider who would appear to have a case. If anything a case could be made that LSU should just wait for the winner of CLEM/OSU.

43 My apologies, I'll clarify:…

My apologies, I'll clarify:

I'll watch it if it's on and I'm free. I certainly won't make myself free just to watch it, and will likely do/watch something else when the game goes sideways (which, in the case of LSU/Wisco, would be somewhere around 8 minutes left in the 2nd quarter).

I will clear my calendar to watch OSU/Clemson.

And I certainly refuse to watch the "champion" of the NFC East host a playoff game. And I'm sure I'll be missing out on a highly rated game, just like all the Dancing With the Stars episodes I just can't quite make.

44 Well, as I said elsewhere in…

Well, as I said elsewhere in the thread, the purpose of college football is to draw eyeballs to pixelated images on a screen, and it is pretty much indisputable that college football could draw tremendously more eyeballs than it currently does, with a very minimal amount of additional effort. It isn't unusual, however, for complacent cartel managers to fail to exploit fairly easy opportunities.

45 Perhaps they could, and in…

Perhaps they could, and in doing so they would cheapen the brand by fabricating matchups with less-than-stellar competition. I won't speak to the leadership's motivation (shortsighted, ivory tower, etc.) - what I do know is that their format has teams that have proven themselves to have played top-level football for the regular season, and I'm thankful for that, because they're literally the only ones that do this. Lonely ole me, watching by myself.

54 Yes, you did. You…

Yes, you did. You extrapolated your distaste for a playoffs among 6 teams for the entire viewing audience of a nation, by positing that they would all be noncompetitive games, until the end of time. This is somewhat disputable.

59 Sure, but positing…

Sure, but positing noncompetitive games until the end of time doesn't seem to have much basis. The NFL in the 80s was an era of noncompetitive playoff games. There's not much evidence that the brand was cheapened.

66 Not understanding this …

Not understanding this "until the end of time" business. We're talking about the 2019 season. You put out a hypothetical about an 8-team format, I said in essence that for the most part the games didn't look like appointment viewing because the spreads would likely be substantial. No deeper meaning here, nothing to read into.

49 "and it is pretty much…

"and it is pretty much indisputable that college football could draw tremendously more eyeballs than it currently does"

You keep saying this like it's obvious. I don't understand this. The top teams peg regional ratings, and their games are essentially sold out as much as they care to have them sold out. Unlike the NFL, for instance, it's incredibly important for college football to maintain the gameday experience as valuable, and so they don't want all of the games to be so high demand that everyone's priced out. Those cupcake games are incredibly valuable for giving people the opportunity to go to the game on that day.

Hence the reason why the major schools hate having to play on days other than Saturday. Heck, they're not even that thrilled about prime-time games. Most of the major schools have flat refused to have Friday night home games, period. And even the "mid-major" schools have tried to refuse.

Think about it: the NFL flexes its best games to prime-time to increase viewership, right? Until recently, the Big Ten didn't allow night games in November.

Just to be clear, football's a ~multi-hundred million dollar enterprise for major universities, but that's a drop in the bucket. These are many multi-billion dollar organizations. Major universities look at NFL teams and say "aren't you cute." Football isn't really a revenue stream to be maximized. It's advertising. I mean, it is somewhat, but only in the sense that in the revenue leads to ways that you can do more advertising.

And just like any advertising, they care more about eyeballs from their desired audience, not total eyeballs in general. And college football's regional. Ohio State doesn't care that much about growing their brand in, say, California. It's nice, but if they increase their fanbase in California by 5% and it decreases in Ohio due to competition from other teams? That's a loss

"It isn't unusual, however, for complacent cartel managers to fail to exploit fairly easy opportunities."

The things you're complaining about aren't controlled by the group that would be fairly called a cartel (the NCAA). They're controlled by the colleges themselves. The reason it doesn't seem to make sense is because college football is more like 100+ Harlem Globetrotters than the NFL.

edit: Just to be clear, if you don't understand what I'm talking about, compare March Madness (which is controlled by the NCAA!) and the college football playoffs. March Madness is huge. Everyone gets in. It's a massive TV draw and they keep trying to stretch it out and draw it out. There are even multiple tournaments.

College football playoffs are tiny. There's 4 teams, 3 total games. Why the difference? Because the major universities don't care about the revenue increase. They only care about being high-profile.

53 Pat, must it really be…

Pat, must it really be explained that the Big 10 is a cartel as well, and it very much is concerned with expanding its geographical base, from which to draw eyeballs? Did the cartel take in Rutgers because Jim Delaney wanted to vacation in Atlantic City?

Look if you're going to dispute that the 2nd Saturday in December could be auctioned for a tremendous amount of money, for practically very little effort, there's no point in discussing this further.

64 "Pat, must it really be…

"Pat, must it really be explained that the Big 10 is a cartel as well"

Uh, yes? Assuming you're using the negative connotation, meaning an organization of businesses involved in price/resource fixing (as in competition restriction or preventing competition or controlling access to a resource). The Big 10 didn't care about the California law from a monetary aspect. They only care about it from a competition aspect. Personally I don't even think the NCAA cares about the California law from a "we can't pay our players" aspect, either - I think they're mainly worried about losing licensing revenue.

I mean, consider when the NCAA allowed 4-year scholarships. The schools that wanted that were the major ones. It was the smaller schools that fought against it. Let me say that again to be clear: the biggest college football schools wanted to give potential players something more valuable, and the smaller schools fought against it. 4/5 of the major conferences were for it. That's not the only example of this, either.

If you dissolved the NCAA and let the conferences figure out the rules themselves, you'd get a much more balanced system in terms of what students were offered.

"Look if you're going to dispute that the 2nd Saturday in December could be auctioned for a tremendous amount of money, for practically very little effort, there's no point in discussing this further."

First, it would never be the second Saturday in December. If they added one, it would extend bowl season forward. Second Saturday in December isn't viable due to the school calendar. Yes, these things matter. College football's still only a small fraction of the university. It's not like the NFL where the Cowboys are Jerry Jones's life.

Second, of course they could auction it off for a tremendous amount of money. But why would the teams care? It would work out to be what, a million dollars or so per team? They only get $3-4M/team on average right now for the CFP. And why exactly is Ohio State caring about an extra million or so?

The pressure to expand the playoffs comes from the lower tier teams, not the upper tier teams. But the upper tier teams have all the fans, money, and therefore power. I don't get why this is so difficult to understand. This is why a college football playoff took so long to get in the first place!

48 other reasons the NFL is…

other reasons the NFL is more popular:

1) Fantasy
2) players stick around for 10+ years and build their brands, vice 2-4 years for CFB
3) teams are based out of major markets

But the biggest pro-NFL argument i'd make is...

4) NFL games are a crisp 3 hours, while CFB games are slogging along at 4+. They need to figure out a way to shorten halftime (maybe just put the home marching band out there) and keep the clock running on first downs (adds up in a shootout).

So perhaps an expanded playoffs would gather similar ratings to NFL, but I think it's more due to other factors, some which are inherent, some which could be easy fixes.

50 The NFL is more popular…

The NFL is more popular because they're trying to be more popular, as a whole. There are only a tiny handful of universities that care about their national visibility, and they don't even care about it that much.

If you want the exception that demonstrates the rule, it's the only non-military academy football school that's in the top-20 of geographically diverse universities: Notre Dame. The reason Notre Dame didn't join a conference is because it has vastly different interests than any other college football program.

Seriously, look it up: Notre Dame's 18th in geographic diversity (as in, where their students come from). The nearest other school in the top 25 is like, #115.

College football is regional, because the major universities are regional. If you live near an area where a major university draws from, you'd be nuts to think the NFL is more popular.

55 Yes, and the region…

Yes, and the region controlled by the cartel known as the Big 10 expanded tremendously, for the cash. Same as the cartels called the SEC and PAC 12. Guess  what? The land mass known as "The United States" is just another region.

62 "Yes, and the region…

"Yes, and the region controlled by the cartel known as the Big 10 expanded tremendously, for the cash."

Not really. Mainly for the television regional visibility. If they wanted cash they would've went harder for Notre Dame or more south.

I don't get referring to the conferences as cartels? The NCAA, sure, because it's the one that puts restrictions on schools on what they can or can't do, and it's a huge organization with major disparity between the members, so it's a lot more like "you want your little piece of the pie, you follow our rules." I also don't really think that the major conferences are the ones who care so much about restricting what players do, either: the NCAA's licensing/amateur control policy is way more of a price-fixing scheme than anything the actual conferences do.

The conferences are just small groups of universities with common interests, and while there's still disparity between them it's waaaay smaller than the NCAA. I mean, I can say Rutgers/Maryland has very little pull in the Big Ten with regards to football rules, and I'm basically right, but Rutgers/Maryland is still closer to, say, Penn State/Wisconsin level than some Sun Belt school.

Maybe if you think of the conferences in terms of the playoffs? Maybe? I tend to think that the BCS/CFP deals are extremely generous to the Group of 5. In a "free market" of bowl games the Group of 5 would've maybe gotten 1 or 2 total. 

60 If I said "every Power 5…

If I said "every Power 5 university except the military academies, BYU, and Notre Dame is regional" I'd basically be right.

If you want my idea of what schools control their conferences, it's basically OSU/Michigan control the Big Ten with maybe Penn State/Wisconsin to a lesser degree, Texas/Oklahoma control the Big 12, and the upper tier of the SEC (Alabama/Georgia/TAMU/Florida/LSU/Auburn).

You may note that there are zero west coast schools listed here: I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason that the whole "let athletes make money themselves" thing started there is because of that.

61 Perhaps I don't understand…

Perhaps I don't understand. What do you mean...

 "If you live near an area where a major university draws from, you'd be nuts to think the NFL is more popular." this sentence?




63 You think people in most of…

You think people in most of Ohio or near Detroit would put the NFL more popular than college football? Or Georgia, Tennessee, or the Florida panhandle? And then if you went outside of New Orleans, around Mississippi/Alabama/Louisiana, too, and I think the Saints get a huge boost because of what happened with the hurricane and the fact that Brees and Payton are still there.

Texas is just weird, I think if someone asked "college football or the NFL" there people would say "I don't understand the question, they're both football, and why didn't you mention my high school." No way in hell any college team could ever play on Friday down there.

Those places regularly have debates like "if you could choose, college team wins national championship or NFL team wins Super Bowl." I mean, if you even mentioned that in, say, the Pacific Northwest, people would look at you like you're nuts. And I know in most of Ohio/Michigan, I'm pretty sure the college team would win that argument.

68 Pat, you're really…

Pat, you're really overlooking  vast swaths of this country. Minnesota is completely dominated by the Vikings. As popular as the Badgers are, the Packers own Wisconsin. The Bears own Chicago and Illinois. Indiana belongs to the Colts. Everybody walks around in Seahawks jerseys, not Husky jerseys in Western Washington. You will see about 5000 Broncos bumper stickers for every one Colorado Buffalo bumper sticker. The Chiefs get all the attention in Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas, not Mizzou, K-State, or KU. This is why I wanted a precise definition from you; I couldn't figure out what you were talking about.








69 "Pat, you're really…

"Pat, you're really overlooking  vast swaths of this country."

Of course I am! That's entirely my point! This is literally what I've been saying the entire time! College football is regional. Those teams, and those regions by themselves, basically do not matter.

Let me try to make this more obvious: around 10 years ago, Ohio State was estimated to have the largest fanbase in the country, at around ~3M fans (this is why I keep mentioning them). That would rank them as about the 15-16th overall NFL team. Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame, Texas, Texas A&M all rank somewhere at "NFL level" as well. Ohio State fanbase was listed as 4 times bigger than Minnesota, and 6 times bigger than the lowest Big Ten team at the time, Northwestern.

That disparity - a 6 fold difference - is bigger than the disparity in the NFL between the smallest/largest fanbases. By far. And that's just between the top/bottom teams in the Big Ten! If you look at the difference between the top school in the Power 5 and the lowest school in the Power 5, it's holy-crap hilarious: Ohio State's like, 20 times bigger. And again - that's just the Power 5. Go to the Group of 5, and you're talking like 50 times bigger.

This is why I keep saying that the pressure in college football isn't what you think it is. The major schools - and by "major schools" I mean "those near Lake Erie and the deep south" - have no desire to expand the playoffs if it means including Minnesota more often without increasing their own presence, for instance, because it just dilutes the profile of their own teams.

Does this mean that college football has "room to grow"? Of course it does, just like you said. But just remember, the "shared revenue" from the CFP as a whole is like, 1-2% of Ohio State's athletic department revenue and 0.2-0.3% of the total university's revenue.

This just isn't a sport. It's advertising, or exhibition games. The Patriots and Cowboys are the two largest fanbases in the NFL. Imagine if they only got 1% of their revenue from the rest of the league, and there wasn't a salary cap so there was no parity driver either.

How big do you think the playoffs would be in the NFL in that case? As large as it needed to be to guarantee the Patriots and Cowboys were always there, and no larger.

That's where college football is right now. So why are people talking about a playoff expansion suddenly? Am I totally wrong, and the money's just so big?

Or is it because in the past 4 years teams from the two dominant conferences in terms of fanbases (the Big Ten and now the SEC) have had major popular teams left out?

I'm super-confident that if OSU hadn't been left out the past two years, and the SEC had gotten 2 teams in this year that we wouldn't be hearing these rumors floated.

71 Pat, you made the following…

Pat, you made the following assertion...

"If you live near an area where a major university draws from, you'd be nuts to think the NFL is more popular"

....this assertion is inaccurate, since it is not nuts for people in Wisconsin, Minnesota, western Missouri and eastern Kansas,  western Washington state, the Denver metro, Phoenix and Tuscon metro, and perhaps some other regions, to think the NFL is more popular. I cannot fathom why you made this assertion.

72 I think we got confused as…

I think we got confused as to why you were asking about what a major university was. I thought you were asking in regards to when I said that all major universities except Notre Dame are regional.

When I said "college football is regional," that's true of *every* fanbase, major or not, with the exception of Notre Dame. You can see that *extremely* obviously here:

Note that that's a little misleading because it's only showing shares of ticket sales, rather than volume.

When I was talking about major universities, though, I really mean major football universities: basically the top 10 in some combination of attendance/money/total fans. The ones that are drop-dead obvious are OSU, Michigan, Penn State, Alabama, Texas A&M, Texas, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Clemson. If you live near one of those areas, no one's going to say "oh, the NFL definitely" if you ask which is more popular.

And then go ahead and plot those guys on a map. They're all concentrated to two locations. If you live in either of those locations and someone asked "which is more popular, college football or the NFL" no one would think that's a crazy question. Outside those areas, people look at you like you're nuts. 

This is why I keep saying that while there is growth potential (of course!) the growth potential is outside of the regions where the major football universities care about. That's why they don't care about growing the sport as a whole.

I mean, of course they want their brand visible there. But they don't care about increasing Wisconsin's popularity. This is the difference between college football and the NFL. Teams in the NFL care about growing the NFL brand in regions. Colleges care about growing their brand in regions.

73 Thought we were getting…

Thought we were getting definitional streams crossed somewhere.

I don't really disagree with your point, but I'd note that distribution of playoff t.v. revenues is likely going to become a source of negotiation in the future.

58 I agree that time needed to…

I agree that time needed to play a college game is an impediment  to television revenue, and I dislike how stopping the clock on every first down aids offense anyways, so I'd like to see that change. I severely doubt that many fans, even the ones who attend the games, would object if the marching bands no longer travelled. I'm kind of surprised it still happens.