Through seven weeks this season, college football has already seen its fair share of surprises. Tennessee has risen up from the ruins to show that they are once again contenders. Alabama, who lost to Tennessee this past weekend, has not looked like themselves. They narrowly escaped with wins against Texas and Texas A&M, drawing concern as to how good they truly are despite returning many starters from their almost-championship 2021 team. Ohio State and Michigan have been cruising in the BIG 10 this season against mediocre opponents.
So, what is the scenario the playoff committee will dread seeing? Let’s suppose Tennessee comes into Athens to play in a battle of undefeated SEC East teams in the first week of November. Georgia could win that game (and win out) only to meet Alabama, yet again, in the SEC Championship game. If Georgia were to lose to a one-loss Alabama team and Tennessee were to win out, it is conceivable that the SEC would have 3 top 5 teams at the end of the season. Outside of the SEC, Ohio State will be favored to defeat Michigan at home to advance to the BIG 10 Championship Game, where they will surely dismantle whoever they play, leaving them solidified as the one seed in the playoff. In the ACC, it is certainly conceivable that Clemson could drop a game and complete the regular season with an 11-1 record.
Moreover, it is also possible (although unlikely) that an undefeated Clemson team, with narrow wins over Florida State and Wake Forest, would be ranked lower in the BCS standings than any of the three one-loss SEC teams. Who would get the short end of the stick if all this were to play out? Well, if Clemson were to drop a game, it should not be Georgia and Tennessee, even if Clemson wins the ACC. Georgia and Tennessee would have played a tougher schedule than Clemson and would have had better wins and a more forgiving loss. Would the CFP committee dare put in two more SEC teams with a one-loss SEC champion locked in? Or would they default to a conference champion and avoid the outcry that would come with 3 deserved SEC teams making the playoffs.
The CFP committee has done its best to establish a precedent that one-loss conference champions typically get rewarded with a trip to the playoffs. However, this is largely why the current four-team playoff system has created so much controversy since its implementation in 2014. The best teams, including those peaking late in the season, have not always made the playoffs. There have been many blowouts in playoff games, and if the CFP is serious about putting the “best four teams in,” then maybe this is the year we see a merit-based selection of three teams from the best conference in college football.