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We Need Eight

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Adding a few more teams into the fold wouldn't lessen the significance of the regular season, it would enhance it.

The transition from voting for a national championship to playing for one was both monumental and modest alike. While, groundbreaking, yes, the introduction of the four-team College Football Playoff was the first step towards advancement, not the final push. Each week of the season should show us why. Though an obvious improvement over the previous system, and credit and thanks should be given for that, the playoff is not representative of all of the Power Five conferences, much less every Division I FBS program, and lacks consistency.

Simply put, the format doesn't fit.

Principally-speaking, the idea of comparing and contrasting resumes is a worthy one in the selection process, just not when it is the only evaluator at hand. Arbitrary interpretation, once a threshold of relevancy is met, is today's standard, a notion, in actuality, not all that different from generations prior. What we currently have should always be appreciated as the beginning, and maybe it was designed that way, but college football deserves better. Even in an era of wide-ranging differences, some part of the process has to be streamlined. The postseason needs more clarity, and given the scope of the game's affiliated members, more teams.

Debuting in 2014, the College Football Playoff was was agent of a new era; it can continue to push for change, not just react to it.

An 8-team field, rewarding conference champions, including at-large bids and mandating the inclusion of, as currently constituted, at least one Group of Five program would promote growth while stabilizing some of the vagueness and volatility that consumes the sport today. All five P5 leagues would have their conference winner advance, the two highest-ranked at-large teams would additionally earn a berth and the highest-rated G5 team would also clinch. All parties and perspectives would be accounted for. It's not quite standardized, but it's a start.  

Seeding, one through eight, would incorporate records and strength of schedules, with quarterfinal pairings being played at the home venue of the higher-slotted team. This design comes with a simple starting point for all P5 teams, win your league and you are automatically in, but recognizes the challenges that come with such competition through extra bids, slotting and scheduling and, at least theoretically, has an an avenue for entry for every G5 team. As is the case now, legacy bowls could still be incorporated and there still would be an element, a more controlled amount, of conjecture and discussion.

Given the above parameters, here would be an example of what this season's field could look like;

(1) Alabama
(8) Washington

(4) Oklahoma
(5) Georgia

(3) Notre Dame
(6) Ohio State

(2) Clemson
(7) Central Florida

The aforementioned games would be played in Tuscaloosa, Norman, South Bend and Clemson, an important notation.

Ultimately, such a system would shape college football. The format might push Notre Dame into a conference, given the more easily-identifiable path to the playoff. From more high-profile non-conference pairings to an expanded profile for so-called mid-majors, a natural recalibration would follow. A healthier, more equitable structure would develop as a byproduct. More-diverse matchups and a more-dynamic postseason awaits. 

Adding a few more teams into the fold wouldn't lessen the significance of the regular season, it would enhance it. Much like the implementation of the wild card has added more energy to the stretch run of the professional ranks, the concept of an expanded pool of deserving candidates means more meaningful games. Throughout this past November, how many college football games were actually consequential in terms of the national championship? Increase that number some, increase the drama significantly.

To a certain extent, the idea of every game mattering is already a myth. Very few singular games matter, even those that we think do. We have yet to have an undefeated national champion in the College Football Playoff era and last year's winner, Alabama, didn't even play in the SEC Championship Game. Two years ago, Clemson fell to Pitt in the final month of the year. The Crimson Tide, in 2015, dropped a division game. In the very first playoff, Ohio State was beaten at home by a six-loss Virginia Tech team by two touchdowns. Oklahoma, in the final four four this fall, lost its most important contest of the regular season.

For those who question the logistics of an expanded event, the FCS and Division II Playoffs both have 24 teams and the Division III tournament has 32. That range shouldn't be the goal and perhaps the deliberate nature of incremental advancement has always been the more rational route to go. We're now ready for that next step. 

Already, FBS college football has outgrown its postseason structure. From the start, though arguably how it had to happen, the measurements were off. It's time for a format that reflects the system it serves. There continue to be plenty of questions around the College Football Playoff and how a national champion is crowned; the answer is an eight-team field.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports