Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Spread Offense: 3 Ways To Improve College Football

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

College football is a great product and has gotten even more entertaining now that they've recently added the 4 team playoff, but there's always room for improvement. Right now is a good time to discuss what needs to improve, as we still have many months to go before the college football season starts back up.


In 2014, many college football fans were just glad that there was finally playoffs in the sport instead of just a championship game. Now that we've gone through 3 years of it, it's time to tweak it just a smidge by adding 2 teams. Let it work the same way the NFL's conference playoffs work, where the top 2 seeds get a bye week while the 3 seed plays the 6 seed and the 4 seed plays the 5 seed. Let's also follow the NFL model with the top seed playing the lowest seed in the next round in case there's an upset in the 1st round, giving them the best chance to advance to the title game.

I know that controversy breeds ratings and only having 4 teams makes the playoffs very exclusive, but a little expansion to 6 isn't taking all of the controversy away. Regardless of how many teams are in, there will always be talks of what teams didn't get in that should have gotten in. College basketball  has 68 teams in their tournament and there's still the "Why didn't this team make it?" talk once they unveil their brackets.

So why 6 teams instead of 8 or 12? Because it's better to take small steps and re-evaluate in a few years of seeing how it works. This doesn't need to be the one and only expansion that college football does to their playoff system, but 4 does not suffice so let's move to the next logical number of teams and go with 6. Adding 2 extra teams and 1 extra week will make this a better system, especially considering that there are 5 major conferences and only 4 spots right now. All power 5 conferences could be represented with a 6 team playoff, not that it should be mandatory that all 5 are represented but it gives the option of them being instead of 1 conference being left out regardless(yes, I am against automatic bids for conference championships.)

3 years of a 4 team playoff, time to expand and make it a 6 team playoff.


So we have officially expanded the playoffs to 6 teams, now let'ts get creative with the schedule.

The 2016 bowl season started on December 17th and went through January 2nd, then spotlighted the national championship game a week later. The problem with such a long bowl season isn't so much the amount of games, but the lackluster games that the first week or so has. Getting to the top games seems to drag on and take forever, so here's a perfect way to add some excitement to the start of the bowl season.

The 1st round of the playoffs will start it all off, and will be the only 2 games on that first day. The playoff games between the 3-6 seeds and the 4-5 seeds will be the grand start to it all, played 2 Saturdays after Conference Championship weekend.

This will start off the bowl season with a huge bang, instead of the smaller bowl games that no one is truly paying attention to. It will also align perfectly, as the playoff teams will have 2 weeks to prepare for their game followed by the winners having another 2 weeks to prepare for the semi-finals. Also, the top 2 seeds will have their incentive bonus of receiving the first round bye with the extra rest before needing to prepare for their game.

It also gives everyone something to talk about while we sludge through the smaller bowl games. 2 weeks of build-up for the 1st round of playoff games, followed by 2 weeks of recapping the 1st round and discussions about the upcoming semi-finals will create a bigger, more interested fan base.


Honestly, it may not be that only having 4 teams making the playoffs is what causes all the controversy. Instead, it's the unsettling determination of which teams make it is what causes all of the controversy. It's a completely subjective view with a lot of arguments made for numerous teams, so here's a way to eliminate a lot of the murkiness of the selection process.

Eliminate conference divisions!

Conferences have made strides each year in balancing it out more fairly, they've gone from 8 conference games to 9 and have put a stop to teams scheduling FCS schools. This is the next logical step, especially when considering that some conferences have 14 teams so even 9 conference games doesn't give an entire gauge of the best team. The conferences are designed right now to find out who the best team in each division is and have those 2 teams play for the conference championship. That works, unless the two best teams in the conference also happen to be in the same division, which happens every year in at least one conference. So get rid of divisions, stop figuring out who the best team in a division is and find out who the best two teams in the entire conference is and have those two teams play for the conference title.

In 2014, the SEC West had 4 teams ranked in the top 10 at one point, while the SEC East had none. Alabama ultimately won the SEC West division while Missouri took the SEC East, they played an SEC title game that was as forgettable as it was predictable. Alabama won the game 42-13, while Mississippi State and Ole Miss sat at home watching. And before the "well, Missouri had the same record as MSU and a better one than Ole Miss" argument pops up here, that further brings out how pointless it is to have divisions. The SEC West and their 4 ranked teams all had to play each other since that's how the divisions work, Missouri had to play a ranked Georgia team that they lost to and was able to coast the rest of the way.

The lopsided divisions took place in the Big Ten in 2015. The B1G East was the premier division, with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all ranked in the top 15 for majority of the season. Meanwhile, Iowa rolled to an undefeated record by way of only playing 2 ranked teams all season, the highest being #19. They played their division and somehow escaped the landmines by not having any of the top 3 teams in the B1G East on their schedule. There should never be a time where a team is 10-0 in a power conference and there's still debate on if they are any good, but due to the division and schedule, Iowa was being called into question. So they get to go to the B1G championship game to play Michigan State, and it was a good, close game that the Hawkeyes could've won but the whole issue is that so much doubt surrounding if they deserved to go and if they were truly the 2nd best team in the conference.

We'll stick with the Big Ten for a minute here to discuss the issues of 2016. The B1G East yet again was the dominant conference with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State all finishing in the top 10. They cannibalized each other, with Penn State beating Ohio State, Ohio State beating Michigan and Michigan beating Penn State as the Nittany Lions were the tiebreaker winners and got to represent their division in the Big Ten title game. On the other side, Wisconsin won a B1G West division in which they were the lone ranked team at season's end. While Wisconsin being ranked in top 10 made it look like a good match-up with Penn State, the Badgers did lose 2 conference games. And guess what teams they lost to? That's right, Ohio State and Michigan. So Penn State gets in on a tiebreaker with Ohio State(who beat Wisconsin) and Michigan gets left out despite beating both Penn State and Wisconsin. Maybe if there weren't divisions then we wouldn't have this problem.

Also in 2016, the ACC had 3 teams ranked in the top 13 at the end of the regular season. The dilemma? All 3 were in the Atlantic division. Clemson went to the title game while Florida State and Louisville were both deserving of a rematch as Louisville lost to Clemson by only 6 and Florida State lost to them by just 3. Instead, a Virginia Tech team that beat a whopping 1 ranked team all season(#17 North Carolina) went instead.

This isn't an abnormality, this is something that occurs every single season in at least 1 power conference and will continue to do so as long as conferences keep divisions. Get rid of divisions and start scheduling randomly within the conference, the exception being that rivalry games are still an annual thing and not part of a random rotation. More balance means a greater chance of getting the right 2 teams in the championship games.

Im sure there are many more changes and tweaks that could be added to help the college game. These are just the few major ones that college football should really consider. Let's make the playoff system better, let's do a better job of making sure the right teams get into the playoffs, and in turn it will keep the regular season as meaningful, if not more meaningful.

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