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Alabama and Georgia proved why the College Football Playoff should be expanded

(Photo Credit: ESPN PR)

Heading into the 2021 SEC Championship Game, it seemed as if the College Football Playoff might finally see some fresh faces.

No. 3 Alabama was potentially a loss away from missing out on the fun all together as they prepped for a clash with the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Meanwhile, a Big Ten school in Michigan (No. 2 at the time) and an AAC squad in Cincinnati (No. 4 at the time) were in control of their respective pursuits for spots in the four-team field.

Other teams on the outside looking in, like No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 6 Notre Dame, even had a chance to jump into the College Football Playoff equation in certain circumstances.

If Georgia could take down their SEC rivals, the whole game could’ve been changed for the weeks to come.

Instead, the usual happened.

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Alabama pulled off the “upset” to win the SEC title, and the status quo returned when the final four-team field was announced less than 24 hours later.

No. 1 Alabama, followed by No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Georgia, and No. 4 Cincinnati.

Some thought that Michigan was deserving of Alabama’s top spot, while others believed that Cincinnati’s undefeated season should’ve earned them a higher placement than the field’s fourth spot.

But, while fans debated where each of the four teams should’ve been placed in the bracket, a different, long-lasting topic of discussion popped into the conversation: the need for the College Football Playoff field to be expanded.

It seems that the biggest reason Alabama took the top spot in the field and Georgia fell to the third spot was the fact that the two played each other just one day prior.

From a ratings perspective, it makes more sense to prolong a potential rematch for a national title game, rather than having the two schools play each other in back-to-back games after a 41-24 Alabama win.

At the same time, having Michigan and Cincinnati playing each other doesn’t have the same national appeal, so splitting them up and pairing them with SEC opponents makes each game a bigger deal.

But, having that thought process at all is a prime example of the problem at hand.

SEC teams are always going to be in the conversation as it relates to the College Football Playoff field, whether it’s because of a perennial powerhouse like Alabama or a run from a school like Georgia or LSU.

Meanwhile, schools in other conferences have to put together near-picture-perfect seasons to even have a shot at making the four-team field.

Sure, it makes those annual rivalry games in November much more meaningful, and makes a Michigan victory over Ohio State much more exciting for any college football fans.

But, in the end, it usually always leads to an SEC team rolling into the National Championship game.

Alabama beat Notre Dame 31-14 in the College Football Playoff Semifinals in 2021. LSU beat Oklahoma 63-28 in the College Football Playoff Semifinals in 2020. Alabama dropped 45 on Oklahoma in the same spot a year prior in 2019.

The last time an SEC team had a competitive College Football Playoff Semifinals matchup was in 2018, when Georgia beat Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime. Even then, Alabama was on the other side of the bracket, beating Clemson 24-6.

Even with an undefeated record, it’s tough to imagine Cincinnati giving Alabama a run for the school’s money when they battle on New Year’s Eve to wrap up 2021.

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From a college football perspective, it makes sense to have the strongest, most popular conference represented on the sport’s biggest stage. But, from a competitive standpoint, a four-team field takes away some of the shine that would come from such an annual achievement.

Expanding the field to eight teams, or even 12 teams with byes factored in, could lead to scenarios where that top-ranked SEC team would have to compete against better teams, and potentially other SEC rivals, for a spot in the National Championship Game, actually creating more entertaining matchups in the process.

In 2021, an eight-team bracket would’ve looked like this:

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Mississippi
  • No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Ohio State
  • No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 Baylor
  • No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 5 Notre Dame

That would’ve matched up two SEC West rivals in one quarterfinals game, two heated Big Ten rivals against each other in a rematch of one of the year’s best games, a top-tier SEC team with a top-tier Big 12 school, and an undefeated Cincinnati squad with a popular opponent in Notre Dame.

Assuming seeding held up, you would be in the same exact scenario. But, an eight-team field may have given the College Football Playoff Committee more courage to hand Michigan that top spot, considering the Wolverines’ lone loss was to No. 11 Michigan State, in comparison to Alabama’s loss to No. 23 Texas A&M.

In that world, fans could’ve seen Alabama playing Ohio State in a quarterfinals matchup before a potential clash with Georgia in the semifinals, giving the Crimson Tide some serious competition en route to a potential National Championship Game berth.

For reference, a year prior, that eight-team bracket would’ve been:

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Cincinnati
  • No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Florida
  • No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Oklahoma
  • No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Texas A&M

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Having teams battle for that No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff field almost serves as a disadvantage to those schools when there’s a four-team field, considering they usually get paired with a dominant SEC team. Adding four teams to the fray gives that No. 4 spot some more meaning.

And, depending on if the NCAA decided to use the same bracket after the first round or the NFL approach of pitting the top seed against the lowest remaining seed, it could actually match the top team in the country with a low seed riding a wave of momentum after a big upset.

It all would add loads of new elements and intrigue to a College Football Playoff format that has received a slew of criticism over the last few years, and would turn the month of December into a massive stretch of time for the college football scene.

In the process, it could attract other fanbases that annually find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around, therefore increasing the spotlight for what is supposed to be the sport’s peak at the end of the calendar year.

It would require some tweaking as it relates to the end of the college football schedule, but turning an outdated four-team field into an eight-team bracket seems like a worthwhile move amid a competitive time in college football’s history.

How do you feel about expanding the College Football Playoff field? Let us know by following @SOTSports on Twitter or by liking our Facebook page!

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