Overtime: Let’s Talk About the College Football Playoff


Notre Dame is now the No. 2 team in the country after a big win over Clemson on Saturday. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The PAC-12, or Pacific 12 Conference, has finally made its way into this unusual college football season, putting all five of the nation’s power conferences into action. But that does not mean they are all on an equal playing field. This past Saturday concluded week 10 of the season, yet only week three for the Big Ten and the PAC-12’s opening day. 

How do you evaluate that? How will the College Football Playoff Committee come together a few months from now and declare the four best teams in the country? It’s difficult to tell, and this weekend did not make the task any easier.

Starting right with the weekend’s biggest game, number one Clemson headed to South Bend, Indiana to take on Notre Dame. Clemson was without their star quarterback Trevor Lawrence due to the coronavirus, and fell in a thriller to Ian Book and the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish. Notre Dame won the game, yes, but Clemson did not even drop outside the top four. It is hard to penalize a team without one of the nation’s best players.

Pivoting to the afternoon battle between Florida and Georgia, the Gators put on a beating. Georgia, though, was without its best wide receiver and lost its quarterback midway through the game. So even with COVID-19, the same challenges of any college football season persist.

Then you have the PAC-12. Before even beginning the season, two games were already wiped off the slate due to the coronavirus. The Oregon Ducks faced a Stanford team missing four of its top players because of protocol and a senior kicker that missed four field goals due to what I see as rust on the kicker’s part more than anything else.

If that is not complicated enough, you have the forgotten teams: Cincinnati from the American Conference, independent BYU and the loose ends of Coastal Carolina and Marshall. Are any of those teams capable of playing with the best? Probably not, but they certainly deserve the spot they occupy right now: sixth in the country for the Bearcats.

That sounds like a lot of capable teams and not nearly enough games to judge them. But the Playoff Committee has the task of whittling them all down to the four best. In a season like this one, which we have scrutinized, questioned, doubted and debated, it seems like the biggest debate of all is going to come down to who the best teams really are, because there just is not a simple way to figure it out.

Non-conference games are nonexistent, healthy rosters are nowhere to be found and the number of games is a variable factor. The standards of success once used are simply not applicable, and the most reliable thing may be the good old eye test. But how reliable is that?

A new standard has to exist now, one of compromise. 

I have been an advocate for a six- or even eight-team playoff ever since the first year of this much-improved championship system over the days of the BCS. It enhances excitement and revenue, and most importantly, it gives every team a chance. Right now, a four-team playoff for five power conferences just does not add up, particularly in 2020. It is far too late for that change to come though, meaning that only a new method of evaluation can help.

Ultimately, this season does not mean much to me. Unlike other professional sports that were placed on an equal playing field, the NCAA is in a much different boat. I understand the need to play, and I could not have been more enthralled by what we saw on Saturday night and more thrilled to have the Oregon Ducks back on the field again. 

But that idea of asterisks and legitimacy, something I so often push against, needs to be in the conversation in college football. Do not take that as a discredit to whoever comes out on top. Notre Dame rightfully won on Saturday, as did Georgia and as will whoever wins the championship in January. The players, coaches and staff deserve every ounce of credit for getting this season underway and eventually completing it. A championship in 2020 will still be worth something; it just will not be the same, which I guess is fitting for this year.

For what it is worth, here are my picks: Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon. I could be right, most likely wrong — last year I was the latter — but the top four probably will not be the best four anyway. But maybe it has always been that way, and this season is just more of the same.

I really don’t know. Let’s just watch, stay safe and enjoy it. The debating is the fun part, anyway.