The Perfect College Football Playoff System


The selections for the 2008 BCS bowl games were made yesterday, and the usual mess has followed.  In spite of having an undefeated season, Boise State was not selected for any BCS bowl games, let alone having a chance at a national championship.  Florida and Oklahoma will play for the national championship in spite of having lost during the season – as have several other teams – resulting in yet again another subjective championship.  College football experts will often claim that there is no perfect solution, but they are wrong.  There is a perfect college football playoff system, and I will gladly tell you what it is.  For this post, I will briefly describe the system, give an example from the 2008 season, and explain the benefits of this perfect system.

The System

The playoff system would include 16 teams.  The teams would consist of conference champions from all 11 conferences in the Bowl Championship Series subdivision (formerly Division 1).  The other 5 teams would be 5 highest ranked teams in a BCS type ranking system after conference champions are removed from the list.  These 16 teams would be seeded 1-16, with first round matchups following the familiar 1 vs. 16, 2 vs 15, etc., format.  In the first round, the highest seeded team would host the game at their home stadium.  In the second round, seeds would be ignored, and the four games would be BCS type bowl games.  A committee would set up the pairings according to traditional and regional match ups.   A Big10 – PAC 10 match up in a Rose Bowl could be set up as an example.  The second, third, and final round games would be at neutral sites and operate like BCS bowl games do currently with the winning teams advancing.  This is the perfect system.

2008 Perfect System Example

The conference winners for 2008 are as follows:

ACC – Virginia Tech
Big East – Cincinnati
Big Ten – Penn St.
Big 12 – Oklahoma
CUSA – E. Carolina
MAC – Buffalo
MWC – Utah
SEC – Florida
SunBelt – Troy
WAC – Boise St.

and the at-large teams would be:

Texas Tech
Ohio St.

And making a few assumptions the first round parings would be:

Oklahoma vs. Troy
Florida vs. E. Carolina
Texas vs. Buffalo
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
USC vs. Cincinnati
Utah vs. TCU
Texas Tech vs. Ohio St.
Penn St. vs. Boise St.

with the team listed first hosting the game.  The winners would then be paired by a bowl committee.  USC vs. Penn St. could be a typical Rose bowl setup as one example.   Neutral site bowl games would continue with winners advancing to a championship game.


This system has several benefits, which include:

– Every team has a chance to win a national championship.  The first step is to win your conference.
– First round games would be well attended because they are home games for the higher seeded teams.  This also cuts logistics down.
– Rankings continue to be an important aspect of the tournament.
– BCS type bowl games are maintained in the second and third rounds.

So, for the above reasons, I submit that this is the perfect college football playoff system.

32 Responses to “The Perfect College Football Playoff System”

  1. 1 Geoff J December 8, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Is it just coincidence that your plan seems to be the same plan Dan Wetzel has been pushing?

  2. 2 Eric Nielson December 8, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Wow. Yes it is. I had not read this. About the only difference, is that I am suggesting that the second and third rounds are like bowl games at a neutral site, where he has them all home games for the higher seeds.

    I should have done some research I guess, but it does not surprise me that others have suggested something nearly identical. It is a common sense approach.

  3. 3 Jerry December 8, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Ball State is not undefeated nor are they the conference champions they lost to Buffalo in their championship game.

    I advocate taking 2-3 games from the season and 8-9 games for conference and preseason games and then the last 3 weeks they playoff to qualify for bowl games. That way the money in the bowls stay which is the number one impediment to a playoff. Also they play about as many games as they are now. This allows for competition and eliminates the need to find weak nonconference teams to play.

  4. 4 Anon December 8, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Ball State aint undefeated anymore

  5. 5 Last Lemming December 8, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Whether Eric Nielson or Dan Wetzel gets the credit, this is the playoff system I favor.

  6. 7 Eric Nielson December 8, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I had not realized that Ball State had lost their conference championship game. The post still holds, however. Just insert Buffalo for Ball State in the brackets.

  7. 8 Mark Brown December 9, 2008 at 1:06 pm


    Why bother with conference champions? Why not just select the top 16 teams?

    I’m not understanding why teams like Ball State and East Carolina which are not even in the top 20 are in the playoffs and Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Oregon, and Georgia (#s 13, 14, 15, and 16) are not.

    Also, in your pairings, I think you mixed up Texas Tech and TCU. Which one of those do you leave home in order to show the world the wonder that is Troy football?

  8. 9 Geoff J December 9, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    There are a few reasons to go with conference champs Mark.

    1. It allows every team in the country a shot. If you exclude some conferences the champ might go undefeated and not even make the top 16 because of under-exposure and/or voter bias. That is the problem we already have.
    2. It makes the conference games very meaningful in every conference
    3. The top seeds get easier games to start

    PS — Eric has Texas Tech and TCU as at-large bids

  9. 10 Mark Brown December 9, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Eric has Texas Tech and TCU as at-large bids

    Duh, you’re right. Sorry Eric.

    Geoff, I’m not sure how much weight we should give to the argument that teams outside of the power conferences are underexposed. Take this year, just as an example. Utah, Boise St. and TCU all would have made it based on their merits alone, because they finished in the top 16 in the polling. I live in a big SEC town now and it is unbleievable to hear people gripe about east and west coast media bias. These people honestly think that the SEC gets short shrift, and it takes me right back to Provo.

    I think there should be incentive to schedule hard games. For some teams (SEC, Big 12) that happens naturally. This year Texas played 4 games against teams that were in the top 10 at game time. Georgia played Florida, defending champs LSU, and Alabama on successive weekends. If we are trying to decide who is the best team, it doesn’t make sense to leave them home while inviting teams everybody admits is weaker.

  10. 11 Eric Nielson December 9, 2008 at 3:43 pm


    Teams from smaller conferences are underexposed. Can you name the mascot for Troy, Idaho, Central Mich., etc. without checking? Most can’t.

    There just may be teams in smaller conferences who put together a great coaching staff, good players, and will never get a chance to show it. There is huge bias in all of this. Ohio State got a BCS bid with two losses, and Boise State is undefeated and not in the BCS. Boise State is even ranked higher than Ohio State in the BCS poll. What we have now is a beauty contest.

    The teams you list (Utah, BSU and TCU) are in with the system I am promoting. You seem to be a Georgia homer. They stunk on defense this year. GT beat them even. If they can’t win their conference they have no case.

    The insentive to schedule hard games is maintained. Hard non-conference games would not hurt your conference schedule or your chance at a conference championship. You would also want to be in the top five after conference champs are removed in case you do not win your conference. I would say that in this system, there is MORE of an incentive to play tough non-conference games than in the current system.

  11. 12 Mark Brown December 9, 2008 at 4:14 pm


    Nope, not a Georgia homer. I go with BYU and then LSU, do or die. Taking the top 16 teams in the polls leaves LSU out, which is just fine with me, since they aren’t that good this year. But they defeated Troy, who is in. That is why I disagree with the formulation that allows teams to qualify for the championship by beating a group of patsies.

    Look at Troy’s wins: Middle Tennessee, Alcorn State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Texas, Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Arkansas State. Now look at their losses: Ohio State, Oklahoma State, LSU, and Louisiana-Monroe. They went 8-4 with that schedule. There are probably 40 other teams in the country who would have done at least as well. I think BYU might have been 10-2, yet BYU stays home under your scenario.

    Is there a question in anybody’s mind, anywhere, that Troy is NOT one of the best 16 teams? The evidence is clear: They beat only unranked teams and lost to all the ranked teams they played. The only possible reason to include them is because they played in a crappy conference and won the championship. They already had their chances this season to beat good teams, and they failed every time. Why do they get a fifth chance?

  12. 13 Mark Brown December 9, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    To make a shorter argument:

    Troy is not underexposed, they are just a mediocre team. They played top 10 teams and the defending national champion, so they get props for their scheduling, but they are not a bunch of unknowns. We already know enough about the team to evaluate them, and their won/loss record has weighed them in the balance and found them wanting. They are not unknown, the fact is we know all we need to know about them. The polls accurately reflect that knowledge.

  13. 14 Geoff J December 9, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Mark: I think there should be incentive to schedule hard games.

    Which is precisely why the winner of every conference should get an automatic bid to the tourney (a la every other sport in the universe). If there is no automatic bid then the best way to make the top 16 is to go undefeated. The best way for a team in the WAC or Conf USA or MAC or whatever to go undefeated is to schedule easy-ish non conference games whenever possible. Look at Hawaii from last year — it worked like a charm for them. BYU was clearly better than UH but UH went undefeated and got paid a lot to have their butts handed to them in a BCS bowl game. Requiring teams to go undefeated to even get an invite (which the top 16 plan would do) makes it foolish for a Ball State or any of the “have not” teams to schedule a Texas or LSU or whatever.

  14. 15 Mark Brown December 9, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    Requiring teams to go undefeated to even get an invite (which the top 16 plan would do)

    Geoff, that is simply not true. A look at the current poll reveals that there are only two undefeated teams, Utah and Boise State. All the other teams have at least 1 loss, some have 2, and some have 3. The argument that a team from the Mountain West has to go undefeated fails because both TCU and BYU are in the top 16, and they each have 2 losses.

    Both you and Eric are correct to point out the big flaw in the current BCS system, which awards automatic berths to conferences, regardless of the strength of the teams in those conferences. So this year, both the ACC and Big East are having down years, yet they are being underservedly rewarded. Ironically, the plan Eric proposes perpetuates the same flaw by awarding automatic bowl berths to conferences, rather than teams. Why not just pick the best 16 teams, regardless of their conference affiliation?

    The plan that is proposed here has two teams with 4 losses each and zero quality wins playing for the national championship. And let’s remember, some of those losses were to very mediocre competition. They have had their butts handed to them everytime they have played a quality team all year long, why would we want to see it happen again in the bowl season? If we are going to reward them anyway, what is the point of the regular season? East Carolina and Troy aren’t even in anybody’s top 32, let alone top 16.

    Basketball can get away with inviting weaker teams to the playoffs because it has 65 slots to fill. Obviously, football can’t do that. Maybe they should choose the top 15 teams, and let the champions of some of the weaker conferences prove themselves against each other in a “play-in” game.

  15. 16 Geoff J December 9, 2008 at 10:45 pm


    The MWC is an anomaly among non-automatic-qualifier conferences because it is so strong. It was widely held that the top three teams in the MWC were better than the top three teams in the Big East and ACC and that they compared favorably to the top teams in the Big 10 and Pac 10. So I will grant that a MWC team is more likely to make the top 16 with a loss than teams in other non-BCS conferences.

    But what of the WAC, C-USA, MAC, and Sun Belt? What incentive do teams in those conferences currently have to schedule up (besides the fact that the big money programs pay well to get more home games)?

    Why not just pick the best 16 teams, regardless of their conference affiliation?

    Because the season is too short to ever know who the best 16 teams really are. As a result the big money, big name programs with 3+ losses would get in over smaller but potentially better programs from smaller conferences with 2 or fewer losses. Yes, like with the NCAA hoops tournaments there will always be gripes about some conference champions getting in ahead of potentially better “bubble” team, but the reason it works is this: Every team in the country would have a legitimate shot at the title. Right now that is certainly not the case and it would be the case if only the top 16 BCS ranked teams go in because of the obvious bias for big-name programs and against smaller programs.

    The other problem with the top-16 BCS plan you suggest is that it would make conference races mostly meaningless for smaller conference teams and even more so the minute they lost their first game.

  16. 17 Eric Nielson December 10, 2008 at 8:12 am


    We often do not know how good or bad the small conferences really are. In the Troy example you give, the losses were all on the road. Ohio State, LSU, and Oklahoma State is a killer schedule, and the losses were not exactly blowouts. While many of their wins were blowouts. Who knows, if their non conference games were home games the games may have been even closer or even Troy wins.

  17. 18 Eric Nielson December 10, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Also Mark:

    In the plan you are pushing for there is also a likely flaw:

    Say a team from a traditionally weaker conference puts together a really good year – undefeated or maybe one road loss. Chances are they would be ranked somewhere around the mid teens – like 17.

    Trouble is, an average team from the SEC or Big 10 who has 3 or 4 losses could end up being ranked 16. This is a very real, even likely senario.

    Better to have a couple of weak conference winners put in just in case than to have the 3rd or 4th best team from the SEC or Big 10 just because they have had good teams in the past and dress out well.

  18. 19 Mark Brown December 10, 2008 at 3:38 pm


    Guys, OK, now I think I understand what you are getting at. You want (I think) for evey team to be able to say in August that they have a shot at getting to the championship round. Fair enough, that is a good goal, and one that is worth pursuing.

    However, I am unwilling to say that the polls are meaningless. After each team has played 10 or 11 games, we ought to have some idea of the relative strength of those teams. This year the polls accurately reflect the suckitude of the ACC and Big East programs, and the relative strength of the MWC. I don’t think this is an anomaly. While there will always be quibbles, I think the polls get it right, more or less.

    Eric, the reason a 3rd or 4th place team from the Big 12 should be ranked ahead of the the C-USA champ is because in all likelihood, a 3rd place team from the Big 12 is a better team. If Texas Tech played Troy 10 times, Tech would win at least 7, and possibly all 10. When you point out that Troy played tough games on the road, I respond by pointing out that Texas played 4 top 10 teams on 4 successive weekends. Yes, it is a brutal schedule, but that’s life in the fast lane, and that is what teams in the power conferences do, year in and year out. You seem to want to not penalize teams for playing a soft schedule, but why punish teams that don’t load up on patsies?

    I think you proposal is good, as far as it goes. Here is the one suggestion I would offer: Take the top 15 teams in the polls, then fill the 16th slot by letting the champs of the WAC, MAC, C-USA and Sunbelt fight it out among themselves. That way we get away from the practice of awarding bowl slots based on conference affiliation, and everybody can say in August that if they win their conference, they can play for the championship.

    Here is what I propose:

  19. 20 John Mansfield December 10, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    What do you think the injury list will be like for the championship game after the teams have spent the past month playing three hard-fought, do-or-die playoff rounds against teams roughly as good as themselves?

  20. 21 larryco_ December 10, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    People complain that a playoff system would kill off the major bowls, but I think the lack of tradition that has happened with the BCS assigning teams to bowls has been more distructive. My recommendation would return tradition to the bowls and allow for a playoff system. Every year you would get:

    Rose Bowl: PAC 10 champ vs BIG 10 champ
    Sugar Bowl: SEC champ vs ACC champ
    Orange Bowl: BIG 12 champ vs BIG EAST champ
    Fiesta Bowl: Top 2 remaining teams as determined by the BCS poll

    One week later, everyone leaves work early to watch a doubleheader of the victorious bowl champs. Cities bid for the rights to hold the games.

    One week after that: National championship.

    Bowl traditions are upheld, winning teams walk away with rivalry bowl championships, a national champion is crowned on the field, and everyone make ooodles of money.

  21. 22 Eric Nielson December 10, 2008 at 6:09 pm


    A third or forth best team from a power conference does not have a real claim on a national championship – they are not even in the top two of their own conference. A champion from a weaker conference – especially an undefeated one- may have such a claim. Or may not. The world may never know.

    Having lesser conferences fight it out for a final spot or two would not be bad either. But that is because you are coming closer to my proposal.


    The injury list might be about what a super bowl team would be.


    Your proposal is not bad either, I would like to see the 2 remaining be teams from other than the conferences in the other three games. Or limiting the teams to one per conference.

  22. 23 Crayton April 18, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    There is no reason to take the top 16, straight from the BCS when you can more easily take the top 8. Why would you add a whole new round just for 3rd and 4th place teams from the same large conferences.

    I will not argue that Troy or Buffalo are better teams than Georgia or Oklahoma State. But I will argue that it would benefit college football as a whole to spread the wealth among many (every) conference.

    If (and that is a big ‘if’) you expand to 16 teams then go ahead and take all of the conference winners. It will give some easier competition to the top teams the first round.

  23. 24 Crayton April 18, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    That being said, here is an alternative plan:

    Conference Championship Games are not fully regular season and not fully bowl games. They are somewhere in between. This proposal takes the same 16 teams (11 champions and 5 at large) and places them in four geographical 4-team brackets played the first two weekends of December (situated similarly to Conference Championship Games).

    The 12 teams which do not win their bracket are bowl eligible, meaning Troy and Georgia will probably still play in the New Orleans and Capital One Bowl respectively (see, no harm, no foul in choosing one over the other).

    The 4 winners play in two BCS bowl games. The 6 BCS Conference winners still play in BCS bowls. Here is an example of a possible BCS realignment with the Rose and Sugar as permanent Semifinals:

    Rose: West/North bracket winners (probably Big Ten/Pac-10)
    Sugar: South/East bracket winners
    Orange: ACC/Big East
    Fiesta: Pac-10/Big Ten (replacements found if in semifinals)
    Cotton: SEC/Big 12

    This is 10 teams. At larges are chosen the same way as now.

  24. 25 Dave Fitz August 7, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Great reading through these…How about this: Take the top 6 teams. Make the playoff system just like the NFL. The first round is played by seeds 3 – 6 (1 and 2 get the bye). Each game could still be a traditional bowl game…

    First round Christmas EVE
    Second Round: New Years Day
    Championship: two weeks later like we have today.

    Can’t wait for the 09 season to get going!


  25. 26 Eric Nielson August 7, 2009 at 11:29 am


    You would be leaving out to many teams. Better to have every conference represented.

  26. 27 College Football Cafeteria October 23, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    This is exactly the playoff system I have suggest, almost identical. I say though that the second round be a home game for the higher seed as well. Come semi-finals, make those two bowl games. Championship is also a bowl game.

    In between quarters and semis, play the other bowls so other schools don’t whine. You can get the best of both worlds. Check out our proposal at

  27. 28 Lloyd March 23, 2013 at 3:02 am

    Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

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