Analysis: With Expansion Coming, Good Riddance To The 4-Team Playoff After Unprecedented Snub Of Fsu

Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) celebrates after the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 26-0. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) celebrates after the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 26-0. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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There will be plenty to miss when college football undergoes myriad changes next season.

A traditional Pac-12. Regional conferences and rivalries. The Rose Bowl kicking off on New Year's Day, just about the time the New Year's Eve hangover fades away.

A College Football Playoff with not enough spots to accommodate deserving teams? Good riddance.

“I hear a lot of the controversy about who should have been in and who shouldn't have been in it," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on ESPN. "It's going to be fortunate that next year there will be an expanded playoff and a true champion. It's just going to be better,”

The final version of the four-team playoff produced a truly unsatisfying outcome Sunday when unbeaten Florida State was left out because, essentially, its starting quarterback got hurt.

Top-ranked Michigan will face Alabama at the Rose Bowl in one Jan. 1 semifinal and Washington meets Texas in the other at the Sugar Bowl.

Florida State was bumped to the Orange Bowl, where it will face two-time defending national champion Georgia.

It was not so much that the 13-member selection committee got it wrong by putting Alabama in over the Jordan Travis-less Seminoles. It is difficult to argue the Seminoles in their current state are better than any of the four playoff teams. Alabama or Texas would have been deservedly frustrated if they had been snubbed.

Still, keeping Florida State out feels worse. Cold. Almost heartless.

Travis posted an apology on social to his teammates for being injured. Florida State coach Mike Norvell said he was “disgusted and infuriated.”

“What is the point of playing games?” he said.

The four-team format always felt like a half-measure, the next step in the evolution of the postseason after the Bowl Championship Series — but not a real solution.

It generally did it's main job — crowning a champion — fairly well in part because over the 10 years the CFP has been in the place there has been a consolidation of power at the very top of college football.

Most years, only two or three teams were real threats to win a national title. But the CFP devalued the rest of the postseason: Highly ranked teams left out are tossed into what are sold as marquee bowl games — the New Year's Six — but with low stakes and limited reason for the best players to play.

College football will never eliminate player opt outs or interim coaches in bowl games. But the four-team model severely marginalizes really good teams that deserve better.

The 12-team model won't necessarily produce better champions, but if Florida State and Georgia were playing in playoff games in December we'd all be better off.

Bowls are fun for diehards and gamblers. American sports fans love to watch football on TV more than just about anything in the world. But college football has been so protective of its regular season that it ended up with a postseason that fizzles out.

When a matchup of top-10 teams in a bowl game is announced and the first thought is, “Wonder if the NFL-bound quarterbacks will play?” there is a problem with the postseason.

The top tier of college football and the number of playoff contenders was bigger this year than ever before in the CFP era.

“We’ve never had a year with eight teams at the top as good as these are. And the five conference champions (ranked) one through five, we’ve never had it come out that way,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said.

In other words, it would have been a great year for a 12-team playoff.

It should be noted, expansion would have been in place this season if not for the Southeastern Conference, with Texas and Oklahoma setting off the latest round of realignment and sparking mistrust among the conference commissioners who run the CFP.

“Twelve is going to be great, and we’re all looking forward to it. But there will be issues with 12,” Hancock said. “People look for perfection, and there will be some teams that don’t quite make it in 12 who are going to be asking some serious questions.”

For what it is worth, here is what a 12-team playoff would have looked like this season (with one tweak to avoid conference matchups in the first round):

(9) Missouri at (8) Oregon — winner vs. (1) Michigan.

(10) Mississippi at (7) Ohio State — winner vs. (2) Washington.

(11) Penn State at (6) Georgia — winner vs. (3) Texas.

(12) Liberty at (5) Florida State — winner vs. (4) Alabama.

Hancock is right. The 12-team version won't be perfect. There will still a committee, subjectively selecting some of the teams. Critics are correct to say it will lower the stakes of the biggest regular-season and conference championship games.

Ohio State-Michigan and Georgia-Alabama will rarely be elimination games, but then again there have already been several years in which they weren't.

Change is hard, but the 12-team playoff is something to look forward to.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here. AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll