College football 2022, with an expanded playoffs on the horizon? Sign me up

By MIKE HERNDON

If the past week was any indication, we’re in for another heck of a season of college football. We are only a handful of games into the 2022 season and already, we’ve had at least three classics.

Northwestern broke Nebraska’s heart in a 31-28 comeback win in Ireland, Sean Clifford drove Penn-State to a last-minute victory over Purdue, and a tipped-ball Pick-6 gave Pittsburgh a 38-31 win over West Virginia in the first Backyard Brawl since 2011.

And now, as the rest of the country is set to kick off this weekend, comes a report that the College Football Playoff’s Board of Managers has approved an expansion of the playoff to 12 teams, a change that could come as early as 2024 (but more likely, 2025).

Keep it coming.

I am all in for seeing more great games like the three mentioned above, and to see more of them that matter in the postseason. As I’ve shared in this space before, I considered the current four-team playoff a vast improvement over the two-team BCS set-up if for no other reason that we were arguing about who was the fourth-best team in the country instead of the second-best.

I have been in favor of an expansion to eight to ensure that all Power 5 conference champions are included, along with the top-ranked Group of Five finisher, with room still left for a couple of at-large berths. The CFP went a step further and made it 12 and that’ll work too. Sixteen would have been too much, but 12 is workable.

And please, spare me the “it’ll water down the regular season” refrain. Creating more playoff berths means more teams will continue to have a shot at them later into the season. As the 12-team bracket would include the six highest-ranked conference champions, Group of Five teams have a full seat at the table and conference championships in places like the Pac-12 will be more than a consolation prize. More games will mean something, not fewer.

And the No. 13 team has a far weaker argument about being left out than the No. 5 team.

Five more things I’d like to see in 2022:

  1. An announcement that the Backyard Brawl will be played every year, regardless of conference affiliations. The energy and passion in the stadium Thursday night should be enough to convince both schools it’s worthwhile. And that goes for other traditional rivalries that have been, or soon will be, torn apart by conference realignment.
  2. One brave coach, anywhere, to do the opposite of what Lincoln Riley did and just admit he’s targeting certain players or players from certain schools in the transfer portal. For Riley to parse words and act like he didn’t go after his former players at Oklahoma when he so obviously did is just silly, and unnecessary, theater. Just tell the truth for once.
  3. USC losing every game.  Yes, I’m petty like that.
  4. More G5 chaos in the playoff. I don’t even care if Cincinnati or whichever other mid-major can run the regular-season table gets blown out in the playoff. Let’s keep adding fuel to the fire that has led to playoff expansion.
  5. An end to major-conference expansion. I may be in the minority here, but we don’t need 16-team super-conferences. Texas and Oklahoma belong in the Big XII and not the SEC, and USC and UCLA belong in the Pac-12 and not the laughably named Big Ten. I’m sure the Bruins and Trojans volleyball and baseball teams will love those red-eye flights home from Ann Arbor and Columbus.

And five things I expect to see in 2022:

  1. Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and the same handful of other schools fighting for the national title. We can wring our hands about this all we want, but it is what it is. You can either complain about it or try to outwork (and outspend) them to get to the same level.
  2. A contest at halftime of an LSU game where students compete to see who can best imitate Brian Kelly’s fake Southern accent. Preferably a night game.
  3. USC to take a step toward regaining national prominence. I may not like Lincoln Riley or how he’s gone about his work with the Trojans so far, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be effective.
  4. More stories like that of Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, who used part of his NIL money to allow all his teammates to buy game-day suits. As some people vilify these kids as greedy money-grabbers (while ignoring the multi-million dollar salaries of their coaches), more of them will show us they are not.
  5. More rumors of conference expansion. At its heart, college football isn’t driven by competitive balance or fairness or geographical sanity. Like any other business, it’s driven by money. And two conferences are commanding a lot more of it in their TV contracts than the others. So our kids will probably watch the two major super-ultra-mega-conferences beat each other up not so many years from now. In fact, we may see it, too.


Categories: College football

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