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Picturing an eight-team playoff

It took only about 100 years for major college football to get its first postseason playoff.

Now that the inaugural College Football Playoff is finally here, it already doesn't seem to be big enough. And we haven't even played a game yet.

Who didn't see that coming?

On Sunday, the College Football Playoff selection committee announced that No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State would play in two semifinal games, with the winners meeting in the Jan. 12 College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T in Arlington, Texas.

No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU, which each finished 11-1 and shared the Big 12 regular-season title, were left out of the playoffs. The Bears and Horned Frogs weren't happy about being excluded, and they have every right to be angry. Both had a strong argument for making the playoffs.

When the playoff format was announced two years ago, we knew at least one of the Power 5 conferences wasn't going to be happy. There are only four playoff spots for five major leagues: the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

This year, it was the Big 12's turn to be left out, and next year it might be the ACC (when Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is gone) or the Pac-12 (when Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is gone). If Notre Dame is ever good again, or if a team from a Group of 5 conference makes a strong case for being included, more than one Power 5 conference might be excluded in future seasons. It might also happen if there are two really good teams from one Power 5 league.

Sure, it's an imperfect system, but it's better than what we had during the BCS era, when only two teams were selected to play in a national championship game. Can you imagine if Oregon or Florida State were left out this season?

Last month, ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that 44 percent of the 103 FBS coaches he surveyed indicated they preferred an eight-team playoff, compared to 29 percent who liked the current format of four teams. Seventeen percent of coaches said they wanted a 16-team field.

Would an eight-team bracket have made the College Football Playoff any better this season?

Here's what an eight-team playoff would have looked like this season:

No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 8 Michigan State (10-2)

No. 4 Ohio State (12-1) vs. No. 5 Baylor (11-1)

No. 2 Oregon (12-1) vs. No. 7 Mississippi State (10-2)

No. 3 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 6 TCU (11-1)

Obviously, an eight-team bracket would have settled the Baylor/TCU predicament because one of them would have received the Big 12's automatic invitation (assuming all conference champs would get one) and the other an at-large bid. No. 7 Mississippi State and No. 8 Michigan State also would have received at-large bids.

If an eight-team playoff were in place, No. 9 Ole Miss would have had the biggest beef about not being included. The Rebels were the only team to beat Alabama (23-17 at home on Oct. 4), and they defeated Mississippi State (31-17 in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29). No matter how much you expand the field, somebody is going to be upset about being left out.

In addition -- once again, assuming each Power 5 conference champion receives an automatic bid -- the Big 12 would still have to decide how to determine its champion. Baylor and TCU couldn't both receive automatic bids. Would the Big 12 add a conference championship game, or adjust its rules to implement tiebreakers to determine a champion after the regular season?

There would be three at-large bids for teams that didn't win a Power 5 conference. And it's assumed that independents such as BYU and Notre Dame would receive a bid if they finished in the top eight.

The College Football Playoff management committee would have to decide whether Group of 5 teams would be evaluated differently for bids in an eight-team bracket. Would a champion from the American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West or Sun Belt have to finish in the top eight? Or would the highest-rated champion from a Group of 5 league receive an automatic bid?

This season, No. 20 Boise State would have been the highest-rated champion from the Group of 5. I think the rules would have to be such that a Group of 5 champion would at least have to be ranked in the top 12 (if not higher) to be considered for the playoffs.

The first-round games in an eight-team playoff could be played at the higher-seeded teams' home stadiums, which would decrease the travel demands on players, coaches and fans. The semifinals could still be played at two of the New Year's Six bowl game sites, and the championship game at another neutral site.

Of course, the eight-team argument might be moot. The College Football Playoff is working under a 12-year agreement with ESPN for a four-team playoff, and CFP chairman Bill Hancock said the group has had no discussions about expanding the field. But some coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners are already stumping for expansion.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he prefers an eight-team playoff, but said the Power 5 leagues that currently stage conference championship games would have to give them up. He argued the first-round playoffs games would replace the league title games on the schedule. Of course, under that scenario, Notre Dame wouldn't be sacrificing anything because it doesn't play in a conference.

"I like eight," Kelly said. "[But] you're going to have to give up something. I don't want to give up the regular season, but I'm willing to give up the conference championship game and adding that as being part of the eight."

Last month, ACC commissioner John Swofford said he believed the debate over an eight-team field isn't going to go away anytime soon.

"You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before," Swofford said. "But whoever's fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some [Power 5] conferences that won't have a team in the playoff."

This season, it was the Big 12.

Who's it going to be next year?