Tilting at Windmills: One Final Look at a College Football Playoff

Last week, I posted an entry that had a few different scenarios creating a playoff system for college football.

This week, I update those brackets with new results (the final games of the regular season) and expand them, including brackets of 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 40 and 48 teams.  I used the same methodology as the last post, so read more about it there.

Oh, what could have been….

The 16-team bracket.

Main differences from last week:

  • Shuffling of 7-8-9 seeds to account for Oklahoma’s victory in the Big 12 Championship Game over Nebraska.
  • Rise of Virginia Tech to #11 thanks to a victory in the ACC Championship.
  • Replacement of Boise State with Nevada, since the Wolf Pack won the WAC Championship and Boise wasn’t quite high enough to be an at-large in a 16-team bracket.
  • Replacement of Northern Illinois with Miami University, the MAC Champions.  Miami ranked lower than UCF, pushing the Scarlet Knights to 14 seed.
  • Replacement of Florida International with Troy, the Sun Belt Champions.

The 20-team bracket

.  All of the changes from above, plus Nebraska disappears thanks to their loss to Oklahoma.  Boise State appears as an at-large team.

The 24-team bracket.

More shuffling, nothing too crucial. Nebraska resurfaces at the 18 seed.  Utah and South Carolina trade places.

The 28-team bracket.

I actually like this one the best of the smaller brackets because it doesn’t send the little guys (Troy, Miami) right into the firing squad of Auburn or Oregon.  Maybe I’m naive to think they have a slightly better chance with Wisconsin or Ohio State, but it seems a little more fair.  In this bracket, Hawaii makes an appearance for the first time, owing to their noble losses against Boise State and Nevada to pump up their schedule strength.


The 32-team bracket

.  This is the cleanest bracket because there are no byes for anyone.  It’s basically starting at the equivalent of the 2nd rd of March Madness basketball tournament bracket.  Like that basketball tournament, that equity of entry leads to some brutal first-round games.  When was the last time a Div 1-A college football team put up 100 points?  We might see that in Auburn vs. Troy.

The 40- and 48-team brackets.

Here’s where we get even more experimental.  At the suggestion of commenter Zack Hicks, I expanded the brackets further.  You will most definitely have to click on these things to read them…. A 40-team bracket gives the top eight teams a bye, which would be a nice thing for the larger schools to play for once a tournament berth is all but assured.  A 48-team bracket expands that luxury to the top 16.  A 32-team bracket seems to represent a threshold, after which we start seeing some questionable teams get invites.  I’m not saying that Notre Dame or Florida aren’t deserving, but a first-round game between two 7-5 teams isn’t exactly the pinnacle of excitement, and especially with the long odds that will face the victor at Oregon.  It’s also when we get into the 40- and 48-team brackets that we see a number of at-large teams from second and third-tier conferences (Big East, ACC, WAC, Conference USA, MAC).  This can be good, in that it allows those conferences to prove themselves.  It can also be bad, in that if they don’t, there might be some really ugly outcomes.  Of the two, I like the 48-team the best.

From here, I’ll let the brackets speak for themselves.  Click to see them larger, or at least legibly.

It’s a silly exercise, no doubt…. but I think it’s an important one.  The idea of a playoff is always one that provides debate, and for supporters it’s difficult to tangibly show folks what they are really hoping to see in college football.  Making graphic representations of these tournaments provides a nice way to see them, and to dream about a better sports world that might some day happen….

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.

1 thought on “Tilting at Windmills: One Final Look at a College Football Playoff”

  1. Hey, i like your idea, but you made a bit of a mistake FIU beat Troy during the season, thus they are the Sun Belt Champions due to their win over them…and the tiebreaker goes to them. I also made tourneys but I do not know how, but I like what you done, that is well done, and that is really good, I am thinking what will a 64 team tourney is like (or even 68 teams like the current NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney) is like, that will be interesting in itself… I love your ideas and keep up the great work, they how it should work, if the NCAA controls it.

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