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Oct 10, 2014 7:09 PM

Column: Regular season only enhanced by playoff

The Associated Press

David Cutcliffe was like the rest of us, camped out in front of his television, mesmerized by what he was seeing.

"I got to do what everybody else did," the Duke coach said, looking back on one of the great weekends in the history of college football, one that he was fortunate enough to savor like a fan because the Blue Devils were off. "I'm certain a lot of you watched a lot of football, like I did. There were a LOT of interesting ballgames."

It wasn't supposed to be this way. A playoff system was supposed to diminish the regular season, somehow make all these games a little less important.

Glad we didn't listen to those scare tactics.

We're not even to the midway point of a year that's already overflowing with an abundance of intriguing story lines, none of them the least bit cheapened by that four-team playoff lurking at the end.

If anything, this season has shown that college football could easily handle an eight-team playoff a move that would likely lead to beefier schedules and more big games during the regular season.

We encourage the powers-that-be get to work on playoff expansion right away, to give this four-team format its one-and-done moment in the sun before shifting to a system that would work even better as a capper to the 2015 season.

In the meantime, enjoy another tantalizing Saturday, highlighted by a pair of top 10 showdowns: No. 2 Auburn travels to Starkville to face No. 3 Mississippi State in the latest Southeastern Conference bloodbath, while No. 5 Baylor welcomes No. 9 TCU to Waco in what suddenly looks like the game of the year in the Big 12 at least until the next one comes along in a week or two.

On the undercard, there are three more games matching Top 25 teams:

No. 3 Mississippi at No. 14 Texas A&M; No. 12 Oregon visiting No. 18 UCLA; and No. 13 Georgia traveling to No. 23 Missouri, a game the Bulldogs will try to win without the best player in the country, Todd Gurley, who is suspended indefinitely while the school investigates a possible violation of NCAA rules.

Down the road, the potential hits just keep on coming. Florida State vs. Notre Dame. TCU vs. Oklahoma State. Arizona vs. UCLA. Auburn vs. Ole Miss. Alabama vs. LSU. Baylor vs. Oklahoma. Michigan State vs. Ohio State. Alabama vs. Mississippi State. Auburn vs. Georgia. Baylor vs. Oklahoma State. Alabama vs. Auburn. Oh, and let's not forget the conference championship games.


The best part of the four-team playoff is that it's easier to make up for a loss which is especially important when strength of schedule is being held in high esteem by the selection committee, as well it should be. Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon, all saddled with losses already, are still very much in the mix for the national championship, as well they should be.

"Look, playing in our league is like climbing a mountain," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has won three national titles out of the fearsome SEC West. "Every game is a critical game, every game is an important game, and every team that you play in our division could beat anybody."

With twice as many playoff teams, even two losses wouldn't necessarily rule out a shot at finishing No. 1. That would surely make teams more willing to toughen up their out-of-conference schedules, something the SEC is already moving toward by mandating that its members have at least one opponent from another of power conferences beginning in 2016.

Here's how an eight-team playoff could look:

SELECTION PROCESS: Recognizing the significance of regular-season titles, automatic bids would be awarded to the champions of the five power conferences: SEC, Pac-12, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big 12. The selection committee would pick three wild-card teams, and seed all eight playoff schools based strictly on merit.

QUARTERFINALS: The new playoff system is set up to rotate two semifinal games on a three-year cycle among six major bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach). Why not let them all have a playoff game every year? Under the new system, each bowl would host a quarterfinal two out of every three years. Those games could be held on or around Christmas, about a week after most schools have wrapped up fall semester, so there's no impact on academics. Also this would further reduce the long layoff from the end of the regular season to the playoff, surely improving the quality of play during the most important games of the year.

SEMIFINALS AND CHAMPIONSHIP: Those would follow essentially the same model as the four-team playoff, with the six major bowls sharing a pair of New Year's Day semifinals on a once-every-three-year basis. The championship game would be awarded separately, and could not go to a city that was hosting a semifinal in the same year.

Leading up to it all, a regular season that might be even more enthralling than the one we have now.

The only problem then would be finding enough time on Saturdays to watch all those amazing games.


Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963


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