Remaking The College Football Playoff By Restoring The Bowl System

Bryan Driskell

I’m a traditionalist in many ways, but I also believe in always looking for ways to make things better. Conference realignment and the BCS system are at the top of my “bad ideas” list from the last two decades.

One positive change has been the College Football Playoff. From high school to Division I-AA (FCS), Division II and Division III in college, every level but FBS had a playoff. So far the playoff has been fun, exciting and we are seeing championships settled on the field.

There is a push for an expanded playoff. Fans want more opportunities for their team to get in and the networks and other “decision makers” want to make even more money off the playoff. Neither is wrong or a bad idea, but if they aren’t smart about expanding the playoff the risk of diminishing the regular season and making the rest of the bowl season even more irrelevant.

I say all of that to say there is a way to expand the playoff and not only protect the regular season, but to improve it. The reason is my proposal makes the bowl season more important, which in turn makes the regular season even better while also expanding the number of teams with a chance to make the playoff without watering it down.

So here’s my proposal:

*** Remove the college football playoff from the bowl system. Just have semi-final games and a championship game

*** Keep a four-team playoff but have it start after the bowl season is over

*** Pick the four teams after the bowl season is complete

*** Go back to major bowl tie-ins for conference champions, with some edits

I have written about this in the past, and why it would be great for the game, and you can read that analysis HERE based off the current conference makeup.

But I also recently created a proposal to overhaul college football. So I wanted to take a look at what the postseason tie-ins would look like in the “new world” of college football. You can read that proposal HERE, and if you haven’t read it you should stop reading this article, read that one and then come back, otherwise the rest of this article won’t make any sense.


Rose Bowl — Big Ten Champion vs. Pac 12 Champion
Orange Bowl — ACC Champion vs. At-large
Fiesta Bowl — Big 12 Champion vs. At-large
Sugar Bowl — SEC Champion vs. At-large
Peach Bowl — Big East Champion vs. At-large
Cotton Bowl — SWC Champion vs. At-large

There are two ways you can handle the at-large berths. One is to rotate through the six bowls in regards to who picks first. The other way to do it is for the playoff committee to seed the at-large teams in sort of a “playoff format.” 

That would mean the highest ranked conference champ plays the lowest ranked at-large team, and the lowest ranked conference champ would play the highest ranked at-large team. 

The latter is the method I prefer, and we’ll use that as the placement formula below.

There is no "Group of 6" automatic berth because there is no more "Group of 6." There would now be seven power conferences and the top "Group of 6" programs would now be in a power conference.

Taking the records and rankings from 2019, this is how the major bowls would have looked this past season.

Rose Bowl — #2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #6 Oregon (11-2)
Orange Bowl — #3 Clemson (13-0) vs. #11 Utah (11-2)
Fiesta Bowl — #4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. #9 Florida (10-2)
Sugar Bowl — #5 Georgia (11-2) vs. #8 Wisconsin (10-3)
Peach Bowl — #10 Penn State (10-2) vs. #7 Baylor (11-2)
Cotton Bowl — #1 LSU (13-0) vs. #12 Auburn (9-3)

Last season was a bit unique in that the top three teams (LSU, Ohio State, Clemson) were significantly better than everyone else. So much so that even losing a bowl game wouldn’t necessarily knock them out of the playoff, and this is especially true for LSU and Ohio State.

But even in this scenario, there are at least six teams with a legitimate chance to make the playoff depending on how the bowl games shake out. #5 Georgia and #6 Oregon would both have a chance to leap #4 Oklahoma.

Here's a reality that must be accepted. There are rarely eight teams that have earned the right to play for a championship based on their regular season, so an eight-team playoff should be avoided. This system would work much, much better because those teams that don't deserve a playoff berth can still impact the championship run by knocking off a possible playoff team in the bowl game. That would make for great TV!

The list would have been longer in 2018, as at least eight teams would have had a chance at the playoff depending on how the bowl season shook out.

Rose Bowl — #6 Ohio State (12-1) vs. #9 Washington (10-3)
Orange Bowl — #2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #10 Florida (9-3)
Fiesta Bowl — #4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. #7 Michigan (10-2)
Sugar Bowl — #1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #12 Penn State (9-3)
Peach Bowl — #8 UCF (12-0) vs. #5 Georgia (11-2)
Cotton Bowl — #11 LSU (9-3) vs. #3 Notre Dame (12-0)

Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma are all in with a win, but wins for Notre Dame, Oklahoma and possibly Clemson wouldn’t have been easy by any means.

#5 Georgia and #6 Ohio State both had chances to not only get in with a loss, but both would have an opportunity to leap Oklahoma with convincing bowl victories coupled with Oklahoma not looking sharp, even if the Sooners won.

No program would have had a chance to jump higher than #8 UCF, who would have a very strong case to leap Oklahoma with a victory over #5 Georgia, a team many analysts on ESPN argued should have been in the playoff over undefeated Notre Dame.

For Notre Dame, a victory over LSU, a team that beat Georgia, would have silenced the arguments against their playoff run. For Notre Dame haters, a loss against LSU would have knocked the Irish out and there is no more discussion of whether or not they belong.

The bowl season for both Notre Dame and UCF would have been a put up or shut up opportunity. They either prove they belong on that stage with wins, or they get knocked off in bowl season and “true contenders” get into the playoff.

This is an imperfect manner of showing who would get in since the proposed leagues don’t match the current leagues. Notre Dame and Clemson would not be able to enter the postseason undefeated like they did in 2018 because they would either play each other in the regular season or in the ACC Championship, but you get the point.

But as you can see, we would enter bowl season with more teams in contention for a playoff bid. This would make for great television, and there would be so many more eyes on these games, which means more money opportunities. It would also force the analysts and networks to cover more bowl games and not ignore them the way they have since the playoff began.

Think about the 2018 season. You’d play three games per day, a noon game, a 4:00 PM game and an 8:00 PM game (all Eastern times). So let’s say you have the Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl on day one.

The Fiesta Bowl isn’t going to be watched just by Oklahoma and Michigan fans. Ohio State fans, Georgia fans and UCF fans are also going to be paying attention because if the Wolverines beat the Sooners each of those teams will play the next day with a chance to jump into the playoff.

For anyone concerned about the extension of the season, it only extends the season by an extra week, which is going to happen anyway with an expanded playoff. Only two teams would have to play a 16th game, and they would benefit from getting a month off between the end of the conference title games and the bowl games.

So you might be asking, how does this help the regular season and the bowl season?

Pushing the playoff past the bowl games means the regular season returns to being about winning your conference and getting to a major bowl game. 

If you’re in the Big Ten and you want a chance to compete for a title you better get to the Rose Bowl first, same if you’re in the Pac 12. If you’re an ACC team your goal is to get to the Orange Bowl, not the playoff, because you can’t get to the playoff without first getting to the Orange Bowl in most instances.

But with the five at-large bids there’s still a chance you can into the playoff depending on your seeding. I’m thinking back to the 2006 season, when #1 Ohio State beat #2 Michigan. The Buckeyes would have played for and won the Big Ten title and then played in the Rose Bowl, but Michigan would have received an at-large bid and would still have a chance to get back into the playoff hunt, but they would need some help, which means their fans are going to be paying attention to all the bowl games that impact their chance at leaping into the top four.

This would be GREAT for college football on every single level. It would be great for fans, it would be great for teams and it would be great for the decision makers who are focused on how to make more money.

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Comments (10)
No. 1-5

I totally agree with this. It would be the best of both worlds. I'm too young to remember New Year's Day when multiple games involved the national championship, but I always thought it would have been fun.

Imagine how exciting New Year's Day would be, flipping through all those games, with most of them involving who would get in the playoff. Play the Peach and Cotton at noon, Rose and Fiesta at 4, Sugar and Orange at 8.

It would be a heck of a lot more fun than watching the freakin Outback and Citrus bowls at noon, and, two out of every three years, conference runner-up games in the Rose and Sugar.


I agree with this 100%. For those of us who watch football all day on Saturdays (even turned down a best man offer to watch ND/USC at home. Spoiler. Marriage didn't last), this would be a dream bowl weekend. Greater exposure for all teams and conferences involved. Better ratings. Better games. Extending the season. I think this is an absolutely awesome idea for fans and teams.

Fedman 1946
Fedman 1946

I have been a proponent of this for a long time. You take the 4 highest rated bowl winners for the playoffs. Note, I said Bowl Winners. I don't want a #1 Alabama be upset in the Sugar Bowl and then still be one of he four picked for the playoffs.

I don't care if Bama would be ranked in the top-4 after the bowls. For this to work, the Bowls must be an elimination round. Just like in the NCAA basketball tournament - if the nations #1 team is beaten in the first round, they are eliminated. They do not get a pass to the final four just because they are still one of the four best teams in the nation.


SWC? Southwest Conference? Thought that went kaput in 1995 or so...


Coach I really am intrigued by your idea.I especially like that it will make the bowl games more relevant.Ilike the four team playoff but since this format was established it has hurt the bowl season.I am afraid that since your idea makes so much sense individuals who like to make things complicated will not buy in think the NCAA.

1 Reply

Bryan Driskell
Bryan Driskell


Sad to say, but you are correct.