What If We Had an 8-Team College Football Playoff?

Which teams would be in, and how would it all play out?

It's been almost a week since the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released their final rankings this past Sunday. Since then, as one would imagine, there's been some backlash from fans of teams who were left off the very short list of teams to make the four-team tournament.

But only Penn State and Michigan have any sort of legit beef.

That being said, all that chatter seems to have died down now. The dust has settled, and everyone's turned their focus toward bowl season and the College Football Playoff.

For the most part, you can count me among those taking that approach. The only problem I have with the entire thing is, going forward, why not make it an eight-team playoff? More games means more teams in, which means more possible outcomes. And for the NCAA, it means more sponsorships and more money.

If the NCAA was able to take this idea and run with it this year, what would the Playoff look like it? Would increasing the field from four to eight teams really matter (for this year)?

With the help of nERD -- a metric that estimates the number of points we would expect that team to win by against an average team on a neutral field -- and our own power rankings, let's answer that question.

Who's In and Who's Out?

If we were to go by nERD, which takes into account efficiency and on-field performance alone, the top four teams would be Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and Washington. Basically, the only thing that would be different than the Committee's list would be that Michigan is in and Clemson is out.

As for the top eight teams, the Committee went with Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Washington, in that order, followed by Penn State, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

Our algorithms tend to differ a little more here, with the Sooners and Nittany Lions on the outside looking in. In their place, we would put Washington State and Colorado, who rank sixth and eighth in nERD, respectively.

So, our top eight would read as follows.

Rank Team
1 Alabama
2 Ohio State
3 Michigan
4 Washington
5 Clemson
6 Washington State
7 Wisconsin
8 Colorado

While Penn State and Oklahoma would slide into a hypothetical eight-team playoff, by the Committee's standards, the only notable team left out by both the Committee and our numbers would be USC. Sorry, Trojans.

Who Wins?

If we were to take these rankings -- the Committee's top eight and numberFire's top eight -- and make a playoff bracket, this is how the brackets would look and play out.

CFP Committee Rankings

Alabama (37.08 nERD) would face Wisconsin (21.72), and Washington (32.32) would face Penn State (21.47) would comprise the 1-versus-8 and 4-versus-5 matchups in the top half of the bracket.

Ohio State (36.48) and Michigan (35.30) would battle it out as the 3 and 6 seeds, and Clemson (24.05) would take on Oklahoma (18.15) as the 2 and 7 seed, respectively.

Alabama would advanced, based on nERD, to face Washington.

Ohio State and Clemson would emerge as well.

The championship game would come down to Alabama and Ohio State, a game decided by 0.60 nERD in Alabama's favor.

numberFire's Rankings

In this iteration, Alabama (37.08) would take on Colorado (21.70) and advance quite easily. Clemson (24.05) would shift to the 5 seed against Washington (32.32), the 4 seed.

Michigan (35.30) would advance past Washington State (21.83) in the 3-versus-6 game, and Ohio State (36.48) would hold a big advantage over Wisconsin (21.72).

That would lead to a close game between Michigan and Ohio State, with Ohio State holding a 1.18-point edge.

Alabama still comes out on top in such a scenario.


Alabama, Ohio State, and Washington would all advance regardless of the matchups.

However, according to the Committee's rankings, Clemson would make the second round before getting knocked off by the Buckeyes.

In our bracket, Michigan would essentially take Clemson's place in the final four, with Clemson falling to the Huskies.

In the first set of circumstances, we would actually end up with the current College Football Playoff as the final four. Our numbers suggest a slugfest between the Crimson Tide and Huskies but a fairly comfortable win for the Buckeyes over the Tigers.

As a result, Ohio State meets Alabama in the championship game.

In the second set of circumstances, our algorithms tell us that the outcome would be the same -- Alabama versus Ohio State in the final -- but that the semifinals would both be very close games. It would only be right considering the classic between Michigan and Ohio State just a few weeks ago.

Ultimately, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer would clash in both instances.

According to our numbers, the teams are quite evenly matched, but Alabama is the best team in the country by so many different standards.

At least for this year, to quote Linkin Park, in the end it doesn't even matter. Four-team playoff, eight-team playoff, 16-team playoff -- 'Bama still wins!