Heisman winner Joe Burrow took the shotgun snap, dropped back a quick two steps, and quickly found Thaddeus Moss streaking up the left sideline. Burrow floated a perfect pass, hitting Moss in stride as he took it the rest of the way for a 62-yard touchdown pass. The play capped a 2-play, 75 yard scoring drive and gave LSU an 42-14. After Oklahoma had finally drawn within 35-14, ending a 28-0 LSU run, Burrow and his squad sent a message: There would be no comeback today.
The tweets began rolling in. Oklahoma didn’t belong. The playoff should not be expanded. Why was Oklahoma even in the Playoff to start with? Dan Wolken wrote a piece, detailing why the final score of 63-28 indicated that there ought be no expansion from four teams. But, actually, the opposite is true.
As Nathaniel Lapoint, Andrew Degeorge, and Cal Christoforo discussed in the “College Kids Talking College Sports” podcast after the semifinals, Oklahoma was in the playoff because the current format allowed no other option. It has become apparent that a 1-loss Power-5 champion is almost certainly guaranteed a spot in the playoff. This stresses the inequity of the conferences – Oklahoma steamrolls the Big 12 year after year, only to be blasted on the national stage. After collapsing versus Georgia in 2017, the Sooners have laid a pair of eggs in their past two semifinal appearances. Oklahoma proved themselves against one other ranked team; that team happened to be Baylor, who also took advantage of the disgustingly mediocre Big 12 conference to post an 11-2 record, with both losses to Oklahoma. Yet Oklahoma, taking advantage of this horrible competition with virtually no defense, emerges triumphant and steals the last spot in the playoffs, where they have proved themselves completely unworthy.
“Put Alabama in the SEC – they won’t lose to Kansas State”, Lapoint argued in the podcast.
That the SEC is a better and deeper conference than the Big 12 in an objective fact. Behind
LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Florida, the SEC boasts a top-5 that could probably take down the Big 12 champion. Maybe not every time, but I believe all five teams would be favorites in a matchup with the Sooners. Even outside the SEC, there’s teams that probably would have put up a better fight than Oklahoma. Oregon, who outside a baffling loss to Arizona State, was one of the best teams in the country and beat Auburn. Wisconsin, who lost to Oregon by 1 and led Ohio State at halftime. Penn State, who was the first team to seriously challenge Ohio State. All of these teams likely would put up a better fight than the Sooners did versus Oklahoma, yet were left outside the Playoff picture.
So why is this evidence for expansion? Because, maybe, with expansion, we don’t even get that LSU-Oklahoma final. In a 16-team playoff, the Sooners would have had to take on #13 Alabama in the first round. They likely would not have even survived. Remember the 46-41 classic between Burrow and the Crimson Tide? That would be a savory semifinal matchup? LSU, assuming their first round win, would play the winner of Wisconsin-Florida in the quarterfinals. Wisconsin nearly knocked off Ohio State and the Gators are the only team to have led LSU in the second half at any point this season. Notre Dame, one of the hottest teams in the nation to conclude their season, gets a chance to stun the world and beat Ohio State. Toss an Auburn-Georgia first round matchup, a potential Clemson-Oregon quarterfinal, and a few other juicy matchups, and you’ve got a Playoff well worth watching.
But instead we have this system. A lackluster four-team system that so often forces the committee to select a team clearly not on par with the elite teams in the nation. An expanded playoff reduces the weight of these clearly unequal conferences and gives many teams who deserve to be in the conversation a chance.
You may get an occasional blowout here and there, but that’s already happening. Every single Playoff as seen one semifinal decided by at least 17 points, and 5 of the 6 Playoffs have had a game decided by 25+. The current system is dreadfully inadequate at picking exciting Playoff matchups.
Oklahoma’s semifinal dud may seem like a reason to keep the number of playoff teams at four. But in reality, it did the opposite. It clearly showed why the NCAA must expand the playoff as soon as possible. Because let’s be honest: Do you really want to see a 1-loss Oklahoma team lose be manhandled by the SEC in the semifinals again next year?