Expansion? With Alabama-UC and Michigan-Georgia, the four-team playoff still sells

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The College Football Playoff committee is off the hook in 2021.

No two-loss teams. Two SEC teams. The first Group of 5 team, and fresh blueblood from the Big Ten. It adds up to two stories that sell for the CFP: 

No. 4 Cincinnati meets No. 1 Alabama with the always hype-worthy David vs. Goliath motif.

No. 2 Michigan meets No. 3 Georgia in another SEC-Big Ten semifinal matchup with the North vs. South tension.

DECOURCY: Michigan caps long climb from App State with Big Ten title 

It’s the eighth year of the four-team Playoff, and, of course, everyone still wants to talk expansion. 

Expansion proponents won’t want to hear the truth about this season: Eight teams aren’t needed in 2021. No. 5 Notre Dame, the first team out, lost to No. 4 Cincinnati and didn’t play in a conference championship game. Baylor, the Big 12 champion, and Pitt, the ACC champion, each had two losses. Utah, the Pac-12 champion, had three losses. Ohio State, the best two-loss team on the board, lost to Michigan in the regular-season finale. 

The idea of a 12-team College Football Playoff expansion took root in the summer, but another round of realignment has decelerated the process. According to Sports Illustrated, “If (the CFP) wants to expand by the last two years of the current contract, 2024 and 2025, a decision must be made soon.” 

Translation: There are a lot of hurdles to overcome before expansion happens. How many teams? Is eight a viable option? Which conferences will be automatic qualifiers? How will the television networks split up the rights with the new contract? There are a lot of questions with no definitive answers, even if expansion will happen down the line. 

In the meantime, the four-team playoff still revolves around one school. 

Alabama. Expand the playoff to four, eight or 12 teams. Until Nick Saban retires, the Crimson Tide will be the team to beat. The Crimson Tide proved that one more time in the SEC championship game 41-24 on Saturday. Every national championship conversation begins with Alabama until it ends in the College Football Playoff. 

BENDER: ‘Underdog’ Alabama, Bryce Young rout No. 1 Georgia

For seven of the last eight years, that has been the case. The Crimson Tide will be the No. 1 seed for the fifth time, and Saban is going for a seventh national championship with Alabama. The Crimson Tide have yet to repeat as champions in the CFP era, but the rest of the field must overcome that history. 

Michigan hasn’t won a national championship since 1997. Jim Harbaugh finally led the Wolverines to their first Big Ten championship since 2004. Michigan’s defense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Aidan Hutchinson, allowed just 16.1 points per game. 

Georgia hasn’t won a national championship since 1980. The Bulldogs might get another shot at Alabama, but they have lost the last seven meetings against their SEC rival. The Bulldogs gave up 41 points against the Crimson Tide after allowing just 83 points in the previous 12 games. 

Cincinnati is the first Group of 5 school to make the College Football Playoff and the only 13-0 team in the field. The Bearcats will be heavy underdogs against the Crimson Tide, too. 

These were the four best teams through a 13-week season. A round of quarterfinals, even with the allure of campus, isn’t going to change that either. 

MORE: Bowl tracker for all 2021 matchups

But if the goal is to crown the best team in college football, then it’s worth knowing that the last three national champions have finished unbeaten. 

Expansion will happen, and maybe that will coincide with the end of the Saban era. Saban’s contract runs through 2028, then it might not matter. The Crimson Tide are a good bet to be in the CFP championship for the fifth time in eight seasons. In Super Bowl terms, the Patriots are the only team to do that from 2012-18. 

It is a dynasty unlike any the sport has seen in the modern era, and it has made it easier for the CFP committee to get it right. There has not been a year where the national champion did not deserve it.

That is the case in 2021. Everything worked itself out. 

Isn’t that what the four-team playoff was supposed to do?



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