LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron celebrate after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Atlanta. LSU won 37-10.
Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore
Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore

Weekend Reflections: CFP expansion still needed 

What I think about some things I saw over the weekend . . .

This is one of those years that some people seem to believe the College Football Playoff is fine with four teams. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma are in and those left out aren’t worthy, anyway. That includes three teams that lost their conference championship games (Georgia, Wisconsin and Baylor), Pac-12 champion Oregon and American champion Memphis. 

I still don’t see it that way. Eight is the logical size for the playoff field. Six automatic bids would include the Power Five champions and the best team from the Group of Five. The committee awards two at-large bids and determines playoff seeding. Three weeks of playoffs to determine a true champion, like every other major North American sports league. 

This year’s top four wouldn’t change much under my proposed format. But an eight-team CFP field would include Memphis, the highest-ranked Group of Five team. It would include two from among Georgia, Wisconsin Baylor or Utah or any other team that the committee deems worthy. 

One objection to that outcome is that it could set up rematches of Power Five conference championship games. That’s an easy fix. Just drop the conference title games. That solution also dispenses of another possible objection, too many games in a season. 

That’s one reason an eight-team playoff is unlikely. The Power Five leagues like the money from the conference championship games. The exception may be the Pac-12 , which is moving its game to Las Vegas next year because of poor attendance in Santa Clara, Calif. 

Another obstacle to an eight-team playoff is that a shorter regular-season schedule could mean major programs must drop one of their so-called guarantee games. They make money by paying an over-matched opponent to take a beating. That’s assuming it doesn’t backfire, like Tennessee vs. Georgia State. 

I think those objections and others could be papered over by an even more lucrative windfall for an eight-team playoff. ESPN is paying $7.2 billion over 12 years for the rights to broadcast CFP games. Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson once predicted that an eight-team CFP could be worth $10 billion over the same time period. 

An eight-team CFP would have more national appeal for ESPN. It’s been dominated by teams from the South over five years, and Clemson and LSU are favored to advance to the championship game this season. Former Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas told CBS Sports that low ratings for the LSU-Alabama BCS championship game in 2012 spurred executives to begin discussing a playoff. 

ESPN’s current CFP deal expires after 2026. Here’s hoping that competitive pressures and greed lead to an expanded playoff before then. 

Weak NFC South gives Falcons hope for 2020 

The schedule was one good reason to think the Falcons might make the playoffs this season. It was plausible that if they were even marginally better they could win at least three games against NFC South foes Carolina and Tampa Bay while finding six or seven wins among their other 12 games. 

It didn’t turn out that way because the Falcons (4-9) regressed. It could be worse. They could be the Panthers (5-8). 

Carolina’s five consecutive losses include one to awful Washington and two to the Falcons by an aggregate score of 69-23. Quarterback Cam Newton’s future is uncertain because of injuries and replacement Kyle Allen isn’t the answer. Carolina’s expensive defense has become a sieve. 

The Falcons have their own issues. But they can find some hope for 2020 in winning three of their last five games with significant contributions from young players. That’s key because of their tight salary cap for 2020. 

And the Falcons have good players among their highly-paid veterans. Two are at important positions: quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. Grady Jarrett is a force at defensive tackle and Deion Jones is among the league’s best linebackers. 

The Panthers have a better cap situation than the Falcons because they can gain about $19 million in relief by moving on from Newton. They’ll have a new coach after firing Ron Rivera last week. But they are pot committed to their defense. 

Carolina has the league’s worst run defense despite four players in the front seven accounting for about 20 percent of its cap: defensive end Gerald McCoy and linebackers Luke Kuechly, Mario Addison and Shaq Thompson. The projected 2020 salaries for Kuechly and defensive end Kawann Short will take up about 17 percent of the cap. 

The Falcons could find a soft division again in 2020. The Saints (10-3) will be good for as long as Drew Brees is good, but I suspect they aren’t as good as they seem this season (just plus-48 in point differential). This bad Falcons team earned a season split with the Saints, who got dominated in New Orleans and weren’t sharp while winning the rematch. 

The Buccaneers have won three straight games, including a 35-22 road victory over the Falcons, but they also won’t be going to the playoffs. They’ll need a new quarterback if they finally move on from Jameis Winston. It’s hard to find a good one. If the Bucs stick with Winston then the turnover machine will keep churning. 

A weak division was one reason to think the Falcons could make the playoffs this season. It didn’t work out that way. But the so-so South could be a reason to believe the Falcons will be back in the postseason again next year. 

My Weekend Predictions were 5-7-1 

I can’t blame bad luck for my fourth losing week of the season. I thought the betting public was underestimating Georgia, but it turns out I was wildly overestimating the Bulldogs. Watching Devonta Freeman run all over the Panthers felt like taking my medicine for backing the visitors as three-point underdogs. 

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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