Continuing a tradition for many years, here is a 16-team bracket for the college football tournament we should be watching, alongside fewer than 40 bowl games, if America's most popular college sport was conducted even remotely like all the others. 


Yes, improvements have been made from where we have been. With three undefeated and powerhouse teams this year in defending-champion Clemson, recently elevated LSU, and previous #1 Ohio State, how exactly would the former two-team BCS system have established a single championship game? It seems most likely that the defending champion would not be permitted to defend their title despite a winning streak exceeding two dozen consecutive games!

In contrast, the four teams seemed to fall more easily into place this year. It is just a matter of time, though, before a similar problem hits a system where at least five conferences are annually being shoved into four slots, and that presumes there is any validity in concepts like "power 5" and "group of 5" conference designations. More on that in a moment.

First, a couple of notes on this year's bracket. I took the liberty of making some "selection committee" decisions. I moved Oregon up to a 5-seed over Georgia to avoid a potential semi-final rematch of the SEC Championship. I'm not sure LSU-Georgia was great competition the first time, and I'd only want to see a repeat if those were the only teams left standing. I also shifted the 9-10-11 spots where Florida, Penn State, and Utah originally landed. Again, it was all about avoiding early-round rematches. The bracket benefits from those subtle moves.

In recent years, I have reacted to the de facto segregation of FBS, or what we use to call 1A football, into "power" and non-power silos by generating separate brackets. I'm continuing that tradition this year with the NIT v. NCAA distinction, to make an apt comparison to the annual basketball tournaments. What I'm calling NIT is all "group of 5" and it leaves another 8-team bracket for just the "power 5" schools.


For many, this will have the attractive feature of 8-team brackets rather than 16. I've never found 16 to be a problem, but I know that some do. Perhaps it also generates more competitive early-round matches by maintaining the pretense of relative conference power. While the top bracket, which I prefer, includes the winners of all FBS conferences with 6 at large teams, two separate 8-team brackets increases the playoff representation beyond none or just one for "group of 5" schools. This also puts more traditional-conference powers into the bowl games, with only three at-large teams. The best 8 in the "NCAA" version is simply the three strongest teams after all the "power 5" conference champions are given automatic qualification.

I know there are some who, oddly, pine for the "good old days" when all we had was exhibition play in the form of bowl games and a mythical national champion. My answer is unchanged. Following the 1983 college football season, the game I desperately wanted to see was the best offence in the country (Nebraska) against the best defense in the country (Texas), and I still want to see that game despite both teams narrowly losing in bowl games.

Perhaps it was never to be. Maybe Nebraska losing at Miami and Georgia shocking Texas is a sign that neither team could have navigated a tournament like this one to arrive in a final. If so, I'd suggest that the reason would be even better, perhaps something like North Carolina State upsetting Houston in March Madness just a year or so later. 

The fact that we will never know should not stop us from pushing for a better solution, one that wouldn't leave Clemson out of a chance to defend their title, one that wouldn't use conference tie-ins like the Rose Bowl's from preventing the #1 teams in two different polls from settling the unanswered Nebraska-Michigan controversy from 1997. We can do better than we are today, and it is so obvious that you'd swear defenders of current and previous schemes for football must never watch the college basketball tournament each year -- deeming March Madness to be mere nonsense instead.

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