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An eight-team College Football Playoff would’ve been perfect this year

College Football kickoff: Week 14

Notre Dame and Stanford would have had strong cases to be included in an eight-team playoff. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)
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There’s a chance — and a decent one at that — that the four-team College Football Playoff field will be fairly easy to sort out.

An undefeated Clemson team would be an obvious choice if it beats North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. Alabama is a safe bet so long as it handles offense-challenged Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship. Oklahoma, maybe the most impressive team since midseason, is in the clubhouse at 11-1. And the Big Ten final between Iowa and Michigan State is a de facto quarterfinal.

Playoff scenarios: Long-shot hopes for Ohio State and Stanford

That a four-team playoff is an improvement over the Bowl Championship Seres was never in question. While it’s amusing to think of what might have happened if a 12-1 Alabama team was compared to a 13-0 Iowa bunch for a spot opposite Clemson, it’s ultimately meaningless. College football’s postseason structure isn’t going to shrink now.

But there’s always the temptation to wonder how things might look in the next generation of the format. That’s clearly an eight-team playoff, and whether it comes in 2020 (as a reworking at the midpoint of the current structure’s 12-year deal), 2026 or some other time, it’s probably bound to happen.

This season offers a compelling example of how a larger field could potentially satisfy more constituents than the current system. And perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates there can be years when the difference between No. 4 and No. 8 might not be too vast.

For starters, No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2) finds itself outside the playoff structure but — barring a North Carolina upset of Clemson — should finish in the top eight should the committee’s ranking rationale remain constant (granted, that’s hardly a given). The Irish lost by two points on the road to both Clemson and Stanford, so it would presumably be competitive in a three-week playoff.

There’s also the matter of including every power conference champion, something that by definition cannot happen in a four-team setup. The Big 12 drew the short straw last year. This year, the Pac-12 will probably get shut out, though Stanford harbors long-shot hopes entering the weekend. With an eight-team playoff, the Cardinal would be vying for a spot in the quarterfinals in Saturday’s league title game.

The biggest winner with an eight-team format this year, amusingly enough, would be the Big Ten. Presuming a competitive conference title game and a Clemson victory, longtime playoff opponent Jim Delany would be looking at having three playoff teams (Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State) as opposed to the one the Big Ten is most likely to land (though Ohio State slipping in isn’t impossible).

This, of course, is one big hypothetical. But just as it wasn’t difficult to envision a semifinal setup during the BCS days, it’s not too tough a task to try to apply what feels like an inevitable future structure to the present.

EARLY COACHING CAROUSEL WINNERS

Bill Cubit. The season-long interim coach at Illinois got the job on a semi-permanent basis over the weekend, prior to the Illini losing to Northwestern to finish the year 5-7. It’s semi-permanent because (a) relatively speaking, nothing is permanent and (b) the former Western Michigan coach got a two-year, $2.4 million deal. The cost of making a change even after next year is negligible.

And for those wondering why Illinois would go that route, it has an interim president, interim provost and interim athletic director. It also has a bottom-half-of-the-Big-Ten football job. The odds of luring a high-end coach to Champaign weren’t great, so this kicks the can down the road a year avoids the significant risk of setting the program back three or four years.

Iowa State. It’s debatable whether viewing the carousel as a race to get a good coach is especially prudent. It’s not as if there aren’t quality coaches willing to jump at the right job, whether it opens around Halloween or Christmas. But credit Cyclones AD Jamie Pollard for striking quickly to nab Toledo’s Matt Campbell. Iowa State might or might not climb out of the bottom tier of the Big 12, but it got a young, well-regarded option and hired a sitting head football coach for the first time since 1986.

Mark Richt. Assuming the plethora of reports Wednesday are true, Richt lasted about 72 hours on the open market before Miami scooped him up. Richt won plenty over 15 years at Georgia, and at 55 has enough time for another strong run. He trades the winnable SEC East for the even more winnable ACC Coastal, and he’ll have little trouble finding players in South Florida. Miami isn’t the juggernaut it once was, but Richt could find himself churning out nine- and 10-win seasons again fairly soon.

Kirby Smart. The Nick Saban acolyte and the defensive coordinator for three national champions at Alabama had the luxury of waiting to take a good job. If he does ultimately agree to terms with Georgia, he’ll have a good job — arguably one of the 10 best nationally.

Virginia Tech. The track record — from getting Tommy Tuberville to leave Texas Tech for Cincinnati and luring basketball Coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to Virginia Tech — suggested Whit Babcock would make a hire that was tough not to like. Getting up-and-comer Justin Fuente from Memphis was a more conventional choice, though still a good one, and finding a way to maintain continuity and massage egos with the retention of defensive coordinator Bud Foster could smooth the transition after nearly three decades of Beamerball in Blacksburg.

EARLY COACHING CAROUSEL LOSERS

Joe Alleva. Still Louisiana State’s athletic director after remaining ominously quiet as Les Miles twisted in the wind for more than a week … at least until it was decided Miles would remain. Given the plotting in Baton Rouge, that decision rather clearly occurred at a pay grade higher than Alleva’s. One thing’s for sure: It would cost the Tigers a lot less to buy out Alleva than it would have been to send Miles packing.

Pat Haden. The Southern California AD fired Lane Kiffin at the airport, hired Steve Sarkisian without fully vetting him (as the Los Angeles Times so effectively demonstrated earlier this year), fired Sarkisian a day into a leave of absence and then ultimately decided to stick with interim coach Clay Helton after a strong finish. It might work out, but given the recent track record, it’s understandable why there might be some anxiety.

To critics of this move, Helton’s greatest fault doesn’t appear to be that he’s a relatively anonymous hire, it’s that he’s the choice of the man in charge. Hardly a vote of confidence for the leadership of the Southern Cal athletic department.

Memphis. Suffered the fate most schools would in its position — lost its rising coach, Fuente, to a bigger school. The Tigers won 19 games over the last two years, and Fuente ends a streak of eight consecutive Memphis coaches to depart with a losing record. Few schools face a more critical hire than the Tigers do in the coming days.

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