Roar for expanded playoff field will get loud if undefeated team left out, Big 12 commish says

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The overwrought, overanalyzed College Football Playoff Rankings haven’t even debuted this season, yet the craziness has already begun.

It sounded a lot on Wednesday during the Big 12 basketball media day that commissioner Bob Bowlsby was making a case for undefeated UCF in the Football Four.

“If an undefeated Notre Dame doesn’t get in and an undefeated UCF that has gone two years unbeaten doesn’t get in, I think you’ll hear a … cry for that expanded playoff,” Bowlsby said.

Bowlsby had been talking in general about the dreaded “13th data point” (13th game) that doomed his conference in 2014. TCU and Baylor tied for the Big 12 title that year at 11-1 overall. Jeff Long, then the chairman of the CFP Selection Committee, said at the time that the Big 12 came up short because it didn’t play a championship game — that “13th data point.” Following the last day of the season, TCU dropped from No. 3 to No. 6, allowing Ohio State into the field. The Buckeyes eventually won the first CFP National Championship.

“Notre Dame is going to be the same situation TCU was in,” Bowlsby told a small group of reporters. “They aren’t going to have a [league championship], and they aren’t going to have a 13th data point. How does the committee manage that?”

No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 10 UCF, both currently 7-0, can play only 12 games this season. Notre Dame is an independent with no championship game. UCF lost a game to Hurricane Florence and would only play a 12th game if it advances to the AAC Championship Game for the second straight year. That is certainly the Knights’ expectation.

One of the top protocols considered by the selection committee is championships won. Each of the 10 FBS conferences stages a championship game. The selection committee’s charge, though, is to select the four best teams for the playoff. There is no question the pressure has been building to expand the bracket.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former selection committee member, told CBS Sports in August he favors a six-team bracket. Long recently told CBS Sports that a six-team field is “more feasible than eight” should the playoff one day expand. “It might be the progression that takes place. Clearly, I do think four is the right number,” he added.

UCF would have a 25-game winning streak if it makes it to pick ’em day on Dec. 1. The committee is only supposed to consider each team’s accomplishments that particular year.

“But when you look at it and when they haven’t lost for two years, I think there will legitimate arguments raised and some of them may be politically driven,” Bowlsby said.

Bowlsby is referring to legal threats previously made by Utah senator Orrin Hatch in 2004 after Utah, under Urban Meyer, went undefeated and didn’t play in the BCS Championship Game. Instead, the Utes went to the Fiesta Bowl where they defeated Pittsburgh.

“At the time it happened to Utah, Orrin Hatch was outspoken that maybe there ought to be some legislation that would prevent it from happening,” Bowlsby said. “I don’t think anybody wants that to happen, but I think there will be lots of conversation about it.”

UCF would be the first Group of Five school to make the CFP. It finished 12th at 12-0 in the final CFP Rankings last season despite being FBS’ only remaining undefeated team. The case against the Knights usually comes back to schedule strength, which CBS Sports bowls expert Jerry Palm contends will prevent UCF from getting a playoff bid.

The school claimed a “national championship” last year after defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl. The top Group of Five champion — as judged by the selection committee — is selected for a New Year’s Six bowl.

“The thing you have to remember is the polls that are out right now don’t mean anything,” Bowlsby said. “The other is, until we see the last poll, it really doesn’t matter much.”

In each of the last three seasons, a team that played only 12 games made the playoff, including Oklahoma, the 2015 Big 12 champion. None of those teams were undefeated.

The Big 12 is in the second year of its reconstituted conference championship game. It is the only conference that purposefully matches the top two teams in the league in a guaranteed rematch.

“You’re asking 13 honest people to go into a room and decide who the best four teams are,” Bowlsby said of the selection committee. “But the commissioner group has said we think conference championships are important. The committee has said the 13th data point is important.” 

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