Four Team Playoff Is Coming: What would it have looked like in BCS era?

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At long last a college football playoff is here.

Earlier this week in the Chicago Tribune Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany floated the idea of a college football final four with the two semifinal games on campus.

Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said: “The Big Ten is open and curious.”

Which, as quotes go, sounds like what you used to dream every freshman coed would say when you asked her if she was in to making out with other chicks.

It’s a brilliant idea, the on-campus playoff — and girls making out — but what would it actually look like?

And is Jim Delany, the ultimate in crafty negotiations, actually advocating for this position because it benefits the Big Ten more than other conferences?

Delany told the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein:

“It’s a matter of coming up with something that does not kill the baby with the bath water. We have a regular season that is vibrant. We have 12 games plus a (conference) championship game — that’s a lot of games. We have academic calendars, though that doesn’t resonate with many people. But if you’re dealing with university presidents, faculty and coaches, you’re talking about it.”

Ah, another great mixed metaphor. Hopefully drowning babies in bath water is uncommon. Even in Big Ten country. Especially given the Big Ten’s demographic disadvantages already.

We’ve had the BCS since the 1998 season so we actually have some working data as to what a four team playoff would have resembled.

That got me wondering, what would a four-team playoff featuring on campus sites have looked like in past years? Which conferences would have benefited the most? And how many cold weather Big Ten games would there actually have been?

Here are what the four team playoffs would have looked like each season using the final BCS standings:


#1 Tennessee hosts #4 Ohio State

#2 Florida State hosts #3 Kansas State


#1 Florida State hosts #4 Alabama

#2 Virginia Tech hosts #3 Nebraska


#1 Oklahoma hosts #4 Washington

#2 Florida State hosts #3 Miami


#1 Miami hosts #4 Oregon

#2 Nebraska hosts #3 Colorado


#1 Miami hosts #4 Southern Cal

#2 Ohio State hosts #4 Georgia


#1 Oklahoma hosts #4 Michigan

#2 LSU hosts #3 Southern Cal


#1 Southern Cal hosts #4 Texas

#2 Oklahoma hosts #3 Auburn


#1 Southern Cal hosts #4 Ohio State

#2 Texas hosts #3 Penn State


#1 Ohio State hosts #4 LSU

#2 Florida hosts #3 Michigan


#1 Ohio State hosts #4 Oklahoma

#2 LSU hosts #3 Virginia Tech


#1 Oklahoma hosts #4 Alabama

#2 Florida hosts #3 Texas


#1 Alabama hosts #4 TCU

#2 Texas hosts #3 Cincinnati


#1 Auburn hosts #4 Stanford

#2 Oregon hosts #3 TCU


#1 LSU hosts #4 Stanford

#2 Alabama hosts #3 Oklahoma State

By my calculations — for purposes of these numbers I considered present conference as opposed to past conference, that is Miami and Virginia Tech are in the ACC as opposed to the Big East, Nebraska is in the Big Ten as opposed to the Big 12, and TCU is in the Big 12 as opposed to an at large — the SEC would lead conferences with 14 teams, the Big 12 would have 13, the Big Ten would have ten teams, Pac 12 would have ten, the ACC would have eight, and the Big East would have one team.

How does that compare to just a BCS title game?

The Pac 12 and the Big 12 are the biggest beneficiaries. The Pac 12 has had just three title game spots, it would have added seven more teams under a four-team playoff so it would have ten total teams in a playoff.

The Big 12 with six title game spots jumps to 13 teams, again including TCU but minus Nebraska.

The Big Ten jumps from four title game spots — including Nebraska — to ten spots in a playoff.

Surprisingly, the SEC, which presently has nine title game appearances, only gains five more spots when you double the field.

The Big East gets one playoff berth — Cincinnatti — where it presently has no teams that have played for the title.

And the ACC — taking on Virginia Tech and Miami’s Big East appearances for purposes of this analysis — adds the fewest of all bids for a major conference, moving from six title game appearances to just eight overall ACC teams in a four team playoff.

So your net playoff pick-ups looks like this: Pac 12 + 7, Big 12 + 7, Big Ten + 6, SEC +5, ACC + 2, Big East +1 

Now, and this may be even more interesting, how would the 28 home playoff games on campus have broken down historically by conference:



Big 12 6

Big 10 4

Pac 12 3

For all the talk about frigid Big Ten weather, that would actually be very unlikely to impact the games. Toss in the ACC schools with the SEC, Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12, and California and fully 23 of the 28 on campus playoff games would have taken place below the Mason-Dixon line or in sunny California.

Of the other five games, Ohio State would have hosted three games, Nebraska one, and Oregon one.

So weather isn’t likely to be much of a factor in college football games played on campus. (Plus, it’s lazy to assume that all southern locales are warm in December. It’s often frigid in Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, or Georgia. The time of the kickoff is actually the biggest weather factor of all. At night it’s going to be pretty cold most places in mid-December.)

It’s also important to note that winning an on-campus playoff game just gives you the opportunity to advance to a neutral site BCS title game. It doesn’t actually “win” you anything execept the chance to play for the title.

Indeed, given all this data, it’s hard to see why anyone would oppose on campus semi-final games in a plus one system. Delany’s proposal for on-campus semi-final sites seems pretty fair and balanced. There is no reason why this shouldn’t happen.

At long last, I think we’re going to have a college football playoff.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.