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Kirby Smart makes the case for expanding College Football Playoff to 12 teams

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Kirby Smart and Luke Fickell both know what it’s like to have a great team be excluded from the College Football Playoff.

Smart’s 2018 team went 11-2 prior to the announcement of the four teams and went toe-to-toe with what had been considered a dominant Alabama team in an SEC championship game defeat. The College Football Playoff committee decided to take a one-loss Oklahoma instead.

The Sooners fell behind 28-0 to that very same Alabama team before rallying to make it a more respectable 45-34 defeat.

As for Fickell’s Cincinnati team, the one that Georgia will play on Friday, the Bearcats went undefeated in the AAC this season. They have the No. 1 defense in the country in terms of yards allowed per play. They rank 11th in yards per play on the offensive side of the ball and 15th in scoring offense.

Yet in the final College Football Playoff rankings this year, the Bearcats finished behind a three-loss Florida team.

It’s becoming more clear that something must change when it comes to deciding which teams get to play in the College Football Playoff and thus which teams play for a title.

“It’s harder and harder every year to agree it’s decided on the field because there’s somebody arguably that’s left out,” Smart said in a Zoom press conference with reporters before Friday’s Peach Bowl.

Smart brought up the 2017 season where Georgia did make the College Football Playoff after winning the SEC championship game. Alabama didn’t have to play in that game and still made the playoff before beating Georgia in the national title game. Smart presented the argument that the one fewer game ended up helping Alabama win the national title this season.

While Cincinnati went unbeaten against a nine-game schedule, albeit one filled with Group of 5 teams due to the cancellation of its non-conference schedule, Ohio State made the College Football Playoff playing just six games this season. The Buckeyes will take on Clemson on Friday night.

Smart used that 2017 Alabama team as another example. The Crimson Tide won the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed. The Buckeyes did the same thing in 2014, the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Given that some years there are clearly more than four deserving teams to make the College Football Playoff, Smart pontificated about how to fix what is seemingly the sport’s biggest problem.

The Georgia head coach laid out a pretty convincing case for not just eight-team but a 12-team playoff.

One that also rewards the best teams in the country as well.

“If we were going to do it, I would be in favor of saying let’s go to 12, have eight teams play out, maybe the first four get a bonus or a bye or something like that,” Smart said. “I would just rather go further than eight if we’re going to do it.”

“If they did that, somebody within that back five, six, seven, eight is going to win a national championship at some point. That’s giving everybody a realistic shot.”

If Smart’s model were to be used this year, the Bulldogs and Bearcats would still end up playing each other in the first round, as Cincinnati finished the season ranked at No. 8 and Georgia at No. 9.

Smart’s scenario would also very likely keep more players engaged through the bowl games. The Bulldogs have had five players opt-out of the bowl game to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Florida —which lost 55-20 against Oklahoma on Wednesday — saw similar levels of opt-outs, including its top three pass-catchers.

Those players are still playing if a title is still attainable at this point in the season. While Fickell didn’t go as far as Smart did in advocating for expansion, he did say that it would benefit the players.

“I don’t think we expand just to try to include everybody, but maybe to expand because it’s going to keep the kids and the players more involved,” Fickell said. “Which gives our programs a better opportunity to have the success and at least finish off the season the way you’d want to as a whole.”

Georgia and Cincinnati will play at 12 p.m. in Atlanta on Friday. It should be an exciting game, one of the best of bowl season. Georgia and Cincinnati are clearly two of the best teams in the country.

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