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Nebraska Football

College Football Playoff Provides Plenty to Debate, Even at Big Ten Media Days

July 23, 2018
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CHICAGO — "My opinion for whatever it's worth is that eight is the best."

When it comes to the College Football Playoff, Nebraska coach Scott Frost hasn't held back on his opinion. The former Central Florida coach wants it to expand to eight teams, including the five Power Five conference champions and three at-large bids.

Plenty agree with him. Plenty don't. One person not on board with expansion?

"How do we move it to eight?" Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday. "I would argue right now that the conference championship games are your eight. Right? You've got to win that game to get to the playoff, so there's your eight. Now that doesn't help Notre Dame."

Or, Central Florida.

Frost's former team was undefeated in 2017. A perfect season without a bye week for rest. It inspired many — especially Frost — to speak out in favor of playoff expansion, especially if a team like UCF had a chance.

"You watch the Sweet 16 and every year there is a 12-seed that is there that nobody expected to be there," Frost said. "Let's say we went 1-3 in our first three games and then caught fire in the West [Division] and we're firing on all cylinders and playing as well as anyone in the country and we go to the Big Ten Championship and beat an undefeated team from the East. Do we deserve to go? I think so.

"We won the conference, but they probably [deserve to go] too because they were undefeated and [then] only lost one game, and they would probably get one of the three at-large spots. I think that creates excitement. It makes games matter for everybody, including the team catching fire at the end. I think it gives you some underdogs that would make college football more fun."

Fun, sure, but Fitzgerald's not convinced. He's a big beliver in strength of schedule, which takes a knock at a team like UCF's chances at a playoff-berth.

"I'm not sure how a Group of Five team is going to get in there," Fitzgerald said. "I'm just being honest. How does that happen without them playing four Power Five teams and beating the you-know-what out of all four of them. I just don't know if their strength of schedule [is enough], and you could say whether that's fair or not. That's just what it is."

Frost and Fitzgerald might not agree on playoff expansion, but they do agree the road to the playoff isn't paved equally for everyone. The Big Ten and Pac-12, for example, play nine conference games per year. As for the SEC and ACC? Only eight.

"I think you have to absolutely have blinders on not to see the SEC and ACC are going to be over-represented in the College Football Playoff every year because they play eight and the Pac-12 and Big Ten beat themselves up and play an extra game," Frost said. "It's inevitable if you play an extra conference game that half of your schools are going to have one more loss at the end of the year. That hurts you, it hurts your rankings, it hurts your pre-season rankins for the next year because you had another loss the year before, it makes your games not count as much because you're not playing ranked teams, and those things need to be balanced out.

"It needs to be a level playing field for everybody and I think that will help us have the best teams in the playoff."

Fitzgerald agrees. 

"We have five conferences that all play different levels of conference games," Fitzgerald said. "When you look at all the data points, they're pretty much the same besides that one. I would like to see a conversation of that being uniformed. That would be the only negative in my mind because everything else you're in control of.

You control who you schedule, you control whether you win or lose, and if you win football games and your strength of schedule is where it should be, you're going to be in the playoff. And if you don't win games and you don't have a great schedule, you shouldn't be in the playoff."

If there's one other thing the coaches agree on, it's that they hope the conversation continues. They may not agree on expansion, but they do see eye-to-eye in other areas surrounding the playoff.

And on a July day from a hotel on Chicago's Michigan Ave., the conversation continued. 

"The cool thing about college football is we can talk about this stuff," Fitzgerald said.

 
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