March Madness 2020: Predicting a 64-team College Football Playoff

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In honor of the upcoming basketball March Madness festivities, let’s imagine what a 64-team college football playoff would have looked like in 2019.

There’s been much discussion about an eventual expansion of the College Football Playoff beyond its current format of four teams. That won’t happen for a few years, at least, due to media-rights deals, and some would argue that an expansion isn’t necessary at all.

Let’s imagine a highly unlikely scenario, though, in which 64 football teams (akin to a 68-team NCAA Division I Tournament, minus the play-in games) qualify for a winner-take-all playoff.

The benefits are obvious: Any NCAA Division I football team begins the season with a chance to win the national championship. FCS teams are included from a 256-school pool in which every conference champion qualifies for the playoff. In addition, the excitement from fan bases around the country would abound as their team advances through the playoff. And finally, the number of meaningless bowl games at the end of the season would decrease.

To determine seedings of the top 64 football teams in Division I from 2019, I used the final regular-season CFP standings to determine seedings and the final regular-season AP poll to resolve tie-breaking between teams.

A total of 10 FBS conferences and 13 FCS conferences get automatic bids, and the remaining 41 spots are given to at-large teams. The last couple at-large bids (typically No. 12 and No. 13 seeds) were a judgment call. Call it the “last four in” from the bubble watch, if you will.

The rules

  1. Each conference champion is granted an automatic bid to this fictitious 64-team Division I playoff.
  2. Four regions will be used. First and second rounds take place at the home field of the higher-seeded team, and the Regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite Eight) take place at the designated major bowl game site similar to the “New Year’s Six” sites.
  3. The Final Four would rotate in different locations each year.
  4. Teams from the same conference cannot be in the same ‘pod’ of four teams.
  5. The overall Nos. 1 through 4 teams would be seeded (so that the best-ranked and the second-ranked team overall would be on separate sides of the bracket).

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