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The Debate: How to determine a college football champion in 2020?

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A somewhat biased look at the best mechanism for picking a champion now that at least 2 of the Power 5 won’t be participating.

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Welcome to The Debate. Each week, this article presents a topic for discussion. Whether in the comments section, on the golf course, or around the weekend game table (with proper social distancing of course), the goal is to provide enough background that either side could be a winner. In order to facilitate the discourse, a suggested beverage pairing is also included. So speak up, mix it up, and drink up.

Last week, this article debated who would make the best non-conference game for the 2020 Heels. A few days later, the debate was put to rest when Charlotte was selected as the opponent. Thanks to some great insight from my colleagues at tarheelblog.com (credit Jake Lawrence), the 49ers made the cut for The Debate.

Would it be possible to get close to the bullseye for a second week in a row? Likely not, but that’s no deterrent when riding a wave of prognostication momentum into the weekend.

The college football landscape is literally changing by the day. While some conferences are throwing in the towel on a fall season, others are reaffirming their commitment to play. If the season does start in a month and manages to progress through the fall, the question will become: what does the college football playoff look like? Looking at the Tar Heel team and schedule, a top two finish in the conference is entirely possible so having a format where more than one team from a conference can get in would be best. Never one to shy away from a ridiculously complicated debate with no actual immediate answer, here we go.

The Debate for the week of August 15: What format would be the best for a 2020 college football playoff (as written by a Carolina fan)?

Point: No changes need.

As currently organized, a selection committee picks the top four teams in the country, seeds them, and the tournament commences. There are weekly updates through the second half of the season to see current rankings. Important factors include the conference championships, strength of schedule, and head-to-head matchups.

All of that can be used in 2020. Even though it will be difficult to come up with head-to-head comparison metrics for conference-only games or evaluate a strength of schedule that has no cross-pollination, those are not impossible tasks. A great part of any college sports ranking system is simply based on the eye test. That could actually be easier in 2020 because fewer games means an opportunity to watch a greater percentage. No fans in the stands could even theoretically provide a better glimpse of a team’s true talent versus its home field advantage.

With only three major conferences set to play, there is a high likelihood that the fourth team selected would be the second place team. For the ACC, in a division-less season, it is entirely possible that both teams could enter the Championship game with no losses (remember that Carolina and Clemson do not play in the regular season). Divisions would make such a task less likely as the two best teams could fall in the same division. In other words, just making the ACC title game could be enough for the Heels to get selected into the playoffs.

Counterpoint: This is such an odd season, it is time to test something new.

Over 50 teams are already out of the running for the playoff by virtue of their conferences not playing in the fall. I am completely disregarding any chance of a “spring” championship for purposes of this debate. So, the nation is left with about 80 teams that could win it all. The Big Ten, Pac-12, Mid-American, and Mountain West are out. Old Dominion, UConn, UMass, New Mexico State are all out as well.

Still contemplating playing are the ACC, American, Big 12, C-USA, SEC, and Sun-Belt. With Notre Dame joining the ACC for the year, only Liberty, Army, and BYU remain unaffiliated.

This year, the playoff should be expanded to 8 teams. Each conference should be allowed to select their conference championship in an manner that they see fit. Best regular season record? Conference championship game? It doesn’t matter as long as the conference has a winner.

Those six teams get automatic bids to the National Playoff. If a conference does not complete its season and does not declare a champion, then the number of automatic bids drops. The remaining teams in the bracket (the at-large sections) will be chosen by the current section committee. No more than two teams per conference will be allowed (this rule will virtually guarantee that the remaining Power 5 conferences get two teams each in the playoff).

The selection committee would then seed the teams. With many colleges completing classes by Thanksgiving this year, the selected teams will be in a geographic bubble somewhere warm. One week of practice and quarantine followed by a three week tournament. The whole thing will be over before spring classes start.

Time for you to decide! Should the college playoff just ride the same system or is it time for a new idea? What would be best for the Heels? Argue in the comments and let me know what ideas are the best!

Drink Pairing

In need of encouragement to debate – I am currently enjoying the Jim Beam Devil’s Cut. Pressed from the oak barrels, this bourbon is darker in color and carries a strong oak taste. It is delicious and very affordable like most Beam products.