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Large College Football Playoff Flaw Could Be Exposed

It's not a perfect system.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

I always have and still do think a four-game playoff is better than the BCS in theory. The College Football Playoff has a lot of shared DNA with the BCS though, and it has some serious drawbacks because of it.

One of those downsides could rear its ugly head right here in the first year of the system. Hopefully it won't completely turn the public against it like how the early controversies completely undermined the BCS.

The issue comes from using bowl games as the semifinal sites. It is possible for the top two teams to get a raw deal geographically with these games, putting them at a disadvantage to the third and fourth ranked teams. It very well could happen this year.

Looking at the top of the AP Poll—which is probably a pretty good proxy for the selection committee's rankings—we see Florida State at No. 2 with SEC West teams taking up the rest of the top five. Oregon sits at No. 6. Those West teams will beat up on each other throughout the rest of the season, and whoever ends up on top is almost certainly going to win in Atlanta. Unless all of them take on at least two losses, the top two teams in the selection committee's final rankings will be Florida State and a West team in some order.

The most likely third place team given the rankings at the moment is Oregon. The Ducks have land mines ahead with Stanford, Utah, and the Pac-12 Championship Game, so they do have some chances to lose. Still, they're the cream of their conference despite the loss to Arizona. For today, let's assume they win out. Because the committee has an explicit instruction to consider conference championships, it's a fair assumption that 12-1 Oregon would hold onto that spot ahead of a second SEC West team. They'd also have priority over a one-loss Michigan State, who the Ducks beat earlier this year, and an 11-1 Notre Dame, which has a weaker strength of schedule. A 12-1 Oregon team is a lock for third.

The semifinal sites this year are the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl. Whoever is first between FSU and the West team will play the No. 4 team in the Sugar Bowl. The top ranked team gets geographic priority, period. That leaves the other of those two to travel out to Pasadena to play Oregon. In that situation, the No. 2 team would be at a geographic disadvantage to the No. 3 team despite being ranked ahead. It's not just a matter of familiarity and being far from home; the crowd would be decidedly pro-Oregon.

A Pac-12 team might have an advantage this year, but it wouldn't always. One of the semifinal pairings is the Orange and Cotton Bowls. Imagine a west coast school ends up first or second in a top four that includes Alabama, Oklahoma, and Florida State. No matter how it shakes out, that team is in a bad place. Plus none of the potential semifinal games are near Big Ten schools, and snark all you want, but that will come into play. Michigan State was a top four team last year and might be again this year, Urban Meyer will have multiple playoff contenders at Ohio State, and James Franklin might build Penn State up there.

Of course, Oregon might drop another game or two and make this moot for 2014. This year might not be the one where this flaw comes to the fore. It will at some point, though, which is why I more favor having the semifinals happen at campus sites. That plan would have plenty of controversy of its own when there is no clear line between No. 2 and No. 3, but at least that way No. 2 wouldn't be at a disadvantage to No. 3.