Before the Jan. 9 national championship game kicks off, 128 banners will enter Raymond James Stadium, one for each Division I-A team.
The four semifinalists' banners will advance, then the final two will meet near midfield. The fans will go crazy. It's a cool sight.
But it's also misleading. Some of those 128 teams don't really belong among the contenders. How else can you explain Western Michigan?
The Broncos can finish 13-0 with a win over Ohio in Friday's MAC championship. Yet they have no realistic shot at making the semifinals; the College Football Playoff selection committee put Western Michigan No. 17 in Tuesday's latest set of rankings, with no hope of cracking the top four.
No, the Broncos don't have a resume as impressive as Washington or Wisconsin. But if an undefeated conference champion doesn't have a shot at winning the national title, why bother? Why put their banner on the field at all?
The solution is simple, and one that would work well this year: Expand the playoff to eight teams.
The best teams in each Power Five league are clear, no matter what happens this weekend: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Washington and whoever wins the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game (which would have been played last weekend under an eight-team playoff). Replace the conference title games with quarterfinal matchups and give all five league champs an automatic playoff berth.
The top Group of Five team would get one, too, so Western Michigan can row the boat to the quarterfinals. The best at-large teams get the last two spots. Give the top four seeds homefield advantage for the first round to keep the meaning in the final regular-season games.
Remember this idea Saturday when you're watching 'Bama blow out Florida in the SEC Championship Game or seeing the Big Ten's third- and fourth-best teams compete for the league title.
Instead, this year's drama will take place in a hotel conference room in Grapevine, Texas, where the committee will watch the conference championships and select the four semifinalists.
But there might not be much drama after all. If No. 1 'Bama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all win their leagues, they're likely in, along with No. 2 Ohio State. With an upset or two, the Big Ten champ — either No. 6 Wisconsin or No. 7 Penn State — could join the Buckeyes in the semifinals. No. 8 Colorado (up one spot from last week) needs a win and some help.
Tuesday's rankings gave a better glimpse of teams that could be left out. Michigan fell to No. 5 and will have a very hard time climbing back. The Big 12 champ (either No. 9 Oklahoma or No. 10 Oklahoma State) seems unlikely to vault into the final four — but would be guaranteed a spot in an eight-team field.
NEW YEAR'S SIX: Florida State seems headed for a fifth consecutive New Year's Six/BCS bowl appearance. The Seminoles jumped to No. 12 and leapfrogged No. 13 Louisville as the ACC's second-best team, despite the Cardinals' 63-20 rout in September. If Clemson beats No. 23 Virginia Tech in Orlando for the ACC title and the rankings hold firm, FSU would get the ACC's spot in the Orange Bowl and a potential matchup with Michigan.
Florida might be in the mix for the Sugar Bowl, even with a loss Saturday. The Gators stayed at No. 15, one spot below Auburn. If UF looks better than the Tigers did in their 30-12 Iron Bowl loss to 'Bama, the committee might rank the Gators as the SEC's second-best team. That would send UF to New Orleans against the winner of this week's Sooners-Cowboys game.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.