Without some serious changes in the structure of I-A football, a four-team playoff will be nothing better than half as bad as the current two-team “playoff.” Here are three ideas to improve the odds of picking the four best teams.
First, require nonconference scheduling that produces valid comparisons of conferences. This doesn’t mean that the top teams in each conference have to play their top non-conference opponents, but it does require matches that produce comparisons. For example, a top team from one conference against a middling team from another; a middling team against another conference’s doormat, etc. How Oregon does against Tennessee, for example, is meaningful when compared to how SEC teams do against Tennessee. Against Nicholls State? Not so much.
Second, get over the silly notion that a win is a win is a win. Notre Dame was undefeated, but had more near misses against gimpy teams than you could shake a shillelagh at. Believing that a team that Pitt took to triple overtime could hang with Alabama makes about as much sense as believing someone who could edge me out at a 10K could hang with Galen Rupp.
Third, forget the “divisions” business within conferences and have the top two teams play for the championship. UCLA has twice played for a conference “championship” solely because their geographical latitude has smaller numbers than Oregon’s and Stanford’s. Get serious!!!
For determining which conferences are strongest, the interplay among conferences would have to give a better indication than having computer geeks play garbage-in/garbage-out in their mothers’ basements. And by having true conference championship games, you’re keeping the best teams alive. This may not be as good as an eight or sixteen team playoff, but at least it would improve the odds of getting the top four.