"We're not a natural playoff sport", said the football coach of the ACC Coastal Division Champion Duke University Blue Devils, David Cutcliffe, prior to his squad getting smacked down by the Number One ranked ACC Atlantic Division Champion Florida State University Seminoles. "I think we can make this work with four."
Well, Dave, at every other level of football, a playoff works just fine. Aside from the FBS division, every other level of NCAA football, the NAIA, high school football, Junior College football, and even the NFL crowns their champion via a playoff. Usually every conference champion plus a number of highly ranked at-large teams competing in a playoff with anywhere between 32 and as low as 8 seeds. Sometimes a better team gets passed over for a lesser one. But to that I say, win your conference, and it's not an issue. It's like blaming the kicker for losing the game when your Defense and Offense never should have let it get that close to begin with.
There is no reason that the highest level of NCAA football cannot also determine its champion through a playoff. Some people try to make a stink about certain conferences not being strong enough for its champion to earn place just for winning and they are correct. There are currently ten FBS conference which sponsor football. Five are considered the best of the best. The other five are considered somewhat less talented, but have individual teams that occasionally play a schedule worthy of a spot at the big boy table.
To solve who should get a shot at the championship we first give a place to the champion of those conferences which have proved themselves to be superior, regardless of their ranking (It is almost impossible to win one of these conferences and not be ranked). If you can win in one of these conferences, then you have earned the right to sit at the table. Then you give a spot to the highest ranked champion of all the lower conferences combined as long as they are ranked in the Top 25. That is six automatic seeds total. Now a perfect, not too long, not too short playoff would have sixteen seeds, which would create a four week playoff schedule (Smaller weaker divisions do it, so the larger stronger boys should be able to also). That leaves ten seeds to be filled, which would be filled in order by the next highest ranked schools (This can include schools from the lower conferences if they are ranked high enough).
If this playoff format were to have been seeded this year it would have included: Florida State, Auburn, Michigan State, Stanford, Baylor, and UCF as automatic seeds. Then you would have had the remaining seeds by order of highest rankings: Alabama, Ohio State, Missouri, Oregon, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Clemson, Oklahoma State, and Arizona State. Seedings would be highest vs lowest. Alabama would not be playing Auburn again, but an easy yet tough win over, lets says, UCF. That is entire top 15. The only teams left out who would have a legitimate beef with being left out are Louisville at 11-1 and possibly even Fresno State 11-1 and Northern Illinois 12-1. But are those reasons enough to expand to more than 16 schools and more weeks of playoffs? Louisville couldn't beat UCF, Fresno State came up short against San Jose State, and NIU lost to Bowling Green. Are you going to argue that they deserve a shot? AAC champion UCF may be 11-1 but they lost to big boy SEC power South Carolina in a very close 28-25 game. Surely they can be forgiven.
This would be very competitive, very fair, and make a ton of money for the teams and conferences involved.