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FBS coaches sound off on college football’s ‘legitimate problem’



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A total of six schools have combined for 23 of 28 Playoff appearances, and three schools have 17 of 21 possible playoff wins. 

Is this phenomenon cyclical or a legitimate problem for college football?

Sporting News polled FBS coaches with that question, and more than 80 percent of the responses said the sport has a major issue. 

“This is a legitimate problem for college football,” one FBS coach said. “There is a huge gap between four-to-five schools and everyone else. Having more parity would increase excitement and interest across the country.” 

RELATED: Sporting News Coaches Survey for 2021

Who are those six schools? Clemson and Alabama have six CFP appearances each. Ohio State and Oklahoma have four each. Notre Dame has two, and Georgia is one of the six schools with one appearance. 

Those schools hold six of the top seven spots in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll. 

“The rich get richer,” another FBS coach said. “With the current landscape in college football you have the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ and there are a handful of schools that have the upper hand on everybody due to budget, brand and recruiting base. That is just the way it is right now. The NFL has a much better model, there is more parity there with salary caps and things like that.”

That select group of “haves” is dominating the sport like never before. It’s not just about College Football Playoff appearances. 

It’s also about hoarding the conference championships in the Power 5. Clemson and Oklahoma have won six straight conference titles in the ACC and Big 12, respectively. Ohio State has won four straight Big Ten championships, and Oregon has back-to-back Pac-12 championships. That does not even count Alabama, which won its sixth national championship under Nick Saban last season. 

There has not been that kind of one-sided dominance across the Power 5 since 2008. Here is a look at the Power 5 conference champions since the start of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998. This chart illustrates the point that the sport has not had this many dynasties within the conferences at the same time (parentheses for number of consecutive conference titles):  

Power 5 conference champions since 1998

YEAR BIG TEN ACC SEC PAC-12 BIG 12
1998 Michigan/Ohio State/Wisconsin Florida State, Georgia Tech Tennessee UCLA Texas A&M
1999 Wisconsin (2) Florida State (2) Alabama Stanford Nebraska
2000 Michigan/Northwestern/Purdue Florida State (3) Florida Washington, Oregon, Oregon State Oklahoma
2001 Illinois Maryland LSU Oregon (2) Colorado
2002 Iowa/Ohio State Florida State Georgia Washington State, USC Oklahoma
2003 Michigan Florida State (2) LSU USC (2) Kansas State
2004 Michigan (2), Iowa Virginia Tech Auburn USC (3) Oklahoma
2005 Ohio State, Penn State Florida State Georgia USC (4) Texas
2006 Ohio State (2) Wake Forest Florida USC (5), California Oklahoma
2007 Ohio State (3) Virginia Tech LSU USC (6), Arizona State Oklahoma (2)
2008 Ohio State (4), Penn State Virginia Tech (2) Florida USC (7) Oklahoma (3)
2009 Ohio State (5) Georgia Tech Alabama Oregon (1) Texas
2010 Michigan State, Wisconsin Virginia Tech Auburn Oregon (2) Oklahoma
2011 Wisconsin (2) Clemson LSU Oregon (3) Oklahoma State
2012 Wisconsin (3) Florida State Alabama Stanford Kansas State, Oklahoma
2013 Michigan State Florida State (2) Auburn Stanford (1) Baylor
2014 Ohio State Florida State (3) Alabama Oregon Baylor (2), TCU
2015 Michigan State Clemson Alabama (2) Stanford Oklahoma
2016 Penn State Clemson (2) Alabama (3) Washington Oklahoma (2)
2017 Ohio State Clemson (3) Georgia USC Oklahoma (3)
2018 Ohio State (2) Clemson (4) Alabama Washington Oklahoma (4)
2019 Ohio State (3) Clemson (5) LSU Oregon Oklahoma (5)
2020 Ohio State (4) Clemson (6) Alabama Oregon (2) Oklahoma (6)

So it’s not a surprise Sporting News 2021 College Football Playoff picks are Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Okahoma. Somehow, those four schools haven’t all made the CFP in the same season, but they remain the best bets to win their conferences in 2021. 

The reason is their conference dominance. Among Power 5 programs, those four schools have the four-best records in conference play:

TEAM RECORD PCT
Ohio State 58-4 .935
Alabama 59-5 .922
Clemson 58-5 .921
Oklahoma 56-10 .849

Source: TeamRankings.com 

Who else would you pick to win those conferences in 2021?  

“There is not enough variety of teams participating,” one FBS coach said. “The system presents a high barrier to entry which results in the majority of elite players going to a small number of schools, which furthers the problem.”

At this point, the cycle is running longer than expected. Is there a viable solution? 

The proposal to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams is a potential answer.

“As long as the rules are the way they are, there will continue to be discrepancies,” one coach said. “But when you get to 12 playoff spots, there will legitimately be 20 teams in the country that have an actual shot at those 12 spots.”

Another coach said: “This is being addressed with the new 12-team College Football Playoff model.”

That is the working theory, and the transfer portal, NIL and realignment have been hot topics throughout the 2021 offseason. There are no plans to expand the CFP the next two seasons, however, and that means the sport could be stuck with more of the same.

For the rest of the FBS, it is best to confront that legitimate problem head on in the short term.

“It’s not great for college football as a whole,” one Power 5 coach said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the job of those not in that group to up their level and make it more difficult for those teams to get there.”




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