Baylor's Matt Rhule wants College Football Playoff restricted to league champs
Lincoln Riley and Matt Rhule don’t agree exactly on parameters for College Football Playoff inclusion. But they agree on one thing: conference championships should be valued highly.
Riley’s Sooners and Rhule’s Baylor Bears play Saturday in Arlington, Texas, in the Big 12 Championship Game. Both teams are 11-1, and the winner will be a serious contender for, but not assured of, a berth in the four-team playoff.
“I personally believe the Big 12 champion should go to the College Football Playoff year in and year out,” Rhule said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “I think the Big 12 champion should be in it. How that works out? I don’t know. I just think if you win this league and you play nine league games plus a 10th game and you play a rematch, I think that you should go have a chance to play … what good is having a national championship if it’s not national?”
Perhaps Rhule was referring to the 2017 title game, which matched Georgia and Alabama, both from the Southeastern Conference. Alabama did not even win its own division that year but was placed in the playoff and won the title.
This season, two SEC teams could make the playoff again, if fourth-ranked Georgia beats second-ranked LSU in that league’s title game Saturday.
“I trust the people on the committee to do their job,” Rhule said. “It doesn’t seem like an easy job. To me, it’s not really about Baylor. It’s about the Big 12. If any team wins the Big 12 and doesn’t get proper consideration, then to me they’re not recognizing what the league is all about.
“At the end of the day, like I said, it’s not a national championship if it’s not national. It’s really a regional championship if it’s limited to certain parts of the country.”
At his weekly press conference Monday, Riley supported not just the Big 12 champion getting in the playoff, but every Power 5 champion. That would require an expanded playoff, of course.
“That’s just not the system right now,” Riley said. “In my core, I think every Power 5 conference champion should play. But that’s neither here nor there. Now, our current system, do I believe us playing every team in our league and every championship game being one versus two should hold more weight? I do. So, as far as what happens in the future, we’ll see.”
Since the advent of the four-team playoff, the Big 12 champion has twice been denied a playoff berth. In 2014, co-champions Baylor and TCU, each 11-1, finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the final committee rankings. And in 2016, 10-2 Oklahoma was seventh in the rankings. The Sooners made it in 2015 as an 11-1 team and made it in both 2017 and 2018 as a 12-1 team. The Big 12 title game returned in 2017.
Alabama 2017 is not the only non-conference champion to make the playoff. Notre Dame, as a 12-0 independent, made the playoff in 2018. And Ohio State, 11-1, made the playoff in 2016 even though it didn’t even win the Big Ten’s East Division.
“You can’t really win the presidential election without winning the nomination, right?” Rhule said. “Probably should be a conference champion to be a national champion most of the time. So I think having conference champions in the (playoff) game is a pretty cool thing.”