ESPN’s College Football Playoff Nightmare

ESPN is paying $470 million annually to broadcast the College Football Playoff, and it’s safe to say the Worldwide Leader made out pretty well in year one of the deal.

The inaugural field featured two of college football’s bluest bloods representing the SEC and Big Ten in Alabama and Ohio State. Defending national champion Florida State finished the regular season undefeated and swirling in controversy. To top it off, Oregon provided ESPN with one of the sport’s chicest teams and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

The result was a ratings bonanza for college football’s true shot-caller.

Not every year will draw so many eyeballs, though. Which raises a fun question: What would be the worst final four for ESPN that has a reasonable chance of happening in 2015?

For argument’s sake, let’s use the preseason AP Top 25 field to define the pool of candidates that qualify as “reasonable.” No Wake Forests or Kansases. Also, I’m nixing Boise State, which is No. 23 in the AP Top 25, because there’s next to no chance the selection committee is letting the Broncos in. (And, honestly, a lot of people might prefer watching Boise to the teams I picked.)

My four:


The Bears have built themselves up from one of college football’s biggest laughing stocks to one of its hottest programs. They play an entertaining brand of football. That’s about where the pluses end.

As a private, Baptist university, Baylor has an undergraduate enrollment of about 14,000 students, about 10,000 fewer than Oregon, the smallest school in the 2014 field. The city of Waco boasts a population of around 125,000 people, so the Bears don’t have much in the way of a local fan base to flaunt. (Although the word on the street is that some exciting new eateries are coming to town to entice new residents.) Lastly, Baylor has little in the way of tradition to fall back on.

Bristol would probably be pretty bearish if Art Briles’ team made the final four.


I don’t know what the Tigers did to draw the scorn of the college football world, but when I put this question to the Twittershpere, Mizzou turned out to be an overwhelming choice among the teams no one wanted to see playing for the whole enchilada.

So you got that going for you, coach Pinkel.

Georgia Tech

A playoff bid for Tech would wreck some holidays around ESPN.

Sure, Tech is located in Atlanta. On the other hand, the Yellow Jackets play in a basketball conference, and their typical home crowd is around 50,000 people. That makes sense, seeing as Tech has an undergraduate enrollment about on par with Baylor.

Magnetic showman Paul Johnson would undoubtedly do his damnedest to help drum up interest.


I also considered Michigan State and Stanford for the fourth and final spot. I left out Sparty because the school is huge and Big Ten fans do seem to enjoy football, no matter how “Big Ten Football” (read: bland) it may be. Meanwhile, Stanford has this kind of aspirational thing going where people seem to like rooting for a bunch of dudes who will eventually work for the private equity firm that buys out their employer and lays them off.

I went with ‘Zona, one of the more nondescript programs in a major conference. When I think Arizona football, I think… Desert Swarm? Nick Foles in a losing effort?

So those are my four, guaranteed to get ESPN cutting the proverbial cord. What are yours?