A Wild Card Game would be good for the sport of college football. Clearer objectives; more playoff football; no excess wear-and-tear on the athletes.
But, just because it would be desired by the whole does not mean it would be desired by the parts.
Who would benefit most from a Wild Card Game? During our 10,000 year simulation, we tracked the number of times the addition of a Wild Card Game changed the four-team playoff field.
Below is a list of the 37 teams who saw their participation change in at least 1 percent of the simulations. They are sorted by the percentage of those occasions which worked to their favor.
By far, the team most benefitting from the WCG is independent Notre Dame; note BYU at #3 too. This is largely a function of availability. For the most part the WCG takes the top two teams not in a CCG the final week. If the top is full of division champs (half of whom will lose), Notre Dame can consistently make (and with a strong team win) even from the lower half of the Top 10.
10% of the time they will be ranked #4 (good enough for the playoff but risking being jumped by a team with a 13th game), play in the WCG, and lose. But if they were to vote on adding the game this year, they’d give a resounding YES.
TCU, App St, and Oklahoma are the other teams without CCGs who would largely benefit from the WCG and for most of the same reasons. The rule is that if such a conference champion (or independent) finishes in the Top 3 before the CCGs, they will be guaranteed a playoff spot, even if they are jumped by 2 teams in the rankings who do play 13th games.
The remaining teams above all rank at the top of this list largely because they are strong teams playing in strong divisions. An 11-1 or 10-2 season means there is at least one other team who beat them already in the playoff. Rather than placing both in the playoff anyway (see LSU vs. Alabama 2011), the WCG forces them to prove “on the field” that they belong there; and these teams often win those games.
Here is the middle set of teams; those who may be on the fence about including a WCG ‘this’ year. Ohio State looks like an outlier here, being a strong team from a strong division. But in the normal simulations, Ohio State already makes the playoff as an at large more often than not. Their high talent level helps them ‘in’ those WCGs, but those seasons when they could lose the Big Ten Championship Game yet still make the playoff are no more.
For each of these teams, the WCG is a mixed bag. For every year when a win in the game propels them into the playoff there is another year when they are the team being jumped by the WCG champion. An 11-2 SEC Champion might look better than an 11-1 Michigan team, but if that Michigan team becomes 12-1 by defeating the 2nd or 3rd best SEC team… then the SEC may just sit out this year’s playoff.
In this final “third” you will find many teams who perhaps aren’t that good, who might sneak into the playoff as a #4 team on the basis of record. Giving the #5 and #6 team an extra game will, 9 times out of 10, give the committee substantial excuse to bypass that undefeated MAC team or that 12-1 Houston question mark.
Baylor and West Virginia (along with Ga Southern) find themselves in this third because the computer doesn’t really think they are that good, but that they still have decent chances to win their conference with a substantial record. The WCG, however, will force them to prove whether they are the real deal by pitting them against a likely 11-1 P5 team; more often than not these teams fail that test.
After 2 weeks, these are the Top 5 teams most likely to play in the Wild Card Game. Two teams can not re-match in the Wild Card Game unless the team which won the first game is ranked lower than the team they beat.