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SPORTS DIGEST: College football needs to expand its playoff system

I was never a fan of the Bowl Championship Series, the system college football used to select a champion from 1998 to 2014.

The system used various football polls and computer rankings to match the top two teams in the country in a national championship game after the bowl season was over.

It produced more controversies than clear-cut champions in the 17 years it was used and I was happy in 2015 when the College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament, replaced the BCS championship game, even though the powers-that-be in college football should have made it an eight-team (or a 16-team) tournament.

We found out why more teams are needed Dec. 3, when this year’s participants in the CFP tournament were announced.

Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia all belong in the tournament. They went through their seasons defeating just about every team in their path, won their conference championships and thus deserved a chance to advance to the tournament.

But with only four available spots in the tournament, the fourth team — Alabama — did not belong in the tournament. Not when conference champions like Ohio State and USC were left on the outside looking in.

Granted, Alabama only lost one game all season. That was against Auburn in the next to last week of the season.

Auburn was a highly ranked team most of the season, and if Auburn had defeated Georgia in the Dec. 2 Southeast Conference championship I might not be making this argument.

But win Auburn beat Alabama Nov. 25, it prevented the Crimson Tide from playing for a conference championship and to me, that should be the most important criteria for making the tournament: winning your conference title.

Alabama didn’t, therefore Alabama shouldn’t be in the tournament.

Alabama supporters point out that Alabama only lost one game all season while Ohio State and USC both lost twice. Point taken, but USC and Ohio State both played a much tougher schedule than Alabama.

Ohio State played (and lost to) Oklahoma early in the season in a major matchup between two national powers.

USC played (and lost to) Notre Dame, another matchup between national powers.

Alabama played Florida State in the opening week of the season when the Seminoles were ranked number three in the nation. But quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending injury and the Seminoles had to win their last three games to finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl.

Alabama’s other non-conference foes were Fresno State, Colorado State and Mercer, which isn’t even an FCB school. That’s called soft scheduling, something SEC teams are noted for.

If the FCB is not going to expand the playoffs to eight or 16 teams, it needs to make sure that all the teams from the five major conferences are playing similar schedules. Right now, the Pac 12, Big 10 and Big 12 conferences play nine-game conference schedules with three non-conference games each season.

The SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference play eight-game conference schedules and four non-conference games.

Most SEC teams schedule the weakest non-conference opponent the week prior to their rivalry game, giving them a chance to heal injured players in time for the season’s final week.

That’s when Alabama played Mercer this season.

If the 2017 bowl season included an eight-team playoff instead of a four-team bracket, there would be four outstanding games. Just based on the final rankings, you would have USC versus Clemson, Oklahoma versus Auburn, Georgia versus Wisconsin and Ohio State versus Alabama.

Instead, we have Georgia versus Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and Clemson versus Alabama for the third year in a row.

The best thing to happen to the bowl season is that with Ohio State getting shafted by the tournament committee, we get a USC-Ohio State matchup in the Cotton Bowl Dec. 29. That is definitely my favorite matchup of the 39 bowl game schedule.

In a four-team tournament, at least one major conference champion is going to be left on the outside looking in. This year there are two.

Expand the tournament to eight teams. Select all five of the major conference champions, two at large teams and the best team from the remaining conferences — this year it would be Central Florida, last year it would have been Western Michigan — as the eighth team.

That would give us one more week of college football (always a good thing) and some compelling post-season games.

But it will take a couple of more years of controversy before the powers-that-be get the message and expand the tournament.

Running back Todd Gurley has been one of the key performers for the Los Angeles Rams this season who could be headed to the playoffs after winning only four games last season in their first season back in Los Angeles. The Chargers also are contending for a playoff berth. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

TWO PLAYOFF TEAMS? If you had told me in September that both the Rams and Chargers were going to make the playoffs this season, I would have laughed and made fun of you. But with four weeks to go, guess what: the Rams lead the NFC West by one game and the Chargers are tied for the AFC West lead with the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Of course anything can happen in the next four weeks, but we could have both local teams playing on the second weekend of January.

After a 0-4 start, the Chargers are 6-2. They host the Washington Redskins this week, then face the Chiefs and New York Jets on the road before ending the season on New Year’s Eve at StubHub Center against the Raiders. The Chargers could win three of the four. Or they could lose three of four. If they go 3-1, that should be good enough for the playoffs.

The Rams have a tougher schedule. They host the Philadelphia Eagles this week at the Coliseum, who are tied for the best record in football. After that they travel to Seattle for a key division game against the Seahawks before ending the season on the road against the Tennessee Titans, who are still in the playoff hunt, and at home against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Rams could easily lose three of those games, which would leave them hoping for a wild card slot. But, the Rams have been the biggest surprise in the NFL this year.

It will be fun to see quarterback Jared Goff going against Carson Wentz, the person drafted just after him in the 2016 draft, when the Eagles and Rams play Dec. 10. The young quarterback who plays best probably wins that game. And the Rams need that kind of momentum going into the last three weeks of the schedule.

SO LONG, LAVAR: That sigh of relief you heard on the westside of Los Angeles earlier this week probably came from UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford after it was announced that LiAngelo Ball would no longer play for the UCLA basketball team

Ball has been suspended since he was arrested with two other teammates for shoplifting during a trip to China. His father, Lavar, apparently didn’t think the indefinite suspension was fair to his son and decided to pull him out of school, saying he would prepare LiAngelo for the 2018 NBA draft himself.

The only thing wrong with that statement is that Lavar is the only person on the planet who thinks LiAngelo will get drafted by an NBA team next June.

LiAngelo doesn’t have the talent big brother Lonzo or little brother LaMelo have. Most scouts say he wouldn’t have played much for UCLA this year anyway, so Alford won’t have to put up with Lavar’s comments in the media all season.

Lavar had already pulled LaMelo out of his last two years of high school, saying he would be home-schooled and prepared for an NBA career through travel ball. Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, Lonzo still struggles with his shooting and adjusting to life in the NBA.

Narbonne running back Jemar Jefferson (1) rushed for 187 yards to lead Narbonne to a 48-7 victory against Crenshaw in the CIF Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship game played Dec. 1 at El Camino College. Narbonne was undefeated in Marine League play this year and finished the season with a 10-3 overall record. Narbonne plays Paraclete in the 1-A Southern California Regional Championship Bowl Game Dec. 9. (Photo by Dennis J. Freeman)

PREP FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Three L.A. City Section teams will continue in the state regional football playoffs this week.

Narbonne will host Paraclete at 6 p.m. Dec. 9 in Division 1A after defeating Crenshaw for the L.A. City Open Division title Dec. 2.

Despite the loss, Crenshaw will play Oceanside El Camino at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 in Division 4AA and Huntington Park will play Vincent Memorial at Calexico High School at 6 p.m. Dec. 9 in Division 6A.

The winners will play the Northern Regional winners for state championships Dec. 15-16.

The open division state championship battle is already set between Mater Dei and Concord De La Salle.