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2015 Final Four shows why the College Football Playoff should not expand

It turns out that having a sport's four best teams in its semifinals will generate an amazing season finish. That's good news for a sport with a four-team playoff.

After a year in which college basketball was roundly criticized for being boring, too physical, too slow, too defensive and increasingly unpopular, the Final Four and the Championship Game got the best TV ratings in decades. Both the Final Four and the tournament as a whole got their highest ratings since 1993.

Like 2015, 1993 featured the rare trio of No. 1 seeds reaching the Final Four. Also like 2015, 1993 featured a high-profile team full of future NBA stars that inspired both support and vitriol. In 1993, it was the Fab Five that drove interest in college basketball; in 2015, it was the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats. Both '93 Michigan and '15 Kentucky came up just short of winning the titles that would secure their legacies as all-time great teams.

So what does this mean for college football? Simple: the tournament is an endorsement of modern-day college football in two important respects.

First, the 2015 tournament shows it's much better to have the best teams playing the semifinals than it is to have a stagecoach full of Cinderella. Yes, it was fun to see VCU, Butler and George Mason make Final Fours, but the viewing public tuned out because it gauged that these were not the best teams in the country. In contrast, put together a Final Four with three No. 1 seeds and another perennial power, and you have TV gold.

If a team can finish ninth in its conference and be national champion, your playoff is too big.

Right now, the College Football Playoff is designed to produce that exact formula. It aims to take the four best teams in the country, not the four that have gone 4-0 in a tournament. The first Playoff got massive ratings, in part because of the novelty factor and in part because the committee picked four teams with great resumes. The fact that at least one of the participants had played in seven of the last eight BCS Championships meant that the teams had name recognition with the general public.

Critics complain that a small playoff will tend not to produce a Cinderella like '83 NC State or '85 Villanova. Leaving aside the fact that those frequent examples are three decades old, the absence of teams that finished mid-table in their own conferences is a feature, not a bug. A system that crowns 26-10 NC State because it beat 31-3 Houston or 25-10 Villanova because it beat 35-3 Georgetown has serious issues.

Ask yourself how many documentaries ESPN is going to do on 2011 UConn, which likewise came out of nowhere to win a title. If a team can finish ninth in its conference and then be crowned national champion, your playoff is too big.

The College Football Playoff doesn't yet have room for teams that don't come close to winning their conferences. And if the selection committee subconsciously favors teams that have succeeded in recent years, recruit well and have major reputations (all fan theories that were suggested for the decision to take Ohio State over TCU and Baylor), that at least leads to even more fan interest.

Speaking of the Buckeyes, the role Kentucky played in driving fan interest illustrates a second reason why college football is in good shape: it's configured to produce elite teams.

Despite college basketball's style of play drawing all manner of criticism, the tournament came with a great storyline: can Kentucky become the first team in 39 years to finish a season unbeaten? Kentucky was able to pair elite recruiting and smart coaching with the good fortune of playing in an average conference. And the fact that the Cats have the largest fan base in the sport doesn't hurt matters.

Ohio State is poised to fill the same role in 2015, minus the one-and-done factor: the elite team that generates passionate feelings from everybody. Like Kentucky, Ohio State has a terrific coach whose teams can be expected to contend consistently. Like Kentucky, Ohio State pulls in excellent recruiting classes. Like Kentucky, Ohio State arguably has the largest fan base in its sport. Like Kentucky, Ohio State is a big fish in a smallish pond, far ahead of its conference rivals right now. (The depth and competitiveness of the SEC is why Alabama cannot fill the role that Ohio State can.)

And if Jim Harbaugh can get Michigan football to where Rick Pitino has taken Louisville basketball so that the Buckeyes' archrival can poke the bear now and again, even better.

Fans like dominant teams. They like dynasties. They like villains. MLB is better when the Yankees are good. The NBA is better when the Lakers are good. College basketball was saved this year by a compelling story: Kentucky's bid to go unbeaten.

College football doesn't get the same bounce from unbeaten teams because it's somewhat common for a team to finish without a blemish, but it does benefit from having a lodestar team. Ohio State is positioned to be that team in college football, which is good news for those who run college football. It's especially good news for people in Cincinnati who root for the Bucks in the fall and the Cats in the winter.