The College Football Playoff will inevitably expand, probably to 12 teams by as early as 2023.
While we know the College Football Playoff will be in its current four-team format for the next two postseasons, it does feel like expansion is inevitable at this point.
According to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, dozens of stakeholders in the playoff are becoming increasingly open to the idea of expanding to 12 teams, as that feels like the preferred model over an eight-team playoff. This will in theory allow six automatic qualifiers from the five Power 5 champions, the Group of 5 champion and six at-large berths. Currently, it is four at-large teams.
“The reason that you go to 12 is because you can develop the road of least resistance toward a good result,” said an anonymous high-ranking college official to Thamel with great knowledge of the situation.
To date, the ACC and SEC champion have made the four-team field annually, while no Group of 5 team has ever crashed the party. National independent Notre Dame has gotten in twice, but the Pac-12 has only sent two teams in these last seven years, most recently with the 2016 Washington Huskies. While a 12-team model has to be agreed on, it will allow more teams in.
Here is what a 12-team College Football Playoff would have looked like during last college season.
College Football Playoff expansion: How 12 teams would have looked in 2020
To simplify this as best as we can, we will take last year’s final College Football Playoff rankings to seed these teams, but also include any automatic qualifier outside of the top 12. Obviously, the team that throws a wrench in all of this is the Oregon Ducks, who went 4-2, but won the Pac-12 Championship over the USC Trojans to finish as the No. 25 ranked team. They are the new No. 12.
The other thing to account for here is the top four teams would get a first-round bye, so the four teams that actually made the playoff last year (Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers, Ohio State Buckeyes, Notre Dame Fighting Irish), would not play a first-round game. Oregon, Big 12 Champion Oklahoma, Group of 5 Champion Cincinnati and five at-large teams would play in those.
Here is how last year’s field would have looked under this supposed 12-team playoff format.
College Football Playoff Rankings: 12-team format with automatic qualifiers
- Alabama Crimson Tide (11-0)*^
- Clemson Tigers (10-1)*^
- Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0)*^
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1)^
- Texas A&M Aggies (8-1)
- Oklahoma Sooners (8-2)*
- Florida Gators (8-3)
- Cincinnati Bears (9-0)*
- Georgia Bulldogs (7-2)
- Iowa State Cyclones (8-3)
- Indiana Hoosiers (6-1)
- Oregon Ducks (4-2)*
* = Automatic qualifier (Power 5/Group of 5 champion)
^ = First-round bye
As stated above, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame all get first-round byes. The six automatic qualifiers are SEC Champion Alabama, ACC Champion Clemson, Big Ten Champion Ohio State, Big 12 Champion Oklahoma, Group of 5 Champion Cincinnati and Pac-12 Champion Oregon. The six at-large bids would be Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Iowa State and Indiana.
Here is how the first-round matchups would have gone under this 12-team playoff format
- No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide BYE
- No. 2 Clemson Tigers BYE
- No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes BYE
- No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish BYE
- No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks
- No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners vs. No. 11 Indiana Hoosiers
- No. 7 Florida Gators vs. No. 10 Iowa State Cyclones
- No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs
If we expanded on this just a bit, No. 1 Alabama would get the winner between No. 8 Cincinnati and No. 9 Georgia. No. 2 Clemson would face the winner between No. 7 Florida and No. 10 Iowa State. No. 3 Ohio State would take on the winner between No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 11 Indiana. And No. 4 Notre Dame would get the winner between No. 5 Texas A&M and No. 12 Oregon.
Ultimately, College Football Playoff expansion is going to happen for one reason, and one reason only: Money. While expanding it will dilute the best part of college football, which is the regular season, it will allow more teams an opportunity to get in and have more parts of the country more thoroughly engaged throughout the year besides the southeastern footprint, who loves it anyway.
Going from potentially four teams to 12 feels like a lot, but this plan does feel better than eight.