How latest 14-team College Football playoff format could look in 2026

  • The College Football Playoff is expanding from four teams to 12 for the 2024 season.
  • With the 12-year contract with ESPN up after 2025, we could see even more expansion.
  • Here is what a 14-team field could look like in any of these three proposed CFP models.

College Football Playoff
College Football Playoff / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just when you though College Football Playoff expansion was over with and done, think again, bud... While the CFP is going from four teams to 12 this season, there could be further calibrations to the postseason once its 12-year contract with ESPN expires. It is set to run through the 2025 season. With the Power Five becoming the Power Four, but really the Power Two, 14 teams feels inevitable.

In Ross Dellenger's post for Yahoo Sports written late last week, he went into great detail about the finances and other implications of future iterations of the playoff. He expects that the Big Ten and SEC will begin to separate even more than they already have from the ACC and Big 12, as well as from the Group of Five and Notre Dame. In his post, he also outlined a trio of 14-team playoff proposals.

These are the three proposals at hand. Any number written after the plus sign represents the number of at-large teams in each 14-team model. Any numbers written before the plus sign represents automatic qualifiers. Those can be broken down into leagues, or all together, like the new 12-teamer.

  • 3-3-2-2-1+3
  • 2-2-1-1-1+7
  • 5+9

Let's dissect what each model looks like using my way-too-early College Football Playoff projections for 2024. I originally had 12 teams, but can expand it out to 14 teams getting in for this CFP exercise.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the 12 teams I have making the playoff for 2024 right this instant.

  1. Georgia Bulldogs (SEC Champion)
  2. Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten Champion)
  3. Clemson Tigers (ACC Champion)
  4. Oklahoma State Cowboys (Big 12 Champion)
  5. Texas Longhorns (SEC At-Large)
  6. Oregon Ducks (Big Ten At-Large)
  7. Ole Miss Rebels (SEC At-Large)
  8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (National Independent At-Large)
  9. Penn State Nittany Lions (Big Ten At-Large)
  10. Missouri Tigers (SEC At-Large)
  11. Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC At-Large)
  12. Liberty Flames (Conference USA/Group of Five Champion)

And if you want to know my first four teams out for this splendid exercise, I can do that for you as well.

  • 13. Florida State Seminoles (ACC At-Large)
  • 14. LSU Tigers (SEC At-Large)
  • 15. Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten At-Large)
  • 16. Utah Utes (Big 12 At-Large)

I have never prepared harder for anything in my entire life, not even the SAT2's after Lynyrd Skynyrd!

College Football Playoff 14-team model: 3-3-2-2-1+3

In a 3-3-2-2-1+3 model, the Big Ten gets three teams in automatically, the SEC gets three in as well, the ACC and Big 12 get a pair in apiece, the Group of Five gets a team in and the last three spots go to the next best at-large teams. Here is what the format would look like using my 2024 projections.

  • Big Ten (3): Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State
  • SEC (3): Georgia, Texas, Ole Miss
  • ACC (2): Clemson, Florida State
  • Big 12 (2): Oklahoma State, Utah
  • Group of Five (1): Liberty
  • At-Large (3): Notre Dame, Missouri, Alabama

This model doesn't really change much of what I did previously from a few weeks ago. All it does is get my ACC runner-up Florida State and Big 12 runner-up Utah into the expanded 14-team field. Again, I don't know how seeding would work, but there are enough spots to get high-quality at-large teams like Notre Dame, Missouri and Alabama into the big dance, in that order. I don't hate this one.

College Football Playoff 14- team model: 2-2-1-1-1+7

In a 2-2-1-1-1+7 model, the only real difference is the amount of automatic qualifiers is greatly reduced across the board from 11 in the previous 3-3-2-2-1+3 model to seven. It achieves a similar goal from that of the 3-3-2-2-1+3 model, but gives us an even better shot of getting the 14 best teams possible into the postseason. The only downside with this one it is hurts the ACC and Big 12...

  • Big Ten (2): Ohio State, Oregon
  • SEC (2): Georgia, Texas
  • ACC (1): Clemson
  • Big 12 (1): Oklahoma State
  • Group of Five (1): Liberty
  • At-Large (7): Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Penn State, Missouri, Alabama, Florida State, LSU

Given that my first team out in a 12-team model would have been ACC runner-up Florida State, the Seminoles are now comfortably into the 14-team playoff in the 2-2-1-1-1+7 model. However, this model punishes Big 12 runner-up Utah. LSU would be the sixth SEC team getting in with Utah on the outside looking in as the 16th best team behind the Michigan Wolverines. It hurts the ACC and Big 12.

College Football Playoff 14-team model: 5+9

In this model, the five highest-ranked conference champions get in, as well as the nine best at-large teams. As outlined above, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Group of Five champions all get in. Even if we were to do away with an additional automatic qualifier in both the Big Ten and SEC, it really does not matter because both leagues are going to be getting in a boatload of their best teams anyway.

  • Automatic Qualifiers (5): Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Liberty
  • At-Large (9): Texas, Oregon, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Penn State, Missouri, Alabama, Florida State, LSU

See, even if we were to expand this to 14 teams from 12, at least one of those additional teams will be going to a Power Two league (Big Ten, SEC). Yes, Florida State benefits greatly from this exercise, but so does LSU. In a weird way, going with the 3-3-2-2-1+3 model actually gives us more perceived parity because we are only substituting LSU for Utah, who is really like the 16th-best team to me.

Overall, the 3-3-2-2-1+3 model is more likely to get the most approval. The idea of the ACC and Big 12 getting in theory two more guaranteed teams in probably smoothes the issue out of the Big Ten and SEC getting a team in apiece. The 2-2-1-1-1+7 model seems to be a lopsided compromise, whereas the 5+9 is just pure chaos. College football loves itself some chaos, so that one may work.

The other factor we must figure out is how to best "accommodate" fiercely independent Notre Dame.

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