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CFB: Improving the 12-Team CFP

What the 12-team college football playoff format would have looked like this year and how subtle changes could make the end of the season even wilder.

I watched a ton of College Football this last weekend and one thought really weighed on me most of the day- most of these conference championships really don't matter. Yet I still watched. As I did and while writing a couple of Astros articles for the site I had four questions.

- How would the plan for the 12 team playoff had worked in 2022?

- Will these conference championship games matter more or less with the 12 team playoff?

- How can we make these conference championship games matter more?

- Would this be good for college football or not?

Let's work through these four questions.

How would the plan for the 12 team playoff had worked in 2022?

First, let's start with what the current proposed 12-team format is per the NCAA web site on 12/1/22

Here's how the 12-team playoff bracket would work:

  • The 2024 first round will happen the week ending Saturday, Dec. 21 at the home field of the higher seed or at another site determined by the higher seed. Specific game dates will be announced later. The matchups would be No. 12 at No. 5, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7 and No. 9 at No. 8.

  • For 2024 and 2025, the quarterfinal rounds and the semifinal games will be played at rotated bowls

    • 2024 quarterfinals: Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl

    • 2024 semifinals: Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl

    • 2025 quarterfinals: Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl

    • 2025 semifinals: Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl

    • 2024-25 season title game: Jan. 20, 2025 in Atlanta

    • 2025-26 season title game: Jan. 19, 2026 in Miami

As previously announced, the expanded 12-team playoff will be made up of the six conference champions ranked highest by the committee (no minimum ranking requirement), and the six highest-ranked teams not among the conference champions. The four highest-ranked conference champions would be seeded Nos. 1 through 4 and receive first-round byes. The other eight seeds — Nos. 5 through 12 — would play in the first round.

Now that we have the result's of this week's conference championship, today we have gotten the CFP rankings.

(Updated when full rankings are announced. The top 6 are official.)

Teams in orange are Power 5 conference champions. Team in red is the top Group 5 conference champion. Teams in yellow lost their conference championship game.

The 12-team playoff structure would look this in 2022.

The top four CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS are slotted into the top four seeds. This means #7 Clemson and #8 Utah get byes to the semi-finals. Clemson and Utah- who basically were playing only for their conference championship because they had no real chance for a spot in the 4-team playoff- get REWARDED in the 12-team format.

Will these conference championship games matter more or less with the 12 team playoff?

Let's break this down for the teams that would have had a significantly different motivation under the new system.

Georgia and Michigan- rated 1 and 2- IF these teams had lost their conference championships they would have lost their byes. It is way easier to win three straight games against quality opponents than it is four games.

TCU- rated 3- after losing the Big 12 championship game, essentially gets seeded 5 in the bracket and hosts the quarterfinal against the lowest seed in the bracket. We ALREADY see how the Big 12 Conference Championship game would have played out differently. It would have been far more intense knowing the winner probably gets the bye. Another way to look at it is TCU lost a conference championship and suffered no consequence for it in the current system. That will not happen in the 12-team format.

Ohio St.- rated 4- did not play in conference championship and STILL made the 4-teaam playoff. In the 12-team format, if you don't play in the conference championship you can't get a top 4 seed and the bye. It forces a value of the conference championship games.

Kansas St.- rated 9- In the current system, Kansas St. was playing for the conference title alone as we said for Clemson and Utah. With the 12-team, the Wildcats have a win and your in opportunity. If the previous 10-seed would have lost, they probably get left out.

USC- rated 10- All of the drama TCU, Ohio St., and Alabama felt today would have been felt by USC in a 12-team model. Of course they could have avoided that by winning the conference championship.

Tulane- rated 16- Tulane would have played the AAC Championship game knowing they had a shot to get into the 12 team dance. A guaranteed opportunity for the Group of 5 teams builds the interest in those conference championships.

LSU and North Carolina- rated 17 and NR- LSU and UNC had no chance in the 4-team model to get in EVEN if they had beaten their conference championship foes. In the 12-team model they would of had a chance IF they made the

The Conference Championship drama would be significantly better for EVERY ONE of these teams. YES, these conference championship games matter far more with the 12 team playoff!

How can we make these conference championship games matter more?

Proposal 1- Eliminating the divisions and putting the two most deserving teams in the conference championship games will increase the drama/ interest of the last few weeks of the season and the conference championship games. As a reminder here were the rankings BEFORE this week.

What if the conference Championship games were these matchups instead because there were no divisions?

SEC- #1 Georgia vs. #7 Tennessee (beat Alabama)

This turns into a battle for the bye. Both teams want it. Tennessee does not want selection day drama and CANNOT risk getting blown out.

Predicti0n- Georgia wins

B1G- #2 Michigan vs. #5 Ohio St.

Another battle for the bye.

Prediction- Michigan wins

B12- #3 TCU vs. #10 Kansas St.

TCU pushing for the bye. KSU playing for their playoff life AND a bye. KSU knows they lose and they are out. KSU sees USC lose the night before and then know THEY can get a bye with a big win.

Prediction- Kansas St. STILL wins

P12- #4 USC vs. #11 Utah

USC pushing for the bye. Utah playing for their playoff life AND a bye. Utah knows they lose and they are out

Prediction- Utah STILL wins

ACC- #9 Clemson vs. #13 Florida St. (yes I know UNC had better conference record. Conferences might chose to put their two top teams in the conference championship game when second place team is not in the top 15-20.)

Clemson pushing for the bye after USC loses the night before and CANNOT risk getting blown out. Florida St. playing for their playoff life. FSU knows they lose and they are out

Prediction- Clemson pushes to win big to improve seed and get the bye

This ramps up the drama of the championship games even more because both side of each of these conference championships are playing for something significant. Therefore, eliminating the divisions will enable even more interest in the conference championships and integrate well to the new playoff model.

Before we seed the team for the 12-team playoff, I think these would have been the rankings AFTER THESE conference championship games.

Proposal 2- Adjust 5-12 seedings to prevent first round rematches and if possible quarterfinal rematches. This is done in the basketball tournament but rarely is it acknowledged.

In 2022, if we had the 12 team format Michigan and Ohio St. might have faced each other THREE times.

  1. On 11/26/22 in their yearly rivalry game

  2. In the Big 10 championship game on 12/3/22

  3. In the quarter final of the 12-team playoff on 1/7/23

No one wants that. For the 12-team playoff three things are true:

  • Your ranking IS NOT your playoff seeding

  • Your 5-12 seeding can be adjusted up or down 3 to make the best matchups

    • Teams seed 5-8 can be moved within that group but moving 5 and 6 down should be a lower option

    • Teams seeded 9-12 can be moved withing that group but not be awarded a hosting option

  • Teams that get the 7-12 seeds should be happy to be in the 12-team playoff- we really don't want to hear your complaints

We are not going to be shy about what this is all about - driving interest in NCAA Football WHILE crowning a champion and ultimately making money in the process. Don't want to run the risk of being ranked 6th and having your seeding adjusted to 8th? Win your conference.

Here are some principles we will apply to these adjustments.

  1. Priority is to avoid first round repeat matchups then potential quarterfinal repeats

  2. The fifth conference champion (not seeded 1-4) will be less likely to be pushed down

  3. Non-conference games participants are likely to move down

  4. Conference championship losers are likely to be adjusted too.

  5. Teams at the bottom of the seeding are more likely to be moved than number five and six seeds.

Here is how all of this would play out in 2022

The initial bracket would have looked like this with the teams in red that initiate an adjustment.

Here is the adjusted bracket.

To prevent the Ohio St. - Penn St. rematch in round one, Ohio St. moves from seed #7 to seed #8. Kansas St. is rewarded in this move going from seed #8 to seed #7.

To prevent the possible Penn St. - Michigan rematch in the quarter finals AND the possible Tennessee - Georgia rematch in the quarterfinals, Penn St. goes from seed #10 to seed #11 AND Tennessee goes from seed #9 to seed #10 AND USC is rewarded and moves from seed #11 to seed #9.

Overall, I think this bracket would be a massive hit and have exciting games to watch.

Would this be good for college football or not?

That excitement I expect by definition I think is best for College football.

I do wonder how this plays out with the competition of the NFL playoffs in January. The NFL moving to the 18 week schedule helps because the NCAA semi-finals are competing with NFL week 18.

Most of the complaints I have heard about the 12-team playoff format is that is dilutes the regular season. By focusing on the value of playing to get to and win your conference championship game, I think that issue is helped by that.

Will a late season game between two average to below average teams get significant interest? No, but that game doesn't get much interest now.

Will a late season game between two 7-3 teams that have a remote shot at getting to the conference championship game get more interest than it does now. I would submit strongly YES.

So why do so many sports media guys hate this? Do you want the truth? It is a lot easier to just focus on the 10 teams that might make the 4-team playoff than the 20-25 teams that might make their conference championship games. They don't want to work that hard. There I said it.

I will also say adjustments to the recruiting calendar will be needed. Quarterfinal games cannot be at the same time as the National Signing Day 1. It's as simple as that.

Here is the biggest down side - for the players. NIL deals and bowl endorsements are going to have to be setup to incentivize players to take on the 12-team and potential FOUR ADDITIONAL games for two teams vs. the maximum two games of the 4-team format today. Will top players more concerned about their future pro careers opt out of the NCAA playoff? How can the sport, conferences, universities, and coaches make the student athletes NOT want to opt out?

With these fixes I think the 12-team playoff will be a win with the fans. I for one am ready and none of my teams are even in the bracket. There is always next year.

Let me know what you think.

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