Sports

Three things you’ll love — and hate — about the 12-team playoff

The 12-team College Football Playoff will be more inclusive and guarantee the country’s top conference champions have a chance to compete for the national title.

You’re going to love it.

Until …

You see the same teams play three times in a matter of weeks. Or Florida State gets left out of the playoff — again.

Wait … what?!

It wouldn’t be college football if you didn’t have a love-hate relationship with its postseason. With less than 100 days to go until kickoff, here are your biggest reasons to celebrate with regard to the new format — and what you should brace yourself for.


Three things you’ll love about the 12-team playoff

1. The FSU incident will never happen again. To be clear: an undefeated conference champion from the Big 12, SEC, ACC or Big Ten will not be excluded from the playoff. The five highest-ranked conference champions will automatically qualify along with the next seven highest-ranked teams. If Florida State wins the ACC, it’s in. “We certainly won’t face what happened [in 2023], with an undefeated conference champion being left out,” said ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, “which I think is a great thing for everybody.”

2. Your team can lose and still compete for the national title. There was tremendous pressure to go undefeated in the four-team playoff — and it still wasn’t good enough for the Seminoles. This system will be far more forgiving, and a lot of teams will benefit from it, starting with Notre Dame. The independent Irish don’t have a conference championship game to impress the selection committee, but they won’t have to compete with the four winners of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC for one of four spots. Notre Dame — even with a loss, maybe two — can join those league champs in the bracket as an at-large team.

An expanded field also means you should expect to see the first two-loss teams qualify for the playoff. Rising teams like Missouri and Ole Miss, which both finished 11-2 last year, would have qualified, along with two-loss Oregon and Penn State (James Franklin doesn’t have to beat Ohio State AND Michigan and win a nonexistent Big Ten East anymore!). A greater margin for error also opens the door for a Cinderella team to make a run — and not just the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion like Memphis or Boise State — but programs like Arizona, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Kansas State and NC State.

3. This will be the deepest November field the sport has seen. While the usual suspects will remain, the field for the CFP will go as deep as each respective power conference. It starts with the race for the conference championships, and the ACC has multiple teams capable of winning the league, starting with FSU, Clemson, Louisville, NC State and Miami. The 16-team Big 12 is wiiiiiide open with Oklahoma and Texas leaving, so contenders start with Utah, Oklahoma State, Arizona and K-State. The SEC starts with Georgia, Texas and Alabama, but Mizzou and Ole Miss are also trending up. The Big Ten has lofty expectations for Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan and Penn State, but USC will make things interesting too.


Three things you’ll hate about a 12-team playoff

1. When your team is in the selection committee’s top four but gets the No. 5 seed. The four highest-ranked conference champions earn the top four seeds and a first-round bye. That means on Selection Day, fans could see No. 1 Georgia (SEC champ) and No. 2 Texas (SEC runner-up), but the Longhorns would get the No. 5 seed because they didn’t win the conference — and would have to win four straight games to win the national title. The same holds true for Notre Dame. The Irish could be the No. 1 team in the country on Selection Day, but can’t be seeded any higher than No. 5 because they don’t have a conference title to win. Notre Dame would also have to win four straight games to win the national title.

2. When your team is No. 12 on Selection Day but is excluded from the playoff. This 12-team playoff doesn’t necessarily mean the top 12 teams in the committee’s ranking are in. Because the five highest-ranked conference champions are guaranteed a spot in the playoff, a conference champion ranked outside of the top 12 could bump out the No. 12 team in the country for a spot in the bracket. Last year, Oklahoma was the committee’s No. 12 team, but No. 23 Liberty — the C-USA champ — would have knocked the Sooners out. In 2022, Washington was the committee’s No. 12 team, but the Huskies would have been excluded in favor of No. 16 Tulane, the American Athletic Conference champ.

Last season, the ACC had one team (FSU) only inside the selection committee’s top 12 on Selection Day. If Florida State finishes No. 12 this year — and doesn’t win the ACC — it could be in jeopardy of being excluded from the playoff again. There are no guarantees for any teams except the five highest-ranked conference champs.

“That’s part of the decision to bring in that fifth conference champion,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said. “You have to look at it that it’s now the five best conference champions and the seven best remaining teams that are not conference champions. That’s the bracket. It’s not the 12 most highly ranked teams. We’ve said that from the beginning that the possibility is there when it was first introduced. It’s not a surprise. That doesn’t mean it’s welcome.”

3. When teams play each other three times. Florida State and Clemson play each other Oct. 5 this year. They could see each other again in the ACC championship game. And it’s possible they face each other again in the playoff. This could also happen with Ohio State and Michigan. Or Alabama and Georgia. Or Utah and Arizona. The selection committee won’t consider the possibility of rematches when it is creating its final top 25 of the season on Selection Day. The CFP doesn’t currently have any policy surrounding potential rematches.

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