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Column: A 12-team CFP wouldn’t look much better in 2022 than the current four-team field

Many matchups in the playoffs haven’t been close, and a few in a hypothetical 12-team format probably wouldn’t be much better.

Big Ten Championship - Purdue v Michigan Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Earlier this season, the College Football Playoff announced the new 12-team format, which will begin during the 2024 season. The four-team playoff this season consists of Ohio State, TCU, Michigan and Georgia. Both the Wolverines and Bulldogs are heavily favored and were in the playoffs a season ago, which typically lead to more success.

For a fun exercise, let’s consider what a 12-team playoff would look like in 2022. It’s important to remember the seeding will be different — the highest-ranked conference champions secure the top four seeds, and at-large teams fill the remaining.

Here is how the top-12 would be ranked:

  1. Georgia (CFP Rank: 1)
  2. Michigan (CFP Rank: 2)
  3. Clemson (CFP Rank: 7)
  4. Utah (CFP Rank: 8)
  5. TCU (CFP Rank: 3)
  6. Ohio State (CFP Rank: 4)
  7. Alabama (CFP Rank: 5)
  8. Tennessee (CFP Rank: 6)
  9. Kansas State (CFP Rank: 9)
  10. USC (CFP Rank: 10)
  11. Penn State (CFP Rank: 11)
  12. Tulane (CFP Rank: 16)

Here is my biggest issue with this — after 12 weeks in the regular season and conference championships out of the way, we know who these teams and conferences are. We know the SEC and the Big Ten were the best conferences in football, but why does Alabama, who lost its two biggest games, deserve a spot to compete for a National Championship?

USC lost to Utah, twice. I get it, a lot of teams lose in Salt Lake City. It is one of the toughest places to play in the country. But how do you explain losing again in the PAC-12 Championship?

Maybe, most egregiously, Clemson winds up being the No. 3 seed? The Tigers lost two of their last five including a loss AT HOME to a South Carolina team that went 4-4 in SEC play. Clemson’s best win came against a team that finished as the No. 23 team in the country. In what world would they deserve a bye week and to potentially play at home in the College Football Playoff?

Some may like this new system, but it certainly has some flaws. But let’s keep playing this out with the first round of games:

First Round Games

  1. No. 8 Tennessee vs. No. 9 Kansas State
  2. No. 5 TCU vs. No. 12 Tulane
  3. No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Penn State
  4. No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 10 USC

Tennessee doesn’t have Hendon Hooker. That cost the Vols a game where they got blown out by South Carolina and kicked them out of the CFP. Things are different if he is healthy. I don’t give either of these teams much of a chance of winning the National Championship.

TCU rocks Tulane. The Green Wave lost to Southern Miss, a team that went 6-6 and lost by 23 to an awful Miami squad.

We already saw Ohio State and Penn State, and we don’t need to see that again. The Buckeyes won in Happy Valley. While the game was close, it was decided. It would be a fun conference rematch in the CFP, I get it, but the Nittany Lions had their chance and didn’t take advantage.

The most interesting game is between Alabama and USC. Bryce Young vs. Caleb Williams would be a thrill with both being Heisman-winning quarterbacks. But you already heard my gripes with both these teams. I’m not sure either one deserves a chance to win it all.

Second Round Games

  1. No. 1 Georgia vs. Tennessee/Kansas State
  2. No. 2 Michigan vs. Alabama/USC
  3. No. 3 Clemson vs. Ohio State/Penn State
  4. No. 4 Utah vs. TCU/Tulane

For the sake of this, we are going to assume the higher-ranked teams won. So we get a rematch of Georgia-Tennessee without Hooker. This game already happened with Hooker in Athens. According to ESPN’s FPI, Georgia had an 88% chance to win after the first quarter. The Bulldogs roll again without the Vols’ starting quarterback.

Utah/TCU would be a great game. Utah’s vaunted defense against TCU’s prolific offense could lead to a close game. I’d give the Horned Frogs a slight edge.

Ohio State cruises past Clemson. The Tigers are not a great football team this season, giving CJ Stroud the opportunity to throw all over a mediocre defense.

Michigan and Bama would certainly be interesting. Elite athletes on both sides. The Wolverines playing without Blake Corum scares me; it’s the No. 1 concern of mine heading into the CFP. Then I remember how the Crimson Tide have faired in their big games: losses to Tennessee and LSU, barely beating Texas, and an unconvincing win against Ole Miss. I would give Michigan the advantage.


  1. No. 1 Georgia vs TCU/Utah
  2. No. 2 Michigan vs Ohio State

In the end, we get likely all four of the top-four in the final batch anyway, the only difference is the seeding.

Sure, maybe one of these teams gets upset. Perhaps Alabama beats the Wolverines or a Cinderella run happens for a team like Kansas State coming off a Big 12 championship. But here are the facts:

  • 2021: It was clear Georgia and Alabama were a cut above the rest.
  • 2020: Was a weird season due to COVID, but Alabama was the best team from start to finish, crushing Notre Dame and Ohio State en route to a championship.
  • 2019: Joe Burrow and LSU were far better than everyone.
  • 2018: Clemson and Alabama.
  • 2017: Alabama and Georgia (Tua came in AS A BACKUP to win the Natty, that’s how much better they were than everyone else).
  • 2016: Clemson and Alabama.
  • 2015: Clemson and Alabama.
  • 2014: Ohio State was so good its third-string quarterback won it a National Championship and then disappeared off the face of the earth.

At a minimum, five of the eight seasons, the championship was really down to one-or-two teams when it started. Everyone is already pointing at a Michigan-Georgia championship game this season. Even if one of them would fall on the way in a 12-team format, the odds that both would be booted are not high.

When it comes down to it, this is the case in most seasons. I like the expansion in the CFP because we get entertaining, interconference matchups that are going to help hash out which conferences are truly the best. The problem is, I honestly don’t know how much of a difference it makes in the long run. The best teams in college football are going to be the best teams, whether they play 15 games or 17. The proof is already in the pudding with how the four-team playoff has played out to this point.