On September 2, the College Football Playoff’s Board of Managers unanimously voted to expand the playoffs to 12 teams by 2026. The hope is that the sport’s commissioners can implement it by 2024. At the midway point of the 2022 college football season, there are about 16 teams that still have hopes of making the College Football Playoff’s field of four teams. This year is the perfect example for why playoff expansion is the only acceptable move for college football.
16 teams sitting at one or fewer losses have a realistic chance to make the playoffs in my opinion. To analyze where all these teams sit, I am going to break it up into conferences, starting with the SEC.
SEC – Four Teams
The SEC has four of the top seven teams in the AP poll right now. Georgia is sitting at the top of the SEC East at 7-0. Right behind them is the third team in the nation, the 6-0 Tennessee Volunteers. The November 5 game in Athens, Georgia is likely to knock out one of these teams even though they will only have one loss. However, does a one-loss Georgia or Tennessee team that doesn’t win the SEC East, have a chance to make the playoffs? It has happened before, and we are likely headed towards that discussion with Tennessee and Georgia.
In the SEC West, Ole Miss is at the top at 7-0. Alabama is right behind them at 6-1 with the loss to Tennessee. Alabama cannot lose another game, or they’re eliminated. They must win the SEC title game to get in. It is as simple as that, and they did it last year, so it isn’t foreign to them. The Rebels have two tough road games at LSU and at Texas A&M before a November 12 home game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. That game will go a long way in determining the playoff field.
Big Ten – Three Teams
The Big Ten East is loaded. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State sit at the top of the conference. Michigan and Ohio State are both in the top four. Penn State is 16th following their defeat against the Wolverines. For the Nittany Lions, like Alabama, their hope is to win-out and win the Big Ten Championship Game. Next weekend, they play Ohio State. That could eliminate them completely.
The big conversation revolves around Michigan and Ohio State. As usual, the Buckeyes, and Wolverines face off in the final game of the regular season. The winner will likely lock up a playoff spot. The loser, like the Georgia-Tennessee situation, will only have one loss but will likely be on the outside looking in due to not winning their division. It is unfortunate that one of these teams probably won’t see the playoff, given the current structure of the College Football Playoff.
Pac-12 – Three Teams
UCLA is the only Pac-12 team with an undefeated overall record. Oregon is undefeated in conference play, with their only loss to Georgia in non-conference play. USC is also in play here at 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play. Oregon has UCLA coming to Autzen Stadium today in a matchup of top 10 teams. Obviously, the winner of this game will take a massive step towards locking up a Pac-12 Championship Game berth. The Pac-12 is extremely tight, and the winner of the Pac-12 has a strong argument for the playoff. However, if UCLA doesn’t run the table and win the Pac-12 with an undefeated record, the Pac-12 could be left out completely given the situation across the country. Even if they are undefeated, they still might get left out. It is unfortunate, and further proof that the 12-team expansion is perfect for the game.
ACC – Three Teams
The ACC is an interesting case. The Coastal is likely locked up by the North Carolina Tarheels. If the rest of the season goes as planned for them, they’ll be in the ACC title game. They’re currently 6-1. If they win out, they’ll really have a case for a playoff spot heading into that title game. If they’re not, it doesn’t matter. They will be eliminated.
On the Atlantic side of things, Clemson is clearly the top dog. If they run the table and win the conference like most expect them to, they’ll make the playoff. They have the resume. The sleeper team here is Syracuse. They’re quietly sitting at an undefeated 6-0 record. They play Clemson today. They have their chance to take control of the ACC Atlantic Division. Should they knock off Clemson, the Orange have a real path to the playoffs. If not, they’re likely eliminated from the four-team field.
Big-12 – Three Teams
I am choosing to put three teams here. The Big-12 is very, very complicated. TCU is undefeated at 6-0. They’re at the top of the Big-12 and likely to appear in the conference title game. Should they run the table, they have a chance to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, they could be left out regardless as well. They have a big game today with Kansas State. The Wildcats are second in the Big-12 at 5-1. The third team in the mix is Oklahoma State at 5-1 as well. Do any of these teams have a chance to make it? Do all these teams have a chance to make it? There is still a lot that needs to play out in the Big-12 with the current structure of their conference. With no divisions, it is difficult to sort teams. The Horned Frogs, Wildcats, and Cowboys are all in the mix at this point and that is all that matters.
I just went through 16 teams across all five of the power conferences. Some of them will knock themselves out with losses. However, there will still be many more than just four teams with realistic resumes to make the playoff. Yet, they’ll be left out because of the four-team format. Voting to expand the playoffs to 12 teams was the only acceptable format for the current construct of college football. The higher ups in college football need to get this initiated as soon as physically possible.