The 12-team Playoff – Good News or Bad for CU and the Pac-12?

What happened? 

The College Football Playoff announced Thursday that it will consider expanding from four to 12 teams to settle the national championship, with six spots reserved for the highest-ranked conference champions and the other six going to at-large selections.

The CFP’s announcement outlined a plan that would triple the number teams that enter the postseason with a chance to win it all.

Even if the format is adopted — no earlier than this fall, as the measure has several votes at several levels before it is adopted — there was no indication in the proposal about when an expanded playoff could be in place. The soonest would seem to be for the 2023 season, but it is probably more likely to be after the 2026 season.

A selection committee would still be involved but a 12-team playoff would not limit how many teams can come from any one conference. The conference champions would receive first-round byes and teams 5-12 would face each other in four games played on campus sometime during the two-week period following conference championship weekend, typically early December.

The plan calls for no re-seeding of the bracket as teams advance. Quarterfinals would be hosted by bowl games on New Year’s Day —- unless that falls on a Sunday, in which case those games will be played Jan. 2 — and an adjacent day.

The semifinals would also be hosted by bowl games, as is the case now.

The proposal includes no dates for semifinals and the championship game to be played, but did indicate the semifinals would not be played as a doubleheader on a single day.

Currently six bowl games have a three-year rotation for hosting the semifinals and the championship game site is open to bidders, similar to the what the NFL does with the Super Bowl. The current semifinal bowl rotation includes the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach bowls.

“The process for selecting the six bowls that would rotate as hosts of the quarterfinals and semifinals (is) still to be determined,” the CFP plan said.

What it means to the Pac-12

At first glance, it has to be seen as good news for the Pac-12.

The College Football Playoff has been around for seven years, and the Pac-12 has had a participant in only two of those seasons.

While there is no guarantee that the Pac-12 would have an entrant in the playoffs, it will be likely most seasons.

(Technically, Oregon last fall would have been excluded, even though the Ducks, with a 4-2 record, won the Pac-12 title game. Oregon was not one of the six highest ranked conference champions, and would not have made it in as a wild card, either.)

Getting the conference champion into the mix would be a plus for the conference. Sitting on the outside looking in the majority of the time is never a good look, and, in almost every season, the conference would have at least one entrant into the playoffs.

The downside for the conference …

First, while the title game winner is all but guaranteed a slot, there is no guarantee that the Pac-12 winner will even get to host a first round game. Teams ranked 5-8 will host the teams ranked 9-12 to open the playoffs, and there will be considerable jostling for a home game in December. The SEC runner-up will likely get a home game to open the playoffs, and teams which don’t even make the conference games (like a second place Texas A&M or LSU out of the SEC West) will have a good case for hosting as well.

As a result, in many seasons, the Pac-12 champion will be on the road to open the playoffs … which may lead to a series of first round losses … and continued distain by the national media.

Second, the Pac-12’s jewel, the Rose Bowl, will lose some of its luster. The Rose Bowl was dragged kicking and screaming into the BCS/CFP concept, and will now, if it wants to be part of the rotation, will have to give up its insistence on being played in the late afternoon of January 1st.

Think the Rose Bowl would have been excited about a Notre Dame/Coastal Carolina matchup last January (which would have been the case in 2020)?

Not so much.

Finally, there is the dilution of the bowl experience for the players (not to mention the possibility of a 17-game season for some teams, and the likely elimination of some minor bowls, which could make it more difficult for a 6-6 team to earn a post-season invitation).

Let’s say USC wins the Pac-12, and is ranked a respectable 10th in the nation. They are then sent on the road to play Georgia, runner up of the SEC. A great matchup for college football, and a great game for college football fans to watch.

But not so great for the USC players.

Instead of getting a full week of bowl hoopla, complete with fun excursions and pie-eating contests with the opposition, the Trojans get on a plane on Thursday, practice in Athens on Friday, and head home on Saturday night with their season over.

Not the same reward that a trip in year’s past to say, the Fiesta Bowl, would have been.

What it means for CU

Of course, the initial reaction is a positive one.

The Buffs in future years will know that, if they win the Pac-12, they will earn a chance at the national championship playoff.

With only four teams getting in right now, a playoff bid is not a realistic goal for Colorado … or most of the schools in the Power Five … or any of the schools in the Group of Five conferences.

While few – if any – members of the Buff Nation would consider CU to currently be of national championship caliber, it is great to be able to dream about at least having a chance at a title game appearance.

And we don’t have to look that far back to see how that could have happened.

Let’s take a look at 2016 season.

Heading into the Pac-12 title game, 10-2 Colorado was ranked No. 9 in the nation. Even after the loss to Washington in the championship game, the Buffs were ranked 11th.

How would the playoffs have unfolded? (From ESPN):

Byes:  No. 1 Alabama; No. 2 Clemson; No. 3 Washington; and No. 4 Penn State

The two other highest ranked conference champions would have been guaranteed entry into the playoffs –  No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 12 Western Michigan – with the play-in games looking like this:

  • No. 12 Western Michigan at No. 5 Ohio State – winner to play No. 4 Penn State
  • No. 11 Florida State at No. 6 Michigan – winner to play No. 3 Washington
  • No. 10 Colorado at No. 7 Oklahoma – winner to play No. 2 Clemson
  • No. 9 USC at No. 8 Wisconsin – winner to play No. 1 Alabama

It would have been an odd year, with only one SEC entrant (Auburn was the second-highest ranked SEC school at the end of the 2016 regular season, at No. 17), to go with three participants from the Pac-12 and four from the Big Ten.

Could the Buffs have traveled to Norman, and pulled off the upset over the Sooners?

Perhaps not, but, considering the Buffs raced out to a 14-0 lead in the game against No. 6 Michigan on the road in September of that season (and held the lead in the third quarter before Sefo Liufau left the game with an injury), it would not have been inconceivable for the Buffs to advance.

Only to take on Clemson (which would go on to win the national title in 2016)?

It would have been a tough row to hoe … at Oklahoma, v. Clemson, and then – potentially – Washington (again) and Alabama.


But, here’s the thing.

While it would have been a stretch to see the Buffs running through the gauntlet of Sooners, Tigers, Huskies and the Crimson Tide to a national title, the reality remains that, had there been a 12-team playoff in 2016, CU would have been in the mix.

And take last fall, when 4-0 CU was nationally ranked. At the time, there was no discussion of the Buffs having a shot at the College Football Playoff. Had thee been a 12-team bracket, however, there certainly would have been talk of the Buffs making the playoffs.

As they say at the poker tables, all you need is a chip and a chair.

Sounds good to me …


3 Replies to “The 12-team Playoff – Good News or Bad for CU and the Pac-12?”

  1. Regarding missing out on swag and good times at a bowl game, I’m sure the players would rather play a game for a championship over all of that, if not than go play for a lesser team. Really, having 12 teams in the playoffs with 25ish in the conversation until the end of the season will hopefully result in talent spreading out a little more too.

  2. It would have been an odd year, with only one SEC entrant (Auburn was the second-highest ranked SEC school at the end of the 2016 regular season, at No. 17), to go with three participants from the Pac-12 and four from the Big Ten.

    That is how it is supposed to look every dag-a nab-it

  3. I like this prospect. One amendment I would make is the teams that lose round one get sent to a bowl game That way their season doesn’t end with a first round exit on the road

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