Sean Pendergast

What Would the 12 Team College Football Playoff Look Like in 2022?

Nick Saban and Alabama control their own destiny to the College Football Playoff.
Nick Saban and Alabama control their own destiny to the College Football Playoff. Screen grab from YouTube
I was once told by a good friend of mine in a position of influence with a major sports entertainment company that fans always want two things — "new" and "more." I feel like that's exactly what the powers that be in college football had in mind when they finally took the leap a few days ago and decided to expand the College Football Playoff from four teams to 12 teams, beginning with the 2024 season.

The format is NEW, and there will be decidedly MORE teams. We have two more college postseasons before we arrive at this format. In short, the 12 teams will be the six highest ranked FBS conference champions and the six highest ranked non conference champions (basically, six wild cards). The four highest ranked conference champions will be seeds 1 though 4 and get a first round bye, while the other eight teams will be bracketed for first round playoff games on the campus of the higher seeded team. The remainder of the format — quarterfinals, semifinals, title game — will play out within the bowl system structure. The rankings will still be compiled by the CFP Selection Committee.

The "new and more" enthusiasts will cite how this makes the conference title games an essential part of the postseason fabric, and how many more schools will be remain alive into November and December. The purists will say that 12 teams are too many, and the regular season is getting watered down. I lean to the "new and more" crowd, but I understand both sides.

Just for fun, let's add some context to the new format and slot out a 12 team playoff for this postseason, using the final College Football Playoff rankings and make a few observations once we are done. First off, here is what the actual playoff looks like right now:


2. Michigan vs 3. TCU

1. George vs 4. Ohio State

CFP TITLE GAME: January 9, 2023 in Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium)

Here are the final CFP rankings of the 2022 season, post conference title game weekend (* indicates conference champion)

1. Georgia *
2. Michigan *
3. TCU
4. Ohio State
5. Alabama
6. Tennessee
7. Clemson *
8. Utah *
9. Kansas State *
10. USC
11. Penn State
12. Washington
13. Florida State
14. Oregon State
15. Oregon
16. Tulane *
17. LSU
18. UCLA
19. South Carolina
20. Texas
21. Notre Dame
22. Mississippi State
23. NC State
24. Troy *
25. UTSA *

OK, so here is how things would look in a hypothetical 12-team playoff for all the marbles in 2022. The top four seeds would be the four highest rated conference champions:

1. UGA, SEC champion
2. Michigan, Big Ten champion
3. Clemson, ACC champion
4. Utah, Pac-12 champion

The other two conference champions gaining automatic entry would be Kansas State (Big XII champion) and Tulane (AAC champion). The six non-conference champion qualifiers would be TCU, Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee, USC, and Penn State. Those eight schools are seeded 5 through 12 in the order they fall in the most recent CFP rankings. Therefore, the first round on campus games would ge:

12 Tulane at 5 TCU (winner plays Utah)
11 Penn State at 5 Ohio State (winner plays Clemson)
10 USC at 7 Alabama (winner plays Michigan)
9 Kansas State at 8 Tennessee (Winner plays Georgia)

For what it's worth, here is the conference make up of the hypothetical 2022 field:

SEC (3): UGA, Alabama, Tennessee
Big Ten (3): Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State
Pac-12 (2): Utah, USC
Big XII (2): TCU, Kansas State
ACC (1): Clemson
AAC (1): Tulane

I'll attack this from both sides. First, since I am part of Team "new and more," it's hard for me to NOT get excited about another month of football, especially one that is single elimination like this. Also, playoff games on college campuses at the FBS level is new, and fun, and WOW, those four campuses will be off the chain!

That said, and I say this as a staunch "new and more" truther, those first round matchups are kind of blah for me. Tulane and TCU has local interest, but not a ton of sizzle (and I love the Frogs!). We've already seen Penn State and Ohio State once already this season (and every season). USC against Alabama is a fun blue blood matchup, but I think Bryce Young would hang 50 points on USC's defense. Finally, Tennessee's quarterback, Hendon Hooker, tore his ACL toward the end of the season, so that matchup is missing some starch.

Team Purist, those trying to stick with a four team playoff, after thanking me for kind of downgrading this 12 team field and helping their argument, would point out that we have expanded the playoff to a point where three-loss teams like Oregon State and Florida State are arguing their merits. That is valid. My biggest argument against playoff expansion is that we would be deprived, in future years, of Nick Saban groveling for a spot in the field when his team has two losses:
And missing out in Saban having to beg like the rest of us would be a real travesty. You know what? I've changed my mind. "New and more" isn't always what's best!

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast