Sean Pendergast

College Football Playoff: What Would a 12-Team Playoff Have Looked Like in 2021?

A 12 team College Football Playoff for 2021 would have included the Big XII champion Baylor Bears,
A 12 team College Football Playoff for 2021 would have included the Big XII champion Baylor Bears, Photo by Jack Gorman
The College Football Playoff enters its eighth postseason with perhaps the most intriguing four team field in the history of the three game event. For the first time o the history of the playoff, a Group of Five school, undefeated Cincinnati, managed to crack the four team field. Additionally, there is no sign of Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, or Notre Dame, four schools who had appeared multiple times in the last half decade or so.

There is no more polarizing event than the College Football Playoff, in part because college football might be the most territorial, parochial, emotion driven sport, and in part because the field is determined subjectively by a committee of 13 human beings. In my opinion, the four team playoff is perfect BECAUSE of its imperfections. I love the debate, the heat, the discussion.

Still, there is even more money to be made, presumably, by a bigger field in the future, and for that reason (and make no mistake — ONLY that reason), the powers that be in college football are discussing intently on whether or not to expand the field to 12 teams. Four teams to 12 teams would be a massive jump, but the revenue generated would be in the multiple billions of dollars.

At first, the target year was 2024, but now it might have to wait until 2026. Either way, the system being proposed would likely go like this:

* The top six ranked conference champions would all qualify automatically for the playoff
* The top four conference champions would get a bye into the quarterfinals of the tournament, and would be the top four seeds
* The remaining eight teams would play an opening round on college campuses, with the higher rated team hosting the game
* The bowl system would provide the sites for the quarterfinals and semifinals
* The title game would be played at some Super Bowl style neutral site, as it is now (this year in Indianapolis)

Right now, the four team playoff for this season goes like this:

COTTON BOWL, December 31
1. ALABAMA vs 4. CINCINNATI

ORANGE BOWL, December 31
2. MICHIGAN vs 3. GEORGIA

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, January 10
LUCAS OIL STADIUM

It's fun to daydream, though, so let's pretend the 12-team format got approved and fast tracked for this postseason. You want to see some fun stuff? Here is what the 2021 12-team College Football Playoff would look like (with thoughts interspersed):

FIRST ROUND BYES:
1. ALABAMA, 2. MICHIGAN, 3. CINCINNATI, 4. BAYLOR

Tow blue bloods at the top, followed by two complete upstarts in the other two "bye" spots. I think Cincy and Baylor would both be underdogs on a neutral field to Georgia and Ohio State, at least. Baylor would probably also be an underdog to Notre Dame. Doesn't matter, though. The rules bump both into the top four.

OPENING ROUND GAMES:

Wow, check this out — college football postseason games to be played in Athens, South Bend, the horseshoe in Columbus, and the Grove in Oxford, MS. That does NOT suck!

12. PITT at 5. GEORGIA
Heisman finalist (and possible future Houston Texan) QB Kenny Pickett of Pitt against one of the best defenses in recent college football memory, Bryce Young's 421 yard performance against them in the SEC Title game notwithstanding.

11. UTAH at 6. NOTRE DAME
The Pac-12 champions need a playoff expansion to get into the dance, as the conference has not made the four team  postseason tourney since 2016. This would be Notre Dame's third playoff appearance in four years, and a home game versus Utah would actually give the Irish a chance to won one, for a change.

10. MICHIGAN STATE at 7. OHIO STATE
The caveat here is that I doubt the committee would seed the tournament in such a way where we would get a rematch fo a regular season game, especially one that Ohio State won by a score of 56-7. Also, the winner of this game would face Michigan in the quarterfinal, and both these teams have played the Wolverines, too. My guess is the committee would shuffle the seeding slightly to avoid this.

9. OKLAHOMA STATE at 8. OLE MISS
Mike Gundy versus Lane Kiffin puts two of the more intriguing head coaches against each other, and any match that has some SEC vs Big XII sizzle is a good thing, given the SEC pilfering Oklahoma and Texas from the Big XII this past summer.

Ok, one word — WOW. This would be a ton of fun.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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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 afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast