clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What if the CFP had 12 teams from the start?

B1G Style

No effect on these teams, that’s for sure.

As a CFB fan, you certainly already know the NCAA is considering expanding the playoff to include 12 teams. Exciting! And you’ve probably already encountered a “What if the playoff always had 12 teams?” piece. They basically write themselves.

If you’re unimaginative and just spit out the brackets based on how the final CFP rankings each year looked.

But that’s no fun, so welcome to my take on what would’ve have happened. I’m going to make some assumptions, but will try to support each. In the comments, you can tell me how stupid I am. Ready?


Ohio State doesn’t get the 4-seed with a 12-team tournament. People forget that OSU was ahead of Baylor before the 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin and that they only jumped TCU. However, I’m asserting that with 12 teams, the committee will emphasize other factors. TCU’s loss (@Baylor) is much better than OSU’s (vs. Va Tech), so with only a bye at stake, rather than an “in or not” situation, TCU holds at #3, but OSU jumps FSU for #4. But, assuming Baylor is Big 12 champ by H2H, TCU drops to 5 since non-champs can’t get a bye. The Big 12 wailing and gnashing of teeth isn’t quite so loud, but they whine all the same.

First Round: 5 TCU over 12 Boise State, 6 Baylor over 11 Arizona, 7 Mississippi State over 10 KSU, 8 Michigan State over 9 Ole Miss*. [The committee would’ve flipped Arizona/KSU to avoid Baylor/KSU rematch, especially since they’d played each other to end season.]

*MSU’s win over Ole Miss is not quite the classic their actual 42-41 win over Baylor is, but it’s still an entertaining, up-and-down-the-field contest.

Quarters: 1 Alabama over 8 Sparty*, 2 Oregon over 7 Mississippi State, 3 Ohio State beats 6 Baylor by a couple of TDs**, and 5 TCU knocks of overripe 4 FSU.

*Alabama isn’t as good as the 2015 version that annihilated MSU, but then again, neither was 2014 MSU. Similar result. Or did you forget what happens when Alabama plays MSU?
**Baylor beat TCU, but it took a huge 4th quarter comeback and TCU was the more complete team. Baylor hangs for about 20 minutes, but then OSU opens up some breathing room.

Semis and Title: OSU wins title, but beats TCU in title game as this wasn’t vintage ‘Bama, and TCU did what A&M did under Manziel, but better and with some defense.


The classic Michigan State/Iowa rock fight is for a bye, not an overall spot in the playoff. Elsewhere, given that seeding is at stake, the committee bumps UNC up a spot from 10 to 9, and FSU down from 9 to 10 as UNC played Clemson tough in the ACC title game and FSU sat at home. The committee stakes out a precedent of not punishing schools good enough to win their division. Not much else changes with the seeding this year, so...

First Round: 12 Houston upsets 5 Iowa*, 6 Stanford over 11 TCU, 7 Ohio State over 10 FSU**, and 8 Notre Dame over 9 UNC.

*Everybody KNOWS this would’ve happened. Houston was good. They throttled FSU in their bowl game. Iowa’s bowl performance was, um, less impressive.
**As just noted, FSU got housed by Houston. OSU would’ve faced minimal resistance.

Quarters: 1 Clemson over 8 Notre Dame, 7 Ohio State over 2 Alabama*, 6 Stanford over 3 Michigan State**, and 12 Houston over 4 Oklahoma.

*Since the 2014 Alabama/OSU playoff matchup didn’t happen (see above), there’s no revenge factor. And OSU’s loss to MSU is a wake up call. The Buckeye offense looks a lot more like the one that rolled through Notre Dame in their bowl game than the regular season version and something like what actually happened in 2014 happens in 2015 instead.
**Sparty played with fire all year and simply wasn’t as good as Stanford. It’s closer than Iowa’s pitiful Rose Bowl performance, but McCaffrey has a big day and MSU struggles to keep up.

Semis and Title: Ohio State beats Stanford in a classic* and Clemson rolls past Houston. Clemson, the #1-seed, plays the “nobody believes in us” card and knocks off OSU in a great title game.**

*Think of something like Stanford’s thrilling 38-36 season-ending win over Notre Dame, which knocked ND out of playoff contention. After OSU’s win, insufferable NW fans note that they beat Stanford in the season-opener by more than OSU did.
**It’s tough to repeat.


Ohio State finishes #3, but like TCU in 2014, it doesn’t get them a bye. Penn State finishes #5 and grabs the last bye. Oklahoma finishes #7*, the Big 12 champ doesn’t get a bye, and the whining from the conference only gets worse. With Ohio State dropping to #5, a quarterfinal rematch vs. Penn State sparks talking head debate about such things. But, really, with only twelve teams you can’t fudge the numbers to avoid rematches the way they do in March Madness.

*I wanted to argue that Oklahoma, after losing to Houston in 2015 (see above), gets revenge in the season opener in 2016 (a game Oklahoma actually lost), but if I start changing regular season results, then anything becomes possible, so I’ll only fiddle with the committee’s seeding work. And, if Houston makes the semis in 2015, is Tom Herman off to a new job after one season? I dunno. Play with your own time/space continuum.

First Round: 5 Ohio State over 12 Western Michigan (no problem; no footnote needed), 6 Michigan over 11 Florida State*, 7 Oklahoma over 10 Colorado, 9 USC over 8 Wisconsin**

*Yes, FSU won the bowl matchup in real life, but that was a consolation prize for a bitterly disappointed Wolverine team. Love or hate Harbs (and you know the correct answer to that one), Michigan was loaded this year and, with more than pride to play for, would’ve advanced. Still, FUCK MICHIGAN. Let’s relive Dalvin Cook running wild.
*Wisconsin’s losses were to OSU, Michigan, and PSU (i.e., the 3, 5, and 6 seeds), all by 7. They could’ve hung with USC, but, well, you all probably saw the 52-49 USC/PSU Rose Bowl, and you know PSU beat UW in the B1G title game via YOLO ball. No reason USC couldn’t have done the same. Trojans advance in a classic that causes the old-timers to bring up USC’s 42-37 win in the ‘63 Rose Bowl.

Quarters: 1 Alabama over 8 USC, 2 Clemson over 7 Oklahoma, 6 Michigan over 3 Washington*, 5 Ohio State over 4 Penn State**

*I will go to my grave thinking that 2016 Washington, with a non-conference schedule of Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State, was the least-deserving CFP team from 2014-2020, but the committee ultimately seemed to care more about having fewer losses than about quality of opponent. So, Washington is just ripe for the picking.
**I hold no brief for OSU, but lightning isn’t striking twice and everybody but PSU knows it.

Semis and Title: 1 Alabama over 5 OSU*, 2 Clemson over 6 Michigan**; Bama wins title over defending champs Clemson in reversal of what actually happened.

*Bama’s win over OSU looks a lot like the last time Saban gets revenge on Urban, the 2009 SEC title game. OSU’s offensive deficiencies are exposed in similar way to how Clemson actually did. Or did you forget? Here’s a reminder:
**Michigan actually plays Clemson closer than OSU did, but Clemson pulls away in second half to win by 14 or so.


I have no idea if the committee has Alabama jump Ohio State as happened in real life. Probably not, since, as a non-conference champ, doing so wouldn’t change anything as ‘Bama couldn’t get a bye anyway. Does Alabama never NOT get a break? Fuck them. Anyway...

First Round: 5 Alabama over 12 UCF (Would you really be happier if this had happened, UCF?), 6 Wisconsin over 11 Miami*, 7 Auburn over 10 Washington, and 9 Penn State over 8 USC**

*This already happened. Does Alex Hornibrook go 23-34 with 4 TD in an alternate universe. Eh, moving on...
**Put me in the camp that believes that 2017 PSU >>> 2016 PSU. Always hilarious. [PLEASE click link.]

Quarters: 8 Penn State over 1 Clemson*, 2 Oklahoma over 7 Auburn, 3 Georgia over 6 Wisconsin**, 4 Ohio State over 5 Alabama***

*I don’t think I’m a total B1G homer, but this was the Clemson team that had neither Deshaun Watson nor Trevor Lawrence at QB and got throttled by Bama 24-6.
**Wisconsin was actually the best team in CFB in 2017 going by SRS, but I’m going to believe my lyin’ eyes on this one.
***Does OSU really win this game? I don’t know, but saying they do allows me to make this point. In the four-team playoff, Saban gets ample prep time for both the semi and the title game. With a 12-teamer, he only gets a week in-between games, which probably matters at the margins.

Semis and Title: 4 Ohio State over 8 Penn State*, but 3 Georgia wins it all.

*Maybe PSU wins. After all, OSU needed a near-miracle comeback in Columbus. But are you really taking James Franklin?


Undefeated and #3 Notre Dame has to settle for #5 seed, opening the door for #6 Ohio State to seize a bye as #5 Georgia was SEC runner-up. We’re all sad for the Irish, right? Other than that, though, get ready for a lot of chalk.

First Round: 5 Notre Dame over 12 Penn State*, 6 Georgia over 11 LSU, 10 Florida over 7 Michigan**, 8 UCF over 9 Washington.

*Yes, Notre Dame is almost always overrated, but PSU went 9-3, then lost to Kentucky in their bowl game. The #12 ranking is a gift.
**I gave 2016 Michigan the benefit of the doubt, but this squad lost IRL to Florida 41-15. Fool me once...

Quarters: 1 Alabama over 8 UCF (Really? You really would rather not be able to claim some mythical BS natty UCF?), 2 Clemson over 10 Florida, 6 Georgia over 3 Oklahoma, 4 Ohio State over 5 Notre Dame (no footnote, this wouldn’t have been close).

Semis and Title: 1 Alabama over 4 Ohio State (convincingly), 2 Clemson over 6 Georgia, and the title game goes much the way it actually did with Clemson thumping the Tide.


LSU still jumps OSU for #1 based on championship week, and that still makes a big difference. I do think that the committee would’ve only dropped Utah to 10, rather than 11, to avoid a Pac-12 title game vs. Oregon. So, instead, PSU holds onto #10 and gets a crack at the Oregon squad they think they, rather than UW, should’ve faced in the Rose Bowl.

In other news, Minnesota, the B1G West co-champs*, enjoying their best season in half a century, finish #18 and out of the mix. No Jan. 1 bowl win over Auburn in this universe. File under, “be careful what you wish for,” expansion advocates. #oldbowlsystem

*Unintentional comedy is really the best kind:

First Round: 5 Georgia over 12 Memphis, 6 Oregon over 11 Penn State*, 7 Baylor over 10 Utah, 8 Wisconsin over 9 Florida**

*If you get shredded by Tanner Morgan, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt against Jake Herbert.
**Would’ve been a nasty, defensive struggle. Flip a coin.

Quarters: 1 LSU over 8 Wisconsin*, 2 Ohio State over 7 Baylor (no footnote, not close), 3 Clemson over 6 Oregon, and 4 Oklahoma over 5 Georgia (probably not, but blind squirrels and all that).

*This would NOT have been a defensive struggle and no amount of coin flipping in the world would change that.

Semis and Title: You already know how this goes. LSU romps over Oklahoma and handily beats Clemson, who had knocked off Ohio State in a semifinal classic. Shall we count the OSU missed opportunities?


A surreal season still fresh in our minds. Does the committee really keep Coastal Carolina at #12 and earning a bid? Well, given that there was no Pac-12 team worthy of a nod, probably. Northwestern (#14) and Iowa (#15)* on the outside looking in.

*Seriously, how hilarious would this have been? Iowa, on a 6-game winning streak, having to sit at home and watch Iowa State in the CFP, knowing, just KNOWING, that they would have beaten the Cyclones in El Assico had it been played as originally scheduled, while still stewing over their own bowl game being cancelled.

First Round: 5 Notre Dame over 12 Coastal Carolina (shut up), 6 Texas A&M over 11 Indiana*, 10 Iowa State over 7 Florida (probably not, but see previous footnote), 9 Georgia over 8 Cincinnati.

*Do we really have to discuss how Indiana’s bowl game against a much inferior SEC opponent went? Would Indiana still have been petty and stupid and covered up their B1G patches in this scenario?

Quarters: 1 Alabama over 9 Georgia, 2 Clemson over 10 Iowa State, 3 Ohio State over 6 Texas A&M*, 4 Oklahoma over 5 Notre Dame

*Texas A&M was fine. Ohio State would’ve looked susceptible coming in given how B1G title game went. Popular upset pick, etc. Nope.

Semis and Title: Hate to be chalky again, but nobody was beating Alabama last year, and OSU was getting their revenge. Bama over Oklahoma, OSU over Clemson, Bama over OSU.