News broke on Thursday that the Rose Bowl had cleared its grievances and the path is now wide open for the College Football Playoff to expand to 12 teams starting in 2024. Until then, however, we’re stuck with the four-team format first brought to light in 2014.
However, what’s the fun in waiting two years to wonder what a 12-team playoff might look like? Let’s put on our theorizing hats and get to work creating a 12-team playoff for 2022.
Let’s start with the format. All five Power Five conference champions receive automatic qualifications, as well as the highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five. The top-four teams receive a bye to the second round, placing teams 5-12 in the first round, with the higher seed playing games on campus.
The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played at one of the New Years Six bowl game sites, with those sites rotating who gets to host the semifinals, before a neutral site championship game as always.
Using the last round of College Football Playoff rankings, and making some assumptions on conference championship games to come, here’s how a 12-team playoff might unfold were it to happen this year.
No. 9 Clemson at No. 8 Penn State
The winner plays No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, but that’s no matter. It’s Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers traveling to take on James Franklin’s Penn State Nittany Lions in a likely frigid and packed Beaver Stadium.
Clemson has struggled mightily against teams with tough defenses, a label that definitely applies to Penn State. It’s likely that Penn State gets on DJ Uiagalelei early, and the Nittany Lion offense led by Sean Clifford pulls away for the win.
Winner: Penn State
No. 12 Tulane at No. 5 Ohio State
As shaky as this Ohio State team has looked over the past month or so, it’s still far and away the better team compared to Tulane, which will have to travel to a sold out Ohio Stadium, an environment the Green Wave aren’t exactly familiar with playing in the AAC.
The winner of this game heads to the Rose Bowl to take on No. 4 USC, and in all likelihood, Ohio State would prove themselves to be the team headed west very early in this game.
Winner: Ohio State
No. 10 Kansas State at No. 7 Tennessee
This could be an interesting one. Kansas State has looked uncertain at times, and the same can be said for Tennessee. Not to mention, the Vols are down star quarterback Hendon Hooker, who tore his ACL in their blowout loss to South Carolina. However, Tennessee gets to play in Neyland Stadium, a place it has yet to lose all season.
I think it would be close, and perhaps the winner is a bit worse off heading into an Orange Bowl matchup with No. 2 Michigan, but I’d take the Wildcats in a College Football Playoff upset.
Winner: Kansas State
No. 11 Utah at No. 6 Alabama
As good as Utah is and has been for large stretches of the season, it hasn’t been long since the Utes traveled east of the Mississippi River to take on an SEC opponent, falling to Florida on the road in Week 1.
I don’t think I need to tell you that Alabama is a much better team than Florida, and the environment is just as hostile. The temperature certainly wouldn’t be quite as unbearable for Utah, but I’d imagine the Crimson Tide has little issue winning this one. They travel to Dallas to take on TCU in the Cotton Bowl.
Sugar Bowl: No. 8 Penn State vs No. 1 Georgia
Fresh off its win against Clemson, Penn State gets gifted a date with the best team in the country, which is also coming off a bye week. Everything massively favors Georgia, and I’m sure the final scoreline will follow suit.
This one should look a whole lot like Georgia’s Playoff game against Michigan last season.
Rose Bowl: No. 5 Ohio State vs No. 4 USC
This is easily the most interesting of all the quarterfinal matchups.
You have USC, which has a Heisman frontrunner at quarterback but a suspect at best defense, up against an Ohio State offense that also boasts a Heisman-contending quarterback and receiver room that provides him with an artillery of dangerous weapons.
I just don’t think the Trojan defense could keep up and get the stops they need in this hypothetical matchup. Ohio State wins.
Winner: Ohio State
Orange Bowl: No. 10 Kansas State vs No. 2 Michigan
Another one like the Sugar Bowl, where Kansas State may be riding high heading into the game only to be greeted with a buzzsaw followed by a brick wall to run directly into. Michigan pulls away early and it’s never that close.
Cotton Bowl: No. 6 Alabama vs No. 3 TCU
This one could get interesting as well.
TCU boasts a nearly complete-looking team, but the one knock on the Horned Frogs is they haven’t been tested against serious opposition. The ranked teams they have beaten have looked a bit fraudulent, whereas Alabama has been tested many times, failing two of their three biggest tests.
However, I’m taking the Tide in this hypothetical. Alabama’s overall base of talent would just be too much for TCU to overcome.
Peach Bowl: No. 5 Ohio State vs No. 1 Georgia
This game sounds great on paper, doesn’t it? At least until you realize the only truly good defense Ohio State has played thus far has been Michigan, who beat them by three scores.
The Bulldogs’ defense is leagues better than the Wolverines, assuring another easy win for the juggernaut Bulldogs.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 6 Alabama vs No. 2 Michigan
Now here’s a real opportunity for Alabama to prove their losses to Tennessee and LSU were flukes. Michigan is easily the best team they will have played in 2022.
That’s no disrespect to the Tigers or Vols at all, but praise of how good Michigan is. I think the problems the Tide faced in their two losses, as well as their close win on the road at Ole Miss rear, their ugly head again, with Michigan exploiting those weaknesses en route to a two-touchdown victory.
SoFi Stadium: No. 2 Michigan vs No. 1 Georgia.
The big one. What may end up becoming our own reality of a national championship game becomes reality in this world: Michigan against Georgia.
The two most talented teams in the country meet on the biggest stage of them all. It’s a rematch of last year’s Orange Bowl semifinal, except Michigan has improved this go around.
However, I have a hard time envisioning a different result than that last matchup. Sure, I think the score will be much closer this time, but it all ends the same: With red and black confetti dropping, and Kirby Smart hoisting his second National Championship trophy—but this time as winners of a 12-team College Football Playoff.