College Football Playoff expansion: How a 12-team CFP would have looked the last seven seasons

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With possible College Football Playoff expansion finally on the horizon, debate is rampant over what the new 12-team format will look like in future seasons and whether it will be good for the sport. Though only time will tell how it shakes out, a look back at the past seven seasons offers a glimpse at what could lie ahead.

For one thing, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would actually have a couple CFP appearances under his belt in a 12-team format, and some real underdog programs would have also made the CFP. Among the most surprising teams who would have made the playoff at one point or another over the past seven seasons are Arizona, Colorado, Western Michigan and Coastal Carolina.

So let’s forget what happened over the last seven years in the old four-team format and take a look back at what college football‘s postseason would have looked like if the CFP had started with 12 teams at its inception back in 2014.

2020 CFP

Byes (Top-ranked conference champions)
1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma
Rest of field (x-conference champion)
5. Notre Dame
6. Texas A&M
7. Florida
8. Cincinnati (x)
9. Georgia
10. Iowa State
11. Indiana
12. Coastal Carolina (x)

Matchups
No. 12 Coastal Carolina at No. 5 Notre Dame
No. 11 Indiana at No. 6 Texas A&M
No. 10 Iowa State at No. 7 Florida
No. 9 Georgia at No. 8 Cincinnati

With Oregon winning the Pac-12 Championship Game but only registering at No. 25 in the CFP rankings, two Group of Five schools would have made the playoff in a 12-team format last year. A Coastal Carolina vs. Notre Dame meeting in the first round would have been fun. Four SEC schools would have made the field.

2019 CFP

Byes (Top-ranked conference champions) 
1. LSU
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
Rest of field (x-conference champion)
5. Georgia
6. Oregon (x)
7. Baylor
8. Wisconsin
9. Florida
10. Penn State
11. Utah
12. Memphis (x)

Matchups
No. 12 Memphis at No. 5 Georgia
No. 11 Utah at No. 6 Oregon
No. 10 Penn State at No. 7 Baylor
No. 9 Florida at No. 8 Wisconsin

The 2019 College Football Playoff with a 12-team format is a prime example of how the Pac-12 can benefit from expansion. No team from the league made the top four, but both Oregon and Utah would have mad a 12-team field. Ironically, though, they would have been pitted against each other in a first-round game after meeting each other in the conference title game on Dec. 6.

2018 CFP

Byes (Top-ranked conference champions)
1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Oklahoma
4. Ohio State
Rest of field (x-conference champion)
5. Notre Dame
6. Georgia
7. Michigan
8. UCF (x)
9. Washington (x)
10. Florida
11. LSU
12. Penn State

Matchups
No. 12 Penn State at No. 5 Notre Dame
No. 11 LSU at No. 6 Georgia
No. 10 Florida at No. 7 Michigan
No. 9 Washington at No. 8 UCF

With no exception in place for Notre Dame to get a bye without playing in a conference championship game, the Fighting Irish would have been relegated to the No. 5 seed under a 12-team format despite finishing the regular season 12-0. This year’s first round would have featured some tantalizing matchups, including a Penn State vs. Notre Dame clash.

2017 CFP

Byes (Top-ranked conference champions)
1. Clemson
2. Oklahoma
3. Georgia
4. Ohio State
Rest of field (x-conference champion)
5. Alabama
6. Wisconsin
7. Auburn
8. USC (x)
9. Penn State
10. Miami
11. Washington
12. UCF (x)

Matchups
No. 12 UCF at No. 5 Alabama
No. 11 Washington at No. 6 Wisconsin
No. 10 Miami at No. 7 Auburn
No. 9 Penn State at No. 8 USC

Alabama made the 2017 College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed despite not appearing in the SEC Championship game due to a loss at Auburn. However, the Crimson Tide would not have been the No. 4 seed in the new format. Rather, the No. 4 seed would have gone to Ohio State, which was left out of the 2017 field after coming in at No. 5 in the final CFP rankings. Since the Buckeyes were one of the top-four league champions, they would have gotten a first-round bye while Alabama would have been forced to play a 12-0 UCF team in the first round.

2016 CFP

Byes (Top-ranked conference champions)
1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Ohio State
4. Washington
Rest of field (x-conference champion)
5. Penn State
6. Michigan 
7. Oklahoma (x)
8. Wisconsin 
9. USC
10. Colorado
11. Florida State
12. Western Michigan (x)

Matchups
No. 12 Western Michigan at No. 5 Penn State
No. 11 Florida State at. No. 6 Michigan 
No. 10 Colorado at No. 7 Oklahoma
No. 9 USC at No. 8 Wisconsin

The Big Ten would have been well-represented with four teams in the 2016 College Football Playoff under a 12-team format in place. But this playoff would have included a couple quirks, too, with Western Michigan in the mix as the No. 12 seed and Mike MacIntyre’s Colorado Buffaloes in the picture as the No. 10 seed.

2015 CFP

Byes (Top-ranked conference champions)
1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Michigan State
4. Oklahoma
Rest of field (x-conference champion)
5. Iowa
6. Stanford (x)
7. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
9. Florida State
10. North Carolina
11. TCU
12. Houston (x)

Matchups
No. 12 Houston at No. 5 Iowa
No. 11 TCU at No. 6 Stanford
No. 10 North Carolina at No. 7 Ohio State
No. 9 Florida State at No. 8 Notre Dame

North Carolina’s football revival is in full swing under Mack Brown, but the 2015 Tar Heels would have made the CFP under the 12-team format. That squad, coached by Larry Fedora, would have been pitted against a No. 7 seed Ohio State team that slipped from the playoff picture with a late season loss to Michigan State.

2014 CFP

Byes (Top-ranked conference champions)
1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State
Rest of field (x-conference champion)
5. Baylor (x)
6. TCU
7. Mississippi State
8. Michigan State
9. Ole Miss
10. Arizona
11. Kansas State
12. Boise State (x)

Matchups
No. 12 Boise State at No. 5 Baylor
No. 11 Kansas State at No. 6 TCU
No. 10 Arizona at No. 7 Mississippi State
No. 9 Ole Miss at No. 8 Michigan State

In the debut season with the College Football Playoff, both Ole Miss and Mississippi State rose to prominence and were in the top four of the first rankings released on Oct. 28. But losses dropped both Magnolia State schools from the top four by the time the final batch of CFP rankings rolled out in early December. With a 12-team format, though, both schools would’ve made the playoff. An Arizona team coached by Rich Rodriguez also would have made it as an at-large squad out of the Pac-12.



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