We are all dreaming of playoff expansion. So, let’s turn fantasy into reality.
And by reality, we mean a fake 12-team playoff bracket composed here each week during the college football season, based on the sport’s current standings and abiding by the rules stipulated in the 12-team model proposed over the summer by a collection of College Football Playoff executives.
Each week, we’ll ask ourselves a simple question.
If an expanded playoff were to happen today, how would it look?
We’ll get there by heavily using the latest rankings, a dash of future prognostications and a sprinkle of common sense. But of course, there are ground rules. In case you’ve forgotten, the 12-team model features (1) the six highest-ranked conference champions and (2) the next six highest-ranked teams. The four highest-ranked conference champions get byes to the second round (independents are not eligible to receive a bye—sorry, Notre Dame).
O.K., now to this week’s bracket…
1. Alabama (SEC champion)
2. Oregon (Pac-12 champion)
3. Penn State (Big Ten champion)
4. Oklahoma (Big 12 champion)
5. Georgia (SEC at-large)
12. Ohio State (Big Ten at-large)
6. Iowa (Big Ten at-large)
11. Notre Dame (independent at-large)
7. Clemson (ACC champion)
10. Michigan State (Big Ten at-large)
8. Cincinnati (AAC champion)
9. Texas A&M (SEC at-large)
With just three weeks of games available, this gets pretty tricky. We are making a fairly large assumption that Penn State is the best team in the Big Ten and that Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12 (so, yeah, the latter might not be such a large assumption). Either way, as the season goes, we will of course adjust.
Outside looking in: Florida. The Gators were basically the last team out. Would this imaginary committee of ours really put a team into the playoff that just got beat? We know, we know—Florida looked remarkably good against the Crimson Tide. But somebody has to be left out and at least this week, that team is UF. Also considered: Ole Miss, Michigan and BYU.
Best first-round matchup: Give me the Buckeyes playing in Athens. Sure, Ohio State hasn’t looked great (it was the last one into the field, in fact), but who knows what can happen in a playoff game? Just imagine the atmosphere at UGA with the Buckeyes coming to town for a do-or-die game.
Big Ten–SEC: Did you notice something about the 12 teams? Seven of them represent the Big Ten and the SEC. In fact, as it stands now, no other conference has more than one qualifying team: AAC (1), ACC (1), Pac-12 (1) and Big 12 (1), with one independent. The Big Ten has a playoff-high four teams, and the SEC has three. There’s plenty of time for the other leagues to catch up. Coastal Carolina, of the Sun Belt, is next in line for the sixth automatic championship qualifying spot if Cincinnati slips up, and don’t sleep on San Diego State. Aside from Oklahoma, there are four other 3–0 teams in the Big 12, but none have played a stiff schedule thus far.