This is a weekly Sports Illustrated series using the current college football standings to create an imaginary 12-team playoff bracket based on the model proposed this summer by CFP executives. 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).
So maybe that 12-team playoff isn’t such a great idea after all.
The Fake Selection Committee argued deep into the night this weekend, not over the final teams in the field but whether the field should be reduced to eight, or maybe four, or even two. Alabama and Georgia feel like they have separated themselves from everyone else in a way that has us salivating over Dec. 4—the date of the SEC championship, the true national title game. We are of course kidding. Kind of.
But that brings us to an important point. At least one qualm is emerging from this 12-team format. If the best two teams in the land are from the same conference, one of them can be seeded no better than fifth and won’t have the luxury of a first-round bye.
Take for instance this week’s 12-team format, where Iowa, Cincinnati and Oklahoma (!!) get a better position than the Bulldogs. If this playoff expansion model is approved without any adjustment to this provision, get ready for more of this: the second-best SEC team complaining about its seed because it lost to Alabama in the conference title game.
You’ll notice another issue with this format, too. The requirement to include six conference champions can cause problems. It means that at least two or three at-large teams are on the outside looking in despite possessing better résumés than the final league champion into the field.
Let’s all keep in mind that we are a month into the season and that résumés haven’t had the opportunity to strengthen just yet. Things will hopefully sort themselves out.
But enough complaining, let’s get to the field of 12 …
1. Alabama (SEC champion)
2. Iowa (Big Ten champion)
3. Cincinnati (AAC champion)
4. Oklahoma (Big 12 champion)
5. Georgia (SEC at large)
12. Wake Forest (ACC champion)
6. Penn State (Big Ten at large)
11. Arkansas (SEC at large)
7. Michigan State (Big Ten at large)
10. Oregon (Pac-12 champion)
8. BYU (Independent at large)
9. Michigan (Big Ten at large)
The last at-large team in: Arkansas. There is no good option here. None. Plenty of teams were considered. Ohio State. Oklahoma State. Kentucky. Notre Dame. The Razorbacks, with wins over Texas and Texas A&M, have the strongest résumé, though the Aggies aren’t helping matters. The Hogs have the advantage of possessing the most understandable loss of any of the teams in consideration, a 37–0 beating at Georgia (the only time a 37-point defeat has ever been considered understandable). The separating factors, though, are the quality wins (a road victory over a top-40 team or a home victory over a top 25). Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State have zero. Kentucky has one (vs. Florida).
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The sixth-best conference champ: The Fake Selection Committee put in serious work Saturday night and into the wee hours of Sunday morning, staying up—with help from our good friend Maker’s Mark—to 3 a.m. ET to watch Fresno State shoot itself right out of the field with a loss at Hawaii. It made the raging debate over the No. 12 seed easier. The Demon Deacons squeaked in over a pair of Group of 5 champions like SMU and Coastal Carolina. Any of the three—Wake, SMU and Coastal—would unlikely be inside the top 12 of many rankings, and yet here they are with a chance to dance.
Quarterfinal duds: Remember how we thought about reducing the field? Check out some of these potential quarterfinal matchups. Alabama vs. BYU or Michigan. The Tide would be at least an 18-point favorite. Georgia vs. Oklahoma. The Bulldogs would probably be favored by at least two touchdowns. Iowa vs. Michigan State. Well, that my friend could be a rematch of the Big Ten title game. This is a good argument for fewer teams in the field. But, hey, it’s not like this every year, and we aren’t even halfway through this season yet, anyhow.
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