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).
There is a new top seed in our 12-team Fake Playoff. Bow down to the Georgia Bulldogs and kiss their rings (if they won any recently, we would!). That’s a low blow from the unbiased Fake Selection Committee. But hey, Bulldogs, maybe this is the year!
You’ve got to agree with the committee here: After Alabama’s stunning weekend loss, Georgia has looked like the best team by a fairly healthy margin. Ah, but have no fear, Crimson Tide—you’re comfortably in the 12-team playoff despite the defeat. In fact, a whopping three teams in our playoff lost their last game, something that won’t sit well with fan bases outside of Bama (loss to A&M), Penn State (Iowa) and Oregon (Stanford). The Ducks squeak in as one of our six required conference champions.
You may see a new team in the field: Kentucky. The Wildcats find themselves in the 8–9 game (sound familiar, Cats fans?). Big Blue Nation would be disappointed with an 8–9 Big Dance matchup, but in the football playoff? They’d take it every time.
Enough already. To the playoff, we go!
5. Michigan (Big Ten at-large)
12. Wake Forest (ACC champion)
8. Kentucky (SEC at-large)
9. Penn State (Big Ten at-large)
The 8–9 game: After four weeks of creating this Fake Playoff, we have realized that one of the most difficult choices for the committee each year will likely be who hosts the 8–9 game. In this case, we chose the Wildcats, mostly because the Nittany Lions are just coming off a loss. And like the current CFP selection committee, we, too, are taking injuries into account. PSU QB Sean Clifford went down during the game, never returned, and the Lions flopped. But on a normal basis, the margin between the two teams is likely to be close. That presents a difficult and significant decision in granting home field.
Bama-Buckeyes in T-town: What’s the get-in price of an Alabama–Ohio State playoff game in Tuscaloosa? It’s probably around $300, but maybe a lot more. These one-loss football titans would be clashing for the right to meet … Cincinnati in a quarterfinal. If we thought the ticket price of Bama-OSU was high, imagine Cincinnati and the Buckeyes tangling with a trip to the semifinal on the line.
Last in: The final at-large team into the field is the Buckeyes. The committee spent many hours wrestling over such a move. Why? The decision gives the Big Ten five—five—of the 12 teams in the playoff field. That’s a lot, and creates what is sure to be at least one or two rematches along the way (Michigan State–Iowa or Ohio State–Iowa in the quarterfinals, for instance). But it also leaves out teams that feel just as deserving as the Buckeyes—who, you’ll recall, lost on their own field to an Oregon team that recently dropped a game to Stanford. For example, there’s Ole Miss, with its only loss at Alabama. There’s undefeated Oklahoma State. There’s Notre Dame, whose only loss came to the No. 3 seed. And there are at least two undefeated Group of 5 champions in Coastal Carolina and San Diego State. The nod, for now, goes to the Buckeyes.
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