New Playoff Format Could Bring a Windfall to Penn State

Penn State would have made a 12-team playoff from 2016-19. A recruiting boom might have followed.
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If history is an indicator, Penn State could be a big winner in a new 12-team College Football Playoff.

The College Football Playoff Committee is recommending an expansion of the current four-team format to a broader plan that would include eight more teams. The proposed format would feature the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams.

"The four-team format has been very popular and is a big success," the CFP management committee's working group said in a statement. "But it's important that we consider the opportunity for more teams and more student-athletes to participate in the playoff. After reviewing numerous options, we believe this proposal is the best option to increase participation, enhance the regular season and grow the national excitement of college football."

Had that format already been in effect, Penn State would be a four-time playoff participant. Further, instead of getting left out entirely in 2016, the Lions would have been among the four teams with first-round byes.

Here's how those playoff fields would have looked, according to SI.

2016

• Alabama (1) — first-round bye

• Clemson (2) — first-round bye

• Washington (3) — first-round bye

• Penn State (4) — first-round bye

• No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Western Michigan (winner plays Penn State)

• No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State (winner plays Washington)

• No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 10 Colorado (winner plays Clemson)

• No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 USC (winner plays Alabama)

2017

• Clemson (1) — first-round bye

• Oklahoma (2) — first-round bye

• Georgia (3) — first-round bye

• Ohio State (4) — first-round bye

• No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 12 UCF (winner plays Ohio State)

• No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Washington (winner plays Georgia)

• No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Miami (winner plays Oklahoma)

• No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State (winner plays Clemson)

2018

• Alabama (1) — first-round bye

• Clemson (2) — first-round bye

• Oklahoma (3) — first-round bye

• Ohio State (4) — first-round bye

• No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Penn State (winner plays Ohio State)

• No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 11 LSU (winner plays Oklahoma)

• No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida (winner plays Clemson)

• No. 8 UCF vs. No. 9 Washington (winner plays Alabama)

2019

• LSU (1) — first-round bye

• Ohio State (2) — first-round bye

• Clemson (3) — first-round bye

• Oklahoma (4) — first-round bye

• No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 12 Memphis (winner plays Oklahoma)

• No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Utah (winner plays Clemson)

• No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 10 Penn State (winner plays Ohio State)

• No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Florida (winner plays LSU)

First, note the terrific matchups:

  • 2016: likely vs. Ohio State in the second round.
  • 2017: vs. USC, with a chance to gain revenge for the Rose Bowl loss.
  • 2018: vs. Notre Dame, with the winner facing Ohio State.
  • 2019: vs. Baylor and former Penn State player Matt Rhule.

Second, a 12-team playoff would act as a pressure-release valve on Penn State's schedule. It places a much lower premium on beating the Buckeyes during the regular season. The Lions went 1-3 vs. the Buckeyes from 2016-2019 but would have finished in the top 12 all four seasons.

Had Penn State qualified for the playoff from 2016-19, it might have generated a huge shift in the program's arc. Playoff appearances mean plenty for recruiting (particularly quarterbacks), budgets and coaching salaries, all of which could have boomed.

James Franklin and his staff likely would be making a fair share more money, and the planned $48.3 million in upgrades to the Lasch Football Building might not have might generated such debate this past winter.

So if anyone's rooting for expansion, it's Penn State.

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