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This crazy college football season would be even crazier with a 12-team playoff

September had more upsets than any year of the AP poll era. Imagine what that would mean for a 12-team playoff.
The 2021 season has been wild, including Florida's near-win over Alabama. What would it be like with a 12-team playoff?
The 2021 season has been wild, including Florida's near-win over Alabama. What would it be like with a 12-team playoff? [ JOHN RAOUX | Associated Press ]
Published Sep. 28
Updated Sep. 28

The College Football Playoff’s push toward expansion continued Tuesday with another meeting in a process that’s been bumpier than we expected. Conference commissioners and, eventually, the university presidents who oversee the CFP still have serious logistical and financial questions to work through.

If the powers-that-be are paying attention to what’s happening on the field, they’ll figure out solutions to all the issues keeping them from rubber-stamping a plan to grow the bracket from four teams to 12.

Because this wild September has become a great advertisement for expansion.

Related: Our AP top 25 ballot: Florida rises, plus top-five Arkansas and top-15 Wake Forest

This season is shaping up to be the craziest one college football has seen since 2007, when USF, Cal, Kansas and Boston College all rose to No. 2 in the nation and two-loss LSU won the national title.

We’ve already seen 25 ranked teams lose. That’s the most through the first four weeks of any season since the Associated Press poll began in 1936, according to ESPN.

Wake Forest probably won't have the resume to make a four-team playoff but would be a serious contender in a 12-team bracket.
Wake Forest probably won't have the resume to make a four-team playoff but would be a serious contender in a 12-team bracket. [ CHRIS CARLSON | AP ]

Wake Forest sits atop the ACC. Arkansas has wins over Texas and Texas A&M. Clemson is in danger of dropping out of the top 25, while at least three other perennial Playoff contenders/participants (Oklahoma, Ohio State and Notre Dame) are vulnerable.

If the first month is any indication, we’re in for a season of chaos.

Now imagine what that would mean in an expanded bracket with the top six conference champions and the six best at-large teams.

Using the Associated Press rankings and the CFP’s June proposal as our guide, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina would both make the Playoff, with the Bearcats hosting Florida in the first round and the Chanticleers traveling to Georgia. The other two first-round matchups: Ohio State at Iowa and Notre Dame at Arkansas.

Sports Illustrated’s bracket gave a spot to Wake Forest. Iowa would host the Gators and Penn State would host Notre Dame. Either way, first-time Playoff participants would fill at least half the spots, generating excitement around Arkansas or Wake Forest that hasn’t existed in generations (if ever).

Even if this season does stay weird, filling half of this year’s actual four-team field with new CFP crashers seems unlikely. Only about 20 teams have realistic playoff shots as we head into October. In a bigger field, that number would be twice as high (and maybe more than that).

Beyond the new faces in the Playoff, a bigger bracket in this season would have a high potential for chaos. In a year where even mighty Alabama looks beatable, would it be a major shock if Coastal Carolina upset Georgia in a hypothetical first-round game? Or if Cincinnati’s experience led the Bearcats on a deep run? Or if the Buckeyes shrugged off their early loss, got hot and rolled to a championship? Or if Clemson rebounded from its disastrous 2-2 start to win the ACC, squeak into the field and challenge for another title?

Related: FSU coach Mike Norvell: I’m ticked we’re 0-4

The current format makes those scenarios somewhere between doubtful and virtually impossible. But in a 12-team system, they’re plausible.

And that plausibility would be enough to help a wild season turn into a wild postseason — something the College Football Playoff needs.

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