12 Team College Football Playoff in 2023 – A Look Inside What the Top Teams In College Football Would Look Like in Next Year’s Format
With such a crowded field of excellent teams this year in college football, it’s hard not to wonder; what if there were more spots in the College Football Playoff in 2023? Luckily, that will be the reality next year, as we’re set to move to a 12-team format from the previous decade of a 4-team tournament. Since it will be too late for this year’s crop of teams, let’s take a look at what a 12-game playoff might look like if this were the first season of the new format, instead of having to wait until next year.
Let’s start by projecting some key games that remain in the last couple of weeks of this season. If I don’t mention the game of a ranked contender against an unranked team, just assume they won.
College Football Week 13 (Rivalry Week):
- Oregon over Oregon State
- Michigan over Ohio State
Week 14 (Conference Championships):
- Michigan over Iowa
- Oregon over Washington
- Alabama over Georgia
- Texas over Oklahoma
- Louisville over Florida State
- Tulane over SMU
With the final two weeks of the college football season simulated through like we are playing NCAA 14, let’s build a field of 12 teams, based on the results above. It’s not entirely clear what the parameters will be for the committee next season, especially with conference realignment on the horizon, but for our purposes, we will make the Power Five champs the top five seeds, and the top-ranked Group of Five champ the sixth seed.
- Michigan (13-0)
- Alabama (12-1)
- Oregon (12-1)
- Texas (12-1)
- Louisville (12-1)
- Tulane (12-1)
- Georgia (12-1)
- Ohio State (11-1)
- Washington (12-1)
- Penn State (10-2)
- Missouri (10-2)
- Ole Miss (10-2)
There are a few philosophical discussions to be had. One is choosing the Group of Five champ to put in Liberty would be undefeated, but Tulane’s conference (the AAC) is more respected than theirs (Conference USA), so based on past decisions by the committee, we’ll put in the Green Wave.
Next up, there’s selecting the at-large teams. Ohio State, Georgia, and Washington would be shoo-ins as one-loss Power Five squads with great resumes, but we’re going to leave out Florida State. The Seminoles have looked shaky all year, and now with Jordan Travis’s leg broken, the committee might not be interested in sending Florida State in just to get knocked out with ease. It’s the age-old discussion of “best” vs. “most deserving,” and in the past, the committee has shown no consistency and done whatever they want – which is probably not putting in a team led by an inexperienced starter under center.
We would apply similar logic to LSU, a three-loss team that currently looks better than two-loss Ole Miss, but a head-to-head result that favored the latter is going to be the deciding factor with that choice. I’d personally also like to include Liberty as an at-large squad, but as we know, the committee is not likely to include more Group of Five teams than it has to. It’s also worth noting that Mizzou has been higher than Penn State in most rankings this year, but we’ll swap the two to avoid a rematch, as the Tigers have already played Georgia this season.
Now with the field all set, let’s project some games! Just a reminder- the top four teams will be on a bye in the first round, and the games in that round will be played at the campus of the higher seed.
First Round of the 2023 College Football Playoff based on a 12 Team Format:
- Ole Miss @ 5. Louisville
- Missouri @ 6. Tulane
- Penn State @ 7. Georgia
- Washington @ 8. Ohio State
Georgia’s Sanford Stadium and Ohio State’s Horseshoe would be two of the most fascinating settings for the inaugural on-campus playoff games, as both blue-bloods will strive to prove that they deserved a bye. Meanwhile, Louisville and Tulane’s campuses would be incredibly hyped for an opportunity that surely won’t come to their schools every year.
There should be plenty of “upsets” under this format, as teams that are clearly not one of the best six in the country will be high seeds due to the parameters described in the seeding section. Louisville would give Ole Miss a good run, due to a better defense than the Rebels are used to seeing, but eventually, the offensive firepower on Lane Kiffin’s squad would shine through, and they would become the first-ever 12-seed to advance to a quarterfinal.
Similarly, the offensive juggernaut that is Mizzou would positively rip through Tulane despite the best efforts of a very solid home team. Georgia and Penn State would engage in a defensive battle, but Drew Allar would once again hold the Nittany Lions back against a top opponent on the road.
Perhaps the most interesting semifinal would be the closest-seeded one; Washington at Ohio State. It’s a total clash of styles, as the Huskies’ air-based offense would be unlike anything the Buckeyes have seen, but the OSU defense is also a totally different tier compared to what Washington is used to. Ultimately, defense wins championships, as does experience, as does home-field advantage; Ohio State would win a very competitive one, and move on to the next round, where they would face a very historically-important opponent.
8 – Team Quarterfinals for the New Format College Football Playoff:
- Michigan vs. 12. Ole Miss
- Alabama vs. 11. Missouri
- Oregon vs. 8. Ohio State
- Texas vs. 7. Georgia
We’re going to do a re-seed for this round, but not the next; the winner of the #1-seed game will play the winner of the #4-seed game, and the other two winners will play. These games will also be played as four of the New Year’s Six bowls, as the last two will of course serve as semifinals. It’s not important for our purposes which is which, but we’d assume that some geographic edge would be given to the highest seeds.
The Michigan-Ole Miss matchup is kind of a fun one, as the Rebels will test the Michigan defense more than most teams have, but on the other side of the ball, Michigan would do horrifying things against their defense.
The Alabama-Missouri game would be similar conceptually- a very strong offense against a stout defense. It would come down to whether or not Jalen Milroe shows up and hits the big throws. I don’t know that he would to the extent that would be needed to keep up with the supercharged Mizzou offense led by star quarterback Brady Cook, so we’ll grant Eliah Drinkwitz’s squad the first major upset of this new era.
Ohio State ended up with a tough path, as they’ll be forced to deal with the two top teams in a phenomenal Pac-12. The second time, they’ll come up short, flipping the result of the very first CFP final. Oregon is one of the most well-rounded squads in the country, and with the extra week of rest, they’ll sprint by Ohio State on offense while more than holding their own on defense.
Lastly, we come to another upset that isn’t really an upset; Georgia might be seeded below Texas, but nobody would really expect Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns to beat the two-time defending champs. Georgia would, once again, reach a semifinal, en route to an absolute clash of titans.
4-Team Semifinals in the New College Football Playoff Format:
1. Michigan vs. 7. Georgia
3. Oregon vs. 11. Missouri
Finally, we reach the semifinals – it’s worth noting how much theoretical action has already happened, while this would be the starting point in real life. That being said, we’re dealing with very different teams than we probably will be this season; at least one team in this field has essentially no chance of making the playoff, and one would probably have a much higher seed if they do get in.
Michigan vs. Georgia would be viewed by many as a proxy National Championship, as the winner would be a huge favorite regardless of their next opponent. But, it’s a semifinal, and one team will be the unfortunate victim. We’re going to go with Georgia; this time around, in a rematch of a 2021 semifinal, they do not have the more talented defense, which will be the deciding factor in a battle between two very efficient offenses.
On the other side of the bracket, Mizzou’s luck finally runs out. They run into a defense that can slow them down, and an offense that can absolutely rip their defense to tatters. Bucky Irving has a field day against the Mizzou run defense, and Oregon moves on to the National Championship.
The 12-Team College Football Playoff Final:
- Michigan vs. 3. Oregon
This would be the best game of the season, and frankly could still be in the cards for the real-life version of the 2023 College Football Playoff. These are two of the most balanced teams in the country, and the top two teams by EPA per play, available yards percentage, and success rate. Both teams have talent up and down the roster, but there’s one main difference: coaching. Oregon’s staff has done a great job, but Michigan’s is arguably the best in the country, and it will be intact for the playoffs.
Jim Harbaugh’s career has led to this moment, and it all pays off as he finally wins a championship. Oregon will have their moment, and as they’re joining the Big Ten, they’ll have a shot at revenge before long.
Will the real playoff end this way? It’s hard to say, but this path, with more teams, more games, and more upsets, is likely a more entertaining one than the one we’ll get with the current four-team format. Unfortunately, we won’t see this level of chaos in real life until next season, but hopefully, it will be worth the wait.
This is an article written by Will Schwartz
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