What a 12-team playoff would look like this year
After the Rose Bowl finally relented in holding up playoff expansion, the four-team format in college football will add eight programs and become a 12-team bracket beginning in the 2024-25 season.
The top six conference champions are guaranteed a spot in the tournament regardless of their final ranking, with the top four given an opening-round bye. The better seed in each of the remaining matchups will host the opening-round contest at its campus.
It's important to remember that the CFP ranking won't always be reflected in the seeding, with conference championships holding added importance. The format allows No. 7 Clemson and No. 8 Utah to receive first-round byes despite not being ranked inside the CFP's top four. It also allows No. 16 Tulane to rise to No. 12 thanks to its AAC title triumph.
Here's what the 12-team format would look like this year, using New Year's Six bowls at random for the quarter and semifinals.
Byes: No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Clemson, No. 4 Utah
Game 1: No. 12 Tulane at No. 5 TCU
Game 2: No. 11 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State
Game 3: No. 10 USC at No. 7 Alabama
Game 4: No. 9 Kansas State at No. 8 Tennessee
USC traveling to Tuscaloosa for a blockbuster matchup with Alabama would be the highlight of opening-round play. A quarterback battle between stars Bryce Young and Caleb Williams would be highly entertaining, with head coaches Nick Saban and Lincoln Riley squaring off for the first time since Riley left Oklahoma for the Trojans.
A Big Ten rematch between Ohio State and Penn State would also be a fun watch between familiar opponents, with upset-minded Tulane and red-hot Kansas State looking for big road wins at TCU and Tennessee, respectively.
With iconic venues like Bryant-Denny Stadium, Neyland Stadium, and Ohio Stadium hosting opening-round contests, it's only a matter of time before other schools take notice and make the push to have quarterfinals played on campus as well.
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 8/9Tennessee or Kansas State
Orange Bowl: No. 4 Utah vs. No. 5/12 TCU or Tulane
Cotton Bowl: No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 6/11 Ohio State or Penn State
Peach Bowl: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7/10 Alabama or USC
Blockbuster matchups aplenty dot the possible quarterfinal games: Michigan against Alabama or USC and Clemson facing Ohio State or Penn State stand out. The Wolverines are the winningest program in the history of the sport while the Crimson Tide rank third in that category. The Tigers facing the Buckeyes would be a rematch of the 2021 semifinal that saw Justin Fields shine in an Ohio State win.
A Georgia rematch with Tennessee likely wouldn't attract a ton of national attention, but with Hendon Hooker injured, Kansas State could pull off the upset and face the defending champions.
The last quarterfinal would be the underdog story, with Utah, Tulane, and TCU all representing great stories when compared to the powerhouse programs in the other contests.
Rose Bowl: Winner of Sugar Bowl vs. winner of Orange Bowl
Fiesta Bowl: Winner of Cotton Bowl vs. winner of Peach Bowl
Too many blockbuster matchups to mention for the semifinals in this format, but Utah, Tulane or TCU finding itself in the final four would be great for the sport.
The other semi would feature two of Michigan, Alabama, USC, Ohio State, Penn State, or Clemson - a matchup of titans regardless of who gets through.
CFP title game: Winner of Rose Bowl vs. Winner of Fiesta Bowl
No matter which team is crowned eventual champion, the fact the winner will have to go through three or four playoff games means the title will be well-earned.