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College Football Changes Needed: Future Playoff Format

Current seeding plan needs improvement... FAST!

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Alabama v Kansas State
Alabama throttled the Big 12 Champ.
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The fact that College Football Playoff Committee (and let’s get real, ESPN) pushed the concept of an expansion past the last of the detractors should come as no surprise. However, the stipulation that it starts in 2024 was a bit startling. With the clock ticking, the current format needs to be fixed before kickoff of that season.

The number of twelve teams is not going to change for awhile. But if last week’s bowl games proved anything, it is that the seeding scheme is absurd. If you recall an RBR post from December, we mused what the playoff would look like had it been enacted for the 2022 season. Among the follies was that the ACC champion Clemson would be seeded third and Pac-12 champion Utah placed in the fourth spot. Each of the top four seeds are blessed with a first round bye.

The controversial format grants automatic bids to the six highest-ranked conference champions, gives first-round byes to the highest ranked four champions, and completes the field with six at-large selections. No at-large can earn a bye.

First-round games, between seeds 5 through 12, are to be played on campus or at a location designated by the higher seed.

Take into consideration what happened to the conference champs of the five Power-5 teams this bowl season:

  • ACC champion Clemson was throttled by Tennessee 31-14.
  • Big 12 champion Kansas State was dominated by Alabama 45-20.
  • Big Ten champion Michigan lost to TCU 51-45.
  • Pac-12 champion Utah was thumped by to Penn State 35-21.
  • SEC champion Georgia won but just barely thanks to some favorable officiating and a rattled place kicker.

Three out of four teams that would have hypothetically been granted the top four seed lost their bowl games last week - and two of them by a significant margin.

The point is, why should winning a conference championship hold the significant weight of a first round bye over other teams who might be clearly better. The assumption is that this aspect puts importance back into conference championship games. But really, what are the chances of a team tanking such a game and risk a higher seed in a merit-based format?

The original mantra of the CFP was to “get the best four teams in”. What happened to that philosophy?

If last week’s results are not enough of a concern, consider what the Big 12 and Pac 12 will look like in 2025:

Big 12

  • Baylor
  • BYU
  • UCF
  • Cincinnati
  • Houston
  • Iowa State
  • Kansas
  • Kansas State
  • Oklahoma State
  • TCU
  • Texas Tech
  • West Virginia

Pac 12

  • Arizona
  • Arizona State
  • Cal
  • Colorado
  • Oregon
  • Oregon State
  • Stanford
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Washington State

It is hard to imagine too many scenarios in which either champion of these two future conferences are deemed worthy of an automatic top four seed with a first round bye over the second best SEC team of most seasons.