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What would a 12-team playoff in 2021 look like - and how would it play out?

Credit: Ohio State athletics

What started in 1998 as two teams picked by a computer to play for the BCS National Championship eventually evolved into the current four-team field debuting in 2014 to crown a national football champion. These systems are a far cry from the manner in which a national champion used to be crowned - off the field by a poll of voters across the country.

The younger generation only knows these two most recent formats with actual games to decide a worthy champion. However, if you go back a mere 24 years, teams were slotted into certain bowls based on their conference affiliation (think Rose Bowl Big Ten vs Pac 12) after the regular season. There were no conference championship games either and it was only by happenstance if the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams at the end of the regular season met in a bowl game.

So, let’s savor what we currently have that will culminate on Monday, January 10 with a true national championship game. But, how long will this format last? There’s a contract in place until 2025 but SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey dropped a bombshell this past summer when he reported that a 12-team field was being discussed, possibly before the current contract ends.

Since AaronTorresOnline is dedicated to our followers and fellow college football fanatics, we thought we would take a deep dive into what a potential 12-team field would look like using the 2021 season just concluded. You know, something to look forward to if the expanded field becomes reality.

But, we didn’t stop there. We seeded the field and then predicted each outcome and crowned a mythical national champion (ala UCF in 2017) using this format.

The format proposed by Sankey mentioned the following details and who are we to change things up. To refresh your memory, here are the guidelines…

12 teams:

  • Top six Conference Champions receive automatic bid

  • Six at-large teams

  • Top Four Conference Champions earn a bye

That last note is important, as under the original proposed rules, Georgia - which was the perceived best team in college football all year - could be no higher than the No. 5 seed in the playoff, because they were not a conference champ.

Is that fair? Probably not, but it's what the future may look like.

So, we used that template combined with the College Football Playoff Committee’s final rankings released this past Sunday to form the field and bracket.

Let’s dive in!

The Field:

Conference Champions (College Football Playoff Committee Ranking)

SEC - Alabama (1)

Big 10 - Michigan (2)

AAC - Cincinnati (4)

Big 12 - Baylor (7)

Pac 12 - Utah (11)

ACC - Pittsburgh (12)

At-Large Selections (College Football Playoff Committee Ranking)

Georgia (3), Notre Dame (5), Ohio State (6), Ole Miss (8), Oklahoma State (9), and Michigan State (10)


  1. Alabama

  2. Michigan

  3. Cincinnati

  4. Baylor

  5. Georgia

  6. Notre Dame

  7. Ohio State

  8. Ole Miss

  9. Oklahoma State

  10. Michigan State

  11. Utah

  12. Pittsburgh

Teams On The Outside Looking In: BYU, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Iowa

Byes: Alabama, Michigan, Cincinnati, Baylor

First Round Matchups:

(12) Pittsburgh at (5) Georgia

(11) Utah at (6) Notre Dame

(10) Michigan State at (7) Ohio State

(9) Oklahoma State at (8) Ole Miss

First-Round Matchups:

No. 5 Georgia 56, No 12 Pittsburgh 23

Let’s just say Pittsburgh is getting Georgia at the worst time - off a loss in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama. Bulldogs roll to easy win.

No. 6 Notre Dame 41, No. 11 Utah 24

Does anyone really think Notre Dame is going to lose at home in the first game of the Marcus Freeman era? Me neither! Irish cruise to a win.

No. 7 Ohio State 49, No. 10 Michigan State 14

It’s a rematch of a regular-season romp by the Buckeyes. We’ll give Sparty one more score and Ohio State one less in another easy Buckeye win.

No. 8 Ole Miss 56, No. 9 Oklahoma State 31

It’s a shootout at the O.K. Corral and Lane Kiffin and his star quarterback Matt Corral is THE MAN in this game as his Rebels advance with an easy first-round win in Oxford.

Quarterfinal Matchups:

No. 8 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama

No. 7 Ohio State at No. 2 Michigan

No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 3 Cincinnati

No. 5 Georgia at No. 4. Baylor

From the land of unintended consequences, we get three regular-season rematches in the quarterfinal round of the new playoff format. Not ideal! But that’s the way the seeding played itself out.

No. 1 Alabama 42, No. 8 Ole Miss 21

Lane Kiffin gets a second chance this season to beat his mentor. Saban stays undefeated in that regard and wins by the same score as the first game.

No. 7 Ohio State 42, No. 2 Michigan 27

Well, look what we have here - OSU at UM again only with more at stake. Let’s go with the same score theme again, but this time it’s Ohio State who has the last laugh as the Buckeyes move on to the semifinals. Raise your hand if you think Jim Harbaugh would win two games against Ohio State in less than a month when he hadn’t won any in his first five attempts? I didn’t think so.

No. 6 Notre Dame 34, No. 3 Cincinnati 31

In the best game of the quarterfinal round, the Freeman motivation rules supreme and the Irish travel to the Queen City, extract some revenge from a regular-season loss, and return home with a trip to the semifinals.

No. 5 Georgia 48, No. 4 Baylor 16

If Baylor could only score 21 points against Oklahoma State, how many times will they cross midfield against an angry Georgia defense, who wants nothing more than a rematch against top-seed Alabama? Let me answer that for you…not enough to win. Georgia advances with a win in Waco.

Semifinal Matchups:

After eight games in this new playoff format, we are left with these semifinal games:

No. 1 Alabama vs No. 5 Georgia

No. 6 Notre Dame vs No. 7 Ohio State

No. 1 Alabama 27, No. 5 Georgia 24

Look here, another rematch. There’s a good chance this could be the national championship game on Monday, January 10. But, with the 12-team format, the two teams meet in the semifinals. Georgia’s defense plays better, but Saban and the Tide roll into the championship game with a classic win. But they need another late-game drive by Bryce Young like he did against Auburn to rally the Tide to a come-from-behind win leaving Kirby Smart and the Georgia faithful to think about what could have been.

No. 7 Ohio State 31, No. 6 Notre Dame 23

This is the opposite of a rematch, as the Buckeyes and Irish actually open the 2022 season in South Bend. Well, we get a preview in this year's national seminfinals instead. The Irish defense has been its calling card and they keep CJ Stroud and company at bay for most of the game, but a 14-point fourth quarter leads the Buckeyes to a spot in the national championship game.

Championship Game

No. 1 Alabama 44, Ohio State 37

Are you picking against Saban and Young at this point? The Crimson Tide cap off another season with another national championship. Saban wins his eighth national title, seventh with Alabama, and he cements himself as the undisputed King of college football.

Follow Steven Kirck on Twitter @SKirck


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