What would the 12-team College Football Playoff landscape look like for 2021?

The College Football Playoff is a 12 team playoff which was created in 2014. It has always been controversial, but the system has worked well for the most part. However, with the new four-team playoff that starts next year, it’s possible that some teams will be left out of the CFP. This would create a lot of controversy and could potentially lead to changes in how college football is played.

The college football playoff is a 12-team tournament that was created in 2014. It has been changed several times since its inception, and there are many changes coming for 2021.

Let’s pretend the 12-team playoff system is currently in place. As we approach the 2021 season, how will the playoff landscape look? What would be the difference?

Using the Allstate Playoff Predictor, we break down the playoff race each week throughout the college football season. Most of the time, we’ll be discussing how the playoff race is shaping out — and you can always see our predictions here, as well as enter your own scenarios into the Predictor this year. But, before we get into this season, we wanted to take a look at what might be in store for us in the future: a 12-team playoff.

So, in June, we updated the Allstate Playoff Predictor to include hypothetical predictions based on the most recent proposal: a guaranteed bid for the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus six at-large bids, with the four highest-ranked conference champions getting a bye. To generate these predictions, we’re assuming that the committee would make the same differences between teams as they would in a four-team playoff. After all, the Playoff Predictor’s job is to predict who will reach the playoffs rather than who should.

Let’s look at some of the key lessons from this 12-team alternative world.

There are several playoff locks in the preseason.

We all know Alabama isn’t destined to reach the playoffs every year, no matter how much it seems like it. Even with the Crimson Tide, the season may go awry because to the delicate nature of a résumé worthy of consideration. Alabama has a 73 percent probability of making the playoffs under our present system, but in a 12-team structure, that number jumps to 97 percent, making it a near certainty.

Clemson and Oklahoma would join the Tide with a 97 percent and 96 percent probability of reaching the playoffs, respectively, with Ohio State is a university in the state of Ohio close behind at 92 percent.

Clemson and Alabama are almost certain to make a 12-team College Football Playoff. Getty Images/Handout/Kevin Jairaj

Of course, it does not negate the importance of the regular season for those clubs. Because one of the benefits of the 12-team structure is that it offers a bye to the team at the top of the rankings. Clemson’s chances of getting a bye (79 percent) are comparable to its current playoff odds (77 percent ). But that is not the case for Alabama, since the Crimson Tide compete in the SEC, which they are less likely to win. As a result, what are Alabama’s chances of getting a bye under the new format? It’s all the way down to 53%. So, although Nick Saban’s squad is very certain to make the playoffs, there’s a possibility they’ll be playing in the first round.

In a 12-team system, you have the best chance of making the CFP.

Team Current Playoff Prospects Chances of a 12-team playoff
Clemson 77% 97%
Alabama 73% 97%
Oklahoma 72% 96%
Ohio State 60% 92%
Georgia 28% 80%
Notre Dame is a Catholic university in the United States. is a Catholic university in the United States. 24% 68%
Texas A&M 15% 64%
Miami 9% 55%
Iowa State University University 9% 52%
Florida 8% 50%

Almost half of the FBS teams have a 1% probability of making the playoffs.

In a 12-team world, 57 clubs would have a 1% chance of making the playoffs. Isn’t this a powerful appeal? Fans of, say, Fresno State University, are aware that there is presently no route to the playoffs. But what about in a 12-team world? There’s a 2% possibility… which is better than nothing. There would be a whole bunch of schools presently without a chance of making the playoffs moving to, well, a chance. As of this writing, just 19 clubs in a four-team system had a 1% chance of making the playoffs.

Other teams have a 1% probability of making the CFP in a 12-team system.

Team Chance
Oregon 46%
Texas 43%
Cincinnati 32%
North Carolina is a state in the United States. 30%
Penn State is a university in Pennsylvania. 27%
Wisconsin 26%
USC 24%
Appalachian State University University 24%
Washington 20%
LSU 15%
Auburn 13%
Oklahoma State University is a public university in Oklahoma City 13%
UCF 13%
Utah 11%
Ole Miss 10%
Arizona State University 9%
Iowa 8%
Indiana 6%
Louisiana 6%
Mississippi State University is a public university in Mississippi. 5%
South Carolina’s coast 5%
Toledo 5%
Memphis 5%
Virginia Tech is a university in the state of Virginia 5%
TCU 5%
SMU 4%
Michigan 4%
Northwestern 3%
Fresno State 2%
Houston 2%
Pittsburgh 2%
Tulane 2%
Arkansas 1%
Buffalo 1%
Boise State University 1%
Tulsa 1%
NC State 1%
San Diego State University is a public university in San Diego, 1%
Texas Tech is a university in the state of Texas 1%
Michigan State University 1%
Minnesota 1%
Kentucky 1%
Stanford 1%
BYU 1%
Ball State is a university in the state of Indiana 1%
UAB 1%

Which team’s playoff hopes would be aided the most by the changes?

There are a couple of perspectives on this.

First, if we only want to check whose team’s playoff odds increased the most, we can do so — and no one increased their chances more than Georgia, which went from 28 percent to 80 percent. That makes sense: Georgia has the talent to be a top-12 team, but it has some structural challenges (the SEC). That implies, even for a very strong club like the Bulldogs, putting up a playoff-quality résumé under the present system would be tough.

The rest of the list follows a similar pattern: Texas A&M, Miami, Notre Dame and Iowa State are all — with the exception of the Fighting Irish — second- or third-string within their own conference. They might be good teams, but they currently have to leapfrog an Alabama, Clemson or Oklahoma to get into the playoff. A 12-team format dramatically changes their outlook.

Chances of making the playoffs have changed.

Team Chance of a CFP Right Now Chances of a 12-team CFP Increase in percentage points
Georgia 28% 80% +52%
Texas A&M 15% 64% +49%
Miami 9% 54% +44%
Notre Dame 24% 68% +44%
Iowa State 9% 52% +43%

At the same time, you might argue that this is just as important, if not more so, for schools that had no chance at all. When we look at the schools with the highest ratios of new playoff chances to previous playoff chances, a slew of Group of 5 institutions rise to the top. The present structure makes reaching the playoffs very tough for a Group of 5 club, but with a 12-team postseason, Cincinnati becomes the favorite to win the sixth conference championship berth.

The figure below shows that Cincinnati’s odds of making the playoffs have increased by 170 times under the new system, while UCF’s chances have increased by almost 1000 times. Of course, Playoff Predictor believes the Bearcats have a slim chance of making the playoffs in their present configuration. I wouldn’t get too caught up in the numbers themselves — we never use Playoff Predictor to distinguish between a.1% chance and a.01 percent chance, so the astronomical ratios aren’t that relevant — and instead concentrate on the fact that the effect is substantial for these institutions.

Chances of making the playoffs have changed.

Team Chance of a CFP Right Now Chances of a 12-team CFP A new opportunity has arisen.
UCF 0.01% 13% 1253%
South Carolina’s coast 0.01% 5% 1080%
Northwestern 0.01% 3% 310%
Appalachian State 0.12% 24% 205%
Cincinnati 0.19% 32% 170%

What impact would this have on elite teams’ prospects of winning the national championship?

We don’t have any playoff simulation figures yet, but it’s obvious that this would harm the sport’s elite teams’ chances of winning it all.

Consider Clemson: Even with a bye, the Tigers would still have to play an additional game under the new structure if their season went well enough to win a playoff berth in the present model.

While it’s true that Clemson would miss the postseason under the present system roughly 20% of the time but would make it in a 12-team model, the Tigers would have to play two additional playoff games against top-12-ish teams in those situations. In terms of Clemson’s prospects of winning the national title, it’s doubtful that this would be a good trade-off.

The impact is much more severe for Alabama, since there are a handful of scenarios in which they would enter the playoff without winning the SEC title, implying that they would not get a bye in a 12-team system.

This article was co-written by Paul Sabin and Lauren Poe.

Related Tags

  • ncaa football playoffs
  • cfp rankings
  • cfb championship 2021
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