Projecting the Results for a Hypothetical 12-Team College Football Playoff

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist IDecember 8, 2021

Projecting the Results for a Hypothetical 12-Team College Football Playoff

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    As the upcoming 2021 College Football Playoff edges closer and closer, the talks of the current four-team system expanding to more teams continue.

    As things stand, the CFP management committee could not agree on a format to expand the current system, despite various meetings entering Selection Sunday with the intent on doing so. 

    Here's what Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told reporters regarding the possibility of the playoff expanding by 2024: 

    "Well, just for purely logistical reasons, year 11 [2024] is probably in some jeopardy at this point, just because there's good and appropriate things you have to do in order to host the games.

    "I think it's also a possibility that we wouldn't be able to do it for year 12 [2025] and we'll be talking about what do we do in year 13 and beyond because you know, for all intents and purposes, the CFP goes away [after 2025]. There is no operating agreement beyond 2025-26 and there are no contracts that bind us beyond '25-26."

    The next time the management committee is scheduled to meet about possible expansion is Jan. 10. 

    So for now, we just need to speculate what a possible 12-team college football playoff might look like this season. Using an expanded model that was proposed over the summer, we'll give the highest-ranked Power 5 conference champions first-round byes, followed by the next six teams ranked at-large. (h/t to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated for this bracket).

First-Round Game No. 1: No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State

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    Oh man, what a fun matchup this one would be. Ole Miss, coming off of its first ever 10-win season, would be eager to prove it's worthy of making a playoff run. The explosive Ole Miss offense is led by quarterback Matt Corral, who has extra motivation for this game after being snubbed of a Heisman finalist spot by voters. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is looking to show its flop in the Big 12 title game against Baylor was just a fluke from an otherwise successful season.  

    This one has all the makings of a shootout, and Oklahoma State's defense would have yet another tall task ahead of it, especially after giving up 242 total yards and 21 points to Baylor in Arlington last week. 

    Ole Miss' offense has the balanced run and pass offense that would be a nightmare for the Cowboys' defense, especially if backs Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner get hot early. Pair that with Corral making plays with his feet, and this one could go Ole Miss' way in the second half. 

    I think the Rebels could go to the locker room with a one-score lead but take control in the second half with a couple of quick scores. OK State quarterback Spencer Sanders can't quite shake the four interception game he had against Baylor the week prior, and the Rebels' defense picks him off to thwart any hopes of a Pokes' comeback. 

    I like Corral and the Rebels in this one. 

    Prediction: Ole Miss 42, OK State 21

First-Round Game No. 2: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 12 Pitt

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    OK, I'll just come out and say it: I'd feel bad for Pitt for having to play Georgia in this one. The Panthers would be facing an angry Georgia team coming off of its first loss of the season to Alabama. 

    Make no mistake about it, though, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett has had a fantastic season. Not to mention his 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns thrown was worthy enough for him to be named a Heisman finalist this year. 

    But I think Georgia's defense would regroup and look more like the No. 1 overall defense in the nation against the Panthers. Pitt's offensive line, which has given up 29 sacks this season, will have trouble defending Georgia's linebacking corps, led by Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. All three of those guys have combined for 11 sacks this season for 101 total yards.  

    Georgia's offense, meanwhile, should be able to find its groove against a Pitt defense that gives up 23.1 points per game. Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett might not have as big of a day on the ground as he has all season against a Panthers' defense that allows just 91.77 rush yards per game. But Bennett can likely find some mismatches downfield with receivers Ladd McConkey, Jermaine Burton and tight end Brock Bowers. Pitt's secondary ranks 106th in passing defense nationally, so I think it's UGA's passing attack that takes care of Pitt in this one. 

    Prediction: Georgia 35, Pitt 10


First-Round Matchup No. 3: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Michigan State

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    This rematch is pretty unfortunate for Michigan State, which took its worst loss of the season, 56-7, to Ohio State earlier in the year. But the good news for Sparty is that this one will (obviously) be a neutral-site game, so there's no road trip to Columbus this time around. 

    I do think this one will be a bit closer in the first half for Michigan State compared to the 49-0 deficit Sparty found itself in at halftime of their last meeting. Running back Kenneth Walker III will be able to get more production on the ground after some film study of how OSU's defense was able to keep him to just 25 yards rushing in November. I think he's able to find the end zone a couple of times in the first half so that MSU isn't left off the board completely at halftime. 

    But unfortunately, I still don't think Michigan State's defense will have an answer to C.J. Stroud and the Buckeyes' passing attack. Stroud tosses three touchdown passes in the first half—three less than he had in the the opening half of this game in the regular season—to put his team up by a touchdown entering the break. 

    In the second half, Michigan State's bend-don't-break defense finally cracks against Stroud and the Buckeyes' relentless passing attack. The Bucks pull away to win by two scores, and prove once again who's the top dog in this Big Ten East rivalry. 

    Prediction: Ohio State 35, Michigan State 17

First Round Matchup No. 4: No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Utah

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    Man, what a way to close out the first-round of matchups. The Pac-12 champions who defeated Oregon soundly twice this year gets Notre Dame, whose lone loss was at home to Cincinnati earlier in the season. 

    These two teams are pretty evenly matched on paper. Utah's offense, led by quarterback Cameron Rising, averages 35.5 points per game. Notre Dame's defense concedes just 18.3 points per game, which is tied for ninth in the country. Meanwhile, Notre Dame scores 35.3 points per game, helped by quarterback Jack Coan's 22 touchdowns on the season. The Utes' defense gives up just 20.6 points per game. 

    Utah will come out of this one eager to prove they belong. I think the Utes can put together two scoring drives early to put Notre Dame on its heels a bit. Rising averages 7.6 yards per attempt on the season, and that will pose a challenge for ND's defense that gives up an average of 6.7 yards per attempt. 

    But Notre Dame's defense, motivated by new head coach Marcus Freeman's halftime adjustments, steps up in the second half. The Fighting Irish defense allows Notre Dame's offense to stay on the field longer in the second half, enough to overpower the Utes. The Irish offense is able to breakthrough Utah's defense to give Notre Dame a victory. And the Freeman Era is off to a fast start.

    Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Utah 14

Quarterfinal No. 1: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Ole Miss

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    Yes, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin gets yet a second shot at his former boss in this round. And the good news is unlike their meeting earlier in the season that saw Alabama win 42-21, this one won't be in Tuscaloosa. 

    That in itself gives the Rebels an advantage. Unlike Alabama's 28-0 lead it had at halftime in the first meeting, Corral and this Ole Miss offense has found its groove late in the season. That, paired with the absence of Tide receiver John Metchie III to his ACL tear he suffered in the SEC Championship game means there's one less playmaker Ole Miss' defense has to worry about. Metchie averaged 11.7 yards per reception and had a touchdown against Ole Miss in October. 

    Early in the game, it's clear to everyone that this one will be a shootout, with Corral and Bama quarterback Bryce Young each exchanging counterpunches throughout the first half. 

    While Alabama's defense is able to contain Ole Miss' rushing attack, it Corral continues to keep the Tide's defense guessing. Late in the game, the Ole Miss QB leads a game-winning touchdown drive to give Ole Miss its first victory over the Tide since 2015. Kiffin becomes just the second assistant to defeat Saban, along with Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M earlier in the season. 

    Prediction: Ole Miss 49, Alabama 42 

Quarterfinal No. 2: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 4 Baylor

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    This matchup might not seem as exciting as some of the others, but it's the one for you if you like defense. The Bears defense comes into this one with some momentum, holding Oklahoma State's typically high-powered offense to a season-low 16 points and just 263 total yards. 

    Baylor head coach Dave Aranda's defense has allowed just 19.2 points per game this season, but it still gives up 350.0 yards per game. While it might take a couple of series to get going, Stetson Bennett and UGA's offense can find ways to exploit the Bears defense, especially against a Baylor secondary that has given up 12 touchdowns this season. 

    Georgia's offensive line has allowed just 11 sacks all season, good for sixth in the nation. Baylor, meanwhile, averages just 2.62 sacks per game on the year. Georgia's offensive line should give Bennett plenty of time in the pocket to throw or decide to scramble downfield. 

    Georgia's defense, meanwhile, will have to find a way to contain redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Shapen (assuming starter Gerry Bohanon is still out), something Oklahoma State wasn't able to do. Shapen went 17-of-21 passing for 151 yards and three touchdowns in the first half against OK State's defense. He was sacked six times, though, so Georgia could get after him. 

    This one should be low-scoring and close throughout, but Bennett puts together a game-winning field-goal drive to give Georgia the win late. 

    Prediction: Georgia 17, Baylor 14. 

Quarterfinal No. 3: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Ohio State

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    Hey look, another Big Ten East rematch! Honestly though, it's a good thing this isn't actually happening this season, because I don't think Michigan or Ohio State fans could handle a second edition of The Game in the same season. That's how heated this rivalry really is. 

    But in this hypothetical playoff, the Buckeyes don't have much trouble getting motivated for this one after letting the Wolverines defeat them in The Game for the first time since 2011.

    But there's just one problem for Ohio State—Jim Harbaugh and his loaded offense. Ohio State's defense had no answer for Cade McNamara and the Michigan passing attack nor the run game featuring Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. Haskins had five touchdowns in his last outing against Iowa, which tied Michigan's single-game record set by Ron Johnson in 1968. 

    This rematch will likely be a bit closer since it isn't going to be played in Ann Arbor this time around, but unfortunately for OSU fans, the result is the same. Michigan will likely stick to its same game plan that worked to perfection against the Buckeyes the first time—with perhaps some more carries for Corum if OSU's defense (rightfully) zeroes in on Haskins. The first-round bye would help Michigan greatly. 

    Prediction: Michigan 38, Ohio State 35

Quarterfinal No. 4: No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Cincinnati

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    Yes, another regular-season rematch because, well, wouldn't this be awesome?! Just like Ohio State, Notre Dame wouldn't exactly need motivation after Cincy dished out its only loss of the season, a 24-13 defeat at home. 

    Since Cincinnati had the first-round bye, the Bearcats will be fresher than Notre Dame, which secured a hard-fought win against Utah the week prior. While Notre Dame's defense should have a better idea of how to get after Bearcat quarterback Desmond Ridder in the rematch, the Bearcats' improved defense will allow their offense more opportunities. 

    In Cincy's last three games of the season, it held its opponents to just five touchdowns total. That just might be the edge that Cincy needs in this matchup against Notre Dame, whose offense averages 35.3 yards per game, good for joint-21st in the nation. Cincy's defense ranks No. 2 in turnovers gained after forcing 29 all season, and it makes a play late in the game to set up a Ridder game-winning touchdown drive. 

    Prediction: Cincinnati 21, Notre Dame 13


Semifinals and Championship

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    We'll go ahead and truncate this section of these hypotheticals, since the intent of this piece is to explore what the extra rounds of the 12-team format would look like. We've already discussed each of the teams still standing, so we're taking a tighter approach to these final two rounds.


    Semifinal No. 1: No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Georgia

    Thanks to the cross-divisional rivals both these teams have, they don't meet often. In fact, the two have met a total of just 46 times, including just eight times since 2000. Corral matching up against this Georgia defense would be the QB's biggest challenge yet. Although Ole Miss would put up a fight throughout, Georgia pulls it out late to advance to the national title game.

    Prediction: Georgia 38, Ole Miss 35


    Semifinal No. 2: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Cincinnati

    Had the selection committee seeded the top four teams in this year's playoff differently, we could have seen this matchup play out in a semifinal. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, Cincy's magical season comes to an end against Michigan, whose offense has too much firepower. Haskins and the Wolverines' run game prove too much for Cincy's 47th-ranked rush defense, giving Michigan this one by a couple of scores.   

    Prediction: Michigan 28, Cincinnati 13


    National Championship: 

    No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 2 Michigan 

    Finally, a matchup that we will actually see in this year's playoff! The real-life version of this game is going to be a doozy. The Wolverines' offense has been firing on all cylinders all season long, and Georgia's defense will be one of the most complete units UM has faced. 

    There isn't an overwhelming reason for one of these teams to win. They're both pretty evenly matched on both sides of the ball and have each been beaten at least once this season. There's also a weird sense of destiny with both of these programs that makes this game so hard to pick. Georgia hasn't won a national title since 1980, Michigan since 1997, and both teams feel like they're due for one soon. 

    However, up until last week's loss to Alabama, this Dawgs team looked unstoppable. Dawg fans badly want to win it all, and they think this might be the year. As an Atlanta resident, I have to take Georgia in this one. 

    Prediction: Georgia 35, Michigan 28