What a 12-team College Football Playoff could look like

With the College Football Playoff race holding steady -- six teams vying for four spots if we're generalizing, as we wrote last week -- let's take a look at an alternate universe: the 12-team playoff.

Since long before we knew the 12-team CFP was a reality, I've been fascinated by what college football would look like if that were the system in place. Thanks to the Allstate Playoff Predictor (and my colleagues on the analytics team that maneuvered it into a 12-team format), we're able to do just that: look at what we would be seeing if this were Week 9 of 2022 with 12 teams eventually making the playoff.

So, let's break it down!

The playoff race

As I alluded to at the top, there are six teams with at least a 49% shot at the current four-team CFP: Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, Tennessee and Michigan. In the 12-team universe, those six teams would each have at least a 96% shot at a berth.

That does not mean those teams would be coasting until the playoff, however, because none of them are locks for that crucial bye. More on that in a minute.

But let's look at some notable teams that would have a real shot to make a 12-team CFP.


The Trojans get an automatic 32% playoff probability from their chance to win the Pac-12. But they're also strong at-large bid contenders, even in simulations in which they don't win their conference -- with another 32% chance they end up in the CFP that way. Not only that, but Lincoln Riley and the Trojans would have a 2.5% chance at a national championship. Which might not sound like much! But it's better than the just under 1% chance the Allstate Playoff Predictor gives them now.


TCU is in a similar circumstance: It has a strong shot to win the Big 12, but that's likely not enough to reach the current four-team CFP because FPI has almost no faith that the Horned Frogs can win out (just a 2% chance). But in a 12-team world, winning the Big 12 would be enough. And, like USC, TCU has a decent at-large probability, too.

Penn State

This is where the at-large spots really come into play. The Nittany Lions have almost no shot to win the Big Ten, but the extra at-large positions mean they very much could play their way into the CFP. Penn State now ranks 11th in FPI rating and ninth in strength of record.


Good news: With the top six conference champions reaching the CFP in the new format, the Bearcats could and would receive an automatic bid if they won the American Athletic Conference. That's because there's no other Group of 5 team that's a real threat to them this year. So Cincinnati controls its own destiny.

Bad news: It has no other outs. Cincinnati has to win its conference; it's not going to get in as an at-large.

But Cincinnati -- this year -- would take that deal every day of the week.

The bye race

So not only would the current top six teams in terms of playoff chances not be locks for a bye, some of them would even be long shots.

That's one of the effects of the 12-team playoff: It places even more emphasis on winning your conference. It means that for a team like Georgia, even though reaching the playoff would be a lock, the Bulldogs would only have a 45% chance at a bye. Same with Michigan, which would have a 24% shot at a bye. And Tennessee with just a 9% chance at a bye.

Other teams that aren't guaranteed to reach the playoff would actually have a better shot at a bye, which is an interesting dynamic. USC and TCU and even Oregon would all have at least a 20% shot at a bye despite all sitting between 50-65% chance at the playoff. And teams such as Utah, Oklahoma State and even three-loss Texas would have an outside shot because the teams all could win their respective conferences, and you never know what kind of chaos will happen elsewhere.

It all comes back to the conference -- and how much the new system weighs winning it.

The championship race

The overall effect of the 12-team playoff is a bit of a flattening of the championship chances. Which is exactly what we'd expect: More teams in the playoff means contenders have to jump through more hoops to win it all.

And we can see it right at the top: Ohio State has a 31% chance to win the national championship in the real world, but only a 25% chance with a 12-team playoff this season.

There are also only six teams with at least a 1% chance to win the national championship right now. But if we had a 12-team playoff? There would be 13.

One group of teams the 12-team format helps in terms of reaching the playoff but hurts in terms of winning it are the current contenders that aren't conference favorites: Michigan and Tennessee. That's because right now the two teams each have about a 50-50 chance of entering into a four-team playoff. But in the 12-team format, the Wolverines and Volunteers would have very little chance of earning a bye because they are unlikely to win their respective conferences, meaning they would be headed toward a four-round playoff instead of a three-rounder if they had a real shot at the bye.

As a result, Michigan's national championship chances drop from 9% today to 7% in the 12-team universe, and Tennessee's chances drop from 7% to 4%.

Lauren Poe contributed to this article.