As Bob Dylan once famously sang, the times they are a’changing. With the Rose Bowl falling in line, College Football Playoff expansion is finally official. But, what happens next? From timetable to format, our guide to CFP expansion explains everything you need to know about the most significant shake-up to the college football postseason since 2014.
College Football Playoff Expansion to 12-Team Format
Since the dawn of time, humankind has competed to establish who is best. In the college football arena, that took the form of crowning a national champion. There have been many ways to decide who exactly was the best team in a single college football season, yet all of them universally met with some disdain from certain areas of college football fandom.
No system was universally more despised than the BCS National Championship, pitting two teams together as the result of an amalgamation of multiple factors. When the fever pitch of hatred reached a crescendo, the College Football Playoff era was born. Since 2014, the CFP Selection Committee has added a human element to proceedings, selecting the four best teams from the regular season to compete for the National Championship.
The recently announced College Football Playoff expansion will once again change how we crown a national champion and which teams will be eligible to compete for it. Will it make fans, players, and coaches sing the virtues of fairness and equality in a harmonious union? Probably not. Will it be a whole lot of fun? Absolutely.
“This is a great day for college football,” said Mark Keenum, chairman of the CFP Board of Managers upon the announcement. “I’m glad we are able to follow through and launch the expanded playoff early. It’s very exciting for schools, alumni, and everyone involved.”
When Will the College Football Playoff Expand to 12 Teams?
When the College Football Playoff received the green light for expansion, it set in process a timeline of events. Originally slated to begin with the 2026 season, the Rose Bowl falling in line with the other major events on the college football postseason calendar allowed for an early transition to the format. As a result, the first edition of the 12-team format for the College Football Playoff will take place following the 2024 regular season.
How Will the 12-Team Playoff Work?
So, we’re going to have a 12-team College Football Playoff under new expansion plans. Sounds new, exciting, a more palatable way to ensure that all 131 college football teams begin the 2024 season believing they have a shot to be crowned national champion, right? But how will it all work?
According to the CFP Board of Managers, following the expansion to a 12-team College Football Playoff, the six highest-ranked conference champions will form half of the field. The other six spots are open to at-large bids, with the remaining highest-ranked teams taking those spots in the College Football Playoff. Under the new format, the highest-ranked Group of Five champion is guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Using the “highest ranked” conference champions allows the CFP rankings and selection show spectacle to still form a part of the proceedings. It also gives meaning to the conference championship games, which have come under increased scrutiny following the 2022 college football season, where USC losing the Pac-12 title game cost them a place in the College Football Playoff. There is a genuine incentive to play — and win — that game.
That is further incentivized by the four highest-ranked conference champions receiving an automatic bye to the quarterfinal. No, 12 teams don’t separate evenly to leave you with a national title pairing. So, those four teams will receive a bye, while the remaining eight will duke it out in the first round.
During the first round (which is scheduled to take place on the week ending Saturday, Dec. 21), for the initial year of the College Football Playoff expansion, the four highest-seeded teams will have home-field advantage or can designate a location close to their campus. This allows for teams with smaller stadiums to use a nearby NFL stadium, for example, to boost their home crowd.
The seeding for the first round will be as such: No. 12 at No. 5, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7, and No. 9 at No. 8.
In an attempt to appease the traditionalists and maintain some of the established traditions and pageantry of the sport, the quarterfinal and semifinals of the post-expansion College Football Playoff will be held at the traditional “New Year’s Six” destinations. Those will rotate, with the first two years of the 12-team format being scheduled as such:
2024 College Football Playoff
- Fiesta Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Peach Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Rose Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Sugar Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Cotton Bowl – CFP semifinal
- Orange Bowl – CFP semifinal
2025 College Football Playoff
- Cotton Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Orange Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Rose Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Sugar Bowl – CFP quarterfinal
- Peach Bowl – CFP semifinal
- Fiesta Bowl – CFP semifinal
Following the semifinals, the two remaining teams will meet in the National Championship Game. For the 2024-2025 season, that game will be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The following season, the game will return to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, the scene of Alabama’s 52-24 annihilation of Ohio State in the 2021 National Championship.
How Would the 2022-2023 College Football Playoff Look Under the Expansion Format?
It can be difficult to visualize what the new College Football Playoff format will look like following the expansion to 12 teams in 2024. So, let’s use the 2022-2023 CFP to demonstrate how the new format will work while those recently selected teams are still fresh in our mind.
As the highest-ranked conference champions, Georgia, Michigan, Clemson, and Utah would all receive a bye to the College Football Playoff quarterfinal. Kansas State and Tulane would be the other highest-ranked conference champions, taking their spot in the first round alongside TCU, Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee, USC, and Penn State.
Kansas State @ Tennessee
Tulane @ TCU
USC @ Alabama
Penn State @ Ohio State
How Many Playoff Teams Will Be in the 2023 College Football Playoff?
It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves with College Football Playoff expansion. It’s an exciting time. However, the 12-team format doesn’t come into place until the 2024-2025 season. That means for the current season (2022-2023) and following season (2023-2024), the CFP will remain at four teams, with those purely selected on the existing remit of the CFP Selection Committee.