College football's 12-team playoff, explained: Start date, how it will work & more to know about new CFP format – Sporting News

  • October 31, 2022

College football is entering a brave new era in terms of its national championship. At least, it will.
No longer will champions be determined by polls, bowl coalitions or alliances or the BCS. Nor will the College Football Playoff be available to only four teams in a given season (considered a much-needed improvement by some, and a detriment to the game by others).
The Playoff will join the vast majority of the organized sports world by providing more inclusive entry into the college football postseason, tripling the number of current teams from four to 12 and providing four rounds of play as opposed to two.
A broader Playoff naturally lends itself to change the current system, however. How will the current New Year’s Day 6 bowls fit into the new 12-team format? Which teams are granted entry into the Playoff, and how are they ranked? Perhaps most importantly, when will those changes go into effect?
MORE: College Football Playoff expansion, explained
The Sporting News has the answers to those questions and more as the Playoff begins its expansion from four teams to 12:
The new College Football Playoff format will start no later than the 2026 season, following the end of the Playoff’s existing contract with ESPN as the exclusive broadcaster of the college football postseason.
That said, the CFP has created a committee tasked with implementing the system as soon as 2024 or, more likely, the 2025 season.
Several sources told me Thursday that 2024 would be very difficult to pull off for expanded CFP. Could see 2025 as a likelier option. If it’s 2026, everything just starts over with a new format. As one source just said, “We will try and make it happen soon.”
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The 12-team format will feature, in order, the top four conference champions, followed by some combination of the top six at-large bids and two highest-ranked remaining conference champions. Teams will be ordered based on the College Football Playoff rankings.
That guarantees at least one “Group of 5” team will make the Playoff each year and, while it’s unlikely, allows the possibility of more than one G5 team making the Playoff in lieu of a “Power 5” team.
Of note: The approved format means independent FBS teams such as Notre Dame — and, less likely, Army, UConn and UMass — will never be among the top four teams, as they are not affiliated with any conference. Hence, they cannot win a conference championship. This also means no independent team will ever have a bye in the Playoff.
The top four teams will have a bye as seeds 5-8 host home playoff games vs. seeds 9-12. Following those games, the remaining eight teams will play each other in the current New Year’s Day 6 bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach). Those bowls will rotate among the quarterfinal and semifinal games on an annual basis.
The No. 1 team will then choose where it wants to play its opponent in the quarterfinals. Following that, the No. 2 team will pick its venue, followed by the No. 3 team. The No. 4 team will play in the final bowl available in the quarterfinals by default.
Following the quarterfinals, the highest-ranked team heading into the semifinals will pick its bowl of choice; the other two teams will play in the last remaining bowl of the Playoff by default.
The CFP championship game will continue to be played at a neutral site.
MORE: New, inclusive 12-team College Football Playoff works on every level
Below is what the first and quarterfinal rounds of the 12-team College Football Playoff bracket will look like:
Following that, the remaining four teams will play in the semifinal games, with the highest-ranked team picking its preferred bowl venue. The winners of the semifinal games will advance to the College Football Playoff championship game to determine that season’s national title winner.
Playoff based off most recent AP Top 25 poll; champion teams are based off conferences’ highest-ranking teams.
The top four seeds would consist of:
The first round would consist of the following games:
The quarterfinals would consist of the following games before the Playoff advanced to the semifinals and national championship game:
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