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Early Playoff Expansion: What This Means for Notre Dame and the Landscape as a Whole

By Michael Blough – Writer

Photo Credit: Roger Steinman / Associated Press


The Rose Bowl and the College Football Playoff finally came to an agreement that would allow for the College Football Playoff to be expanded to twelve teams in the years 2024 and 2025, instead of in 2026. According to espn.com, those are the last two years in the current contract between parties for their bowl game arrangements. With the name and history that the Rose Bowl rightfully owns, I think they were hesitant to allow some tradition to slip in order for some much-needed change in the playoff landscape. For the sport as a whole, I think this was the best decision that could have been made. Pushing the playoff to 12 teams and even allowing first round games to be played at home for the better seeds is a huge win for College Football. With that being said, what are the pros/cons of this change, and how does it affect Notre Dame, and programs around the country?


Undoubtedly, this is a huge win for both the Notre Dame program and the fans. Since the inception of the playoffs, Notre Dame has made the playoffs twice (2018, 2020) and lost in the first round both times. In the new landscape, they would have been in two other times, in 2015 and 2021 where they finished the year at #8 and #5 respectively in the last edition of the rankings. Two other times, in 2017 and 2019, they would have been just left out of the playoffs, coming in at #14 and #15 respectively. So, what can Notre Dame take away from this expansion? It means that this program will find themselves in the playoffs a whole lot more often, and the benefits of this are not to be underestimated. Because of Notre Dame’s conference alignment as an Independent, this will give them infinitely more opportunities to get into the playoff. This will happen because the Committee is going to have to change the way they view certain teams, and not solely focus on conference champions. Notre Dame’s schedule in the coming years is more than respectable, especially with the uprising of several programs on their schedule, most notably USC. So, how can the Irish miss the playoffs come 2024? Well, in my opinion the Irish will have to lose three games to be counted out, and with recruiting on the rise, I don’t anticipate seeing that happen. Also, whether the Irish find themselves inside the top 4 becomes sort of a negligible topic because if they get in, they will find themselves playing in a huge game, with a lot of eyes watching, and a chance to flex their muscles and showcase their brand in front of both the fans and recruits.



Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports


So, how does this affect College Football as a whole? Well, simply put, it changes everything. No longer will a one loss power five team be kept out of the playoff. Just as we saw this past weekend with Ohio State losing for the second year in a row to Michigan (in what is essentially the Big Ten Championship Game), they will be kept out unless chaos ensues during Conference Championship weekend. Under the new structure, Ohio State would certainly be a “lock” to make it in somewhere between #5 and #9. Now, I know what you (and many others) are thinking. Some people think this is going to devalue the importance of regular season games, especially those happening within conference play. I am here to tell you that will not be the case, as the benefits of being the higher seed are more than worthy of playing for. Also, do we really think that collegiate athletes and coaches will be okay with dropping a game to a rival and hoping to make the playoff? No, I think these games will continue to hold value and create amazing regular season match-ups as they always have.

Pushing the playoffs to include 12 teams will not only add program diversity to the coveted playoff, but it will also create match-ups between programs that we have never seen. Schools like Utah, Pitt, Ole Miss, and Oklahoma State that have never made a College Football Playoff will have as good access as anyone to lock down those last six or so spots. We could even see some more G5 teams make it in, like Tulane this year who is creeping awfully close to being 11-2 and is currently sitting at #18 in the 2022 rankings. To me, this means more exciting games among those trying to grab the later spots in the playoffs and more excitement around programs that have never had the spotlight before. As a College Football fan in general, I would love to see a more rounded-out playoff capturing teams from all over the country. The last aspect of this I find interesting is how these teams will treat the playoff. With more games at the end of the year (when a team should be playing its best ball), a team can certainly make a Cinderella run in the playoff and knock off higher ranked teams. I envision this as almost a “new season”, a way for programs that dropped a bad loss during the regular season to come back and show what they can do in the spotlight. Here is an image depicting what a 12-team playoff bracket in 2021 would have looked like.


Photo Credit: 247Sports


One more thing I’d like to point out is the structure of these games. As reported when the expansion was first announced, the top four seeds will get a first-round bye. This leaves the other 8 teams to play in a first-round game, which as previously stated, will reside at the better seeds’ home field. According to BleacherReport.com, the four winners will then be playing in the rotating New Years Six bowls, which include the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. These bowls will rotate between hosting a quarterfinal game and a semifinal game. What we do not know yet it the scheduling dates for these games. I am interested to see if the expanded structure still allows for a week off in between games. Nonetheless, getting a first-round bye will be very important, so look for teams to play their tails off to achieve that.

If you read this and haven’t noticed, I am very excited for the playoff to expand and to see “new blood” in the spotlight!

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