The expansion of the College Football Playoff is inevitable, and the plans for a potential 12-team playoff field are officially being reviewed by a sub-group of College Football Playoff management. Time will tell just how soon we see the playoff field expanded from its current four-team format, but an expanded field opens the doors for many more college football programs around the country to be involved in the chase for the national championship. Penn State would absolutely be one of the schools benefitting from an expanded field.
On Thursday, the College Football Playoff released the details of a 12-team playoff field currently under review. In brief, the six highest-ranked conference champions plus the six highest-ranked at-large teams as determined by the selection committee would be involved in the playoff field. No conference automatic qualifiers would be included according to the current proposal, and no conference would be limited to the number of playoff participants.
The four highest-ranked conference champions would receive a first-round bye and teams ranked No. 5 through No. 12 would play each other on the home field of the higher-ranked team (5 vs 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, 8 vs. 9). Quarterfinals and semifinals would then be played in bowl games, with a designated neutral site location set for the national championship game as it currently operates.
This proposal has a very good opportunity for Penn State to have a much better shot at reaching the College Football Playoff. With the 12 highest-ranked teams being included, and with Penn State’s track record under James Franklin, a playoff appearance is much more manageable to secure, although still not a given.
So how would Penn State have fit into the playoff picture under this proposal in previous seasons?
NEXT: Where Penn State would have been in a 12-team playoff field in previous seasons
The 2019 season ended with Penn State having an offensive explosion in the Cotton Bowl against the Memphis Tigers. The Nittany Lions ended the regular season ranked No. 10 in the final College Football Playoff rankings prior to the postseason. That would have included Penn State in the playoff and sent them on the road for the first round against No. 7 Baylor.
2019 College Football Playoff First-Round Matchups
No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 12 Auburn
No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Utah
No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 10 Penn State
No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Florida
Penn State also would have been the last team in the College Football Playoff in 2018. Penn State ended the regular season ranked No. 12 in the final playoff rankings, which means Penn State would have been on the road for a first-round matchup against No. 5 Notre Dame. No easy road trip, of course, but just the possibility of seeing a matchup between two storied and iconic programs like Penn State and Notre Dame on a college campus with these kinds of stakes on the line is enticing.
But check out some of these other potential 2018 matchups that could have been. SEC teams heading into Big Ten territory? Oh yeah!
2018 College Football Playoff First-Round Matchups
No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Penn State
No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 11 LSU
No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida
No. 8 UCF vs. No. 9 Washington
Penn State also would have been a playoff team in 2017, when the Nittany Lions ended the regular season ranked No. 9 in the final College Football Playoff ranking. Once again, that would have sent Penn State on the road for a first-round matchup, this time in Los Angeles against No. 8 USC, a rematch of the previous season’s classic Rose Bowl won by the Trojans in crushing fashion.
2017 College Football Playoff First-Round Matchups
No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 12 UCF
No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Washington
No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Miami
No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
And then there is the year Penn State won the Big Ten, in 2016. Under the proposed structure of the 12-team format, Penn State would have received a bye in the first-round as one of the four highest-ranked conference champions. The others would have been No. 1 Alabama (SEC), No. 2 Clemson (ACC), and No. 4 Washington (Pac-12). Despite being ranked fifth by the selection committee, the Big Ten championship trophy would have moved Penn State ahead of No. 3 Ohio State in the top four seeding.
That would have dropped the Buckeyes into the No. 5 seed despite the No. 3 ranking, and given Ohio State a home game against Oklahoma State (and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich).
2016 College Football Playoff First-Round Matchups
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State
No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State
No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 10 Colorado
No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 USC
The track record is there for Penn State to be one of the programs that can take advantage of an expanded College Football Playoff field if it does indeed go to 12 teams.