TCU pulled off the upset in a thrilling, high-scoring affair over the Michigan Wolverines. With a second chance at their national title hopes, Ohio State nearly did the same. It was a fun and entertaining day of College Football Playoff action on semifinal Saturday.
Neither TCU nor Ohio State won their conference championship. Both teams had one loss to their ledger. Many argued for other teams to be included instead of the Horned Frogs or Buckeyes, but both showed they belonged in the playoff.
In the BCS era, those teams wouldn’t have had a shot. In the four-team playoff era, it’s been rare that a one-loss non-conference champ would be in the playoff (outside of the SEC getting their second team in).
But Saturday provided a glimpse of what’s coming down the pipeline in 2024 when the College Football Playoff field expands to 12 teams. As parity continues to level the playing field, more fun weekends like the one we witnessed on Saturday are ahead. And they’ll have even greater implications.
It was missing one of the greatest programs of the last 20 years, Alabama. An Alabama team that boat raced Kansas State, the only team to beat TCU in 2022. The four-team playoff was missing the last two Heisman Trophy winners, Bryce Young (2021) and Caleb Williams (2022).
Proponents of keeping the playoff at four teams would argue that this was an aberration, and based on the history of the four-team playoff, they’d be right. However, with NIL, the transfer portal and television increasing parity across college football, days like Saturday are going to become more and more the norm, especially when the playoff expands.
As we’ve seen in March Madness over the last two decades, the balance of power has shifted. Sure, Duke, UNC, Kansas, and Kentucky are perennial contenders, but Cinderella runs in the tourney allowed for the rise of new national powers like Gonzaga, Memphis, Baylor, and Houston.
A team like Tulane, who had a fantastic season culminating in a trip to the Cotton Bowl, will benefit greatly from the exposure of playing in one of the more historic bowl games in college football. Playing against a team like USC, which resides in one of the biggest media markets in sports, exposes a whole new talent base to the Green Wave. That’s not to say they’ll go into California and pluck five-star talent out from under Lincoln Riley and USC, but it gives them a greater chance to be at the table for other prospects that might not be targets of the top schools.
And an expanded playoff would do the same for even more schools as they get national exposure on the highest stage. More exposure at the national level will open the doors for more schools that aren’t the perennial powerhouses of college football.
TCU’s run has been the college football equivalent of a Cinderella story. A team that was left out of the Big 12 upon its inception and scratched and clawed for a seat at the table. Now they’re one win away from an improbable national championship.
The College Football Playoff provided an incredibly entertaining semifinal. With expansion on the horizon, even more entertaining weekends are in store.
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