Stetson Bennett and Jim Harbaugh.
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The 12-Team College Football Playoff Would Have Been Bonkers in 2023

When it came down to the wire and teams waited with bated breath to hear their school's name called as a College Football Playoff finalist, 2023 was a shocker.

Nick Saban was on the campaign trail trying to get Bryce Young and the Alabama Crimson Tide into the top 4, despite losses to Tennessee and LSU — the latter of which forced them to miss the SEC championship game. Meanwhile, TCU was hoping its loss in the Big 12 championship wouldn't hurt its chances at a national title. However, with the NCAA's newly expanded playoff format stretching the finalists to 12 teams, Alabama and TCU would be in for sure. But along with those berths come a slew of new teams in different seeding.

So what would the 2023 College Football Playoff have looked like with the expanded format? Glad you asked.

The Top Four Seeds Belong to Conference Champions

Utah Utes players celebrate a touchdown against the Oregon Ducks

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Georgia is automatically the No. 1 seed, with its record and SEC championship in tow. Also locked into its same position is Michigan at No. 2; the Big Ten champion earned every ounce of this seed, even if it secured that by trouncing Purdue.

The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds are where things get very interesting. Heading into conference championship weekend, USC and TCU were in "win-and-in" matchups against Utah and Kansas State, respectively. Both teams that needed to win lost instead. USC's Caleb Williams couldn't withstand the Utah pressure, and TCU's Max Duggan couldn't will the Horned Frogs to a victory over the Wildcats.

That means Utah and Kansas State would both be given first-round byes, just like Georgia and Michigan. USC and TCU would then have to play in the first round, which is where things get fun.

The Best of the Rest

Bryce Young #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to pass in the fourth quarter against the Texas Longhorns

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Here's a quick reminder of how they finished the season, with a bit of a twist. With Georgia, Michigan, Utah and Kansas State out of the picture, the remaining teams are then paired based on their final rankings. In the extended format, that ranking would look something like this:

  1. Georgia
  2. Michigan
  3. Utah
  4. Kansas State
  5. TCU
  6. Ohio State
  7. Alabama
  8. Tennessee
  9. Clemson
  10. USC
  11. Penn State
  12. Washington

Weird to look at, right? Well, while that's weird to take in, the matchups are truly incredible and would be must-see TV.

In the first round, TCU and Washington would face off against each other in what can only be described as "The Grape Bowl," considering the abundance of purple. Michael Penix Jr. versus Duggan would be a battle of the underdogs that would be an instant classic. The only sad piece of this round is that this game would take place at TCU and not in the incredible stadium Washington has.

Ohio State would then be lined up with Big Ten rival Penn State. This would obviously be a marquee matchup, but one that comes with Big Ten narratives. Following their Rivalry Week loss to Michigan, the Buckeyes could re-establish their in-conference dominance against a team they soundly defeated earlier in the year. For the Nittany Lions, this would have been a chance for Sean Clifford to end his tenure in State College as a hero, but also for James Franklin to remind the football world that Penn State is a powerhouse. But can they do that in Columbus? Tough call. Sign me up.

No. 7 Alabama would also be in for an instant classic, taking on a bruised USC in Tuscaloosa — another absolute trench fight on a Saturday night. USC would be coming off its tough loss to Utah, as Williams looked to prove his Heisman critics wrong with a win over last year's Heisman winner, Bryce Young, and Saban.

The Alabama-USC game would be Saban's to lose. Imagine the locker room speech before this game: Saban going off about how this is where you decide to make your destiny or accept your fate and how champions aren't remembered for winning, they're remember for how they fought. Chills just thinking about it. It would have been absolutely insane.

Which brings us to our wild card first-round matchup: Tennessee versus Clemson in Knoxville. If you watched any game played at Neyland Stadium last year, you know this game would have been bonkers. With coach Dabo Swinney's legacy on the line and the Tennessee Volunteers playing for QB Hendon Hooker, this game would have been insane. While Clemson has bad blood with other SEC teams, there's still a lot there for each side to fuel themselves off. This has the makings of an early 2000s USC-Notre Dame matchup.

That's what the expanded playoff would have looked like if it had been implemented ahead of the 2023 playoff. While some fans may think adding more teams waters down the competition, it's clear after seeing what could have been that this would have set the college football world on fire.

But then again, that could be the college football withdrawal talking.

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