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Golden: A 12-team playoff is dealt a blow, but college football can still make it happen

Parity reigns early in college football

  • FBS commissioners meeting in Dallas Wednesday, playoff expansion recommendation possible
  • Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick will also be at the meeting.
  • The current four-team format is slated through the 2025-2026 season but could be changed.
  • Current AP teams ranked 5-12 make for intriguing first-round matchups.

Through three full weeks of the college football season, it is obvious that the future should be now.

Why wait for an expanded playoff when the 2021 season is already hurtling toward an uncertain result?

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Parity has arrived and everyone outside of Tuscaloosa and Clemson couldn’t be happier. This season has crowning a new champion written all over it and it's just too bad we're not getting that expanded playoff this season.

According to various reports, the FBS commissioners who met in Dallas on Wednesday along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick to hash out concerns over expanding the current format from four to 12 teams have delayed their vote next week. That sounds like a gut punch to expansion, but I remain hopeful.

The four-team model that came along in 2014 was a nice upgrade from the old BCS system, but as we sit here eight seasons later, it’s time for an overhaul.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, right, and Alabama's Nick Saban embrace after the Tigers  beat the Crimson Tide 44-16 in the 2018 national championship game. The two have ruled the roost in college football, but the 2021 season has been one of parity.

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Note to the millionaires in that room: we want it sooner rather than later. Make it happen. Rich people can tweak all the rules and expedite change. Take advantage of all that power and stroke and add some spice to the 2022 season.

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I took a look at the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll and came away wishing the powers that be were more forward thinking. After all, they had a whole pandemic to make this happen this season. The current model is in place through the 2025-26 season, but things can still change if the right people get on the same page.

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Under the proposed format, the four highest ranked conference champions would get a bye while the remaining eight teams would play in the first round. 

Adding teams increases the chances of something special happening — a team comes out of nowhere to get hot at the right time, home stadiums packed for matchups between traditional powers with a lot more than a regular season win on the line, etc.

We're early in the season, but the national championship is a bigger question mark than it’s been in years. Even in the unofficial capital of college football, there's a sense that the pack is catching up. No. 1 Alabama grabbed a 21-3 lead at Florida before Tuscaloosa watched in near horror as the defense was forced to make a two-point conversion stop for a 31-29 win that kept Alabama unbeaten. 

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler has the Sooners off to a 3-0 start, but the team has struggled early with a pair of single-digit home wins over heavy underdogs Tulane and Nebraska.

Georgia, my national championship pick, is holding steady at No. 2 and quarterback JT Daniels has overcome some early struggles and an oblique injury that caused him to miss a game. He has the Dawgs feeling frisky.

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No. 3 Oregon was my pick to win the Pac-12 and rolled to its third straight win, a harder-than-it-should-have-been 48-7 win over Stony Brook. The Ducks have a freshman quarterback named Ty Thompson who will only get better.

No. 4 Oklahoma is carrying the Big 12’s hopes of a CFP appearance even if the schools not based in Austin want to roll over the Sooners and Longhorns with a cement truck for bailing to the SEC. Outside a 76-0 bullying of Western Carolina in which OU quarterback Spencer Rattler lit up the Catamounts for five touchdowns, he hasn’t played Heisman-worthy football against real competition. Plus the Sooners haven’t played to their CFP bye status with a pair of single-digit home wins over unranked Tulane and Nebraska.

And what of the next eight?  Sure, expansion has taken a hit, but why not have some early-season fun right here, right now?

Imagine the raucousness in Iowa City, State College, College Station and Cincinnati if the first round was this weekend with 12 teams having qualified for the new and improved CFP. Under the proposed 12-team format, we would get the following matchups between seeds 5 through 12 if we used the current AP rankings for seeding. 

If this was a WWE main event, the crowd would be chanting, “This is awesome.”

Ohio Stat wide receiver Garrett Wilson, seen here catching a touchdown against Oregon on Sept. 11, is part of one of the nation's most explosive offenses, but the Buckeyes have struggled defensively and are 2-1. Coach Ryan Day took play calling duties from his defensive coordinator in last week's game.

First-round matchups:

12-Notre Dame at 5-Iowa: Midwest, step up. The Hawkeyes are the most overlooked team in the top 10 and that surely has to do with the program’s struggles under Kirk Ferentz. Notre Dame in its current state would love to be included in the First 12 because the Irish are facing a three-game gantlet of Wisconsin (in Chicago), Cincinnati and Virginia Tech.

11-Florida at 6-Penn State: This time last year, the Nittany Lions were in an early-season freefall. They started 0-5 — the worst start in school history — and pulled themselves out of bowl contention after winning their last four. James Franklin has them back on track with a 3-0 start. A match with Dan Mullen’s Gators, who nearly pulled off a shocker against Alabama, would be the second sexiest first-round matchup. The Gators are scarier with freshman Anthony Richardson at quarterback instead of Emory Jones, a story line to follow over these next few weeks.

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, seen here arguing with a referee in the second half of A&M's 10-7 win over Colorado on Sept. 11, has the Aggies off to a 3-0 start. But A&M has lost starting quarterback Haynes King to an injury and faces a difficult test to make it to the CFP. The Aggies face Arkansas in Arlington on Saturday and later host top-ranked Alabama on Oct. 9.

10-Ohio State at 7-Texas A&M: Hey, Sexy. It's the best matchup of the first round, no question.

Imagine the Aggies getting a shot at one of the teams that was awarded a CFP spot last season. At Kyle Field, no less. A&M has a tough road to get there with a nice test against No. 16 Arkansas at Jerry World on Saturday and then the big one: an Oct. 9 home game against Alabama. Ohio State is still smarting from that 35-28 home loss to Oregon two weeks ago and questions abound in Columbus about the struggles of Kerry Coombs’ defense. The coordinator was defrocked last week as head coach Ryan Day handed over defensive play-calling duties to secondary coach Matt Barnes.

9-Clemson at 8-Cincinnati: Clemson being ranked anywhere outside of the top 3 is a rarity in recent seasons under Dabo Swinney, but Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne don’t live here anymore. The schedule still would be friendly enough to get the Tigers in the tourney. Cincinnati played one of the most undisciplined, sloppiest games of the Luke Fickell era — five false starts in the first seven possessions at Indiana — before rallying for a two-touchdown win. The Cats have much work to do before making it here.

We’ll stop here and leave the rest up to the imagination. Which might take a lot after Wednesday's decision. It's college football and it's about big bucks, so anything is possible.

Let's keep that glass half-full and hope we're talking 12 teams this time next winter.