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CFP Board Unanimously Approves Key Model for the Playoffs… But Controversy Will Still Rise

Josh Heupel
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel at SEC Media Days 2023 in Nashville, TN. Photo via SEC broadcast.

The argument of which four teams will make the playoffs has been dissected over and over for the last decade of the College Football Playoff model, reaching a fever pitch during the 2023 season when Florida State, an undefeated conference champion, was left out of the playoffs in favor of Alabama, a one-loss SEC Champion.

While the expanded 12-team playoffs will help silence some of those debates, others will still be just as controversial as college football continues to involve some of the most passionate fanbases in American sports.

The College Football Playoff board of managers unanimously approved a 5+7 model for the playoffs on Tuesday. The 5+7 model essentially means that the five highest-ranking conference champions will make the playoffs and the next seven highest-ranked teams will be in the remaining slots in the bracket.

With the Pac-12 being decimated in terms of programs departing from the conference over the last few years, the college football world will operate from a quasi-Power 4 standpoint with the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC. That means that the highest-ranked conference champion from the group of five schools will land as the fifth and final automatic bid in the upcoming playoff model.

The group of five conferences will include the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and the Mid-American Conference.

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While it’s safe to assume that most years will feature the Power 4 teams lining up in spots 1-4 with a first-round bye, the College Football Playoff committee is not locking the group of five teams into the fifth spot due to rare but potential scenarios that could occur, specifically if a group of five champion outranks one of the Power 4 champions.

ESPN’s Heather Dinich uses the example of the 2021 playoff race where Cincinnati, the undefeated champion of the American Athletic Conference, outranked Pitt, the ACC Champion with two losses on the season.

The example provided and the potential chance of it happening again is why the College Football Playoff committee is opting to use the language of five highest-ranked conference champions as opposed to the four Power 4 champions, plus the highest-ranked group of five champion, plus the next highest-ranking seven teams.

The 5+7 format will essentially just move the overall playoff debate down in the rankings, too. The arguments aren’t going anywhere, instead just being shifted to the teams in the 10-15 range as opposed to the 3-5 range.

Under the new expanded College Football Playoffs format, the four highest-ranked conference champions will receive a first-round bye. Teams 5-12 will then square off in normal tournament-style seeding with the higher-ranked team in each matchup hosting the game.

The quarterfinals and the semi-finals will then be played as New Year’s Six bowl games with the National Championship still being allocated to its own specific event and location.

Tennessee and quarterback Nico Iamaleava will kick off the season on Saturday, Aug. 31, against Chattanooga in Neyland Stadium.

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