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Upsets? Rematches? How a 12-team CFP would go in 2022

Caleb Williams vs. Bryce Young.

Old-school underdog TCU against new-school underdog Tulane.

All meeting in playoff games. All on college campuses.

And that would be just the first round of a 12-team playoff. That an expanded playoff will be an upgrade on the current four-team model should be obvious just by peeking at how the bracket would look this year.

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Are you telling me you wouldn’t be interested to see the next Heisman Trophy winner (likely Williams) play against the reigning Heisman winner, Young?

Vols fans surely would give up this year’s Orange Bowl trip if it meant the chance to host a playoff game.

The 12-team playoff will arrive in 2024, but I’m already looking ahead.

Here are my round-by-round predictions of how an expanded playoff would shake out this season.

Note: Seeds and first-round byes listed here are based on the 12-team playoff format, in which first-round byes are reserved for the top four conference champions.

First round

No. 8 Tennessee 38, No. 9 Kansas State 34

The Vols are without star quarterback Hendon Hooker, and I’m tempted to pick the mild upset. I would, if the seeding were flipped and this game were in Manhattan, Kansas. But a Neyland Stadium crowd that intimidated Alabama is the ultimate X-factor. Plus, Tennessee’s vulnerability is its pass defense, but K-State is better sticking to its ground game.

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No. 5 TCU 35, No. 12 Tulane 28

Think the Green Wave is a harmless Cinderella? Ask K-State about that. Tulane beat the Wildcats in September. Running back Tyjae Spears is the real deal. But so is TCU’s comeback ability and Max Duggan’s moxie. I’ll ride with the battle-tested Frogs.

No. 7 Alabama 45, No. 10 USC 28

Williams compiled the best season, but Young remains the quarterback I’d want on the field if I needed to win one game. Young would feast upon a Trojans defense that allowed at least 35 points five times. Both teams rush the passer well, but Young is accustomed to making plays in the clutch under duress.

No. 6 Ohio State 31, No. 11 Penn State 27

We’ve seen this matchup before. Literally. The Buckeyes used a big fourth quarter to turn back the Nittany Lions in State College. Playing a rematch at the Horseshoe would give OSU the advantage. Penn State would need to run the ball better than it did in the first meeting. I think first-round upsets will be rare in an expanded playoff because of home-field advantage for the better seeds. All chalk in my Round 1 picks.


No. 1 Georgia 42, No. 8 Tennessee 14

The Bulldogs beat UT by two touchdowns in the first meeting, and Hooker played. Georgia led comfortably before taking its foot off the gas after halftime, while rain fell. With no rain in the forecast, Stetson Bennett IV and his cavalcade of tight ends would light up UT’s porous secondary.

No. 5 TCU 24, No. 4 Utah 21

Finally, an upset – although seeds may be misleading here. TCU was the more consistent team throughout the season. Utah’s three losses came on the road. I give TCU the edge in a neutral site. The Utes boast a ball-hawking defense, but TCU values possession nearly as well as anyone in this bracket.

No. 2 Michigan 42, No. 7 Alabama 28

What your eyeballs should have told you throughout the season would be displayed here: Alabama does not rank among the nation’s elite this season. Michigan does. Even without injured star running back Blake Corum, his sidekick turned lead man Donovan Edwards should enjoy running against a defense that Auburn’s ground game repeatedly gashed. Michigan’s defense is too stout to get beat by a one-man band.

No. 6 Ohio State 38, No. 3 Clemson 24

Cade Klubnik proved in the ACC Championship that Dabo Swinney made a mistake by not turning to him sooner. Couple of issues here, though: He wouldn’t be facing North Carolina’s infirm defense, and making his first career start in a playoff quarterfinal against an elite opponent is a tall order. The combo of C.J. Stroud plus the nation’s best receiver, Marvin Harrison Jr., should be enough to handle a good but not elite Clemson defense.


No. 1 Georgia 35, No. 5 TCU 21

Duggan throws a good deep ball, and his talented wide receiving corps, led by Quentin Johnson, make 50/50 balls look like 80/20 balls. That gives TCU a chance to be competitive, even against Georgia’s talented secondary. We saw LSU connect on several deep shots against the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship. And yet, TCU’s prior defensive vulnerabilities would flare up against a Georgia offense that doesn’t get its due praise.

No. 6 Ohio State 31, No. 2 Michigan 26

Folks who say Michigan skunked Ohio State in November ignore that the Buckeyes trailed by one score midway through the fourth quarter. Edwards busted off a two big scoring runs, Stroud threw two interceptions, and Michigan won going away. Rematches don’t always follow the same script, and OSU’s run defense meltdown against Michigan is an anomaly. It also settled for field goals twice in the red zone. That’s not guaranteed to repeat. If Stroud plays better in the rematch, and if Ryan Day coaches smarter, the Buckeyes can turn the result.

National championship

No. 1 Georgia 34, No. 6 Ohio State 20

College football’s most talented team is always a smart bet to win the college championship. Throughout the season, Georgia has looked like the team with the most talent, the best coach and the fewest chinks in the armor. Georgia’s run game is good. Pass game is good. Defense is good. Special teams are good. The Bulldogs excel in every phase. Is Georgia invincible? No. But when Georgia turns on the gas – we saw it in the first half against Tennessee and in the second quarter against LSU – no one team is better. The Bulldogs, led by a master-of-swag quarterback, would turn it on for the national championship. Ohio State would have had a tougher path to get to this point, having started with a first-round game. The Buckeyes run out of air against a suffocating opponent.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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