What College Football Playoff Expansion Means for Michigan Programs
College football got better Wednesday night. When the Rose Bowl agreed to terms on the upcoming College Football Playoff expansion, it allowed the committee to proceed with the change to a 12-team format beginning in 2024.
This is a massive change for college football and one (among many) that I've personally been calling for for years. Furthermore, and more importantly to our local football fans in the Mitten State, this is a big win for Michigan football and not just the Wolverines.
Under the new format, the top six conference champions will earn an automatic bid while the next six highest-ranked teams will earn at-large bids, or Wild Cards if you will. Believe it or not, this is a good thing for all five Division 1 football programs in Michigan - yeah, even the MAC schools are gonna like this one.
How Does CFP Expansion Help: The Michigan Wolverines?
Starting with the most obvious, the Michigan Wolverines will have the clearest of any program in the state to the playoffs beyond, ya know, going undefeated. That's thanks in large part to being a blue-chip, legendary football program and the recent success Big Blue has seen under the leadership of Jim Harbaugh.
Much like the SEC, winning the Big Ten championship is a golden ticket to the College Football Playoff. After all, the Wolverines are looking to do just that this Saturday for the second straight season.
Because the Wolverines have established themselves as an elite program in today's football, it's very easy to look at the program and say "Beat Ohio State, win the conference and you're in." And that will obviously apply in 2024 and beyond, however, the road gets considerably easier for Michigan.
One of the bigger complaints of the incoming expansion is how easy of a road the Alabamas, Ohio States and Georgias will now have to the postseason. Count Michigan among those teams for the foreseeable future. The benchmark for Michigan could very well be 11 wins from now on.
The cool thing about college football? That doesn't stop Michigan from having the will or urgency to beat Ohio State in November or win the Big Ten, because that first-round bye is a huge advantage in this setup.
How Does CFP Expansion Help: The Michigan State Spartans?
Remember when Michigan State made the College Football Playoff in its second season? I sure do.
Okay, I won't beat up on Sparty anymore. After all, a 5-7 season was not the expectation for Mel Tucker's squad in 2022.
However, things should not be all doom and gloom in Lansing in the future. I also remember when Michigan State beat the Wolverines in 2021. Truthfully, if Tucker is the guy for the Spartans, the road to the postseason just opened up.
There's no denying the Spartans have a tough road, but it's certainly not impossible. And believe it or not, just securing an at-large bid once would drastically change the perception around Michigan State football.
Most 10-win teams crack the AP Top 25 at the end of the regular season. So here's the path Spartan fans: just win one game between Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State and run the table for the rest of the schedule. Easier said than done, but it's a realistic bar to reach for, for now.
How Does CFP Expansion Help: The Michigan MAC Programs?
With respect to MAC-tion and our three representatives in the conference, the routes to a potential College Football Playoff berth don't change much between the programs.
I know, even fans of Central, Western and Eastern Michigan are laughing at the words appearing on their screens right now - A MAC school? In the Playoffs?
I get it. However, there are two outliers that stand in the way of this being a flat-out joke.
The first is Cincinnati making the 2021 College Football Playoff and performing admirably in its loss to Alabama. The second is how the 2022 College Football Playoff would look if the expansion hypothetically happened this year instead.
That 12 seed is Tulane. TULANE. Don't tell me what is and is not possible.
Remember the automatic qualifiers? Six conference champions will be in the playoff every season. There are five traditional "Power" conferences.
The American conference may be assuming it's going to be that sixth conference every year, but this is college football. The PAC-12 is a "Power" conference and is hoping USC doesn't fumble the bag this weekend so it can make the playoff for the first time since 2016.
The road will not be easy. Whichever "Group of 5" champion looks to secure that 6th seed will have to win its conference in dominating fashion to earn favor over the other conferences. The American Conference will have the benefit of the doubt while the MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Conference-USA will have to prove themselves like never before.
History isn't on the MAC's side either. Only once in the history of the College Football Playoff has a MAC champion been ranked during the final selection: Western Michigan in 2016 finished the season 13-0 and was ranked 15th. That would have netted the Broncos a playoff selection under the new format.
Nothing is impossible.